Defending Taiwan: Introduction

Although there is still a war raging in Ukraine, Taiwan is increasingly on the minds of US diplomats and military leaders. Following President Biden’s trip to Asia and his comments on the possibility of the US militarily supporting Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack there are many questions being raised about how the US might intervene to defend Taiwan if the PRC launches an attack. Policy debates on the shape and size of a potential US intervention are taking on a new importance in the aftermath of Biden’s ambiguous remarks in Tokyo. The president was less than clear, whether by design or circumstance, on the conditions needed to be met in order to trigger a US military response. For example, is Washington willing to intervene in the event of a Chinese military blockade of Taiwan, or will the red line only be crossed after the first Chinese troops land on Taiwanese soil?

Practically speaking, there are considerable obstacles US forces will need to overcome to successfully defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack. Geography and force posture are two of the most crucial. Taiwan is situated in the PRC’s front yard. Just 110 miles of water separate the island-nation from the Mainland. This is an advantage that cannot be negated or minimized. Hundreds of tactical aircraft and ballistic missiles, dozens of warships and thousands of troops ready for embarkation are normally based in close proximity to the Taiwan Strait. During a buildup to hostilities, reinforcements will pour into the Eastern Theater Command area and greatly increase the combat power available for an operation against Taiwan. Considerably more combat power than the US and select allied nations in the region could bring to bare or use as a deterrent. Improvements in Chinese air and naval capabilities over the last twelve years also make the formula more than a numbers game. The US forces still maintain a qualitative edge, but that is diminishing somewhat. Expanding capabilities, coupled with China’s already immense advantage in quantity might be enough to keep the US military at bay and unable to effectively influence the battle.

Periodically in the coming weeks, Today’s DIRT will examine the options available for the US to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, as well as taking a detailed look at the forces available to both the US and China.

Biden Says US Will Respond Militarily To A Chinese Attack On Taiwan

The media, analysts, talking heads and pundits have spent most of Monday breaking down Joe Biden’s comment that the United States will intervene militarily in the event China invades Taiwan. Some believe Biden misspoke, while others are of the opinion that the US president’s words were deliberate and contain message to Chinese leadership. The third group subscribes to the theory that Biden was the victim of another mental faux pas and his thoughts on a US response to a Chinese attack against Taiwan change with each passing week and should not be taken seriously.

For those of you who were unaware of what happened earlier today, at a press conference in Japan Biden hinted he would go further to help Taiwan then he has for Ukraine. A reporter asked him if this meant the US will intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese invasion of the island. Biden replied that it did and said so without expansion or clarification. At a time when tensions in the Western Pacific are on the rise, Biden’s words could end up being tantamount to flicking a lighter while sitting atop a powder keg.

The White House moved rapidly to remold Biden’s words, emphasizing that the president stated US policy is not changing.  In a statement handed out to reporters, the White House attempted to conduct damage control. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

The Pentagon chimed in soon after with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sharing his two cents. “I think the president was clear on the fact that the policy has not changed.”

Given the present tensions between China and the United States, Biden’s comments will elicit a response from the Chinese government. Most likely in the coming hours. In the absence of a reaction, tomorrow’s entry will look at just what military steps the United States and her allies in the Western Pacific could take in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

China’s Influence and Prestige On The Rise In Central America

With Daniel Ortega firmly embedded as Nicaragua’s leader, it was only a matter of time before Nicaragua gravitated nearer to China’s orbit. That it finally happened comes as no surprise, but the manner in which Nicaragua acted has raised many eyebrows around Central America and the world. In short, Nicaragua ended its long-running diplomatic and business relationships with Taiwan. Managua wasted little time in formally established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China next. Shortly thereafter, the first batch of Chinese-donated COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Nicaragua. Over 1 million doses have been promised by Beijing, seemingly a handsome payment for Ortega having chosen China over Taiwan.

“The People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing all of China and Taiwan is an undoubted part of the Chinese territory,” Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said in a televised announcement from capital city Managua last week. Nicaragua is not the first nation in Central America to sever ties with Taiwan in recent years. El Salvador and the Dominican Republic announced they would no longer recognize Taiwan. In the aftermath of Nicaragua’s decision, Honduras is now taking a hard look at the prospect of jumping ship as well.

