A few days ago, U.S. President Joe Biden rocked the international community when he stated that the U.S. would use military force if China attacked Taiwan.
Taiwan and Strategic Ambiguity
For years, the U.S. has assumed a position of strategic ambiguity with respect to Taiwan. On the one hand, it supports the one-China policy but on the other hand, it has supplied Taiwan with high-end military weapons.
“We agree with a one-China policy. We’ve signed on to it and all the intended agreements made from there. But the idea that, that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not, is just not appropriate. . . that the commitment we made,” Biden had said.
After making his comments in Tokyo, Biden was confronted by reporters the next day. Asked about the policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan, Biden said that the policy hasn’t changed at all.
On the way to Tokyo, where Biden made his remarks, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had adumbrated the statements.
“More broadly, the Biden administration is invested in working with allies and partners to send a clear message of deterrence and to support the basic policy of the Biden administration, which is a One China policy, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Taiwan Relations Act, that we do not want to see unilateral changes to the status quo and we certainly don’t want to see military aggression,” Sullivan had said.
Later the White House insisted that the U.S. policy toward Taiwan hasn’t changed, suggesting that Biden’s remarks were inaccurate. But that could very well be a strategy to leave Beijing guessing about U.S. intentions.
Starting in October, the Chinese military ramped up its pressure on Taiwan. In the span of just a few days, Beijing sent over 150 bombers and fighter jets within Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone—a zone Taipei has declared around its territory.
To defend against Chinese truculence, the Taiwanese government has spent increasingly more on defense and has continued to invite U.S. conventional and special operations forces to train in Taiwan.
China and Taiwan
The situation between China and Taiwan began in the aftermath of the Second World War when the Chinese Communists prevailed over the Chinese Nationalists, forcing them to retreat to Taiwan.
For decades, the Chinese government has been committed to absorbing Taiwan into China. Put simply, China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and would want nothing more than reabsorbing it. But whether that is through a peaceful reunification or through warfare has always been left unclear.
The U.S. has supported a peaceful reunification, but, realistically, that is a highly unlikely proposition while there is an oppressive authoritarian government in charge of China. The situation in Hong Kong, where the Chinese government cracked down on protesters and became increasingly intrusive, adumbrates what would happen if Taiwan and China reunified under the current political situation.
When it comes to size, population, and economy, Taiwan is a tiny nation when compared to China. With about 23 million people mostly divided into six major urban centers, with Taipei as the capital, Taiwan can’t really compete with the China of over one billion people (and well into the second billion), the third biggest country by landmass, and the second-largest economy in the world.
But what Taiwan has for it is its allies and its territory. Taiwan could make a potential Chinese invasion very costly indeed. The war in Ukraine has proven that a defender who is committed (and assisted) to fight to the end can make the life of an aggressor a living hell.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.
June 4, 2022 at 3:38 pm
“Keep Beijing guessing”. It is possible that their guessing will lead them to the conclusion that they had better assume that the US will intervene, regardless of our muddled messaging. Thus, they will conclude that they had better plan to rain down their missiles on all of our Pacific bases as their very first move to neutralize our forces as much as possible. “Pearl Harbor II”. They may even go so far as to hit Pearl itself. If one begins with this assumption, then this could go far toward explaining why the war games of recent years have reportedly not ended well for the US.