Taiwan Daily

US needs to strengthen Taiwan to deter China

Glaser & Lin, 7-2, 24, BONNIE S. GLASER is Managing Director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. BONNY LIN is Senior Fellow for Asian Security and Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Looming Crisis in the Taiwan Strait, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/taiwan/looming-crisis-taiwan-strait

Since 1996, all of Taiwan’s elected presidents have at some point during their time in office declared that theirs is a sovereign, independent state. The new president of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te, who was elected in January and inaugurated in May, is the first to make that declaration at the beginning of his term. The chair of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and a self-described pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence, Lai delivered an inaugural speech that made clear that Taiwan is a de facto sovereign and independent country that is neither a part of nor subordinate to China. At the same time, however, Lai pledged not to provoke China or change the cross-strait status quo. Lai’s preference for clarity over ambiguity is rooted in his belief that China’s growing military, political, and economic pressure on Taiwan—as well as the people of Taiwan’s increasingly negative views of China—requires a firmer approach. His predecessor, former President Tsai Ing-wen, worked to strengthen Taiwan’s defenses while adopting conciliatory measures and providing assurances to Beijing. But this approach was not reciprocated by Beijing. Instead, China tore up all prior tacit restrictions on the operation of People’s Liberation Army forces around Taiwan. Beijing now conducts military exercises close to Taiwan and on the east side of the island and claims that the strait is its internal waters. This frustrates Lai and likely encouraged him to take a firmer and bolder stance. Lai’s speech, Beijing believed, required a harsh response. Chinese state media lashed out at him, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemned him as a “traitor.” The Chinese military launched a large-scale two-day exercise that U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Samuel Paparo said resembled a rehearsal for an invasion. Since then, Beijing has made plain its growing disdain for Lai, and the prospect of establishing a quiet backchannel between Lai and Beijing has dimmed along with the possibility of increasing cross-strait tourism and student and academic exchanges. This lack of communication and dwindling interactions between the two sides increases the risk of misunderstanding and the hardening of positions. It also makes more difficult the United States’ task of managing relations between Beijing and Taipei. To reduce tensions, the United States must encourage Taiwan to strengthen its ability to deter an invasion and, at the same time, to increase its diplomatic contacts with Beijing. Stay informed. In-depth analysis delivered weekly. Sign Up STRAIT TALKING The Chinese Communist Party studies the inaugural speeches of Taiwan’s presidents to assess how they view the relationship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The only acceptable position, as far as Beijing is concerned, is that Taiwan and China are part of the same country. But such a position is unlikely to be advanced by any future DPP president, and possibly not by candidates from Taiwan’s opposition parties. This is because of the state of public opinion in Taiwan, which is increasingly negative toward China and strongly opposes Beijing’s pressure campaign to isolate the island and its people. For its part, China has taken an uncompromising approach, unwilling to find a modus vivendi with successive presidents of Taiwan. Despite Tsai’s efforts to use conciliatory language in her 2016 inaugural address, Beijing dismissed her speech as an “incomplete exam paper,” because it was ambiguous on the question of Taiwan’s status and did not explicitly affirm that the two sides of the strait belong to the same country. Eight years later, Lai rejected his predecessor’s mollifying language in his inaugural speech. First, he avoided using the words “mainland” and “Beijing authorities,” opting instead for “China” and the “People’s Republic of China,” terminology that indicates that the two sides of the strait are separate entities. Lai also did not cite the 1992 Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area as an essential part of his approach to handling cross-strait affairs. The act recognizes that the “Taiwan Area” and the “Mainland Area” are both part of Taiwan and regulates how the two sides should conduct exchanges “before national unification.” That there was no mention of the act—which was featured in Tsai’s inaugural speeches in 2016 and 2020—underscored Lai’s message that China and Taiwan are two different countries. Tsai also made references to the Constitution of the Republic of China—Taiwan’s official title—in her inaugural speeches, which were intended to reassure Beijing that she would not seek to make changes to Taiwan’s territory. Lai’s mention of the constitution, however, was interpreted in Beijing as intended to underscore that Taiwan and China are separate, each with their own sovereignty. Lai also stated that he would uphold Tsai’s “Four Commitments,” which she issued in her National Day speech in October 2021. These are to maintain a free and democratic constitutional system, to cultivate a relationship between Taiwan and Beijing in which neither is subordinate to the other, to resist annexation or encroachment on Taiwan’s sovereignty, and to see Taiwan’s future decided in accordance with the will of the people of Taiwan. The second commitment, that China and Taiwan should not be subordinate to each other, particularly irked Beijing. At the time, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office labeled this commitment a “new two states theory.” Tsai, the TAO continued, had gone even further than Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, who, in 1999, openly defined relations between Taiwan and China as “special state-to-state relations”—a notion that Beijing believed was an attempt to pursue independence. Then Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian warned that the military was ready to “smash any attempts to separate the country.” There was much else that Beijing viewed as inflammatory. Lai listed various names used to describe his people’s “land,” including the Republic of China, the Republic of China Taiwan, and Taiwan, although he made clear that he personally prefers Taiwan. A spokesperson in Beijing