- China is expanding its influence and taking a more aggressive stance towards Taiwan.
- This raised fears that Beijing would try to regain the island by force.
- Whether the United States and other countries will help and what help they will offer remains questionable.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
Twenty-five years ago, two US Navy strike groups were enough to deter possible Chinese military action against Taiwan after China fired missiles that landed tens of miles off its coast.
Now, after massive efforts to modernize the Chinese army, known as the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, two strike groups of carriers and possibly American forces may not be enough.
This is particularly discouraging for Taiwan, as it is unclear whether it can get help from anyone else if or when the time comes.
In March, Admiral Philip Davidson, then head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that China could invade Taiwan over the next six years.
A few days later, Admiral John Aquilino, Davidson̵
Who could help?
Taiwan’s problem with finding friends is not new. Since the 1970s, most countries have severed official ties with Taipei and instead recognized Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province.
Today, only 15 countries – none in Asia – recognize Taiwan as an independent sovereign state, although Taiwan has informal diplomatic relations with many countries, including the United States and most of its neighbors.
The countries best placed to help Taiwan in an invasion scenario are Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia. In addition to their proximity to Taiwan, they also have concerns about China’s growing power.
These countries have seen ties with China in recent years, but are unlikely to intervene directly if Taiwan has been attacked.
South Korea hosts about 28,000 US troops and the largest US military base abroad, but is also worried about the threat from North Korea and the cost of firing on China. Seoul is not even clear whether it will allow US forces to use bases there for Taiwan-related operations.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made overtures to China since taking office in 2016 – the same year he announced his country’s “secession” from the United States, saying he had “readjusted” with Beijing – and continued to have unstable relations. with the United States.
Although he has taken a tougher line with China in recent weeks over maritime disturbances, Duterte is still seen as reluctant to face Beijing.
The Australian government is reportedly considering whether and how it could help Taiwan in such a conflict, but Canberra has not made an official declaration and moving away from Taiwan would prevent a quick response.
Apart from the United States, “you’re probably talking about Japan as the most active potential participant,” Zack Cooper, a research associate at the American Corporate Institute, told Insider.
The Japanese self-defense forces are quite capable and are reorganizing to better deal with the Chinese threat. Japan also hosts about 55,000 U.S. troops, the world’s largest deployed U.S. military, and has its own territorial disputes with China.
Japan certainly has a lot at stake if Taiwan falls under China.
Chinese military documents say that with Taiwan under Chinese control, “Japan’s maritime communications lines will fall entirely within the astonishing reach of Chinese fighter jets and bombers.”
The documents note that 500 million tons of Japanese imports pass through Taiwanese waters, including 90% of oil and 99% of mineral resources. If the blockades can reduce these imports by only 30%, the documents added, “Japan’s economic and military potential will be largely destroyed.”
Japan has been talking more strongly about Taiwan lately, but Tokyo has not made official statements on how it will react to the invasion. Japan has a pacifist constitution, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said his recent support in a joint statement with President Joe Biden “does not imply military involvement at all.”
Japan is expected to play a role – in part because US bases in Japan are expected to play a role – but Cooper said “the range of activities will depend enormously” on the scenario.
“The scope of action is potentially very wide,” Cooper said.
A major factor is whether the PLA is attacking bases in Japan. “I think in this case, you will see very close cooperation between the United States and Japan to react militarily and maybe even try to support Taiwan,” Cooper said.
But it is not clear that Japan and the United States have a plan for such a scenario or have even discussed it.
“What I think is actually why [US-Japan] “The alliance needs to talk about this now,” Cooper said. We cannot simply assume that we know what Washington or Tokyo would do in a crisis. “
Taipei has its own doubts about Washington, as the United States has also never made a formal commitment to help Taiwan if it is attacked.
While the United States has sold high-end weapons to Taiwan and the Biden administration is vocal in its support, the United States maintains a policy of strategic uncertainty about defending Taiwan. This ambiguity maintains the status quo, but limits the preparation for an invasion response.
While the U.S. and Taiwanese military conducted small-scale training and exchanges, there have been no large-scale joint exercises or permanent deployments since the United States withdrew from its mutual defense treaty with Taiwan in 1979.
The United States does have military attachés in Taiwan, but the Pentagon does not send its top officials there.
“They send very small groups of people to Taiwan,” said Ian Easton, senior director at the Project 2049 Institute. “They don’t stay there very long. They don’t learn the language. They don’t develop deep relationships with their colleagues.”
This means that the US and Taiwanese military will fight to coordinate in the conflict. It also means that top US military leaders will not have a full understanding of the battlefield.
“They will have to give military advice on a situation they won’t understand very well because they’ve never even been to the country they’re talking about,” said Easton, author of The Chinese Invasion. Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and US Strategy for Asia . “
Need for preparation
The US focus on sales of high-end weapons and statements of support may not be enough as the PLA becomes stronger.
“We put all our eggs in the basket for selling weapons, and that’s just not good enough,” Easton said. “We would not do this with another ally. We would not do this with any other democracy … that faces the threat of invasion and occupation by an authoritarian neighbor.”
U.S. officials say clarifying U.S. ambiguity could make Beijing feel it needs to act.
“If we were to see the United States move from strategic ambiguity … to clarity about its readiness to intervene in the Taiwan case, the Chinese would find it deeply destabilizing,” said Avril Haynes, director of national intelligence, in the Senate in late April.
“I think this will reinforce China’s view that the United States tends to limit China’s rise, including through military force, and is likely to force Beijing to aggressively undermine US interests worldwide,” Haynes said.
Critics of the strategic ambiguity say the best way to deter an invasion or ensure Taiwan’s survival is to make it clear to China that such an action would be too costly. This would require countries in the best position to help draw up concrete plans for everything from rights-based and logistical support to direct military action, which many avoid.
“We need to raise the profile of this threat that we all face, because it is a common threat,” Easton said. “We must be ready to defend Taiwan, and our allies must be ready to support us as we do so.”