Taiwan is once again at the center of the controversy in global affairs.
That’s thanks to China’s growing aggression in the Asian-Pacific region, which Beijing seeks to dominate, and the breaking of the Russian-Ukraine war. They have raised the speculation that China may want to reunite with its breakaway prefecture by force. For instance, in May, a leaked audio clip purportedly featuring top Communist Party leaders talking of a military invasion of Taiwan fueled a great deal of controversy on social media.
More recently, angered by the visit of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, China stepped up its threats of military actions against its breakaway prefecture, including an air and sea blockade. Meanwhile, Taiwanese officials have repeatedly stated that such actions would be an act of war, as they aren’t willing to surrender to Beijing.
But what would the U.S. do in such a situation? Would it go as far as to defend Taiwan militarily?
For years, American officials have avoided providing a clear answer to these questions. But the situation has changed recently, with President Joe Biden saying in an interview that the U.S. would defend Taiwan militarily in case 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, provides several reasons why the U.S. could go that far.
One, it would send a strong signal to the world that the U.S. stands behind its alliances and democracies of the region.
“The U.S. is the only country willing to defend this democracy and the only one selling Taiwan weapons to aid its defense. Without American assistance, Taiwan cannot be expected to endure a large-scale invasion,” he told International Business Times. “A lack of response cedes literal and symbolic ground to an authoritarian regime interested in upending the existing world order and stability in a region, a regime opposed to democratic rule.”
And two, a unification of Taiwan with China could challenge American interests in the Asian-Pacific, most notably in the South-China Sea, which Beijing considers its sea, intimidating its neighbors and harassing the U.S. and allied ships in freedom of navigation exercises.
But a China-controlled Taiwan could threaten U.S interests in another way. It will allow Beijing to assume control of the global semiconductor supply, as Taiwan is a crucial manufacturer of semiconductors developed by U.S. corporations and their European and Asian allies. As a result, it will be disruptive to the operations of U.S. tech giants and the U.S. economy.
Still, Riccardo Cociani, Asia Pacific Intelligence Analyst at Sibylline, a global consulting firm, thinks that the latest remarks by President Joe Biden regarding U.S. military support to Taiwan should be interpreted with caution. They do not indicate an official change in U.S. policy from “strategic ambiguity” to ” strategic clarity.” They instead reflect his personal views.
Cociani sees the possibility that President Biden is changing his rhetoric in response to China’s rising military power and reassuring U.S. allies of its security and defense commitments.
“Hence, reassuring allies in key trade and geostrategic locations, such as Taiwan, will help U.S. allies to avoid taking drastic measures to safeguard their security and interests,” he added. “Thereby maintaining significant strategic leverage for the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific region.”