The Taiwan Strait might become more dangerous than ever if Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump is elected to the White House in November, a prominent Washington academic said.
Senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution Michael O’Hanlon wrote that Trump’s policy ideas could push Taipei into secretly working on a nuclear weapon.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, O’Hanlon said that Trump wants to withdraw US forces from Asia and let its allies Japan and South Korea defend themselves.
“He suggests that these two Asian powers might best develop their own nuclear weapons,” O’Hanlon wrote.
A former member of the external advisory board at the CIA, O’Hanlon wrote that Trump’s foreign policy ideas are fundamentally unsound.
“They would increase the risk of war between Japan and China,” he wrote.
“The biggest danger from Trump’s ideas on Asia is the risk of war in the Taiwan Strait,” O’Hanlon wrote. “Absent bases in Japan, the US cannot realistically deter Chinese military attacks on Taiwan and this reality could lead China to contemplate the use of force with much less hesitation than it has shown to date.”
He said that knowing this, Taiwanese leaders might seek to develop nuclear weapons of their own as a deterrent.
The Taipei Times was not able to reach Trump’s spokesperson for a comment, but a campaign insider with direct links to the candidate said that his Asia policies are still being refined.
The source asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the campaign.
He said that Trump had not mentioned Taiwan to date, but that following the party convention later this month he would address Asian policies in greater detail.
O’Hanlon said in the Journal that the US has a “somewhat muddled approach” to deterring China from attacking Taiwan, but that it had worked so far.
He said China has repeatedly stated it would use force if Taiwan declares independence or pursues nuclear weapons.
“Taiwan’s leaders would face a huge dilemma if they should be informed by a President Trump that America’s security commitments to East Asia were soon to be dissolved. They might well decide to acquire the bomb,” O’Hanlon said.
He said that Taiwan might try to build a nuclear bomb clandestinely and declare its deterrent only when it had succeeded.
“Although Trump has not weighed in explicitly on Taiwan, there is little chance his strategic views would allow American forces the means to defend it,” O’Hanlon said.
“Lacking bases on Okinawa and other parts of Japan, and presumably not having added any bases in the Philippines or Vietnam, the US would have only two main types of conventional forces: the navy and long-range bombers,” he said.
In those circumstances, O’Hanlon said it would be very difficult for the US to help Taiwan break a Chinese blockade.
“Leaving Taiwan to rely exclusively on its own means to fend off a Chinese mainland roughly 60 times more populous and 20 times as wealthy would be dangerous,” he said. “It is the single most fraught consequence of Trump’s Asia policy.”
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