In an interview broadcast on Sept. 18 by the US news program 60 Minutes, US President Joe Biden said that US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. It was his latest and most definite affirmative statement as to whether US armed forces would help defend Taiwan. Since last year, Biden has made four similar pronouncements on the issue.
Biden, who served two terms as chairman of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and two as US vice president, voted in favor of the Taiwan Relations Act more than 40 years ago and has visited the nation. His record shows that his remarks convey a heartfelt promise he intends to keep.
Given that the US is the strongest long-term external contributor to Taiwan’s security, Taiwanese obviously hope that its military would assist if China tries to invade. Nevertheless, Russia’s war in Ukraine shows that self-defense is the best protection when a country is invaded, so the most important factor is whether Taiwanese are willing and capable of resisting an enemy alone.
The situation Taiwan now faces is that China has openly declared its intention to annex the nation. If Beijing thinks its fist is big enough, it might be willing to take military risks.
However, it hopes to achieve its goal at the lowest cost, including through “gray zone” tactics that fall short of war or armed conflict. These methods attempt to relax Taiwanese society’s vigilance and disintegrate resistance from within, allowing China to force Taiwan to surrender without a fight. Therefore, while strengthening the nation’s self-defense capabilities, Taiwanese must also bolster their psychological defenses.
Taiwanese have made some progress in this respect. US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on Aug. 2 and 3 triggered a military response from China, which took the opportunity to rehearse various ways of invading Taiwan. The military maneuvers have prompted Taiwanese to wake up from years of complacency and start taking action to resist aggression and defend their nation.
This year’s Double Ten Day National Day celebrations on Monday next week are being organized around the theme of national defense, emphasizing Taiwanese’s determination to protect themselves. Meanwhile, the national defense budget for next year has been increased by nearly 14 percent.
In the non-governmental sector, United Microelectronics Corp founder Robert Tsao (曹興誠) has pledged NT$3 billion (US$94.14 million) to fund a civilian defense program that would train local militia, known as “black bear warriors” and “home guard sharpshooters.”
Former chief of the general staff admiral Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明) has published a book, The Overall Defense Concept: An Asymmetric Approach to Taiwan’s Defense (臺灣的勝算), in which he discusses Taiwan’s chances of winning a war. On Sept. 3, the Taiwan Association of University Professors held a seminar on “democratic defense and national defense security,” calling for strengthening the “Taiwanese spirit.”
All these initiatives show that the government and private sector alike have started to take action in response to China’s increasing threats and are preparing to fight hand-in-hand to defend our homeland.
China’s ambition to invade Taiwan is a continuation of the decades-long struggle between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). During all that time, China has not been able to achieve its ambition. In the early years, this was because it was not strong enough, but in the past few years the CCP believes that because China’s economic and military might have grown considerably, it no longer needs to conceal its intentions.
Beijing’s military maneuvers launched under the pretext of Pelosi’s visit have shown the international community that the “China threat” is real and not just a theory.
China’s relatively concealed “united front” tactics — such as psychological warfare, attempts to sway public opinion, legal attacks and cognitive warfare — have been going on for a long time.
Although Taiwan is the CCP’s main target for annexation, even democracies in North America, Europe and other regions feel threatened.
FBI Director Christopher Wray and MI5 Director-General Ken McCallum warned at a joint news conference on July 6 that China’s use of espionage to steal technical and economic intelligence and its attempts to influence political processes pose “the biggest long-term threat” to their and other countries’ economic and national security. Wray also warned that an attempt by China to forcibly take over Taiwan “would represent one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen.”
While faced with such a major threat, Taiwan is contending with certain internal weaknesses: namely divergent national identities, which cause fierce wrangling between political parties and a failure to develop a political culture of unity against the enemy, and even sow confusion between the enemy and Taiwanese. Within Taiwan, pro-China and anti-US forces attempt to erode society’s psychological defenses. This is an obvious weakness in the nation’s resistance against annexation and provides China with room to operate here.
Taiwanese must understand that the nation’s internal political differences, from national identity to political party affiliations, are targets for China to contain or eliminate its opponents. The so-called “1992 consensus” is supposed to mean that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge that there is “one China,” with each side interpreting “China” in its own way, but in China’s view the “consensus” just means “one China” and there has never been room for “different interpretations.”
Beijing sees those who support Taiwanese independence and those who support the Republic of China as one and the same, and they all must be “firmly opposed” or even “re-educated.” Faced with China’s efforts to annex Taiwan, Taiwanese must do as former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) suggested: Do not judge people as being Taiwanese based on their ethnicity or when they arrived here, but based on their identification with the country, their consistency in putting Taiwan first and their recognition of democratic values. This approach can create a sense of community, giving full recognition of everyone’s sense of responsibility, creativity and ownership of Taiwan, so that we can all face the future together.
As well as enhancing people’s sense of community and identity, the nation must promote the “Taiwanese spirit,” including elements such as national identity, historical memory, rational responsibility, righteous citizenship, defense of the homeland and a democratic Taiwan. The most reliable defense against annexation by China is spiritual armament from a cultural aspect, to clearly distinguish between the enemy and ourselves, and maintain a sense of resistance.
China has long used Taiwan’s unilaterally relaxed and open exchanges to wage a war on “Taiwaneseness,” attempting to blur people’s subjective identity, spread defeatism and disintegrate Taiwanese consciousness, combined with covert infiltration to undermine the nation from within. A clear example is the way in which senior KMT officials, and retired generals and admirals never dare to talk about the Republic of China when traveling in China.
Taiwan should do as late Taiwanese democracy pioneer Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) proposed: Exchanges with China should adhere to the principle of equality, whereby whatever China can do in Taiwan, Taiwan can also do in China, and whatever Taiwan cannot do in China, China also cannot do in Taiwan.
Democratic Taiwan has no intention of invading China, and is determined not to fire the first shot. Only authoritarian China is undermining peace across the Taiwan Strait. During the Later Roman Empire, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote: “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.” This is the spiritual armament most needed in Taiwan today.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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