The Big Ideas

'Why Defending Taiwan is in the U.S. National Interest'

Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs | U.S. Air Force

Michael Mazza
'Why Defending Taiwan is in the U.S. National Interest'
'Why Defending Taiwan is in the U.S. National Interest'
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'America’s Past and Present Commitment to Taiwan'

April 4, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘As long as Washington assesses that American security is best served by defending forward—an approach that has served the United States well over the past 70 years—Taiwan’s de facto independence will remain a key US interest and driver of American policy in Asia.’

As I have often written here Taiwan is the number one flashpoint in the world today.

  • And the danger of its igniting may be closer than we think.

In ‘US fears China is flirting with seizing control of Taiwan,’ the Financial Times reports:

  • ‘The US is concerned that China is flirting with the idea of seizing control of Taiwan as President Xi Jinping becomes more willing to take risks to boost his legacy.’
  • ‘ “China appears to be moving from a period of being content with the status quo over Taiwan to a period in which they are more impatient and more prepared to test the limits and flirt with the idea of unification,” a senior US official told the Financial Times.’
  • ‘ “As we prepare for a period in which Xi Jinping will likely be entering his third term, there’s concern that he sees capstone progress on Taiwan as important to his legitimacy and legacy,” the official added. “It seems that he is prepared to take more risks.” ’

In the event, I have friends who say they would not want their children and grandchildren to die defending Taiwan from a Chinese invasion.

  • Michael Mazza has in a few pages outlined the argument for why the U.S. must prevent China from occupying Taiwan.
  • Perhaps his essay will go some ways to convincing them that Taiwan’s defense is not a matter of America’s being a good guy but instead a matter of the U.S.’s defending its vital interests in Asia.

With US–China tensions on the rise across multiple facets of the bilateral relationship, some may question whether Taiwan is worth the trouble for Washington. It is.’

  • ‘Indeed, Taiwan is where various points of friction converge. It is arguably where American and Chinese national security concerns, visions of regional order, economic and technological interests, and core values most directly collide.’

‘On 23 January 2021, 15 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft flew into the southwest corner of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Thirteen aircraft repeated the exercise the following day.’

  • ‘The US Department of State called on Beijing “to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan” and, in what must have been reassuring words to leaders in Taipei, described American “commitment” to Taiwan as “rock solid.” ’
  • ‘Those are strong words from the new Biden administration, especially given the lack of a legal obligation to defend Taiwan and the lack of formal bilateral diplomatic ties.’

‘Why is the US commitment to Taiwan “rock-solid” and why must it remain so?’

  • ‘The commitment has its origin in the aftermath of World War II, as American strategists were establishing a forward defense perimeter to ensure the events of 7 December 1941, would never be repeated.’
  • ‘Gen Douglas MacArthur, fretting that Taiwan might fall into communist hands, in a memorandum transmitted to Washington just 11 days before the outbreak of the Korean War, compared the island to an “unsinkable aircraft carrier and submarine tender ideally located to accomplish Soviet offensive strategy and at the same time checkmate counteroffensive operations by United States Forces based on Okinawa and the Philippines.” ’

‘Seven decades later, that logic still holds relevance.’

  • ‘Were China to one day occupy Taiwan, the defense of Japan and the Philippines, both US allies, would become far more complicated.’
  • ‘China would bolster its ability to control the South China Sea waterways should it choose to do so.’
  • ‘Most troubling of all, the PLA would for the first time have unimpeded access to the Pacific Ocean, allowing it more easily to threaten Guam, Hawaii, and the continental United States.’ [breaching the First and threatening the Second Island Chain, as shown in the map above]
  • ‘PLA ballistic missile submarines might ply the waters of the Western Pacific, allowing China to pose a more potent nuclear weapons threat to the United States.’

‘As long as Washington assesses that American security is best served by defending forward—an approach that has served the United States well over the past 70 years—Taiwan’s de facto independence will remain a key US interest and driver of American policy in Asia.’

‘The PRC’s annexation of Taiwan would, moreover, usher in a new regional order in Asia—one that would be conducive to the interests of no one but Beijing and its hangers-on.’

  • ‘The Asia-Pacific would fast become a realm in which might makes right; in which traditional conceptions of freedom of navigation are likely jettisoned; in which security competitions grow in intensity, to the detriment of economic prosperity; and in which China increasingly sets the terms of trade for those inside and outside the region.’
  • ‘Such an outcome would not be conducive to the national security of the United States as it is traditionally understood.’

‘US economic interests in Taiwan are significant. Taiwan is consistently a top-10 U.S trading partner.’

  • ‘More specifically, ‘Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, LTD, the world’s largest dedicated semiconductor foundry, is a chip supplier for major American companies from Advanced Micro Devices to Qualcomm and from Apple to Nvidia.’
  • ‘Bloomberg News described “Taiwan’s grip on the semiconductor business” as “a choke point in the global supply chain.” ’
  • ‘Put simply, if the United States were to lose access to Taiwan’s innovators and manufacturers, the American tech industry could be paralyzed.’

‘Last, but certainly not least, Taiwan is important to the United States because it is a thriving liberal democracy—one whose freedom is threatened by a much larger authoritarian neighbor.’

  • ‘The existence of Taiwan’s democracy serves as proof-positive that there is nothing incompatible between a Chinese-speaking polity and self-government. Quite the contrary.’