TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) on Thursday (Feb. 18) held an online hearing, with a number of scholars and former U.S. government officials discussing how to deter China from invading Taiwan.
USCC member Alex Wong (黃之瀚), who visited Taiwan in 2018 as the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, asked at the hearing where the Taiwan Strait ranks in terms of triggering a U.S.-China conflict.
Thomas Shugart, an adjunct Senior Fellow with the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, said that he would put the strait in first place. His reasons were the civil war between the Kuomintang (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did not technically end and China has not invested many resources into South China Sea developments as it has toward invading Taiwan.
Bonny Lin (林柏寧), former senior China advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, concurred with Shugart by saying Beijing is determined to unify Taiwan, and Washington is Taiwan’s major security partner. Lin added the strait situation has escalated rapidly, especially in the past year.
Former American Institute in Taiwan Director David Keegan stated that from Beijing’s perspective, Taiwan is fundamentally related to its legitimacy, while for the U.S., Taiwan is linked to its democratic values and plays a major role in Washington’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region. These two contrary points of view may lead to conflict, Keegan said.
He added that every time Chinese military planes enter Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), the Taiwan Air Force must dispatch fighter jets to drive them away. This causes a risk of accidents, he said.
Given the current political atmosphere, an incident today may not have the same outcome that it did in the aftermath of the 2001 collision of an American signals intelligence aircraft and a Chinese fighter jet.
As for how to avoid conflict, Oriana Skylar Mastro, a Chinese security policy researcher at Stanford University, said that increasing Taiwan links to other countries is the most effective deterrent against China, since Beijing will realize it confronts not only Taiwan and the U.S. but also its allies.
Kharis Templeman, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, believes that non-military links should be used to enhance the credibility of U.S. commitment to Taiwan. “If we want to avoid a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, it depends mainly on the world's belief that the U.S. will take action against Chinese coercion,” he explained.
Templeman said that due to the trade barriers put in place by the Trump administration and its decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trust other countries have in the U.S. has declined over the past four years.
He suggested that the Office of the United States Trade Representative start bilateral trade negotiations with Taiwan as soon as possible in order to reverse this trend. He said that if the Biden administration plans to return to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, it should also ask Taiwan to join.