Ketagalan Media: Opportunities and Challenges for US-Taiwan Relations

How times have changed. Assessments of China’s military threat to Taiwan today are far direr. In its 2013 National Defense Report, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense argued that China “plans to build comprehensive capabilities for using military force against Taiwan by 2020.” Four years later, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, MND reported, “the PLA now possesses the capability to impose a blockade on Taiwan and conduct multi-dimensional operations to seize our offshore islands.” The 2019 National Defense Report notes the PLA can carry out a successful air blockade as well and assess that the PLA is “capable of initiating joint blockades and joint firepower strikes against Taiwan.” A successful amphibious invasion of Taiwan is not yet within reach, but the PLA is making progress.

As Taiwan heads into 2020, Beijing’s threat to Taiwan’s freedom may be more pressing than it has been in decades. China’s evolving military capabilities have created an imbalance in military power across the Taiwan Strait. When considered in light of the emergence of a leader in the People’s Republic who has shown little flexibility in his approach to Taiwan, who has adopted annexation of the island as a key political goal, and who faces numerous internal challenges, a Chinese resort to force is neither far-fetched nor a long-term concern.

With the persistent military, diplomatic, and economic pressure the People’s Republic has applied to Taiwan in recent years, Beijing has proven itself hostile to the supposed cross-Strait status quo. Indeed, it appears bent on both destabilizing cross-Strait ties and destabilizing Taiwan’s internal politics. It may now be time for the United States to draw a clearer line in the sand—to more staunchly commit itself to Taiwan’s defense and to the preservation of its democratic institutions and way of life. Such a clear commitment is important if the United States and Taiwan are to dissuade China from the perilous course upon which it seems to have set itself.

Can Washington convey such clarity while maintaining a policy of strategic ambiguity? Perhaps, but there is an inherent contradiction in such an approach. The Trump administration is unlikely to jettison strategic ambiguity in 2020, but the president and his advisors have shown that they do not feel beholden to preserving the “sacred cows” of US foreign policy. This year, Washington should, in close consultation with Taipei, conduct an assessment of its Taiwan policy and ask some big questions in the process. Does strategic ambiguity allow for the effective deterrence of the PRC? Does the “One-China” policy continue to serve US interests? Should we establish a military-to-military relationship with Taiwan more akin to those we have with close allies like Japan and NATO members?

Full report:

Opportunities and Challenges for US-Taiwan Relations

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