Will the US Defend Taiwan? It Depends on Who You Listen To

CommentaryRight now, we have strategic confusion at the highest levels of government. President Joe Biden has now, on three separate occasions, said that the U.S. military would defend Taiwan if the Chinese regime invaded the island. First in an interview with ABC News in August 2021, then at a CNN town hall event in October, and now on his recent trip to Asia. And three times, the White House staff has had to swoop in and deny that the president meant what he clearly said. In the August interview with ABC News, Biden was asked about Chinese communist propaganda, claiming that the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan meant that Taiwan, too, would be abandoned. He responded by suggesting that America’s commitment to Taiwan was on par with its commitment to its NATO allies. However, we have no mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, and the governing legislation, called the Taiwan Relations Act, only formally commits us to supply defensive weapons to the island nation. White House officials had to intervene and deny that U.S. policy had changed. The White House had to issue another clarification in October after Biden said in a CNN town hall that “we have a commitment” to defend the island if it is attacked by China. U.S. policy toward Taiwan has not changed; officials rushed in to insist. And just a few days ago in Tokyo, Biden was asked if the United States would get involved militarily in response to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. “That’s the commitment we made,” Biden responded emphatically. A White House official later tried to explain away the president’s remark by saying that he was only “reiterat[ing] our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.” But he was clearly going further than that. Now, this is not how “strategic ambiguity” is supposed to work. It is supposed to keep your enemy, in this case, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), guessing. It is supposed to deter Xi Jinping from invading Taiwan by leaving open the question of whether the United States will come to its aid. Instead, the American people are left to guess who is running the White House—the current occupant of the Oval Office or some unnamed, unelected staffer. Now I have to admit that I don’t think much of “strategic ambiguity” as a policy. After all, Teddy Roosevelt said to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” not “mumble under your breath while waving a twig about.” I think we need to deter China by being crystal clear that we will defend Taiwan if it is attacked. But at the same time, we need to arm Taiwan today with weapons, such as anti-ship missiles, to ensure any future invasion will fail. The CCP will not launch an invading fleet if it is likely to be sunk in transit. Taiwanese soldiers launch a U.S.-made Javelin missile during the annual Han Guang live-fire drill in southern Pingtung on Aug. 25, 2016. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images) Right now, however, we have the worst of both worlds. Because of the constant walk backs of Biden’s pronouncements—not just on Taiwan, but on Ukraine—no one knows who is in charge of U.S. foreign policy or even what U.S. policy actually is. This is a very dangerous position for the United States, not just for Taiwan’s future. It wasn’t that long ago that Biden variously called for Vladimir Putin’s ouster, threatened the retaliatory use of (nonexistent) chemical weapons, and told U.S. troops they were headed into the war zone. These verbal blunders were quickly walked back by unnamed “White House officials,” but the damage had been done. The entire world now knows that the president either does not mean what he says, or is not able to say what he means, or both. This isn’t strategic ambiguity, and it is certainly not strategic clarity. This is strategic confusion at the highest levels of the U.S. government. And it puts us all at risk. It is surely no coincidence that CCP leaders, seeing how confused and confusing our president is, seem to be inching ever closer toward a move against Taiwan. Aside from building up its conventional forces, the People’s Liberation Army is also building several hundred new missile silos. Beijing now says that the United States will pay an “unbearable price” if it tries to help Taiwan repel an invasion. As Russia continued to build up its forces on Ukraine’s border last winter, Biden had nothing to offer the beleaguered country except rhetoric. Significant military aid shipments did not begin arriving until after Russian tank columns were deep in Ukrainian territory. And only now, three months into the conflict, has he decided to send long-range rockets to aid Ukraine’s resistance. But instead of learning from the mistakes he made in dealing with Putin, Biden seems to be repeating them. If this same playbook is followed where Taiwan is concerned, help will arrive too late. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Tim

Will the US Defend Taiwan? It Depends on Who You Listen To

Commentary

Right now, we have strategic confusion at the highest levels of government.