criticized Lai’s use of these names for implying that Taiwan is a separate country rather than a part of China. Lai also marked the 400th anniversary of the Dutch invasion of Tainan, a city in southern Taiwan, as a positive moment that “marked Taiwan’s links to globalization.” This description was interpreted by Chinese scholars as an attempt to distinguish Taiwan’s history from China’s and emphasize the difference between the two. Lack of communication and dwindling interactions between Taiwan and Beijing increases the risk of misunderstanding. Beijing used strong language to condemn Lai and his vision for Taiwan. One well-connected Chinese scholar privately stated that Lai had torn up “the exam paper, flipped over the desk, and disrupted order in the exam room.” Chinese officials and scholars were already deeply skeptical of Lai’s promises during the campaign, which he repeated in his inaugural speech, that he will maintain the cross-strait status quo and not provoke Beijing. Accordingly, Lai’s offers to restart tourism between the two sides on a reciprocal basis and enroll Chinese degree students in Taiwan’s universities were viewed by Beijing as being made in bad faith. Three days after Lai’s inauguration, Beijing launched a large-scale military exercise along with coordinated Chinese coast guard operations against Taiwan. A Chinese military spokesperson declared that these actions were intended to “punish” Taiwan for “separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’” and to provide a “stern warning against the interference and provocation of external forces.” Over two days, Chinese forces engaged in air and maritime operations encircling Taiwan and some of its outlying islands. This drill allowed the Chinese military and coast guard to experiment and rehearse coordinated operations. Chinese media showed computer-generated footage of Chinese missile strikes against Taiwan, and the Chinese coast guard using water cannons and inspecting a vessel headed to Taiwan. Beijing’s leaders undoubtedly prepared a variety of options in the run-up to Lai’s inaugural speech, including military demonstrations of varying scale. The exercise that they conducted was likely on the more escalatory end of the spectrum and was meant to signal China’s strong displeasure with Lai’s remarks. China’s military activities are likely to be only the beginning of a military, diplomatic, and economic pressure campaign against Lai and his administration. Beijing has warned that more military exercises will follow “each time ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists make waves.” China has also brought its economic might to bear to deny the entry into its markets of shipments of macadamia nuts and coffee from Guatemala, which is one of Taiwan’s 12 remaining diplomatic partners. Then, at the end of May, China announced the reinstatement of tariffs on 134 Taiwanese items that were formerly exempt under the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which both sides signed in 2010 to reduce barriers and promote trade. In late June, Beijing released new guidelines that specified that the death penalty could be considered for the most severe crimes committed by the ringleaders of pro-Taiwanese independence activities. Beijing is also working to build stronger ties to the Kuomintang and the Taiwan People’s Party, which are the main opposition parties and would control a majority of seats within the parliament should they choose to work together. All these efforts demonstrate China’s intention to intervene in Taiwan’s domestic politics and undermine Lai’s ability to govern. Lai’s administration has responded by toughening its position. In mid-June, in a speech to military cadets, Lai called out China for “destroying the status quo across the Taiwan Strait and viewing the annexation of Taiwan and elimination of the Republic of China as its national cause.” China’s Ministry of National Defense, unsurprisingly, condemned Lai and vowed new “countermeasures” to push back against such “pro-independence, anti-secessionist provocations.” At the end of the month, Taipei raised its travel warning for China to orange, the second highest alert, advising Taiwan citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to China. STUCK IN THE MIDDLE Beijing’s escalation after Lai’s speech has complicated the United States’ ability to preserve peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. China believes that Lai has raised the stakes, and unless Washington signals that it understands Beijing’s concerns, China’s suspicions that the United States in fact supports and is emboldening Taiwanese independence will deepen. Accordingly, Beijing is pressing Washington to curb its military and diplomatic support for Taipei’s new government and restrain Lai from taking destabilizing actions. Yet at the same time, China is increasing its paramilitary and military pressure against Taiwan, expanding Chinese coast guard patrols around the Kinmen and Matsu Islands, which are under Taiwan’s control. The combination of Chinese aggression and strong bipartisan support in the United States for Taiwan mean the Biden administration is unlikely to curb its support for Taiwan. Taiwan wants the United States to step up its efforts to counter Chinese aggression and coercion, including Beijing’s attempts to normalize large-scale and intrusive military and coast guard activities against it. But the Biden administration has not done so and remains largely focused on preventing an invasion of Taiwan. This is partly because the United States cannot take responsibility for dealing with the daily provocations that any U.S. ally or partner faces from China. If it assumed that role for Taiwan, then Japan and the Philippines, which face regular Chinese intrusions into disputed areas of the East China and South China Seas, might expect the same. If cross-strait tensions continue to worsen, Beijing could decide that it needs to adopt a more aggressive approach toward both Taipei and Washington. This could include China becoming more coercive across the board to restrain Lai because it cannot count on the United States to do so. Beijing may also take steps to inflict greater pain on Washington for what it views as increasingly strong and overt U.S. support for “Taiwan independence.” This could involve suspending U.S.