In part I of this three part post I stated that we need to talk about Taiwan, today. Here, I will continue to outline why.
But why today? Simply put, we have four years until another cycle of Taiwanese/US elections comes around; so instead of ‘kicking the can’ 4 years down the road and holding our breath and crossing our fingers again before the next elections, lets talk about Taiwan now.
And one more thing. For a number of years, as former US Ambassador to China James Lilley referred to it, Taiwan has been thought of as “…the cork in China’s bottle.” The US has believed and is concerned that if China were to no longer be constrained by its primary focus on Taiwan then it would aggressively challenge and pursue other interests, including the disputed islands in the East and South China Sea, that would greater undermine regional stability. In writing my thesis I pointed out something that seemed obvious to me at the time “However, what remains problematic is an emboldened China, as it increases its capabilities, might hedge, declare increasing numbers of interests and pursue them all.” This, China appears to be doing. The genie and cork are out of the bottle.
China’s already out in front. China, in March 2005, through passing the Anti-Secession Law marked its ‘red lines’ concerning its Taiwan position with clarity.
What is Taiwan’s current position? ‘No independence, No unification, No cause for war’.
So, what should the US do? The US’s Taiwan policy position of ‘Strategic ambiguity’ now needs replacing with ‘strategic clarity’; ‘strategic ambiguity’ has been successful over the past 3 decades but cannot continue to serve into the future as it has done so well in the past- the consequences that now stem from miscalculation are too great. I made this point in my thesis and agree with Michael Cole: “The best way to avoid war over Taiwan… is for Washington to put an end to its strategic ambiguity and to clearly state that it will defend Taiwan should China threaten force against it. By doing so, the U.S. would not only ensure that Beijing does not miscalculate by believing it can use the military option on the cheap — thereby lowering the probability of armed conflict — it would also provide Taipei with the backing it needs to negotiate with Beijing as an equal rather than a weaker party coerced into making political concessions against the wishes of its population.”
So what next, what can we do? A hangover from the Cold War, Taiwan remains a potential ‘flashpoint’ with far reaching, regional ramifications. Taiwan has the potential to place Australia, and other regional states, in a ‘nightmare scenario’ of being forced to choose between the US, our greatest security partner, and China, our greatest trading partner. It is surprising to me that at a time when the US is ‘pivoting to Asia’ (although I still hold serious reservations regarding the ‘P2A’) and Australia is considering its own role in the ‘Asian Century’, Taiwan has received such little attention. We really need to reverse this trend. Taiwan isn’t a ‘dirty word’, we need to clean up our act; ultimately, ‘we’ need to talk more about Taiwan, today.
(Part III and how we can begin to do this to follow).
Ben Moles completed a Masters in International Security Studies at the University of Sydney last year and was recently an International Security Program intern at the Lowy Institute. (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Follow on Twitter @bwmoles