The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.
The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin.
Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned.
Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms it sells to Taiwan. This and the changing nature of weapons’ capabilities require a bolder position.
Therefore, if the US is serious about providing Taiwan with weapons to sufficiently maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait, it can no longer offer the simple “wait until the last moment when they attack” defensive weapons.
Taiwan needs weapons to strike and even strike deep into China.
This might appear as a startlingly bold position. However, it is one whose time has come.
To understand that, one has to go back and navigate the whole, ever-changing Taiwan-China-Asia scenario since the end of World War II.
In this, one can see that the current Taiwan-China problem has been created by the US as the chief victor in the war over Japan.
It becomes evident that the US has for 75 years kicked this proverbial can down the road to where we are now.
To rephrase ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu (孫子): “You do not solve a problem by ignoring or running away from it.”
So what happened to Taiwan at the end of the war and in the following 75 years?
Start with the Treaty of San Francisco, which was formulated in September 1951 and went into effect on April 28, 1952: The treaty states that Japan must relinquish Taiwan, but it does not state to whom.
There can be no excuse that the US was facing a hurried decision. This was nearly seven years after the end of the war and long after the Allied forces stopped trying to keep Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) engaged against Japan.
New pressure had obviously developed.
The Cold War with the Soviet Union had started; the Korean War was underway; and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had driven Chiang and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) out of the country and into exile.
Chiang and the KMT rested as diaspora and appointed caretakers in Taiwan.
However, the San Francisco treaty did not give Taiwan to Chiang, the KMT, the Republic of China (ROC) or the PRC, which was formed in 1949.
This is where the saga of Washington’s “undecided,” flip-flopping position on Taiwan begins, marking the point from which it started to kick the can down the road.
Taiwan soon became a pawn in the perceived post-war struggle between communism and the West.
Then-US president Harry Truman was in January 1950 ready to pull the plug on Chiang, only to turn around in June of the same year because Mao Zedong (毛澤東) sent Chinese troops to aid North Korea.
Former US president Dwight Eisenhower later threatened to go nuclear in the region, but his threat was not so much in defense of Taiwan as one against the spread of communism.
At stake was a perceived and feared “domino effect,” an argument the US later used to justify its intervention in Vietnam.
Former US president John F. Kennedy ahead of his election said that the islands of Kinmen and Matsu were not part of the territory Japan surrendered in the San Francisco treaty, and not worth defending.
Later, former US president Richard Nixon and former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger changed course, and were willing to sacrifice the ROC and its membership in the UN to gain some “China leverage” against the Soviet Union.
Former US president Jimmy Carter rightfully moved the US embassy to China from Taipei to Beijing, but the US Congress also stepped in to help Taiwan, finally referring to the nation as Taiwan, not as the ROC.
The US replaced the embassy with the American Institute in Taiwan, but still failed to understand the democratic developments in the nation.
Former US president Ronald Reagan’s “six assurances” offered some relief, but when Taiwan in the late 1980s tried to develop nuclear defense capabilities, the US squelched it, in effect saying: “We want you to defend yourself, but with one hand tied behind your back.”
Ironically, when Israel was facing a larger enemy, the US did not make a similarly strong effort to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons there.
The US continued to change its position in reaction to regional developments, but it still dif not face Taiwan’s democratization.
The nation threw off the KMT party-state, but former US president George W. Bush still feared former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) using the word “independence.”
Taiwan was seemingly perceived as the only nation that had to beware of breaching the region’s fake “status quo.”
Taiwan’s status continued to bounce back and forth as each US president reacted differently to the changing times.
Yet, if there was ever any fear of Taiwan going rogue, someone in the US government should have at least noticed that after Chiang died in 1975, no Taiwanese leader has ever had any intentions of attacking China.
However, the US implemented its nebulous “one China” policy, which unfortunately only a few in Washington understand.
Having a “one China” policy would not conflict with having a “one Taiwan” policy, no more than it conflicts with having a “one France” or a “one Germany” policy.
The “one China” policy only acknowledges that Beijing’s claim to Taiwan is its own perception, but no one has to buy into it.
The ability to inflict serious damage on any attacking nation is the defense of today’s world.
The ability is not limited to damaging attacking armed forces, but extends to the attacking nation as a whole.
Therefore, China must be made aware that any attack on Taiwan would be Pyrrhic in more than one way.
First, even if the CCP were to take over Taiwan, it would have the tremendous problem of trying to control the nation’s hostile population. Taiwan is sold on its democracy.
Second, with Taiwan’s ability to land strikes deep inside China, Beijing would begin to pay the price of its attack even before Taiwan’s allies and those with a stake in the nation’s independence can come to its aid.
The US has many weapons systems stationed around the world and far outside its borders. This is not new.
Finally, Taiwan having weapons capable of inflicting damage on China’s interior would bolster its position as a “democratic Gibraltar” in Asian waters and could make it the eastern gate to the South China Sea.
Taiwan has long been under the influence of colonial powers, from the Dutch to the Spanish, fleeing Ming Dynasty loyalists, the Qing Dynasty and the Japanese, who were the first to control the whole of Taiwan proper.
The nation does not need, nor want, to add the PRC to that list.
However, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is not resting.
Like Mao, who helped North Korea attack the South, Xi continues to push the envelope. For Taiwan to have the ability to inflict destruction on China would help counter the CCP’s “salami-slicing” methods.
The threat ideological communism posed to the world is part of the past. The new issues are territorial control and trade dominance, as well as the struggle for hegemony between one-party states and those under democratic rule.
Taiwan achieved democracy on its own and with little support from the US.
Therefore, one grows weary of hearing US parachute pundits saying: “We, the US, will help, but you have to first be able to defend yourself.”
The US remains the cause of Taiwan’s main problem.
Taiwan has for decades been defending itself with one hand tied behind its back, but has still achieved democracy.
The decoupling of any nation from global trade also needs not be an issue in the new economy. The issue makes China realize that Taiwan is not for the taking and the nation has the weapons to prevent that.
Similarly, China does not need to possess Taiwan to profit in today’s world.
As for any other hegemonic motives China might have, democratic Taiwan is not buying into them.
However, with regard to US arms sales to the nation, Washington should first and finally recognize Taiwan as the democratic nation it is.
After that, it should simply return to rephrasing Sun Tzu: “The best way for the US to avoid war in Asia is to arm Taiwan, and to arm it well.”
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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