Taiwan’s Strategic Value for the US

October 1, 2021 Updated: October 5, 2021


Taiwan is a strategic pivot in the cold war between China and the United States.

Its key role in this struggle stems from three major factors: military, economic, and political. Its military role is informed by its location opposite China and by its sound conventional forces. Its economic role stems from its robust economy and as one of the world’s centers of computer chip manufacturing. Taipei’s political role is a democratic alternative to the disastrous misrule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

These are critical roles, but as security competition between China and the United States intensifies, there is much more that Taipei and Washington must accomplish in the fight against the CCP. The United States must allow Taiwan to become a strategic partner—the equal of Australia and Japan. To that end, the United States must provide Taiwan with the protection necessary to preserve its status as, de facto, an independent state and linchpin in the confrontation with the CCP.

This is difficult due to the prodigious growth of the Chinese regime’s conventional, cyber, space, and nuclear capabilities that place Taipei at far greater risk today of an effective attack. Decades of a U.S. policy of “calculated ambiguity”—would Washington come to Taipei’s aid in the event of an attack or not?—have not strengthened Taiwan’s deterrent. Neither has the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, which weakens U.S. credibility, and the administration’s warmer approach to China than the Trump administration.

Strategically, the United States needs Taiwan for four reasons. First, as a barrier to the Chinese navy. Over a hundred years ago, British Admiral Jackie Fisher stated that there were five strategic keys that locked up the world and had to be held by the British for naval dominance: the Straits of Dover and Malacca, Gibraltar, Alexandria, and the Cape of Good Hope. To modify Fisher, Taiwan keeps the keys between the East and South China Seas and holds the People’s Liberation Army Navy within the first island chain.

Epoch Times Photo
Taiwan Navy’s Perry-class frigate launches an ASROC (anti-submarine rocket) during a naval exercise off Hualien County, eastern Taiwan, on May 22, 2019. (Chiang Ying-ying/AP Photo)

Second, Taiwan’s location also makes it an important base. However, Taiwan’s military deterrent must be augmented by weaponry in sufficient numbers to allow Taiwan to project power against the Chinese regime and to have an arsenal deep enough to allow it to fight a sustained conflict. Taiwan, the United States, and other allies should develop the mechanisms to allow the U.S. and allied military presence in China to grow—this might be occasional port visits by U.S. naval vessels leading to a regular presence of U.S. navy ships in Taiwanese ports. Similar steps should be taken for the air force and army. Taiwan had a nascent nuclear weapons program that it terminated in the 1970s under U.S. pressure. To strengthen the Taiwanese deterrent, it is time to revisit the issue of Taiwanese proliferation. A Taiwan that had the ability to inflict unacceptable damage on China, even in the face of a Chinese attack, would go far more toward introducing doubt into the minds of the CCP than any other measure. This is the case whether or not Taiwan was explicitly aligned with the United States.

Third, Taiwan is a key ally to aid with regional problems associated with the Chinese regime’s expansionism in the South China, but it is—along with Australia, India, and Japan—an important partner for the Indo-Pacific. The United States should acknowledge that Taiwan is a key ally in the fight against the CCP. Taiwan should be woven into the fabric of the Quad’s security cooperation. News that Taiwan has been invited to RIMPAC is positive, as would be exercises with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and in the Malabar exercises hosted by India. Taiwan should become a permanent participant in those exercises and should host similar drills in its waters.

Fourth, it is in the political realm that Taiwan’s role is the greatest. Each day, a democratic Taiwan demonstrates what mainland China could be and what it might be except for the CCP’s misrule. Day after day, Taipei shows that China may have a free press, robust civil society, religious liberty, and respect for human rights. The contrast between Taiwan and China is stark, even if it has served as a comfortable status quo for decades. Writing of a divided Germany in 1950, the French novelist and poet François Mauriac wrote: “I love Germany so much I am glad that there are two.” For Mauriac, the division of Germany and loss to the Soviet Union and Poland of its eastern territory in the aftermath of the Second World War advanced French security. After U.S. President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, a divided China has served Western interests as well due to the Soviet threat. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States should have recalculated its strategic interests toward Taiwan.

However, that time is over as the Chinese regime is determined to crush Taiwanese independence. The example of Hong Kong demonstrates that the CCP does not keep its agreements and would rather have control than wealth produced by Hong Kong’s alternative economic system. This provides ample empirical evidence that Beijing will not allow Taiwan’s alternative and superior political system to continue. The CCP’s leader, Xi Jinping, has stated that the issue of China’s unification will be solved on his watch. Indeed, let it be.

With the indomitable support of its allies, Taiwan will meet its security requirements and prosper. The political future of the Chinese people should be decided in Taiwan, not in China.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Bradley A. Thayer is a founding member of the Committee on Present Danger China and is the co-author of "How China Sees the World: Han-Centrism and the Balance of Power in International Politics."