Biden Backs Taiwan, but Some Call for a Clearer Warning to China

  

Category:  Op/Ed

Via:  vic-eldred  •  3 months ago  •  38 comments

By:   Michael Crowley (nytimes)

Biden Backs Taiwan, but Some Call for a Clearer Warning to China
As China grows stronger and bolder, some experts want to end Washington's decades-long policy of "strategic ambiguity."

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



WASHINGTON — If anything can tip the global power struggle between China and the United States into an actual military conflict, many experts and administration officials say, it is the fate of Taiwan.

Beijing has increased its military harassment of what it considers a rogue territory, including menacing flights by 15 Chinese warplanes near its shores over recent days. In response, Biden administration officials are trying to calibrate a policy that protects the democratic, technology-rich island without inciting an armed conflict that would be disastrous for all.

Under a longstanding — and famously convoluted — policy derived from America's "one China" stance that supports Taiwan without recognizing it as independent, the United States provides political and military support for Taiwan, but does not explicitly promise to defend it from a Chinese attack.

As China's power and ambition grow, however, and Beijing assesses Washington to be weakened and distracted, a debate is underway whether the United States should make a clearer commitment to the island's defense, in part to reduce the risk of a miscalculation by China that could lead to unwanted war.

The debate reflects a core foreign policy challenge seizing the Biden administration as it devises its wider Asia strategy. At the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, which is reviewing its military posture in Asia, officials are re-evaluating core tenets of American strategy for a new and more dangerous phase of competition with China.

American officials warn that China is growing more capable of invading the island democracy of nearly 24 million people, situated about 100 miles off the coast of mainland China, whose status has obsessed Beijing since Chinese nationalists retreated and formed a government there after the country's 1949 Communist revolution.

Last month, the military commander for the Indo-Pacific region, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, described what he sees as a risk that China could try to reclaim Taiwan by force within the next six years.

The United States has long avoided saying how it would respond to such an attack. While Washington supports Taiwan with diplomatic contacts, arms sales, firm language and even occasional military maneuvers, there are no guarantees. No statement, doctrine or security agreement compels the United States to come to Taiwan's rescue. A 1979 congressional law states only that "any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means" would be of "grave concern to the United States."

The result is known as "strategic ambiguity," a careful balance intended both to avoid provoking Beijing or emboldening Taiwan into a formal declaration of independence that could lead to a Chinese invasion.

Biden administration officials, who are formulating their China policies, are giving special attention to Taiwan, and trying to determine whether strategic ambiguity is sufficient to protect the increasingly vulnerable island from Beijing's designs. But they also realize that Americans may look unfavorably at new, faraway military commitments after two decades of bloody and costly conflict in the Middle East.

That is why Admiral Davidson raised eyebrows last month when he acknowledged under questioning, in a departure from standard government messaging, that the policy "should be reconsidered," adding, "I would look forward to the conversation."

"I think there's been a shift in peoples' thinking," said Richard N. Haass, a former director of policy planning at the State Department under President George W. Bush and now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "What you've seen over the last year is an acceleration of concern in the United States about Taiwan." He described a sense that "this delicate situation that appeared to have been successfully managed or finessed for decades, suddenly people woke up to the possibility that that era has come to an end."

Mr. Haass helped prompt a conversation on the subject last year after publishing an essay in the September issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that declared that strategic ambiguity had "run its course."

"The time has come for the United States to introduce a policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United States would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan," Mr. Haass wrote with his colleague David Sacks.

Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks added that the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, may question America's willingness to defend its alliances after four years under President Donald J. Trump, who railed against "endless wars" and openly questioned the United States' relationships and security commitments. While more hawkish-sounding, a clearer pledge would be safer, they argued.

"Such a policy would lower the chances of Chinese miscalculation, which is the likeliest catalyst for war in the Taiwan Strait," Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks wrote.

In recent months, the idea has been gaining traction, including on Capitol Hill.

ImageThe Biden administration is trying to calibrate a policy that protects the democratic, technology-rich island without inciting a disastrous armed conflict.Credit...Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, has introduced a bill that would authorize the president to take military action to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack — making America's intentions ambiguous no more. When Mr. Haass testified last month before a House Foreign Relations Committee panel on Asia, he was peppered with questions about how to deter the Chinese threat to Taiwan.

