By Lawrence A. Franklin
An important lesson learned after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that the Free World should immediately establish normal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
US President Joe Biden, when, during a May 23 joint press briefing with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, was asked by a reporter if ” the US would militarily support Taiwan if China attacked” he answered, “Yes, that is the commitment we made” — a statement that unfortunately the State Department immediately walked back.
While China’s reaction to Biden’s remarks was predictably negative, the Free World, after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, must not assume that Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s repeated pledge to “restore Taiwan to the Motherland” is mere chest-thumping.
An important lesson learned after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that the Free World should immediately establish normal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The US should end its diplomatic ambiguity regarding whether or not it would defend Taiwan in the eventuality of a Chinese Communist assault on the island democracy.
The only message that ambiguity sends to Communist China is weakness, and a tacit green light to invade. America and her Asian allies would also do well to implement military and political initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region that would discourage any Chinese calculus to “reunite” with Taiwan by force.
The US could further accelerate the delivery to Taiwan of promised mobile FIM-92F Stinger air defense missiles to help. The US Navy could also supply Taiwan’s with more sea mines to lay along the lanes of approach from China to all of Taiwan’s sovereign islands. Taiwan’s Asian allies such as Japan could help the Taiwanese strengthen their beach defenses to thwart any amphibious assault operations from Communist China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This is particularly relevant for beaches on the northern tip of the island, not far from the capital Taipei, and on the southwestern reaches of Taiwan where PLA Marines might stage an amphibious attack. Immediate delivery from the US of additional coastal-defense Harpoon missiles to Taiwan would also help the island’s ability to thwart PLA beach assaults. Another significant weapon system would be the US delivery to Taiwan of several types of self-propelled artillery. Additionally, the US and Free World militaries can provide Taiwan with short range air defense systems to shoot down PLA assault helicopters and drones. The US and Japanese navies could lend their invaluable expertise in submarine hunter-killer operations, as well as underwater demolition.
On the diplomatic front, the Free World — led, one wishes, by the US — could help raise Taiwan’s global diplomatic profile by sponsoring its participation as an official member state in several international organizations, including the United Nations. The US Department of State should restore full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, as advocated by former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a recent visit to Taipei. In addition, the US could encourage the world’s democracies to establish official bilateral links.
Beijing’s heretofore successful efforts to exclude Taiwan from membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) proved to be a contentious disaster during the past two years of the coronavirus pandemic. Early on, Taiwan warned the WHO about the human-to-human transmissibility of the coronavirus, but apparently the WHO preferred to disregard the warning and instead kept parroting Communist China’s lies as China closed off its own internal travel but encouraged outbound international travel.
Despite Taiwan’s non-membership status in the WHO, the Taiwanese government’s outstanding success in limiting the spread of the Covid-19 was of valuable assistance to other nations, especially in Asia. Taiwan’s near-abroad neighbors might also raise the island democracy’s regional diplomatic profile through the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With a little prompting from Washington, an ASEAN member state friendly to the US, such as the Philippines, could sponsor Taiwan to be accepted as an ASEAN “Dialogue Partner” and as a party to the organization’s “Regional Forum for Political Dialogue.” Taiwan’s eventual emergence in ASEAN is a salient approach as the island’s investment and commercial ties to ASEAN countries is massive and still growing.
The QUAD alliance of the US, Japan, Australia and India could invite Taiwan’s navy and air force to join in multilateral exercises in waters off China. QUAD member states could increase Freedom of Navigation Operations (FON) in the Strait of Taiwan. The US government could help Taiwan to help itself by dispatching officials to discuss a mobilization strategy that could include: increasing the time of compulsory military service for men from four months to 12-to 24 months; extending the draft to women and distributing weapons to Taiwan’s civilian population. These advisors might also help to organize a nationwide civil defense program which could include logistical and medical support for Taiwan’s soldiers. Identification and stockpiling of shelters could be still another indispensable prerequisite to help Taiwan survive with its sovereignty intact.
The US could decisively seize the initiative by informing China that, should it appear that Beijing was preparing an assault on the island, the US would declare a no-fly zone in Taiwanese air space, or the US could even declare one now. Another initiative by the US could be officially to recognize Taiwan as the Republic of China, while urging all the world’s democracies to do the same. The permanent stationing of US air and naval assets in Taiwan’s airfields and ports might be an additional conclusive move to postpone any plans by Xi Jinping to “seal his legacy” by “re-uniting the Motherland” by conquering Taiwan. We have already seen how China has treated Tibetans, Uyghurs, the prosperous formerly democratic island of Hong Kong and even its own citizens under the recent brutal lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities.
Taiwan is not Ukraine, but the suppression of Taiwanese democracy by the Chinese Communist regime would be at least as negatively consequential to global democracies as any Russian conquest of Ukraine. Unless the West acts boldly and demonstrates to China that the cost to it of on attack on Taiwan will be crushing, China will not be able to help feeling irresistibly tempted not only to carry out its longtime dream of overpowering Taiwan, but also assuming dominance, for a start, in the South and East China Seas.
China has already built artificial islands that it pledged would not be militarized, but which soon were; and has effectively taken over the Solomon Islands — near American territory in Guam and Hawai’i — and wields strategic influence in Sri Lanka, at the control-point of the Indian Ocean. The Chinese military might then “help” its near-abroad neighbors to resolve bilateral territorial disputes in China’s favor. These might include the Japanese-claimed Senkaku Islands, the Philippines’ claimed Scarborough Shoal, and Vietnam’s claim to the Paracel Islands. Japan may then seek to develop an independent nuclear strike capability. Such an apocalyptic turn of events could even encourage North Korea finally to attack South Korea.
America’s needs above all quickly to establish a massive credible deterrence against the People’s Republic of China. Unfortunately, that seems the only realistic means of bringing China’s out-of-control aggression to a stop.