U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently said Communist China’s frequent incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone amount to a “rehearsal” for an eventual invasion of the island. Many China observers are convinced it is only a matter of time before China’s People’s Liberation Army invades Taiwan.
Taiwan is trying to boost its defense. Still, realistically speaking, the difference in military power between mainland China and Taiwan is so enormous that no military experts believe Taiwan can stand a chance against the Chinese military on its own.
Taiwan’s annual military budget is about $13 billion, compared to China’s $252 billion. The Taiwanese military has fewer than 300,000 active personnel with 2.8 million people in reserve, while the PLA has close to 2.2 million active personnel and more than 8 million in reserve. Not to mention that China has built the world’s largest navy, as measured by the number of battleships.
Taiwan needs help with its defense. Unfortunately, it cannot count on the Biden administration, for three reasons.
First, President Joe Biden has no political will to engage in any military confrontation, and his aversion to using force is evident in several recent events. For example, Biden’s insistence on unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan and ending the U.S. military engagement regardless of the immediate consequences demonstrates he has little appetite for war.
Biden infuriated East European countries by signaling he would host a meeting between Russia and a selected few North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to address Putin’s grievances of NATO expansion. Baltic nations regard such a meeting as Biden’s diplomatic concession to Putin because it would give Putin a chance to sow divisions between Europe and the United States.
Diplomats from Baltic nations made it clear that Russia should not have the power to decide which European country will join NATO. Despite Biden’s harsh rhetoric on Russia, it seems his action is more about appeasement rather than confrontation. How Biden is handling the Russia and Ukraine conflict offers no comfort to Taiwan.
Second, the Biden administration is sending mixed signals to China and Taiwan. The Biden administration has taken measures to address China’s aggressions, including establishing AUKUS, an alliance including Australia and the United Kingdom, to counter China’s naval expansion in the Asia Pacific. Biden also announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, protesting China’s human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and others.
Yet, at the same time, the Biden administration has gone out of its way not to offend the Chinese Communist Party. President Biden didn’t confront China’s leader Xi Jinping about the origin of COVID-19 during the Biden-Xi summit. When the U.S. State Department issued a “Call to Prevent Genocide” on Dec. 9, it avoided calling out the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims.
The most bizarre incident happened during Biden’s recent Democracy Summit. White House officials reportedly cut the video feed of a Taiwanese minister during her speech after a map in her presentation showed Taiwan in a different color than China. They were allegedly worried that differentiating Taiwan and China on a map could be seen by Beijing as a U.S. endorsement of Taiwan’s independence. Taiwanese officials are reportedly angry about the White House’s “overreaction” and voiced doubt that U.S. support of Taiwan is not “rock solid.”
It is also concerning that Biden has resisted the call to end the U.S. government’s traditional “strategic ambiguity” approach on Taiwan. “Strategic ambiguity” means the United States won’t explicitly guarantee it will come to the defense of Taiwan should China attack the island. Since the Nixon administration, a succession of U.S. governments has held such an approach to give the U.S. flexibility to deal with Taiwan and Communist China.
But recently, experts argue that “strategic clarity would do much to reassure allies” because “many of whom are confused by Mr. Biden’s muddled rhetoric on Taiwan.” They also point out that as China continues its military buildup and frequent incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone, a clear commitment to defending Taiwan from Biden may deter China.
So far, Biden has avoided providing strategic clarity on Taiwan. In addition to lacking the political will to engage in military conflicts, some Biden administration officials fear Communist China will not take action against climate change if the U.S. offers military support of Taiwan’s defense.
The third reason Taiwan shouldn’t count on the United States for its defense is that even if the Biden administration wants to aid Taiwan militarily, the current state of the U.S. military is worrisome. The top brass of the U.S. military have gone woke, and they seem to be more interested in winning the domestic cultural war than defeating external threats. The U.S. Navy is under-invested, and the sailors are more up-to-date with their diversity training than their combat readiness.
There are many signs that U.S. military leadership hasn’t taken the military threat from Communist China as seriously as it should. A Pentagon spokesperson declared last month that climate change and China are equally important threats to the United States.
The Pentagon’s recently published Global Posture Review was a disappointment to many because it demonstrates the top brass has no sense of urgency to adjust U.S. military resources and strategies to focus on countering China’s growing military threats. One congressional staffer familiar with the review summarized the Pentagon’s review this way, “No decisions, no changes, no sense of urgency, no creative thinking. Lots of word salad.”
America’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has shown that U.S. military leaders are distracted and incompetent. Departing without informing allies in advance has also damaged the U.S. credibility and leadership. Suppose China invades Taiwan, and the Biden administration tries to organize an international coalition to respond. How many U.S. allies will want to follow the U.S. lead this time, given their recent experience in Afghanistan?
Despite the Biden administration’s rhetoric, it’s in Taiwan’s best interests not to count on U.S. military assistance if China invades. But Taiwan won’t have to face the PLA alone. Japanese leaders have declared that Japan wouldn’t stand by if China attacked Taiwan. Given the geographical proximity between Taiwan and Japan, Japan regards a Chinese invasion of Taiwan as a direct threat to Japan’s security.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently warned in a virtual conference that “A Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency.” He also called upon Japan and Taiwan to work together to protect freedom and democracy because “A stronger Taiwan, a thriving Taiwan, and a Taiwan that guarantees freedom and human rights are also in Japan’s interests. Of course, this is also in the interests of the whole world.”
Abe is very influential within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan. Following his lead, more Japanese officials have openly called for defending Taiwan. James R. Gorrie, author of “The China Crisis,” points out that Japan is “filling the ‘Biden gap’ in Asia Pacific diplomacy and security that used to be America’s unquestioned role in the region.”