President Joe Biden has now, on three separate occasions, said that the U.S. military would defend Taiwan if the Chinese regime invaded the island. First in an interview with ABC News in August 2021, then at a CNN town hall event in October, and now on his recent trip to Asia. And three times, the White House staff has had to swoop in and deny that the president meant what he clearly said.

In the August interview with ABC News, Biden was asked about Chinese communist propaganda, claiming that the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan meant that Taiwan, too, would be abandoned. He responded by suggesting that America’s commitment to Taiwan was on par with its commitment to its NATO allies.

However, we have no mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, and the governing legislation, called the Taiwan Relations Act, only formally commits us to supply defensive weapons to the island nation.

White House officials had to intervene and deny that U.S. policy had changed.

The White House had to issue another clarification in October after Biden said in a CNN town hall that “we have a commitment” to defend the island if it is attacked by China. U.S. policy toward Taiwan has not changed; officials rushed in to insist.

And just a few days ago in Tokyo, Biden was asked if the United States would get involved militarily in response to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. “That’s the commitment we made,” Biden responded emphatically. A White House official later tried to explain away the president’s remark by saying that he was only “reiterat[ing] our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.” But he was clearly going further than that.

Now, this is not how “strategic ambiguity” is supposed to work. It is supposed to keep your enemy, in this case, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), guessing. It is supposed to deter Xi Jinping from invading Taiwan by leaving open the question of whether the United States will come to its aid. Instead, the American people are left to guess who is running the White House—the current occupant of the Oval Office or some unnamed, unelected staffer.

Now I have to admit that I don’t think much of “strategic ambiguity” as a policy. After all, Teddy Roosevelt said to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” not “mumble under your breath while waving a twig about.”

I think we need to deter China by being crystal clear that we will defend Taiwan if it is attacked. But at the same time, we need to arm Taiwan today with weapons, such as anti-ship missiles, to ensure any future invasion will fail. The CCP will not launch an invading fleet if it is likely to be sunk in transit.

Epoch Times Photo
Taiwanese soldiers launch a U.S.-made Javelin missile during the annual Han Guang live-fire drill in southern Pingtung on Aug. 25, 2016. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)

Right now, however, we have the worst of both worlds. Because of the constant walk backs of Biden’s pronouncements—not just on Taiwan, but on Ukraine—no one knows who is in charge of U.S. foreign policy or even what U.S. policy actually is. This is a very dangerous position for the United States, not just for Taiwan’s future.

It wasn’t that long ago that Biden variously called for Vladimir Putin’s ouster, threatened the retaliatory use of (nonexistent) chemical weapons, and told U.S. troops they were headed into the war zone. These verbal blunders were quickly walked back by unnamed “White House officials,” but the damage had been done.

The entire world now knows that the president either does not mean what he says, or is not able to say what he means, or both.

This isn’t strategic ambiguity, and it is certainly not strategic clarity. This is strategic confusion at the highest levels of the U.S. government. And it puts us all at risk.

It is surely no coincidence that CCP leaders, seeing how confused and confusing our president is, seem to be inching ever closer toward a move against Taiwan. Aside from building up its conventional forces, the People’s Liberation Army is also building several hundred new missile silos. Beijing now says that the United States will pay an “unbearable price” if it tries to help Taiwan repel an invasion.

As Russia continued to build up its forces on Ukraine’s border last winter, Biden had nothing to offer the beleaguered country except rhetoric. Significant military aid shipments did not begin arriving until after Russian tank columns were deep in Ukrainian territory. And only now, three months into the conflict, has he decided to send long-range rockets to aid Ukraine’s resistance.

But instead of learning from the mistakes he made in dealing with Putin, Biden seems to be repeating them.

If this same playbook is followed where Taiwan is concerned, help will arrive too late.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Steven W. Mosher is the president of the Population Research Institute and the author of “Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order.” A former National Science Foundation fellow, he studied human biology at Stanford University under famed geneticist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza. He holds advanced degrees in Biological Oceanography, East Asian Studies, and Cultural Anthropology. One of America’s leading China watchers, he was selected in 1979 by the National Science Foundation to be the first American social scientist to do field research in China.