The question of whether the US would send its military to defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion by China, and what stance other countries would take, has for many years featured as a topic for debate among the international community and been pondered over by strategic analysts.
If a conflict were to break out with China, the US might come to Taiwan’s aid, but as for neighboring Asia-Pacific nations, only Japan might realistically form an alliance with the US.
Most regional countries would likely be unwilling to get involved, in part due to a belief that a cross-strait war is “China’s internal affair,” but more fundamentally because they would not want to get on the wrong side of Beijing, concluding that they neither possess the ability to intervene nor that it would be in their national interest.
The US has the ability and the will to intervene, and a series of US laws and government documents provide security pledges and allow for military cooperation with Taiwan, including the Taiwan Relations Act, the “six assurances,” the Taiwan Travel Act and this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
Despite these assurances, President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration is under no illusions, and is not relying on Washington to take the initiative and send its military to assist Taiwan should a conflict break out.
The Ministry of National Defense’s revised Taiwan Strait Defense Combat Plan cautiously states that in the event of a conflict with China, it would be up to Taiwan’s military alone to defend the nation and assumes that the US would not send a single US soldier into battle.
In a July 2018 interview, Tsai reiterated her view that, while maintaining regional stability is a joint responsibility, Taiwan’s national defense is the nation’s own responsibility and Taiwanese must go the extra mile to strengthen the nation’s self-defense capabilities.
In July last year, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) stressed that Taiwan hopes the US continues to sell arms to the nation, but said that in the event of a conflict with China, Taiwan would not rely on direct intervention by the US.
Wu said that Taiwan’s self-defense is its own risk and responsibility, adding that Taiwan would conscientiously prepare itself for all eventualities.
Tsai’s and Wu’s statements are indirect signals to the international community that ever since the US severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the military has focused on self-improvement, training vigorously so that it is able to independently defend the nation if called upon to do so.
The US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan has rekindled debate over whether Washington might abandon Taiwan, but such talk does not influence the psychological preparedness of Taiwanese.
In addition to continuing to invest in and develop new asymmetric capabilities, the government must increase the defense budget annually, enhance Taiwan’s defense autonomy and augment its all-of-nation civil defense plan.
This would show the international community that Taiwanese have an iron will to resist Chinese aggression and are capable of defending themselves.
It would also signal Beijing that if it were foolish enough to start a conflict with Taiwan, it would pay a heavy price.
Yao Chung-yuan is a professor and former deputy director of the Ministry of National Defense’s strategic planning department.
Translated by Edward Jones
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