In remarks in February at an event hosted by The Washington Post, Robert M. Gates, a former defense secretary and C.I.A. director who served under presidents of both parties, including Mr. Bush and Barack Obama, called Taiwan the facet of U.S.-China relations that concerned him the most.

Mr. Gates said that it might be "time to abandon our longtime strategy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan."

The notion gained another unlikely adherent when former Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and longtime dove on military issues, argued in an opinion essay in The Hill newspaper last month that on human rights grounds, the United States must guarantee that a thriving Asian democracy be protected from "forcible absorption into an unashamedly brutal regime that exemplifies the denial of fundamental human rights."

Mr. Frank cited China's "imperviousness to any other consideration" than force as reason to "save 23 million Taiwanese from losing their basic human rights."

Though of limited value in territorial terms, Taiwan in recent years has also gained a greater strategic importance as one of the world's leading producers of semiconductors — the high-tech equivalent of oil in the emerging supercomputing showdown between the United States and China, which faces microchip supply shortages.

Those factors combined have led the Biden administration to offer displays of support for Taiwan that some experts call surprisingly forceful.

When China sent dozens of warplanes over the Taiwan Strait days after Mr. Biden's inauguration in January, the State Department released a statement declaring America's "rock solid" commitment to the island. Mr. Biden raised the subject of Taiwan during his phone call in February with Mr. Xi, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and the national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised their concerns about the island during their meeting last month in Anchorage with two top Chinese officials.

"I think people are bending over backward to say to China, 'Do not miscalculate — we strongly support Taiwan,'" said Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ms. Glaser said she had been surprised at the Biden team's early approach toward Taiwan, which so far has maintained the Trump administration's amplified political support for the island, a posture some critics called overly provocative. She noted that Mr. Blinken had recently urged Paraguay's president in a phone call to maintain his country's formal ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from Beijing, and that the U.S. ambassador to Palau, an archipelago state in the Western Pacific, recently joined a diplomatic delegation from that country to Taiwan.

"That is just really outside of normal diplomatic practice," Ms. Glaser said. "I think that was quite unexpected."

But Ms. Glaser does not support a more explicit U.S. commitment to Taiwan's defense. Like many other analysts and American officials, she fears that such a change in policy might provoke China.

"Maybe then Xi is backed into a corner. This could really cause China to make the decision to invade," she warned.

Others worry that a concrete American security guarantee would embolden Taiwan's leaders to formally declare independence — an act that, however symbolic it may seem given the island's 70-plus years of autonomy, would cross a clear red line for Beijing.

"Taiwan independence means war," a spokesman for China's Defense Ministry, Wu Qian, said in January.

Some analysts say the Biden administration might manage to deter China without provoking it through more forceful warnings that stop short of an explicit promise to defend Taiwan. U.S. officials can also issue private warnings to Beijing that do not put Mr. Xi at risk of publicly losing face.

"We just need China to understand that we would come to Taiwan's defense," said Elbridge A. Colby, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development under Mr. Trump.

The United States has long provided military hardware to Taiwan, including billions of dollars in arms sales under the Trump administration that featured fighter jets and air-to-ground missiles allowing Taiwanese planes to strike China. Such equipment is meant to diminish Taiwan's need for an American intervention should it come under attack.

But Mr. Colby and others say the United States must develop a more credible military deterrent in the Pacific region to match recent advances by China's military.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, H.R. McMaster, a national security adviser for Mr. Trump, said the current ambiguity was sufficient.

"The message to China ought to be, 'Hey, you can assume that the United States won't respond' — but that was the assumption made in June of 1950, as well, when North Korea invaded South Korea," Mr. McMaster said.

Continue reading the main story


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Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Vic Eldred    3 months ago

The blame for all of this goes back to Richard Nixon. The U.S. somehow needed to recognize the government in Beijing, not Taipei, as the only legitimate China, and the United Nations needed to expel Taiwan, Zhou said. Kissinger agreed to those terms, and President Richard Nixon visited China the next year. So, the US refused to recognize Taiwan, yet it continued selling arms to its government and implicitly warned Beijing not to invade. The policy is known as “strategic ambiguity,” and it has endured since the 1970s.

Last month, the military commander for the Indo-Pacific region, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, described what he sees as a risk that China could try to reclaim Taiwan by force within the next six years.

Does anyone really think that the Biden administration would go to full scale war with China over Taiwan?


Trump and his supporters are off topic.
I am off topic.

