Taiwan is once again at the center of controversy in global affairs.
That’s thanks to China’s growing aggression in the Asia-Pacific region, which Beijing is trying to dominate, and the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war. They have raised speculation that China may want to forcibly reunite with its breakaway prefecture. For example, in May, a leaked audio clip purporting to have senior Communist Party leaders discussing a military invasion of Taiwan sparked a flurry of controversy on social media.
More recently, China, angered by the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, has stepped up threats of military action against its breakaway prefecture, including an air and sea blockade. Meanwhile, Taiwanese officials have repeatedly said such actions are an act of war as they are unwilling to surrender to Beijing.
But what would the US do in such a situation? Would it go so far as to defend Taiwan militarily?
American officials have avoided providing a clear answer to these questions for years. But the situation changed recently when President Joe Biden said in an interview that the US would defend Taiwan militarily in the event of a Chinese military invasion.
Timothy S. Rich, Ph.D., professor of political science and director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL) at Western Kentucky University, cites several reasons why the US might go this far.
First, it would send a strong signal to the world that the US stands behind its alliances and democracies in the region.
“The US is the only country willing to defend this democracy and the only one selling arms to Taiwan to help in its defense. Without American help, Taiwan cannot be expected to survive a full-scale invasion,” he told the International Business Times. “A lack of response gives ground, literally and symbolically, to an authoritarian regime interested in reversing the existing world order and stability in a region, to a regime opposed to democratic rule.”
And second, a Taiwan-China union could challenge American interests in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the South China Sea, which Beijing considers its sea, intimidating its neighbors and harassing the US and allied ships during freedom of navigation exercises.
But a Chinese-controlled Taiwan could threaten US interests in other ways. It will allow Beijing to take control of the global semiconductor supply as Taiwan is a key producer of semiconductors being developed by US corporations and their European and Asian allies. As a result, it will disrupt the operations of US tech giants and the US economy.
However, Riccardo Cociani, Asia Pacific Intelligence analyst at Sibylline, a global consulting firm, thinks President Joe Biden’s recent comments on US military support to Taiwan should be interpreted with caution. They do not indicate an official shift in US policy from “strategic ambiguity” to “strategic clarity.” Instead, they reflect his personal views.
Cociani sees the possibility that President Biden will change his rhetoric in response to China’s growing military power and reassure US allies of their security and defense obligations.
“Therefore, reassuring allies in key trade and geostrategic locations like Taiwan will help U.S. allies avoid drastic measures to protect their security and interests,” he added. “This maintains significant strategic leverage for the US in the Indo-Pacific region.”