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Cross-strait stability requires strategic clarity not ambiguity

Policy of strategic ambiguity is obsolete and no longer a deterrent to increasingly hostile China

 Congresswoman Elaine Luria. (AP photo)

 Congresswoman Elaine Luria. (AP photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — Congresswoman Elaine Luria is no ordinary American politician. She had a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Navy before running for public office and now serves as vice-chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

In two decades, she rose to the rank of commander and worked as an engineer operating nuclear reactors. She was the first female sailor to spend her entire career on combat ships.

So, when Luria makes a suggestion about military strategy, people sit up and listen because she knows what she is talking about. That’s why her input on the U.S.’ policy towards Taiwan is so important.

Luria believes U.S. strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan is outdated and that the U.S. Navy needs to play a more proactive role in deterring the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ambitions of taking Taiwan by force if necessary.

She is absolutely right. The arguments in favor of an ambiguous approach towards Taiwan by all Western democratic countries no longer stack up.

The theory behind strategic ambiguity is that the lack of clarity keeps China guessing and means that it will, hopefully, assume the worst and not make any rash decisions. This approach worked for some time and was a sound one when China’s military capabilities were significantly inferior to those of the U.S.

Adapt or die

However, that is no longer the case. With this significant geopolitical shift, the U.S. approach to cross-strait peace and security must adapt too.

There is also the question of how seriously China under Xi Jinping (習近平) takes the Western world. China has shown its disdain for objections to the genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, thumbed its nose at the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, and flagrantly obstructed all efforts to investigate the origin of COVID-19.

These are just three high-profile examples of how the CCP regime holds the views of the rest of the world in contempt. Far from acting as a deterrent, the West’s hollow and ambiguous statements of support for Taiwan and the status quo are, at best, a point of ridicule for the CCP.

At worst, they are an incentive, pushing them to test our mettle. The Western response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and China’s clampdown on Hong Kong suggests the West’s bark is far worse than its bite.

As congresswoman Luria rightly argues, if the risk of possible U.S. military involvement no longer acts as a deterrent, the ambiguity policy needs to be replaced with one of strategic clarity. The U.S. needs to be talking right now with Japan, the U.K., the E.U., NATO, and like-minded democratic countries around the world to coordinate on a clear strategy for responding to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

It is time to be clear with China and say that if it attempts to invade, there will be a military response. Perhaps that would mean stationing more naval vessels in the region as Luria suggests, but it could also mean putting more U.S. military boots on the ground in Taiwan and in nearby Okinawa too.

It is also the right time to establish a clear political response. This should be centered on economic sanctions that are designed to hit the regime hard, particularly the pockets of China’s influential upper class.

Laughing at UN

It must also go further than attempts at getting U.N. resolutions, which authoritarian regimes typically laugh at before ignoring or vetoing. This should include throwing China out of key international bodies, limiting trade, and restricting the activities of Chinese companies around the world.

At the heart of everything should also be a clear position on the ludicrous "one China policy."

While most Western countries still recognize this policy, it should be made abundantly clear that any move to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait will see that abandoned. Furthermore, given such a situation, all Western countries will multilaterally recognize the Taiwanese government, regardless of the consequential threats from Beijing.

With the situation as it is, doing anything less looks more and more like the U.S. and its allies are burying their heads in the sand and dodging one of the most important geopolitical issues of our age.

Ultimately, that approach will only work to China’s advantage.

Updated : 2022-05-19 14:41 GMT+08:00