The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighter planes have been making intrusions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on a daily basis for over a year now. With a record number of 56 PLA aircraft entering Taiwan’s ADIZ on October 4. China has been exhibiting an increasingly aggressive posture towards Taiwan, which it considers its sovereign territory, ever since Democratic Progressive Party came to power in the 2016 Taiwanese elections. The ‘unification of Taiwan’ with China is the epicenter of President Xi Jinping’s National Rejuvenation Policy for 2049.
Taiwan (officially the Republic of China) came to be a sovereign entity when the Kuomintang or the Chinese Nationalist Party fled to the island of Formosa with the termination of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Divided from China by a distance of 1134.79 Nautical Miles, Taiwan is an island nation with a population of around 23 million. Taiwan has been dubbed as an Asian tiger for being one of the four rapidly developing and industrialized economies of Asia. Taiwan is a world leader in semiconductor technology and produce more than 60 percent of all semiconductors in the world. Though democratic and practically independent in all its affairs, Taiwan has yet to formally declare its independence from the mainland China.
The United States, in her efforts towards curtailing and or containing Communism, initially gave official recognition to Taiwan instead of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. This was followed by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1954 between the United States and the ‘Republic of China’. However in 1979, under the presidency of Richard Nixon the United States had a policy shift. Diplomatic recognition was switched from Taiwan to the PRC. The Mutual Defense Treaty also expired in 1979. Nevertheless the US didn’t completely abandon Taiwan. The Taiwan Relations Act was passed in 1979 by the US Congress, through which they tried to give Taiwan the same regard as a sovereign nation without actually recognizing it as a sovereign nation. Under this act, the US also committed to provide Taiwan with defense equipment and services to support Taiwan’s defensive capabilities.
The official policy of the US towards Taiwan is one of strategic ambiguity. With the United States neither confirming nor denying to provide Kinetic support to Taiwan in case of an invasion by China. Though US presidents from George Bush to Joe Biden have said on media when asked about Taiwan that they will definitely defend Taiwan. It should be noted that at both times, some US official soon confirmed that the US policy of Strategic Ambiguity remains unchanged despite of the President’s comments.
Ever since Xi Jinping became the president in 2013, china has been acting increasingly aggressive in its international claims and disputes. Xi considers the ‘reunification of china’ to be his lasting legacy, and has made it the top focus of his regime. Xi while giving a speech at the 110th anniversary of the revolution declared the Taiwanese independence forces to be the biggest threat to Chinese reunification. Previously also on the hundredth anniversary of the Communist Party of China, he vowed to defeat all supporters of Taiwanese independence. The reunification of China with Taiwan is the crown jewel of Xi’s National Rejuvenation policy and will also cement Xi’s legacy as the most crucial leader of modern China.
The United States is in a tough position right now. For a long time, the US naval muscle has been successful in deterring China from going in any misadventure towards Taiwan. Although the Mutual Defense Agreement between the US and Taiwan is no longer in force, the US does considers safeguarding democratic values everywhere its sacred duty and has informal commitments to Taiwan. The stance of the United States regarding Taiwan is of Strategic ambiguity for the last 50 years. The risk of US response in any assault upon Taiwan has kept China all these years from materializing its plans. But analysts believe that China will not be deterred much longer now.
In the scenario that China does use military action against Taiwan, the US will be faced with an intense crisis. The US will probably invoke economic sanctions against China. It would also be forced with a choice that whether to invoke its security pact; AUKUS and to directly intervene. In the end it will come down to the classic question that whether the US will risk New York or Boston for Taipei?
The United States having just came out of a rigorous war in Afghanistan would not find it easy to engage in another conflict so far from its borders. The public opinion inside the United States is very disapproving after the hasty retreat from Afghanistan. Add to this the devastation caused by a global pandemic and the volatile domestic situation of US politics, convincing congress to start a new engagement this time with China will be not be an easy task for any president. Therefore, it is understandable if China were to take this opportunity as the ideal time to follow through on its aggressive designs towards Taiwan.
And if the US doesn’t follow through upon its commitments to Taiwan (and democracy), in case of any Chinese intrusion, it would be a win-win situation for China. As it will shatter the already crumbling trust of US allies after the United States abandonment of its Afghan partners. This will be the greatest blow to US hegemony, and will cause more damage than any Chinese missile could. The US will lose its position as the global hegemon and all its allies will start looking for other security guarantees.