In recent weeks, Beijing has stepped up its militaristic harassment of the Republic of China—more commonly known as Taiwan—in an increasingly alarming development between the two sovereign states. Last month around 80 People’s Liberation Army aircraft flew into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, where Taiwan legally has the right to require aircraft to identify themselves. While it was not in Taiwan’s sovereign airspace, the intent of Beijing was to test Taiwan’s nerve. Essentially, Beijing is knocking on Taiwan’s door, attempting to intimidate Taiwan with a show of force to display that Beijing can do whatever it wants.
Perhaps Beijing might be seeking an international incident equivalent to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand so that it may have the legitimacy to take Taiwan by force. Only time will tell. After all, for decades, China has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province that needs to be reunited with China. The international community has followed suit with this imperialistic ambition of China as only 14 countries recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan. The United States is not one of these countries. Therefore, the odds are stacked against the island country.
While the U.S. has supplied Taiwan’s defense via the Taiwan Relations Act, it is frustrating that we do this half-heartedly. Time and time again, the White House says its position regarding Taiwan’s defense is one of strategic ambiguity.
I can imagine why some Taiwanese may be fed up with this; after all, Taiwan’s precarious position is the U.S.’s fault.
During the Chinese Civil War, the Kuomintang, or the Chinese Nationalist Party—the ruling democratic party of Taiwan—led by Chiang Kai-shek, was one step away from winning the war against Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party. Chiang’s veteran troops cornered the communists in Manchuria, and there was no question of victory for Chiang’s Nationalists. However, defying anti-communism rhetoric, President Harry Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall made the irrational decision to call for a joint government between the nationalists and communists. Chiang had no choice but to spare the communists after an ultimatum where Marshall threatened to halt U.S. support if Chiang didn’t give up the offensive on Manchuria. This merciful action allowed the communists to regroup to eventually turn the tide of the war and eventually drive out the nationalists to Taiwan. Had Marshall and Truman not tooted their own horns as a so-called expert in Chinese politics, then China could very well have been a modern-day democracy, seeing eye to eye with America. Losing China to communism is still one of the United States’ biggest foreign policy failures. Losing Taiwan would only add salt to this wound.
However, there are more than historical grievances that are at stake. It has essentially become a zero-sum game for both the U.S. and China. Therefore, if China gains control of Taiwan, the result will be detrimental to the U.S. Economically, Beijing’s hold of Taiwan allows them to access Taiwan’s high-tech industry, including its world-renowned semiconductor factories. Strategically, this would be the final nail in the coffin for what has been a declining U.S. influence in the Indo-Pacific while China’s has risen exponentially. It would provide a clear gateway for the Chinese to gain control of the East China Sea and be in range of U.S. and Japanese territory.
For far too long, Bush and Obama’s previous administrations have succumbed to Beijing’s complaints about militarily aiding Taiwan.
At the end of the day, rhetoric is not what decides a successful foreign policy: action does. Losing Taiwan will embolden other authoritarian countries around the world, including but not limited to Russia. In recent years, the West has appeared less willing to defend its values, and this can’t continue. We must treat Taiwan as a sovereign state, and when mainland China invades the territory, it is the United States’ responsibility to defend Taiwan. If we fail to uphold our standards to be the defenders of liberalism, we are responsible for the consequences.