There is likely to be a new “crisis in relations” between Taiwan and China in the coming months, said Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu.
In a study published in the US journal National Interest, Roy urged Washington to support Taiwan.
He said that coercion from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) against democratic Taiwan would challenge US reliability.
“Taiwan should be considered a crucial place to make a stand, not a liability to be abandoned in a strategic retreat to more defensible ground,” Roy wrote.
He said that if Taiwan chooses to resist pressure to unify with China, Washington should support it with “robust arms sales.”
Roy predicted a near-term crisis that would pose “acute difficulties” for the US.
“Abandoning Taiwan to involuntary absorption, however, would signal to the region the end of Pax Americana,” he said.
The Democratic Progressive Party stands a good chance of capturing the presidency next year, Roy said.
“Beijing would see such a government as separatist, instantly intensifying Chinese fears that Taiwan is slipping away and that dramatic PRC counteraction is necessary,” he said.
He said that Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping (習近平) now appears less constrained than before by the need to appear accommodating.
“Failing to deliver on Taiwan could create a vulnerability for Xi that his enemies would be quick to exploit,” Roy said.
This could impel Xi to demand that Taipei open political negotiations and that such a demand could lead to a quick rebuff, humiliation and a new Taiwan Strait crisis, he said.
Roy said that as difficult as defending Taiwan from Chinese attack would be, shrinking from Taiwan’s defense would seriously endanger the US’ agenda in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Conceding Taiwan to a Chinese sphere of influence would not buy peace with China,” he said.
“The Chinese would interpret such an American action as the beginning of a withdrawal of the US from the Asia-Pacific region and would expect American resistance in other areas of US-China disagreement to diminish accordingly,” he said.
Roy added that Beijing’s rise to great power status is still uncertain, and it faces immense challenges including a rapidly aging society, severe environmental pollution and the need for fundamental and painful economic reforms.
With this in the background, the military conquest of Taiwan is an extremely unattractive option.
There is a “considerable risk” the operation would fail to put Chinese troops in control of key Taiwanese cities, would disrupt the Chinese economy and would cause domestic social and political turmoil, he wrote.
“If the Chinese believe the US would fight for Taiwan even at the risk of losing a couple of US warships, the prospect of a war might deter the Chinese leadership from opting for a military attack on Taiwan,” he said.
“Some analysts argue that a tougher US policy toward China is warranted. If so, continuing and even upgrading US support for Taiwan is an appropriate response,” he said.