Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr in Tokyo last week to strengthen economic and security ties under the principle of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The two sides agreed to materialize security and defense cooperation through bilateral consultations, similar to Japanese Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meetings and in opposition to the use of coercion and force in the East and South China seas.
The war in Ukraine and China’s increased assertiveness are examples of threats to the liberal international order. The world is divided into two camps, and the China-US rivalry is the epitome of the ideological battle between authoritarian and democratic regimes.
The relative decline of the US has made it more difficult to project and sustain its power in offshore regions. In East Asia, the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan are the flashpoints where conflicts are most likely to arise. These conflicts would most likely threaten the liberal international order.
The threat to Taiwan has never been this imminent. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has secured his historic third term in office, and his Marxist-Leninist ideology is not compatible with the liberal democratic values spearheaded by the US.
The future of Taiwan is therefore at stake. Taiwan has long been regarded by Beijing as a breakaway province, and China’s stance on “never renouncing the use of force” for Taiwan’s “unification” has never been more salient.
China’s uncompromising stance on Taiwan is underscored by the large-scale military exercises surrounding Taiwan after then-US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the nation last year.
However, it was also the first time Chinese missiles flew through Taiwan’s airspace. Furthermore, it was also the first time five missiles were reportedly launched during naval exercises to land in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
What could Taiwan do to uphold the democratic values and the freedom of its people in the face of China’s rising military power and increasing assertiveness? Taiwan, an independent country functioning with elected democratic leaders and administration, lacks diplomatic recognition under the “one China” policy.
The US has defined China as its strategic competitor, and US President Joe Biden’s administration states that China is the “only competitor with the intent to reshape the international order.”
Due to China’s rising threat, the US has strengthened its cooperation with Japan under the US-Japan alliance framework to step up “integrated deterrence” against China. Japan, on the other hand, is planning to double down on its defense budget, increasing it to 2 percent of its GDP to develop second-strike capability and procure more advanced weapons.
Taiwan does not have these options. The lack of diplomatic ties pronounces the death of any form of official alliance. US arms sales to Taiwan are authorized by the Taiwan Relations Act; yet neither the quality nor the quantity are sufficient for Taiwan to develop full asymmetric defense capabilities.
There are two approaches Taiwan could take: First, externally, Taiwan should work closely with like-minded countries in the region to uphold the democratic values and freedom of Taiwanese as espoused by the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. This is already happening, as more delegations of foreign officials have been visiting Taiwan.
These parliamentary delegations are not limited to traditional allies such as the US and Japan, but also from the Czech Republic, the EU, Lithuania and Switzerland. It is important to deepen the relations with countries beyond the region to strengthen the support for democracy and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
In addition, Taiwan should strengthen security and non-security cooperation with the US and Japan. For example, Taiwan should develop mechanisms that underpin communication and intelligence sharing with its partners in the region. If there was an emergency in the country, foreign aid could be coordinated and provided in a timely manner.
Secondly, domestically, Taiwan should increase the level of awareness and preparedness of its people regarding China’s rising threat. Mobilization of resources is critical in the early stages of war. If Taiwan fails to mobilize quickly, its military infrastructure could be easily targeted.
Unfortunately, Taiwan seems far from being ready. For example, several official Web sites of government agencies were attacked and paralyzed after the Pelosi visit. This exposes the lack of preparedness of the administration against a potential cyberattack from China, and could have far-reaching consequences if military networks were paralyzed in the event of a war.
Taiwan should also commit to strengthening its military capability for asymmetric warfare to deter China. Recent conscription reforms in Taiwan have extended military training from four months to one year.
It is crucial that the Ministry of Defense continuously simulates war games and engages with Japan and the US, as well as other partners in the region, to prepare for expeditious action should a Taiwan contingency occur.
“Security is like oxygen, you tend to not notice it until you lose it,” former US assistant secretary of defense Joseph Nye said following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Taiwanese enjoy freedom and democracy in their everyday lives, but protecting that hard-fought democracy against an authoritarian neighbor remains an urgent priority. The world is watching how the nation prepares for this battle.
Victor Lin is pursuing a master’s in international relations at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University. He holds a bachelor’s in journalism from National Chengchi University, and previously covered Japan-related issues for Storm Media and The Diplomat.
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