-Chinese military-to-military exchanges and other dialogues with U.S. officials on subjects of importance to Washington, such as stemming the flow of fentanyl into the United States. Deteriorating cross-strait dynamics could encourage Beijing to bolster support for Russia. Signs of this were seen in May, when Beijing imposed sanctions on U.S. defense firms. In doing so, it cited U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, as well as U.S. sanctions against Chinese firms supplying Russia, as justifications. China will need to weigh the costs and benefits of such escalation with its desire to focus on addressing its substantial domestic problems. Lashing out at Taiwan or engaging in more destabilizing behavior could invite global pushback and further increase anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States during a critical election year. So far, Beijing appears to be signaling that it does not want a confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. How long that posture will last, however, is uncertain. The United States will have to pay close attention to cross-strait dynamics and manage them proactively to prevent rising tensions that could lead to a crisis or conflict. A DANGEROUS GAME The Biden administration congratulated Lai on his inauguration but did not comment on his speech. U.S. officials, however, denounced China’s military exercise. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called it “provocative” and urged China not to use Taiwan’s “normal, routine, democratic process” as an excuse for coercion against the island. At a meeting with Chinese Executive Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ma Zhaoxu in June, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell voiced concern over China’s “destabilizing actions” around Taiwan. That same month, in bilateral meetings with Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun in Singapore, U.S. allies including Australia echoed concerns about Beijing’s military activities. In June, the Biden administration signaled its support for Taiwan by notifying Congress of two arms sale packages: one with $300 million worth of parts and equipment to support Taiwan’s F-16s and another worth $360 million that includes over a thousand small armed drones. In an interview with Time magazine, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Beijing that “if China unilaterally tried to change the status [quo],” the United States might defend Taiwan. This statement was, however, more careful than the president’s prior unequivocal assertions that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if it were attacked by China. Biden reiterated in the Time interview that the United States is “not seeking independence for Taiwan.” The United States must go further and take more proactive measures to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Militarily, this will require continuing efforts to build Taiwan’s capabilities to fend off an invasion or blockade. But the United States should also help Taiwan establish a robust civil defense program and create strategic reserves of food and energy to bolster deterrence and, if China invades, enable Taiwan to hold out until U.S. forces arrive. Washington should also warn Beijing against making incursions with military aircraft, drones, navy ships, or coast guard vessels in the airspace and sea space in the 24-nautical-mile contiguous zone around Taiwan, and against operating the coast guard in the restricted and prohibited waters around Taiwan’s outlying islands. These warnings need to be accompanied by efforts to impose costs on China should Beijing decide to disregard them. The United States cannot take responsibility for dealing with the daily provocations that any U.S. ally or partner faces from China. Deterrence necessitates more than military steps and warnings. It also requires active diplomacy. In private conversations with Chinese officials, the Biden administration should acknowledge that the tone and content of Lai’s inaugural speech was a departure from those of his predecessors. Administration officials should emphasize, however, that this rhetoric must be distinguished from actions and that there is no evidence that Lai plans to implement destabilizing measures. In return, China must recognize that its efforts to shore up its own redlines—through escalating military, diplomatic, and economic pressure on Taiwan—have contributed to the spike in cross-strait tensions. If Beijing continues to increase the pressure, it could create a downward spiral in cross-strait relations and raise the risk of an accidental confrontation or conflict. Washington should make clear to Beijing that increased Chinese escalation against Taiwan is likely to bring about an increased U.S. commitment and resolve to defend the island—precisely the outcome that China does not want to see. Washington should encourage Lai to prioritize the strengthening of Taiwan’s defense and resilience above all else. The United States should also caution Taipei against engaging in activities that China could use as a pretext to escalate aggression against the island. Beijing creates and is looking for pretexts, and Taipei must take care to ensure that it does not take actions that will divide international opinion against it. U.S. officials should support Lai in strengthening Taiwan’s relations with other democratic countries, making clear to Taipei that sustaining and expanding global support for Taiwan will be possible only if Lai follows a cross-strait policy that is viewed as pragmatic by the international community. The United States must also more actively encourage the resumption of dialogue between Beijing and Taipei, highlighting to officials in both capitals the risks that come from a lack of direct communication. In particular, Washington should urge the establishment of reliable backchannel communications between Beijing and Taipei, which are essential to clarifying intentions and preventing miscalculation. Washington should also encourage those on both sides of the strait to allow their scholars to meet in neutral places. This will, at a minimum, help both sides understand the other’s threat perceptions. Deterrence, dialogue, and avoiding unilateral changes to the status quo are key to managing the situation in the Taiwan Strait. The United States must encourage efforts to achieve them, to ensure that conflict does not break out.

Reducing support for Biden burns capital

Glaser & Lin, 7-2, 24, BONNIE S. GLASER is Managing Director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. BONNY LIN is Senior Fellow for Asian Security and Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Looming Crisis in the Taiwan Strait, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/taiwan/looming-crisis-taiwan-strait

The combination of Chinese aggression and strong bipartisan support in the United States for Taiwan mean the Biden administration is unlikely to curb its support for Taiwan.