Washington’s need to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack is greater today than it was 30 years ago, a leading US military strategist said on Tuesday.
“Taiwan is everything we preach about — it is what we want other countries to be,” said Thomas McNaugher, director of studies at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.
Invading Taiwan would be an “extremely dicey” operation, McNaugher told an Atlantic Council discussion titled “Conflict in the Taiwan Strait?”
Amphibious assaults are very tough and China does not have any particular experience in that area, he said.
Rather than a direct attack, Beijing might try a blockade if it decided to force unification, he said.
However, a blockade would take a lot of time to enforce and that would allow US power to build up “pretty effectively,” he said.
McNaugher said that China’s military buildup has been very effective and comprehensive, and Beijing was continuing to make “steady, relentless progress.”
He said the US still had an edge in the conventional balance of power, but that “we have entered that fuzzy area where there is a lot of uncertainty about how this would go.”
In case of an attack, US intervention would depend on how the hostilities started, McNaugher said.
“Taiwan is a raucous democracy; they even have fist fights in the legislature. It has a great economy with great human rights,” he said. “If we were to let Taiwan go to a rapacious and naked Chinese attack, not only would it destroy the global economy, it would undermine our credibility.”
On the other hand, if a war started because Taiwan “promotes it,” there would be a real question about US support, he said.
The message to the Taiwanese was that in case of a conflict with China they had to be the victims and not the promoters, he said.
One way for Taiwan to avoid an attack would be for it to “very visibly” build up its ability to defend itself and increase the level of deterrence, he said.
In related news, Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said in a new paper that the US should clarify its support for Taiwan.
As “carefully and responsibly” as president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) might approach relations with China, they nevertheless fundamentally rejected Beijing’s dream of ultimate unification, and this would remain an underlying source of tension as long as the DPP remains in power, he wrote.
US President Barack Obama’s administration should establish “unwavering support” for Taiwan’s security and prerogative in determining its own future, Lohman said.
“To this end, the administration should facilitate new arms sales, or, failing this, at least begin building interagency consensus and support on Capitol Hill and Taipei to facilitate approval early in 2017,” he wrote.
“New fighter jets and diesel-electric submarines should be at the top of the list,” he added.
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