Nicaragua’s decision is a double victory for Beijing. Taiwan’s diplomatic influence has been reduced and the Chinese beachhead in the Western Hemisphere expands. Outside of Cuba and Venezuela, which are both allies of Beijing, China is moving to gain favor and influence in other Central American countries. The Biden administration has been very slow in countering Chinese moves in America’s backyard. It should regard Nicaragua’s actions as a wake-up call at the very least. The fact that China is actively moving to minimize Taiwan’s circle of friendly nation-states takes the appearance of being a possible precursor to military action in the near future. In the bigger picture however, the Chinese inroads being made in Central America are the seeds of a challenge to US dominance in the Western Hemisphere at down the line.

Unfortunately, Washington doesn’t exactly see it this way. As a result, China’s inroads will expand unchallenged south of the border for some time.

War Clouds Gathering Over Taiwan?

Over the weekend, relations between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan appear to have entered an impermanent and rather agitated new phase. With a week or so of escalatory air operations in Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone serving as the leadup, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that a peaceful reunification with Taiwan will be achieved. Taiwan’s leadership viewed Xi’s words as him throwing down the gauntlet. On Sunday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said her nation will not submit to pressure from China for reunification. Tsai went on to say that Taiwan will continue increasing its military capabilities “ to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us.”

Xi supports Taiwanese reunification under a ‘one country, two systems’ model along the lines the Hong Kong System, which went into place after British rule ended there in 1997. That system, however, has all but collapsed in the last two years. Beijing has successfully moved to take direct control over Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and roll back the territory’s autonomy since the summer of 2019. Holding up the prospect of this for Taiwan’s future was not going to garner support for a peaceful transition leading to eventual reunification. Xi was aware of this long before his address on Saturday. The Chinese leader can use Taiwan’s defiant response as justification to turn up the heat militarily on the island nation in the coming weeks and months.

The United States has inadvertently helped Xi’s efforts with the discovery that a small cadre of US troops has been present in Taiwan for over a year working to assist the ROC armed forces in strengthening their defenses against an increasingly aggressive China. Beijing can point to this as proof of Taipei and Washington working against Chinese desires to reunify Taiwan with the mainland peacefully.

Now, as a new week dawns in the Western Pacific, regional powers are uneasy about what China has planned for the short-term. Most self-described defense and geo-political analysts and experts spouting their views on Western news channels and social media continue to insist there’s no threat of Chinese military action against Taiwan on the horizon. What they are forgetting to mention, or factor into their conclusions, is that the record number of Chinese air sorties around Taiwan and Xi’s promise of reunification, albeit under ‘peaceful conditions,’ could serve to signal the start of a transition-to-hostilities phase for the People’s Republic of China.

Taiwan Tension Is Putting Pressure On US-China Relations

As Chinese violations of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone off the southeast coast of the island continuing in large numbers have caused tensions between the United States and China to simmer once again. Earlier on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden said he has spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the growing animosity between Beijing and Taipei. During the conversation, according to Biden, both leaders agreed to continue abiding by the Taiwan Agreement. He appeared to be referring to the Taiwan Relations Act, as well as the One-China policy which has guided US relations with Taiwan and Beijing over the years.

The US denounced the Chinese military maneuvers on Sunday, calling them both provocative and destabilizing. On Wednesday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will meet with senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Switzerland. This is apparently part of the latest push by the White House to ‘manage the competition,’ so to speak and prevent the two nations from falling into a major conflict. Sullivan will have his work cut out for him. Thus far, the Biden Administration’s foreign policy team has been shown to be lacking. Especially when it comes to dealing with China. The summit meeting held between US and Chinese officials in Anchorage back in March, 2021 certainly revealed the deficiencies on the US team. State is weak, the Defense Department is fully preoccupied with instituting a new woke policy on the services and the National Security Council is practically a nonentity in foreign policy matters. Afghanistan proved all of these points beyond the shadow of a doubt. Now, even before the dust has settled in Kabul, the Chinese are making noise.

Sullivan will likely come back from Switzerland emptyhanded. Beijing appears to be feeling out Washington to determine just how far the US will go to support Taiwan in the event of a China-Taiwanese conflict. That’s certainly one goal of the ADIZ intrusions over the weekend. By the end of the week, do not be surprised if China moves to tie the loosening of US trade tariffs to the heightening tensions near Taiwan. If Xi becomes convinced that the Biden Administration will go to any lengths to prevent a war over Taiwan, the Chinese president is going to use this to his nation’s benefit and gain every concession possible.

Then, once he is prepared to move and not a second before, China will still invade Taiwan at some point down the line.