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
1.1  XXJefferson51  replied to  Vic Eldred @1    3 months ago

Not only the USA but Japan, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, India all should militarily intervene on behalf of Taiwan if Taiwan is attacked.  

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
1.1.1  Hallux  replied to  XXJefferson51 @1.1    3 months ago

Canada has a couple of fishing boats it could offer up to help and maybe we could get some of our barges back from the Philippines.

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
1.1.2  XXJefferson51  replied to  Hallux @1.1.1    3 months ago

The Canadian navy is not that limited.  It’s about being part of a combined effort.  

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1.1.4  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Hallux @1.1.1    3 months ago

My brother was a Sub-Lieutenant in the Canadian Navy reserve, and he crossed the Atlantic in a Canadian Navy frigate, so at least Canada has one of those.  He said the waves were higher than the ship.

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
1.2  Hallux  replied to  Vic Eldred @1    3 months ago
"Trump and his supporters are off topic."

1: Trump is mentioned 6 times in the article ... @!@

2: Biden inherited Trump's policy on China. Just as Trump inherited Obama's, just as Obama inherited Bush's, just as Bush inherited Clintons ... Just what is it about chunks of history that you want to 'cancel' them?

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2  Buzz of the Orient    3 months ago
"Does anyone really think that the Biden administration would go to full scale war with China over Taiwan?'

I'd venture to say that IMO it would be suicidal no matter who was POTUS and which party was in control of the administration. 

 
 
 
Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  Vic Eldred  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2    3 months ago

In other words, the answer is an obvious NO.

I am sure that the CCP knows that and will proceed accordingly.

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Masters Expert
3  Greg Jones    3 months ago

It would not be in China's best interests to invade Taiwan....it would the beginning of the end of the commie regime

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4  Kavika     3 months ago

A number of military experts have concerns that if China attacked Taiwan and the US intervened that we could suffer a crushing defeat. Chinese military power has increased dramatically over the past 25 years. Supply lines for China would be less than 100 miles and for the US thousands of miles. Yes, China would pay dearly for invading Taiwan in terms of casualties and it would be catastrophic for Taiwan and also for the US. 

If today, China decided to take the outlying islands of Taiwan (Kinmen Islands) there is nothing Taiwan or the US could do about it. They are a few miles from the shore of mainland China and have a population of around 150,000 Taiwanese citizens. 

The first line of defense for Taiwan is the Penghu archipelago which is 30 miles off the coast of Taiwan and heavily fortified by the Taiwanese. 

Any scenario involving combat would be catastrophic for all involved.

 
 
 
Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
4.1  seeder  Vic Eldred  replied to  Kavika @4    3 months ago

You see, that is one of the consequences of nuclear weapons. We no sooner defeated the forces of Fascism and the USA and then others had nuclear weapons. The plus side was that it helped to ensure the peace & safety of the US for about 76 years. The great negative is that it also ensured the sovereignty of the Communist/Socialist regimes on the left.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1.1  Kavika   replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1    3 months ago

MAD

 
 
 
Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
4.1.2  seeder  Vic Eldred  replied to  Kavika @4.1.1    3 months ago

It wouldn't be MAD if China invaded Taiwan tomorrow and they know it - UNLESS the US gave nuclear weapons to Taiwan, but that would take guts!

China is in control.  Don't like it?  Maybe we all get hit with another pandemic.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1.3  Kavika   replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1.2    3 months ago

In using MAD I was referencing the US and China. 

The US isn't going to give nuclear weapons to Taiwan.

China is in control.  Don't like it?  Maybe we all get hit with another pandemic.

China is in control of what they do towards Taiwan and that will determine what the US does. 

China is probably not going to use a pandemic to invade Taiwan.

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
4.1.4  XXJefferson51  replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1    3 months ago

Maybe Taiwan needs to very quickly get some for their short and medium range missiles and cruise missiles on one of their submarines in order to ensure their survival or MAD. 

 
 
 
Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
4.1.5  seeder  Vic Eldred  replied to  Kavika @4.1.3    3 months ago
In using MAD I was referencing the US and China. 

I've already established what nuclear weapons have done.  Taiwan having nuclear weapons elevates it to the MAD equation.


The US isn't going to give nuclear weapons to Taiwan.

Not under progressives. Taiwan, Japan and Australia should all have nuclear weapons fixed on China.


China is probably not going to use a pandemic to invade Taiwan.

