Mon, Jan 08, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Ian Easton On Taiwan: Defusing a cross-strait time bomb

Keeping this explosive situation stable will require a blend of methodical cunning and bold action. President Tsai Ing-wen has established a reputation as a leader who is determined and tough, while also cool under pressure. US President Donald Trump is a strong, hot-tempered nationalist who is impulsive and unpredictable. Both leaders have traits that are valuable for deterrence.

If Taipei and Washington can combine forces, they can keep the Chinese high command off-balance. That is exactly what they should aim to do. China’s leadership is rational. They will wait until the correlation of power favors them before they strike. Beijing pushed rapidly into the South China Sea because it could. Neither then-president Barack Obama, nor president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), had the stomach for confrontation, and Xi Jinping knew it.

It is crucial that presidents Tsai and Trump demonstrate their willingness to cut through China’s “red lines.” Allowing Xi Jinping to set the rules of play is a receipt for strategic disaster.

To begin, US-Taiwan defense and security cooperation should be greatly strengthened. Washington should offer Taipei muscular new fighter jets, including F-16s and F-35s. Next, the two countries need to team together in the areas of undersea warfare, missile defense, cyber and electronic warfare, advanced missiles, and unmanned systems. Finally, other democracies should be brought into the joint effort. Japan, India and Australia are the most capable and willing.

Actual war is highly unlikely in the near future. Contrary to its propaganda line, the Chinese military is not yet ready to fight Taiwan in an all-out conflict. What we are now seeing represents a war of nerves. This is an intimidation campaign. But it will worsen over time, and the danger of a real war is growing.

It must be made perfectly clear to Xi Jinping that it’s in his best interest to defuse this time bomb. To make that happen, Taiwan and America must stand up for their security interests and their values. And they must stand together.

There is no time to lose. The countdown has already begun.

Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute.

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