Ian Easton is right. US strategic ambiguity over whether to intervene if the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launches a military assault on Taiwan is obsolete and might cause Beijing to miscalculate and take risks (“Think China’s aggression is alarming now? Just wait,” Nov. 2, page 6).
However, deterring a Chinese assault requires more than a clear declaration. Washington and Taipei need to develop close military cooperation and improve readiness.
China responded to President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Oct. 10 offer of peaceful dialogue by releasing a video of a large-scale military exercise simulating an invasion of Taiwan. This followed an earlier PLA video of the bombing of a US air base in Guam. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) speech on the 70th anniversary of the Korean War was ominously nationalistic.
Chinese warplanes have increasingly breached Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. At the end of September, PLA J-20 stealth fighters were covertly stationed in Zhejiang Province, 20 minutes from Taiwan.
PLA generals assert that the time to conquer Taiwan is while the US is preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, street violence and a contentious presidential election.
The US faces a difficult period both domestically and internationally: COVID-19 infections and deaths in the US are expected to climb steeply during the winter months, and the nation’s deep political divide is harming effective governance.
Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s founding. It would be prudent for the US and Taiwan to prepare for a potential PLA invasion of Taiwan in the spring or fall of next year.
Taiwan is an indispensable part of a realignment of the global supply chain for digital technology. Democratic Taiwan is a long-term US ally. Its fall would destroy the US’ credibility around the globe.
The sea lanes and airspace around Taiwan are the lifelines of Japan and South Korea. If it possessed Taiwan, China could force both countries to become its vassal states. The Korean Peninsula could become one communist state.
China would dominate Asia and gain a military base to project its power well into the Indo-Pacific region — ultimately threatening the US homeland.
To keep Taiwan’s “status quo” of de facto independence, the Tsai administration must augment stocks of munitions and missiles, and ensure that there are ample strategic oil reserves.
Taiwan’s jet fighters would be sitting ducks in an initial PLA missile attack, so air force bases must be reinforced to protect personnel, warplanes and runways.
Taiwan’s military suffers from an acute shortage of personnel, partially due to a failure of the all-volunteer system. Reserve units must be mobilized and trained to support active-duty forces.
The government must intensify efforts to ferret out PLA spies and agents in the military and the general population. Those caught should be incarcerated, with sentences severe enough to discourage treason.
A civil defense system, including air raid shelters, should be set up to prevent panic and reduce civilian casualties.
Easton proposed that a small number of US troops be deployed in Taiwan — former US National Security adviser John Bolton also suggested that — but Washington is unlikely to have the political will to carry it out and Taipei is unlikely to accept.
The PLA might launch a blitzkrieg and attempt to capture Taiwan in a matter of days. The US must maintain a constant military presence near Taiwan: ground, air and navy, even submarines.
Deterrence is better than fighting a war at an inopportune time and with an uncertain outcome.
Jay Loo is a freelance commentator based in Pennsylvania.
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