I think everyone knows what I meant. China always holds the threat of another pandemic for the US. They know we won't do a thing about it.

 
 
 
Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
4.1.6  seeder  Vic Eldred  replied to  XXJefferson51 @4.1.4    3 months ago
Maybe Taiwan needs to very quickly get some for their short and medium range missiles and cruise missiles on one of their submarines in order to ensure their survival or MAD. 

That would stop China cold, wouldn't it?  

The problem is that China has too many allies right here in the US.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1.7  Kavika   replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1.6    3 months ago
That would stop China cold, wouldn't it?  

No, it wouldn't. Taiwan has four 1980s vintage subs and China has 50 subs. Taiwan is currently building eight more subs and the first one will not be ready until 2024. Meanwhile, China has four ballistic subs, six nuclear power attack subs, and 40 diesel-electric subs and is currently building two more nuclear power attack subs with ten more to be completed by 2028.

The problem is that China has too many allies right here in the US.

And who would those allies be?

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1.8  Kavika   replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1.5    3 months ago
I've already established what nuclear weapons have done.  Taiwan having nuclear weapons elevates it to the MAD equation.

We currently have MAD without adding Taiwan. 

 Not under progressives. Taiwan, Japan and Australia should all have nuclear weapons fixed on China.

Utter nonsense, no administration, dem or rep has or will give nuclear weapons to Taiwan. Australia is a signator to NPT. You may want to review the ''Three Principles'' of Japan on nuclear weapons.

I think everyone knows what I meant. China always holds the threat of another pandemic for the US. They know we won't do a thing about it.

So, in your opinion, China will use biological warfare against the US?

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
4.1.9  Hallux  replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1.5    3 months ago

" ... the MAD equation."

 ah yes, the acronym for Mutual Assured Deterrence that has been popularized into Mutual Assured Destruction. 

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
4.1.10  XXJefferson51  replied to  Kavika @4.1.8    3 months ago

Taiwan may be able to do it on their own.  Decades ago they were in with Israel and South Africa in research toward them before South African renounced them and waked away just before ending apartheid.  Taiwan may be able to produce them on a moments notice should they feel the need to do so.  

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
4.1.11  XXJefferson51  replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1.6    3 months ago
That would stop China cold, wouldn't it?

It could.  A silent sub could evade an opposing navy and the range of the missiles allows the sub to be in the open ocean well away from conventional naval combat.  



The problem is that China has too many allies right here in the US.?  

That is for sure!  

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
4.1.12  XXJefferson51  replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1.5    3 months ago

If China attacks Taiwan a nuclear Japan is inevitable.  And it wouldn’t be because we gave them the weapons. 

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
4.1.13  XXJefferson51  replied to  Kavika @4.1.3    3 months ago

No but they might send us another one like the one they sent last year in order to immobilize us

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
4.1.14  Hallux  replied to  Vic Eldred @4.1.2    3 months ago
"Maybe we all get hit with another pandemic."

That's a foregone conclusion, where it comes from is not.

 
 
 
Ronin2
Masters Quiet
4.2  Ronin2  replied to  Kavika @4    3 months ago

I don't think it would come to an actual basic war. It would either go straight to nuclear, or the US would back down. There is no in the middle. US citizens wouldn't tolerate another long drawn out war; and we would have to put US troops in Taiwan forever. 

We would put sanctions in place against China; try to get them removed from the UN Security Council; or at the very least get the UN General Assembly to sanction them.

In other words we would rattle the saber a lot; complain angrily a lot more to any country will to listen; up our military spending even more to ensure China doesn't swallow Japan and the Philippines; and start counting down until we sign a new agreement with China that won't be worth the paper it is printed on.

 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.2.1  Kavika   replied to  Ronin2 @4.2    3 months ago

I don't think that it will result in a shooting war but the possibility is there. China is not going to back down on Taiwan, and they will continue to get more aggressive on the Taiwan situation.

If it resulted in a shooting war the first US ship to go down in flames will have the politicians and those that wanted to defend Taiwan in a hell of a quandary. 

 
 
 
Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
4.2.2  seeder  Vic Eldred  replied to  Kavika @4.2.1    3 months ago

Until Taiwan has nuclear weapons.

Right now China has an extra motivation to move on Taiwan with Biden in the WH.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.2.3  Kavika   replied to  Vic Eldred @4.2.2    3 months ago
Right now China has an extra motivation to move on Taiwan with Biden in the WH.

