U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is heading on a whirlwind tour to meet American allies in Southeast Asia, and top of mind will be how to use President Biden’s focus on partnerships to contain China’s growing military power in the South China Sea, as well as ward off Beijing’s profligate threats of war against Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and even the United States. If Biden is serious about defending the most likely target, Taiwan, he should deploy U.S. forces there as a tripwire, and partner more closely with the country through military exchanges and greater provision of military materiel.
America’s old freedom of navigation operations through the Taiwan Strait has failed to stop China’s military buildup against democratic Taiwan. “The U.S. Navy has maintained a steady pattern of freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and near Taiwan but these appear to have done little to discourage Beijing,” noted Reuters in its July 26 article about Secretary Austin’s visit to the region.
Some say that on China, the Biden administration is all talk, and no action. Abraham Denmark, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, reportedly said Washington was saying “all the right things on competition” with China but there were questions about how it could “translate words into actions and investments.” American paralysis when it comes to China’s threats could be fatal.
Most urgent is how to work with allies, including Japan, to head off a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Experts such as Ian Easton, author of “The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia,” writes that such an invasion could include as many as 2.25 million Chinese troops sent on not only military, but converted civilian ships. And, it could happen in less than about five years.
Professor James Kraska, who holds dual appointments at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard Law School, stressed working together with allies, and providing Taiwan with defense material. He wrote in an email, “Governed by the rule of law, the United States and Taiwan share a natural affinity for a stable international order. To strengthen this relationship, the United States has great latitude in fulfilling the Taiwan Relations Act to provide ‘defense articles and services’ for Taiwan’s self-defense.”
Kraska noted that “with the recent statements by Japanese officials, there has emerged a concrete defensive trio to prevent the forcible change in the status quo.”
Easton wrote of his top-three prescriptions if the U.S. government “were serious about defending Taiwan, or, better yet, preventing a CCP attack in the first place.” He wrote in an email:
“(1) Send all the top American generals and admirals responsible for giving our President military advice and military options to Taiwan. They would meet their local Taiwanese military counterparts and see all relevant wartime terrain with their own eyes. They would do it again the next year, and the year after that. Or even every six months. This could be done in secret. But some degree of transparency could be used to signal resolve and political will, making Beijing think twice about the consequences of attacking.
“(2) Have [the U.S.] 7th Fleet and other relevant joint forces conduct routine, high-end exercises with their Taiwanese counterparts. We already do major bilateral drills with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. None of them face a threat picture as grave as Taiwan. This could be done in secret. But some degree of transparency could be used to signal resolve and political will, making Beijing think twice about the consequences of attacking.
“(3) Send hundreds of Marines and Special Operations Forces to Taiwan on long-term rotations to serve as trainers, advisors, and liaison officers. Send a mechanized or armored battalion or brigade to Taiwan to serve as a strategic tripline. Historically, this has worked wonders at other flashpoints. Send our military officers and noncommissioned officers to study at Taiwan’s National Defense University and command schools. Train them in Mandarin (especially local military jargon) and turn them into experts on Taiwan’s history and culture. The current short-term Pentagon programs are wholly insufficient. It takes a very long time on the ground to build trust, develop expertise, exert influence, and affect real change.”
The failure of the United States and its democratic allies to stop China’s military threats against regional democracies and allies, a recent failed wargame over Taiwan, as well as the larger issue of a steady rise of the Chinese Communist Party, and its territorial expansion since its founding in 1921 and conquest of China in 1949, is unfortunately not inspiring confidence in American leadership.
The United States must make up for lost time, more closely integrate U.S. and Taiwan military forces, and deploy U.S. tripwire forces in Taiwan, as in South Korea and Japan. Taiwan is a sovereign democracy that deserves our full support, friendship, and military defense. This is the minimum that democracies should do for one another when faced with an aggressive military power like China.
Anders Corr has a bachelor’s/master’s in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He’s a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming in 2021) and “No Trespassing,” and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.