The Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as tensions in the Taiwan Strait, dominated the agenda of last week’s NATO summit in Madrid. For the first time, NATO leaders complained about the deepening Sino-Russian strategic partnership and the challenge that these adversaries pose to the international order.
As NATO has the Indo-Pacific region in its radar, it is paying closer attention to Taiwan’s security needs. The timing is of great importance because the US has adjusted its Taiwan policy from one of strategic ambiguity to one of strategic clarity.
Yet, in the larger sphere of regional security, Washington has not made a systematic effort to replace the post-World War II system of bilateral alliances with an Indo-Pacific multilateralism.
Victor Cha writes in his 2016 book, Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia, that the US’ choice of bilateralism for its security relations with Asian allies was born out of the aftermath of World War II. While Washington supported and co-opted anti-communist autocratic regimes against the spread of Soviet influence, it sought to stop these regional rulers, who were embroiled in their civil wars and lacked domestic legitimacy, from dragging the US into unnecessary conflicts.
The consolidation of the NATO alliance in Europe since the Cold War has shown that multilateralism works best when it is founded on a set of shared principles, rules and obligations.
Under this institutional framework, like-minded member states agree to exchange some policy concessions in exchange for greater protection against an external security threat.
Because transnational collaborations within the multilateral security system have significant impacts on member states’ relations with their adversaries, NATO allies are working closely to uphold unity and cohesion. This has been true for their collective response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
With the US and China vying for regional dominance, some Western lawmakers and think tanks are proposing an “Asian NATO” for the Indo-Pacific region. The idea of an Asian NATO is not entirely new. Shortly after the Korean War ended, the US in 1954 launched the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization to fight the spread of communism, but the gradual rapprochement with China led the US to abandon this security framework in 1977.
There are still some obstacles toward implementing an Indo-Pacific treaty organization.
First, those like-minded Indo-Pacific nations must embrace the idea of a border security arrangement and bear the cost of collective defense. However, the lack of affinity among rival Asian states has made it hard to put in place a multilateral organization. The burden of modern history weighs heavily on South Korea and the Philippines, whose leaders might be reluctant to commit any defense obligations for Japan.
Second, the US and China are concerned about their future status and influence. Worrying that the future would get worse and beyond their control, Washington and Beijing are determined to exploit the present moment to shape that future to their own advantage. They are taking advantage of their dominant position to make deals with and push demands on middle powers and smaller nations.
Since the Cold War era, the US has developed bilateral treaties with Japan, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand to deter communism and to reassure junior allies against the potential rise of a militaristic Japan. From former US president George W. Bush’s war on terrorism to former US president Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia, the US has gained free-trade agreements, military base access and strategic partnerships with several Indo-Pacific countries. The US has also affirmed its commitment to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese invasion, even if that security guarantee is not a formal treaty.
Similarly, China has followed in the US’ footsteps to expand bilateral bonds in Asia and Africa through the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The long-term goal is to transform the regional security and economic systems into a Sino-centric order, but this hierarchical relationship fails to appeal to the Global South.
Perhaps the Indo-Pacific nations’ willingness to support bilateralism is far more important than has been acknowledged. In reality, many Indo-Pacific states are craving the attention of great powers, and the benefits and resources that might come from such interactions. Taking photos with US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) might even strengthen these national leaders’ domestic legitimacy than sitting in a crowded room with other competitors.
How should Taiwan navigate in this fluid geopolitical environment?
Because the Indo-Pacific region is far away from launching its singular security framework like NATO, Taiwan should pursue a wide range of bilateral defense initiatives.
As long as the US and China do not embark on a zero-sum diplomatic offense and force other nations to take sides, Taiwan could rely on formal and informal links to increase its political, economic and cultural influences abroad.
While working with the US and NATO to improve its national defense capability, Taiwan could still partner with other Indo-Pacific powers to consolidate its sovereign status and global recognition.
Joseph Tse-hei Lee is a professor of history at Pace University in New York City.
Sometimes When there is a choice to be made, none of the options are good. The choice between hooking up with communism — in its Chinese iteration, the one that bugs Taiwan the most — and neofascism, of the back-to-the-roots Italian variety or any other kind, is such a choice. The good news is that Taiwan does not have to choose. It neither needs to cozy up to China — the successes of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration, despite its shortcomings, are evidence of that — nor does it need to embrace Italy under its likely new leader, Italian lawmaker Giorgia
For many years, the military’s defense of the Taiwan Strait has been centered around the doctrine of establishing “air and maritime supremacy and repulsing landing forces.” However, after the legislature passed the Sea-Air Combat Power Improvement Plan Purchase Special Regulation (海空戰力提升計畫採購特別條例) last year, the doctrine was altered to “air defense, counterattack, and establish air and maritime supremacy,” with repelling landing forces removed from the equation. Despite the changes to the defense doctrine, landing operations and anti-landing operations still feature at the core of the military’s plans for the defense of the nation. The primary reason that peace in the Taiwan Strait has prevailed
In a China-US war over Taiwan, paradoxically the greatest loss of life could be inflicted on the Muslim Uighurs. Uighurs constitute 45 percent of the Xinjiang population of 25 million people, with over 1 million incarcerated in internment camps in accordance with a policy initiated under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). Another half-million children have been placed in state-run boarding schools. Forced sterilization has led to a 24 to 60 percent drop in the birthrate, leading officials from many countries to describe the mass detention as genocide. Estimated annual death rates in the camps of between 5 and 10 percent could
Starting from November, and in line with recent amendments to the Compulsory Automobile Liability Insurance Act (強制汽車責任保險法), electric bicycles (e-bikes) and other small electric two-wheeled vehicles must be licensed with mounted license plates before they can be ridden on the road. This change should resolve some existing problems, such as the difficulty that e-bike owners have faced in receiving help to find their bikes if they are stolen, and the difficulty that road users have in holding anyone accountable when an accident occurs. It would also allow the more than 600,000 e-bikes that are currently being ridden on Taiwan’s roads to