Nonsense.

 
 
 
Ronin2
Masters Quiet
4.2.4  Ronin2  replied to  Kavika @4.2.1    3 months ago

I may be wrong, but we don't have a naval or air base in Taiwan. The nearest bases would be in Japan. Given how close China is to Taiwan the US might arrive too late to do anything. Unless we just happen to have a war ship passing through on a show of force that is.  I would think China would wait until there are no US ships present to launch an attack.

I agree that China is closing the gap on standard military weapons; but lacks long range capabilities at this time. This is more about location than actual military capability. Taiwan being so close to mainland China is a distinct advantage for the Chinese. The further the battle takes place away from China the more in favor of US forces it would be.

That is the reason I think it would go straight to nuclear war; or our response would be nothing. The amount of destruction and loss of US military lives to retake Taiwan; not to mention the devastation to Taiwan itself; would be something no US president would want to face.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.2.5  Kavika   replied to  Ronin2 @4.2.4    3 months ago
I may be wrong, but we don't have a naval or air base in Taiwan. The nearest bases would be in Japan. Given how close China is to Taiwan the US might arrive too late to do anything. Unless we just happen to have a war ship passing through on a show of force that is.  I would think China would wait until there are no US ships present to launch an attack.

We did have joint bases at one time but no longer have any bases in Taiwan. I agree that as I stated earlier distance will be a major factor in any confrontation. The Chinese hold a huge advantage in that area. 

I agree that China is closing the gap on standard military weapons; but lacks long range capabilities at this time. This is more about location than actual military capability. Taiwan being so close to mainland China is a distinct advantage for the Chinese. The further the battle takes place away from China the more in favor of US forces it would be.

In agreement that the US has better long-range capabilities at this time but that is closing quickly. In the case of Taiwan, the Chinese have the upper hand by a long way.

That is the reason I think it would go straight to nuclear war; or our response would be nothing. The amount of destruction and loss of US military lives to retake Taiwan; not to mention the devastation to Taiwan itself; would be something no US president would want to face.

I don't believe that it would move to nuclear war, it's more likely that we would do nothing. As both you and I have stated, a shooting war would be devastating to all involved. We would be facing off with a world power with a modern and massive Navy, Army, Air Force that has the capability to inflict massive damage to our armed forces.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
4.2.6  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Kavika @4.2.5    2 months ago

Not to mention hypersonic missiles that are capable of bypassing all known anti-missile capabilities.

And as I've said before, the US placing missiles on Taiwan would be looked at no differently than when the Russians planted missiles on Cuba. 

 
 
 
dennis smith
Masters Silent
4.2.7  dennis smith  replied to  Vic Eldred @4.2.2    2 months ago

Spot on Vic, China has waited for America to elect a weak, apologetic president to move forward on its goal to take over Taiwan without fear of significant retaliation from the US. 

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
4.2.8  XXJefferson51  replied to  dennis smith @4.2.7    2 months ago

Hopefully Bidens advisors will make sure that he’s not that President at least on this issue.  

 
 
 
dennis smith
Masters Silent
4.2.9  dennis smith  replied to  XXJefferson51 @4.2.8    2 months ago

Biden's advisors are the ones pulling his strings to be weak and apologetic. Don't expect that to change until he is no longer POTUS.

 
 
 
r.t..b...
Masters Participates
5  r.t..b...    3 months ago

Sword rattling. China is testing the resolve of a new administration, as they do with every shift in power in the U.S. 

Too much to lose from both sides in escalation of military posturing so this will eventually abate as the trillions of dollars at stake will bring both sides to their senses.

All while Taiwan continues to twist in the wind. 

 
 
 
Thrawn 31
Masters Guide
6  Thrawn 31    3 months ago

I would prefer the US shit or get off the pot with Taiwan. Either we are going to defend them as an ally or we aren’t, but let’s cut the “maybe we will maybe we won’t” bullshit.

Odds are we couldn’t stop the Chinese from taking Taiwan in the end, but with US naval, air, and material support we could make it costly. 

Either way I don’t see it coming to an actual shooting war, everyone has too much to lose.

 
 
 
XXJefferson51
Senior Guide
6.1  XXJefferson51  replied to  Thrawn 31 @6    3 months ago

On this issue I hope to God that you are right. 

 
 
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