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The US Is Standing By Taiwan No Matter What

July 31, 2018

Via Wikimedia Commons.

There are very clear signs the US military will keep looking for opportunities to confront and deter China until the next decade. When the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act got passed by the US legislature this month, a subsection dealing with Taiwan soon came to light. In it, a detailed list of policies proved once and for all that Washington, DC intends to help Taipei preserve its sovereign status.

The gist of it was the US wants to arm Taiwan until its military gathers sufficient strength for discouraging an attack by China. In the context of a grand strategy for the Asia-Pacific, this fortifies the “first island chain” (Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines) that should stop the Chinese navy from becoming a true blue ocean force.

Last week Taiwan Sentinel published the text of a conference report accompanying the 2019 NDAA. What it revealed was a very deep commitment to Taiwan’s defense through seven initiatives. Foremost is to maintain the Six Assurances guaranteeing the US won’t abandon Taiwan and will keep its role as the island nation’s greatest ally. This condition couldn’t come at a more perfect time. Since entering office in 2016 Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has ignored the “One China” policy and offered few assurances of not declaring full independence from Beijing.

This has incensed China’s President Xi Jinping and not a month goes by without a “live fire exercise” by the PLAN as a warning to the “rogue province.” China’s new war doctrine for taking over the island is hardly a secret. The dangerous H-6K bomber is meant for flying around Taiwan to launch salvos of cruise missiles at sensitive targets. The PLAN’s new aircraft carriers with their strike groups can loiter far beyond the range of shore-based defenses and impose a blockade. Should the US Navy try to aid Taiwan, its movements are frozen by a combination of satellite guided ballistic missiles and submarines.

No wonder the 2019 NDAA is so generous to Taipei. Aside from keeping the Six Assurances, the rest of the promised help is charitable to a fault. These are:

  • Helping Taiwan’s armed forces modernize its arsenal.
  • Supply Taiwan with new weapons and assistance in building naval assets, like submarines.
  • Set more reliable delivery schedules for arms sales to Taiwan.
  • Let military leaders from both countries meet on a regular basis to arrange joint exercises.
  • Collaborate for humanitarian missions.
  • Send a hospital ship to Taiwan as a confidence boost.

But the US isn’t letting China off the hook. The 2019 NDAA is very specific when it comes to Washington, DC’s main rivals and offered prescriptions for challenging them in the coming year. Since China is recognized as a strategic competitor and long-term adversary, choice targets have been set to put Beijing in its place. The 2019 NDAA makes it clear the sales of devices made by Huawei and ZTE to US government offices will soon be prohibited. It also promises a “whole-of-government strategy” or a mobilization for US government agencies to fight Chinese influence in the homeland.

The 2019 NDAA’s approach to the “Indo-Pacific” is, for lack of a better word, aggressive. It advocates a five-year plan for building up the US Navy in the theater. Then allies like India, together with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are recruited for a “maritime security initiative.” India in particular is lucky because the 2019 NDAA recommends a “strategy with specific benchmarks” for making it a unassailable regional power.

There are some petty anti-China gestures thrown in for good measure. These span limiting Pentagon funds for language learning courses by the Confucius Institute in major universities; keeping China out of the annual RIMPAC exercises; publicizing China’s illegal behavior in the South China Sea; a very subtle campaign to block Chinese subterfuge within the US. What all this boils down to is the US won’t retreat from Asia any time soon even if it fulfills the Thucydides Trap.

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