President Joe Biden’s increasingly public commitment to defend Taiwan from China furthers a trend followed by George W. Bush and Donald Trump, which increases America’s understanding of Taiwan as a sovereign and a democracy worth defending. Biden is extending this approach on a global scale.
Through the Three Communiques of 1972 to 1982, and the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, America has been more than accommodating of Beijing’s 70 years of belligerence. Taiwan’s political diversity, and now democracy, represents the world’s only majority-Chinese country with successful democratic participation of its citizens. For that reason, it serves as a shining example of what China and Singapore, which are also majority-Chinese, could achieve if they turn from authoritarianism to democracy.
Given the changing political landscape of the last 70 years, in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is increasingly powerful and belligerent, and Taiwan has evolved from authoritarian to democratic, American law and policy must evolve in the direction of a clear commitment to defend Taiwan. To guarantee its security in the international system, Taiwan should additionally be recognized as an equal and sovereign member of the United Nations.
With his vow of Oct. 21 to defend Taiwan against a Chinese military invasion, Biden is well on his way. But he, and our allies, must do more. Biden’s policy must become America’s policy through executive orders and legislation that reinforce the staying power, past Biden’s own tenure as president, of the red line of freedom in Taiwan. This is not only critical to America’s own long-term defense against China, but that of our allies.
The defense of Taiwan is critical to the defense of Japan, which is a U.S. treaty ally. If China attacked Taiwan, Japan would likely support the United States in Taiwan’s defense. This year, for the first time in 30 years, Japan fully addressed the threat to Taiwan in its annual defense white paper.
“The overall military balance between China and Taiwan is tilting to China’s favor, and the gap appears to be growing year by year,” according to the Japanese defense analysts. “Attention should be paid to trends such as the strengthening of Chinese and Taiwanese forces, the sale of weapons to Taiwan by the United States, and Taiwan’s own development of its main military equipment.”
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan is seeking to increase defense spending from its current 1 percent to 2 percent of GDP—in line with Taiwan and the NATO standard—to help deter China. That should be increased to at least 3.7 percent, which was the American defense spending level in 2020.
According to Professor James Kraska, who holds dual appointments at Harvard Law School and the U.S. Naval War College, China is harming its own international image through being too aggressive in East Asia.
“The strategic reality of China’s goal of hegemony in East Asia is driving a bipartisan consensus in the United States and Japan that Taiwanese security is essential for regional stability,” Kraska wrote.
The new AUKUS security pact, consisting of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, is in part to deter, and would likely be activated in the event of, a Chinese attack against Taiwan. The closeness of AUKUS members is demonstrated by their willingness to share nuclear submarine propulsion technology with Australia. Taiwan could eventually join AUKUS, though Taipei currently claims not to be seeking such technology.
British Defense Chief Sir Nicholas Carter said on Oct. 20 that AUKUS is not meant to be exclusive, is focused on industrial development, and could at some point include Japan, Canada, and New Zealand. Adding Taiwan as well would provide an explicit mission and relevance to AUKUS far beyond just the sharing of military technology between members.
Given the high stakes—widespread bloodshed and increased relative power of Beijing if it successfully annexes Taiwan—it is in the national interests of AUKUS members to protect Taiwan as they would their closest allies. Likewise, it is in their interests to seek the eventual independence and international recognition of Taiwan, including incrementally and through “mistakes” like Biden’s vow to defend Taiwan. If initially seen as mistakes, they are at least less likely to provoke the CCP into war. They can be reinforced later into American policy through executive order and legislation.
While there is worry that a Taiwanese declaration of independence could provoke an attack by China, now may be better than later. If done now, when Beijing is not quite ready to take on the world and invade, Taiwan’s independence could be a fait accompli. If Taiwan instead waits until China increases its relative power yet further, Taiwan’s independence could be impossible and instead become a permanent irritant in AUKUS-China relations.
So reversing the trend toward China’s increasing relative power is critical. This will require increased defense spending on the kinds of high-technology military platforms and missiles that can deter Beijing.
“I don’t think either Japan or Taiwan or Europe (or the US) spends enough on defense,” Kraska wrote. “It was 9% of GDP in the 1960s. We all should be spending 5%; Taiwan 10%.”
Taiwan serves as a militarily small but ideologically powerful counterweight to Beijing, and so its existence has implications not only for Asia, but for the international survival of the very idea of democracy. Resolving the situation by forcing Beijing to accept Taiwan as an independent and sovereign nation now—through consistent legislated commitments from allied democracies to defend the country, and legislated economic sanctions against China if it attacks—thus serve peace and stability, and even more so, the interests of freedom and democracy globally.
But despite Biden’s recent commitment to defend Taiwan militarily, the United States is still shackled to the approach of strategic ambiguity. The reporters and policy wonks who claim that Biden made multiple gaffes on the issue, and the White House, Pentagon, and State Department statements, especially those that claim no policy change, prove that there continues to be confusion about exactly what the United States would do if China attacks Taiwan.
As David Sanger in the New York Times noted, however, Biden’s commitment to defend Taiwan is likely a hardening of America’s position toward Beijing as a result of the latter’s growing strength.
Biden “may be reflecting a desire to toughen Washington’s language to counter new Chinese capabilities, which would allow far more subtle moves to strangle Taiwan—cutting off undersea cables, internet connections and liquid natural gas shipments—than an outright invasion,” according to Sanger.
Hugh Tomlinson and Didi Tang in The Times of London wrote: “The White House is right: President Biden has not actually changed policy on whether Washington would defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack …. What he has come close to is abandoning the decades-long policy of strategic ambiguity in which American defence of Taiwan is assumed but not spoken of.”
Strategic ambiguity is a continuum, not a binary. Through multiple announcements of his intention to militarily defend Taiwan, Biden is pushing policy in the direction of less ambiguity and more commitment to the island democracy’s defense.
But an American commitment to help Taiwan defend itself is still not enough. Kraska has outlined the kind of changes that the U.S. economy and military must undergo in order to retain its defensive power on a global scale.
“To retain its position as the world’s superpower, the United States should adopt supply-side economic policies that could achieve 4 to 5 percent economic growth, probably more than what China is achieving or will achieve. The U.S. and its allies should also enact a conscious decoupling of China while going on the cyber offensive against the Chinese Communist Party. Finally, the West and Japan must align their military spending with their ambitions, including a preference for forces that can exercise command of the global commons, including in the oceans and airspace, cyberspace, and outer space.”
America must have the means to achieve peace through strength not only over Taiwan, then, but over all the battlespaces of the future, and without losing our biggest cities in the process. That requires a stronger American economy to enable more defense spending, and a rebalancing of U.S. military forces from primarily land armies. These were critical to brushfire wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, toward the higher-technology platforms and future military deterrence of major threats emanating from China and Russia.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.