Protecting Taiwan's Independence Without War | Opinion

One of the greatest national security challenges threatening America is the danger of a war with communist China over Taiwan.

After President Joe Biden's disastrous surrender to the Taliban in Afghanistan—in which he didn't consult or even inform our allies—supporting Taiwan's independence is more important than ever. America's failure to keep our decades-long public commitment to Taiwan would be devastating. It would shatter our reputation as a reliable ally, and countries around the world would become more likely to accommodate the Chinese Communist Party.

Our entire global alliance system would collapse. The shift to a communist China-dominated international system would be immediate. Mao Zedong's 1956 accusation that America was "a paper tiger" that was "unable to withstand the wind and the rain" would prove prophetic. It is impossible to hold together a global coalition if the central power is a paper tiger.

The threat to Taiwan is real, and it could come sooner than people expect. Chinese Communist Party leaders have issued a wave of threatening articles and speeches about retaking Taiwan. The nearly 150 military aircraft that flew near Taiwanese airspace this month are a sign of Beijing's growing desperation to conquer what it regards as a breakaway province.

American support for Taiwan has been a continuing irritant to the communist dictatorship. From its perspective, Taiwan is simply a province of China. Its leaders are seeking to "reunify" the country.

Secretary General Xi Jinping said on the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party that "solving the Taiwan question and realizing the complete reunification of the motherland are the unswerving historical tasks of the Chinese Communist Party and the common aspiration of all Chinese people."

Despite Xi's words, Taiwan sees itself as increasingly distinct from mainland China—even though a large percentage (about 26 percent in 2016) of Taiwan's trade is with the mainland. Furthermore, some 2.7 million mainland Chinese visited Taiwan in 2017. The Taiwanese people have a growing economy, a robust democracy, freedom of the press and no desire to follow Hong Kong into the communist totalitarian dictatorship.

The mutually rewarding economic relationship between Taiwan and China faces two short-term dangers.

First, as the Chinese communist economy decays under Xi's severe totalitarian crackdown, Xi could be pushed to decide conquering Taiwan would feed nationalist pride and strengthen his dictatorship.

Second, China's constant, aggressive probing of Taiwan could lead to a mistake or overreaction which simply escalates into a major war.

It is a vital American interest to avoid war in the Taiwan Strait while ensuring the independence of Taiwan.

Taiwan flag
A US-made CH-47 helicopter flies an 18-meter by 12-meter national flag at a military base in Taoyuan on September 28, 2021. Sam Yeh / AFP/Getty Images

In recent war games involving China, the United States ended up losing or having to use nuclear weapons. Senior generals and admirals have spoken out repeatedly about our inability to defeat China with the current force structure.

To avoid war, we must prepare for it diligently and thoroughly. As President George Washington said in his first annual address to Congress on Jan. 8, 1790, "to be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." Washington was echoing Roman general Vegetius, who said in the fourth century "if you want peace, prepare for war."

The key is to develop a powerful, fully prepared Taiwan which is so formidable it would be hopeless for China to try to conquer it. Adm. James Stavridis described this as turning Taiwan into a "porcupine." Specifically, as former national security adviser Robert O'Brien and Alex Gray recently wrote for The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. and European allies should provide Taiwan with anti-ship weapons, air-dropped sea mines and shoulder-fired missile launchers.

If a thoroughly armed Taiwan were integrated into Japanese, American and Australian military capabilities, crossing the 110-mile Taiwan Strait would become prohibitively expensive for communist China. Remember that even at the peak of his power, Adolf Hitler did not attempt to cross the 20-mile wide English Channel. The Taiwan Strait is a much more formidable barrier.

Taiwan might be able to defend itself against an invasion, but it needs an integrated defense system with its major allies in order to stop efforts at coercion. As an island, Taiwan would be vulnerable to Chinese communist threats—establishing missile test zones, or announcing submarine interdiction, for example—against seaborne traffic. Taiwan depends on seaborne traffic to keep its economy prosperous. Amid those threats, no company would insure ships traveling into such uncertainty.

The American, Japanese and Australian navies could provide a countervailing threat against any Chinese communist intimidation. Japan is nearest to Taiwan and has an immediate interest in ensuring Taiwan is not intimidated.

A recent naval exercise which included the U.S., Great Britain, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands offered a good example of the countervailing pressure which could be brought to bear.

Taiwan could also work with the United States Space Command to develop full situational awareness of any Chinese communist action. Joint Asia surveillance and analysis could revolutionize our ability to understand Chinese communist plans and preparations and pre-empt them to avoid a war.

As Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro has said:

The desired goal, quite frankly, is not to fight China. No one wants to enter into a conflict.... It's our ultimate responsibility to deter them from what they're trying to accomplish, including taking over Taiwan. So it's incredibly important...that we make the investments now, this year, as necessary to actually be able to focus more so on China and many of the other threats that we sometimes face around the world.

Hopefully, Biden will take Del Toro's advice.

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The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.