US Senator Josh Hawley introduced his draft Taiwan Defense Act to the Senate on June 11. Like its predecessors — the Taiwan Travel Act and the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative Act in 2018, and the Taiwan Assurance Act last year — decisive majorities in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate are expected to support this bill, making US President Donald Trump’s administration legally obligated to implement it.
These laws adopted in the past few years — along with previously existing legislation, such as the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances,” to the extent that the latter have been written down — express the path that Taiwan has followed in its post-war reconstruction from a de facto state to a political one.
The passive aspect of these laws is that they have prevented Taiwan’s powerful neighbor from depriving it of its political and economic achievements.
Their active aspect is that they have laid the basic foundation of governance necessary for Taiwan to exist as a political state.
In an article published three years ago in the Taipei Times, I reminded decisionmakers that the San Francisco Peace Treaty obligates the US, as the principal occupying power, to preserve territories (“Taiwan’s status can’t be changed unilaterally,” Nov. 21, 2017, page 8).
The key concept of US policy regarding security in the western Pacific is therefore to preserve the “status quo,” but unfortunately China has changed the “status quo” into a fait accompli.
In view of this, the draft Taiwan Defense Act says at the outset that it is “a bill to maintain the ability of the United States Armed Forces to deny a fait accompli by the People’s Republic of China against Taiwan.”
As well as being targeted solely at the People’s Republic of China, the bill mentions the term fait accompli no fewer than 32 times.
The bill praises Taiwan as “a beacon of democracy in Asia” and “a steadfast partner ... in the common pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific region in which all societies enjoy sovereign autonomy.”
In contrast, the longstanding intent of Beijing’s military modernization is to unite Taiwan with China by force.
At the same time, Beijing also aims to impose its will on neighboring countries and preventing US access to trade routes and markets in the Indo-Pacific region, thereby undermining the American way of life.
This makes relations between Taiwan and China an existential issue for the US and lends legitimacy to Hawley’s bill.
The bill presumes that China plans to seize Taiwan by force through a lightning strike, and that once it establishes a fait accompli, it would be difficult for the US to restore the previous “status quo.”
In that case, Taiwan would change from an asset for the US in its Indo-Pacific strategy to a burden.
The US therefore seeks to delay, degrade and defeat China’s aforementioned plan.
To achieve this, the bill calls for maintaining military deterrence capabilities by developing new operational concepts.
The bill also calls for employing a global operating model with multidomain operations.
If the US Congress passes the Taiwan Defense Act, it would be a factor that China would have to take into account in its desire to alter the cross-strait “status quo,” and it would also be a factor that it could not afford to misjudge.
HoonTing is a political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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