US Will Learn Lesson From Afghanistan and Bolster Support for Taiwan, Expert Says

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a Master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
August 20, 2021 Updated: August 20, 2021

The United States will likely come to the aid of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, one expert says, pushing back against recent suggestions by Beijing’s propaganda that the self-ruled island would meet the same fate as Afghanistan if it continues to be dependent on Washington.

Since the Taliban had swiftly seized control of Afghanistan, two weeks before the U.S. forces’ scheduled withdrawal from the country, Chinese state media has capitalized on the event for propaganda purposes, casting the United States as an unreliable ally of Taiwan.

Taiwan is a democratic island that Beijing claims as its own despite the former being governed as a distinct entity for decades.

China’s hawkish state-run media Global Times in the past days has taunted Taiwan with threats of war, claiming that Washington would leave the island in the lurch in case of a crisis, just like how it had “abandoned” Afghanistan.

Most recently, in an editorial published on Aug. 18, the outlet claimed that as China continues to strengthen, “there is no doubt the U.S. is doomed to eventually abandon Taiwan.”

Ian Easton, senior director at Virginia-based think tank the Project 2049 Institute, hit back at Beijing’s claims, saying that he doesn’t believe the United States would simply cast aside Taiwan.

“I don’t think that’s a narrative that is actually in touch with the reality and with the facts,” he said in a recent interview with NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times.

Easton said that democratic countries such as the United States do make mistakes, but these governments tend to self-correct since they are open to public debate and criticism.

An example cited by Easton was that of former President John F. Kennedy, who began his presidency with a setback—a failed landing operation in Cuba in 1961, known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. That failure, Easton said, allowed Kennedy to gain the necessary wisdom to successfully handle the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, preventing the eruption of a possible World War III.

“So I think the U.S. government is almost certainly going to learn from what has happened. It’s going to reassess its priorities,” Easton said.

He added, “I suspect the ultimate conclusion that the Biden administration is going to make is that there is no way the United States of America can lose another friendly government.”

Easton also said that the Chinese propaganda missed a key point, that the significance of Afghanistan and Taiwan to the United States respectively is different.

“Afghanistan was not actually a priority. It was not an important national interest. It was not a tier-one interest of the United States,” he said.

In contrast, “Taiwan is tier-one,” he said. “It is absolutely critical for the United States that Taiwan continues to survive and thrive as a free and open democracy.”

During a congressional hearing in June, Matthew Pottinger, who served under the Trump administration as deputy national security adviser, gave a dire warning on what would happen if the Chinese regime successfully invaded Taiwan.

“If Taiwan falls, China will then be turning that navy into a global navy that will challenge us in every part of the world,” Pottinger said, pointing to China’s recent naval expansion (pdf) that now sees the regime boasting more ships than the U.S. Navy.

Chinese aircraft carrier
This undated photo taken in April 2018 shows China’s operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (front), sailing with other ships during a drill at sea. A flotilla of Chinese naval vessels held a “live combat drill” in the East China Sea, state media reported on April 23, 2018, the latest show of force by Beijing’s burgeoning navy in disputed waters that have riled neighbors. (AFP via Getty Images)

US Policy

The Biden administration has responded to the Global Times propaganda. Earlier this week, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said U.S. commitment to Taiwan “remains as strong as it’s ever been,” while White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We stand by partners around the world who are subject to this kind of propaganda.”

On Thursday, a senior Biden administration official said U.S. “policy with regard to Taiwan has not changed,” a day after President Joe Biden alluded that the United States had dropped its longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” and would defend the island if it were attacked, in an interview with ABC News.

When asked about the decades-long policy on Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing the United States “will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait relations.”

Easton said the ambiguous nature of the U.S. policy toward Taiwan is “destabilizing” and “harmful to the continuation of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

“The ambiguous nature of U.S.-Taiwan relations since 1979 has put us in a position where we’re actually contributing to Taiwan’s relative weakening over time. Because we don’t do large-scale training exercises with the Taiwanese, we don’t show them the kinds of diplomatic, political support that we would normally show to other democratic countries that face these kinds of risks,” Easton explained.

Washington ended its diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979 but it has maintained a robust relationship with the island based on the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which was signed into law by former President Jimmy Carter in April 1979. The TRA authorizes the United States to provide the island with military equipment for its self-defense.

Since China could invade Taiwan, Easton said the United States and other democratic governments need to be prepared.

They have to “prepare themselves for the possibility that the day could come when they might have to come to Taiwan’s defense as well and fight side by side with the Taiwanese military,” he said.

“Today, we’re simply not there. We’re not ready for that.” 

Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a Master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.