The US and its allies must ensure Taiwan does not fall into Beijing’s hands, according to one analyst, who warns that withdrawal would only encourage the communist regime to more aggressively pursue its regional interests.
Since the turn of the year, Chinese warplanes have repeatedly entered Taiwan’s south-western air defence verification zone (ADIZ), prompting fears of an imminent confrontation.
In response, the US Department of State condemned Beijing’s provocation and reaffirmed its support for Taiwanese independence.
Beijing, however, was undeterred by the Biden administration’s tough rhetoric, with the regime continuing to send fighter jets into Taiwan’s ADIZ.
But according to Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the US and its allies “must stand firm”, warning that abandoning Taiwan would signal the end of Pax Americana in the region.
“A failure to defend Taiwan would be an abdication of US international leadership,” he writes.
“It would seriously damage America’s credibility in the Indo-Pacific and would invite China and others to become ever more aggressive.”
But Davis expects the Biden administration to stand by the democratic republic.
“Thankfully, all indications suggest that President Joe Biden is set to continue strengthening Washington’s relationship with Taipei,” he adds.
Allies must be prepared to back US
The ASPI analyst says the United States’ allies, including Australia, must be prepared to come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of military confrontation.
“If China decides that military adventurism, timed to exploit the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and political turmoil in the US, is a way to further its goal of ending America’s strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific, the worst thing Australia could do is look the other way,” Davis continues.
“Principles matter. As Australia enjoys all the benefits of a free and open society in a stable and functioning democracy, our principles and values must extend to supporting the survival of Taiwan as a vibrant democracy of 24 million people with a successful market economy.
“The examples of Hong Kong and Xinjiang suggest a dark future for the Taiwanese people if China decides to force unification with the mainland.”
Davis notes the broader ideological significance of Western support for Taipei’s independence, particularly as a means to countering President Xi Jinping’s efforts to reshape the regional order.
“Taipei’s success provides a powerful alternative to Beijing’s promotion of authoritarianism with Chinese characteristics as a model for development,” he continues.
“Ideological competition is intensifying as Xi Jinping pushes for a Chinese-led ‘community of common destiny’ as a basis for the future global order. It’s just as vital for Western democracies to win this new ideological battle as it was for us to resist Soviet communism during the Cold War.
“To turn away from a fellow democracy under threat from an aggressive authoritarian neighbour would make a mockery of the values we advocate and lower our credibility in the eyes of many developing countries.”
The ASPI analyst warns that Beijing has a geostrategic agenda that extends beyond annexation of Taiwan, which is a means to a “Beijing-dominated regional order” that would “dramatically worsen” the West’s strategic outlook.
“A Chinese-controlled Taiwan would ease the challenges for Beijing in projecting naval power across the Indo-Pacific and weaken the ability of the US to maintain a forward presence in the western Pacific,” Davis contends.
“From ports and air bases in Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army could support the extension of its maritime militia and coast guard northwards through the Ryukyu Islands and against the Senkaku Islands.
“That would make it more difficult for Japan to protect its southern islands and give Beijing added coercive leverage against Tokyo in a crisis, including by interfering with Japan’s maritime commerce.”
According to David, Beijing could use Taiwan as a launching point for the PLA's southward expansion, which would envelop the Philippines, providing Beijing with easier access to resources in Benham Rise.
“China has already sent oceanographic vessels there and challenged Manila’s sovereignty over those waters,” Davis notes.
“Chinese control of Taiwan would also strengthen Beijing’s ability to control the South China Sea by blocking the Luzon Strait and the Balintang and Babuyan channels, cutting off the traditional access paths used by US naval vessels.”
Davis adds that Beijing control over Taiwan would also extend the PLA’s anti-access capabilities beyond the first island chain.
This, he writes, would enable the PLA to operate Type 096 ballistic-missile submarines further out into the middle sea between the first and second island chains, bringing more of the US within reach of JL-3 nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Accordingly, Davis argues that the US and its allies can’t afford to stand by while Beijing expands its influence.
“If China were to provoke a crisis over Taiwan, whether this year or in a future year, some would no doubt argue that it’s not Australia’s business and that supporting a US response would increase the risk of devastating Chinese military, political and economic retaliation against us,” he notes.
“To accept that argument as policy would mark the end of our strategic alliance with the US, leaving us more exposed to Chinese coercive pressure and political warfare, or even a direct military threat.”
The loss of the US alliance, Davis concludes, would be “catastrophic” for Australia’s security.
“Acting alone, we’d need significant boosts to our defence spending to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency beyond the traditional levels of ‘self-reliance’ that past defence white papers have alluded to,” Davis states.
“That could include developing military capabilities normally not considered for our defence force to deter a nuclear-armed adversary.
“We may well see an intensification of the political and economic pressure Beijing applied to Australia for much of 2020.”
Davis concludes: “A military crisis across the Taiwan Strait would be a serious test of our national resolve, the strength of our most vital strategic relationship and our commitment to the values we stand for. The outcome of such a crisis would shape the strategic environment of the Indo-Pacific region for decades.”