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Biden needs to clarify his Taiwan policy ASAP

As China’s military said it’s “ready to fight” and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Europe to stay neutral in the event of China’s invasion of Taiwan and not to follow the U.S. lead, President Biden must clarify his Taiwan policy to the American people and America’s allies. 

Anyone who believes that the U.S. should remain strategically ambiguous about whether it will help defend Taiwan so as not to “provoke” China doesn’t understand the thinking of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and especially its current leader, Xi Jinping. 

Although the CCP never ruled Taiwan, its obsession with the self-governing island is rooted in the party’s insecurity – the CCP wants to be the only party that governs China and sees Taiwan as a threat to the party’s legitimacy. 

President Joe Biden meets with Chinas President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Nov. 15, 2021.

President Joe Biden meets with Chinas President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Nov. 15, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

After China’s ruling Nationalist Party lost the Civil War (1945-1949) to the CCP and fled to Taiwan, the CCP’s leader Mao Tse-tung planned to invade the island and eliminate the remainder of the Nationalist Party and the Republic of China (ROC) government. Mao abandoned his battle preparation for invading Taiwan after the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. But the CCP has never given up on conquering Taiwan by force when the time is right.

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Beijing has long insisted that Chinese culture and democracy are inherently incompatible, and the Chinese people may only enjoy stabil­ity and prosperity under the Communist Party’s rule. Yet, Taiwan has been self-governing since 1949 with a standing army, free elections, and a thriving economy. 

The self-governed island is living and breathing proof that discredits Beijing’s claim, and the island presents a viable alternative to the CCP’s totalitarian regime. The more success Taiwan enjoys, the more determined the CCP is to impose the party’s control on the island.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting in Moscow, March 21, 2023.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting in Moscow, March 21, 2023. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Besides the party’s political motive, the CCP’s current leader Xi Jinping is also driven by personal ambitions. He modeled himself after great emperors in Chinese history who were celebrated for their territorial conquests. Thus, Xi believes that to earn his prominence in Chinese history, it’s his destiny and legacy to conquer Taiwan. 

Xi has been preparing for his military conquest since he became the head of the CCP in late 2012. Under his rule, China built artificial islands in the South China Sea, and equipped them with runways, ports, aircraft hangars, radar and sensors, and military buildings. These militarized islands will help China impose a blockade around Taiwan while fending off other countries’ military aid in the event of a military conflict.

More impressively, Xi has built the world’s largest Navy (measured by the number of battleships). The PLA’s recent live-fire drills have demonstrated the shocking progress the Chinese military has made. 

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According to a war game played by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank based in Washington, D.C., although the quality of the PLA Navy is still inferior to the U.S. Navy and the PLA will suffer heavy losses if it engages in military conflict with the U.S. Navy in the Taiwan Straits, the U.S. Navy will sustain significant losses as well.

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While China’s Xi can afford to ignore public opinions and the cost of war, President Biden can’t. Thus, President Biden must make clear what America’s response to China’s invasion of Taiwan will be and why. 

So far, the Biden administration’s Taiwan policy is full of uncertainty and confusion.

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President Biden spoke several times about committing the U.S. military to Taiwan’s defense. Yet, White House officials walked back his comments each time. The Biden administration proposed to increase weapon sales to Taiwan. However, the administration’s priority clearly is Ukraine, and the U.S. military support to Ukraine has depleted our military’s supply of ammo and some weapons. The administration has been slow to ramp up production in the U.S. and had to delay the delivery of promised tanks to Ukraine. 

So how will the U.S. help arm Taiwan? More importantly, will the U.S. military have what it needs to defend itself and our allies if China escalates the Taiwan conflict by attacking the U.S. bases in South Korea or Japan?

Xi may see the Biden administration’s ambiguity on Taiwan as a weakness. And a perceived weakness often invites aggression. Lacking policy clarity may also cause the American people and U.S. allies to be ill-prepared for what’s to come. Thus, President Biden needs to clarify his Taiwan policy. He should make the case to the American people and America’s allies that the U.S. will defend Taiwan against China for two reasons. 

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul attends a luncheon with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, during a visit by a congressional delegation to Taiwan in Taipei, April 8, 2023.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul attends a luncheon with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, during a visit by a congressional delegation to Taiwan in Taipei, April 8, 2023. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP, File)

First, Taiwan’s strategic location in the South China Sea, one of the busiest international trading routes in the world, means that once China controls Taiwan, it will gain a more extraordinary ability to disrupt global trade and negatively affect the world economy. It is in the U.S. and its allies’ economic interests to defend Taiwan and keep the South China Sea free and open.

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Second, Xi’s geopolitical ambition is not limited to Southeast Asia, and China is already seeking to project power globally. Xi’s China dream is to replace the U.S. as the sole world power, and conquering Taiwan is only his first step toward Pax Sinica, albeit a crucial step. 

If Taiwan falls under China’s control, the rest of the world will regard it as America’s failure, even if we remain neutral throughout the conflict. The rule-based world order, which is led by the U.S. and has ensured peace and prosperity for most of the world since the end of WWII, will collapse. America will lose credibility and friends. Some of our allies will either abandon the U.S. and capitulate to China. Others may choose to protect themselves by kicking off an arms race. Meanwhile, America’s adversaries will be emboldened to cause more global troubles globally, threatening America’s and our allies’ national security. The world will become a more dangerous place. 

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Elbridge A. Colby, former deputy assistant secretary of defense from 2017 through 2018, predicts that Americans “would be much less prosperous and economically secure, and thus also much less free” in a new world dominated by China. 

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To prevent that prediction from becoming a reality, President Biden must make a case to the American people and our allies about why we should defend Taiwan, followed by taking concrete steps to prepare the United States and its allies militarily. 

As President Reagan said, “Peace through strength.” A combination of clear messaging and military readiness is our best hope to deter China and preserve peace across the Taiwan Straits. 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM HELEN RALEIGH

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