As the US military lays down its weapons and completes a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, thousands of kilometers away in Taiwan, media personality and Broadcasting Corp of China chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) tossed a grenade into Taiwanese politics by saying that the nation has become overreliant on the US for defense.
Jaw, who is one of Taiwan’s most prominent pro-Beijing cheerleaders, added that Taiwan would follow in the footsteps of South Vietnam and Afghanistan in eventually being betrayed by Washington, and called on Taiwanese to take the calamity of the fall of Kabul as an object lesson.
Is Jaw correct? Can Taiwan really be lumped together with Afghanistan?
One crucial difference between the nations is that while the US has spent 20 years and spilled the blood of 2,300 American soldiers in Afghanistan, Taiwan is not a warzone, nor has it entered the preparatory stages for war, and there are no US troops stationed in the nation.
Taiwan’s situation could not be more different from Afghanistan’s.
The US has poured more than US$2.5 trillion into Afghanistan. This eye-watering military expenditure is the motivation for the pullout.
In contrast, Taiwan has been a long-term purchaser of US military equipment, and is therefore well and truly embedded into the thinking of the three elements that constitute the so-called “US military industrial complex”: arms manufacturers, defense officials and the US Congress. In other words, Taiwan’s security guarantees are embedded at a systemic level within Washington.
Additionally, from a geopolitical perspective, Taiwan’s pivotal position within the Pacific Ocean’s first island chain shows its immense strategic value to the US. The US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and other regional security agreements to which the US is a signatory also mean that if a war between Taiwan and China were to break out, the US would not be able to throw Taiwan to the wolves, even if it were inclined to.
Taiwan’s prowess in state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing places the nation at the heart of global supply chains. The global chip industry has been elevated to a first-tier strategic industry, first as a result of a US-China trade dispute and, second, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Any upheaval or instability in Taiwan would affect the entire global technology industry, initiating a domino effect through Europe, the US, Japan and other advanced economies.
Anyone who argues that today’s Afghanistan is tomorrow’s Taiwan is conflating two entirely separate situations and ignoring the factors at play. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is simply the latest chapter in Washington’s strategic pivot to the Indo-Pacific region. Far from losing relevance, Taiwan’s strategic value is on the rise.
Fan Shuo-ming is a senior administrative specialist at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Edward Jones
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