Taiwan: Not only Defense but also Dialogue
Taiwan is more than just a tiny island, it is at the core of U.S.-China relations. But more broadly, and to Beijing’s chagrin, Taiwan is the beacon of democracy and freedom in the Chinese world. With increasing tensions between the United States and China, many fear Taiwan is the world’s next battlefield.
Going forward, along with helping to improve Taiwan’s military capabilities, Washington should promote open lines of comminication with Beijing. While a stronger military will help Taipei prepare for a possible war with Beijing, preventing conflict should be the ultimate goal. Despite Beijing’s bluster, neither side wants war.
China presents a growing threat to Taiwan. Chinese aircraft and vessels are active daily in the waters and airspace around Taiwan. Fortunately, the U.S. has bolstered Taiwan’s military capabilities through arms sales and military cooperation. Unfortunately, Taiwan’s current capabilities against a more modernized Chinese military are like bringing a pencil to a gunfight.
For Taiwan, keeping the balance between the U.S. and China is challenging. Freedom and democracy make Taiwan more inclined toward the U.S. On the other hand, Confucianism, geography, and economic interests tie Taiwan together with China. While improving Taiwan’s military capabilities should be a priority, the U.S. and Taiwan should take the first step in mitigating cross-strait tensions by engaging with China.
It is hoped that dialogue will achieve the following.
Buy more time. U.S. arms deliveries to Taiwan are experiencing massive delays including crucial Javelin and Stinger missiles. In addition, the Taiwanese government just announced that the four-month mandatory service for eligible males would be reinstated in 2024. This unfortunate reality represents Taiwan’s current capabilities. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Taiwan currently has 169,000 active military personnel along with around 1.6 million reservists. In comparison, by some estimates, China has 2 million active-duty soldiers.
Achieve regional peace. The U.S. continues to build solid military collaboration with Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and other allies in the Indo-Pacific. The closest U.S. military bases to Taiwan are in Okinawa, over 700 kilometers away. These military resources could potentially be sent to Taiwan. However, the Chinese view this collaboration as a provocation. Plus, Taiwan is only about 130 kilometers from mainland China. Therefore, when the attack begins, any outside military assistance would take time. In other words, Taiwan must be the one to mitigate regional tensions to achieve regional peace.
Serve U.S. interests. The loss of Taiwan would negatively impact U.S. economic interests. China would completely curb maritime transportation in the first island chain. Also, China’s seizure of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) would damage U.S. high-technology development. Therefore, it is in the economic interests of the U.S. to maintain the status quo on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. This requires the willingness of the U.S. and Taiwan to initiate dialogue with China.
Some worry that China and Taiwan will not be on an equal footing during dialogue. They fear China will swallow up Taiwan. However, for the Chinese, unification by force is the last resort. China’s policy has stayed the same since 1949: It opposes Taiwan’s independence. If we refrain from advocating independence, China, Taiwan, and the U.S. can maintain essential interaction.
Taiwan can do without being the world’s next battlefield. Joint efforts at dialogue with China, initiated by the U.S., are needed to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The United States can and should become a key player in initiating dialogue with Beijing. Any efforts at cooling tensions will benefit not only the Taiwanese but also the rest of the world.