Editor’s Note: This article is part of our 2023 Writing Contest called The Taiwan Offensive, which took place from March 1, 2023 to July 31, 2023. More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.
Marshall McGurk is an officer in the United States Army and a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He is on Twitter @MarshallMcGurk. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: Options for the United States to counter China’s multi-pronged offensives in Taiwan.
Date Originally Written: July 5, 2023.
Date Originally Published: August 7, 2023.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is an active-duty U.S. military officer who believes the U.S. policy on the Taiwan issue can move from strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity.
Background: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) takes a multi-pronged approach to bring Taiwan under its banner. China’s president Xi Jinping publicly states that China’s leadership will “advance peaceful national reunification.” Senior PRC officials state their timeline of forced armed reunification is 2027, the PRC’s 78th anniversary. The divergence of these statements provide flexibility to the PRC. Peaceful reunification may be preferred, but the PRC military is preparing for armed conflict, nonetheless. China’s economic belt and road initiative reaches global, across land and maritime domains, while their diplomatic and cultural arms aggressively push the narrative of PRC dominance. The U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, however it enjoys a “robust unofficial relationship,” which “[serves] as the impetus for expanding U.S. engagement with Taiwan.” U.S. relations with Taiwan are governed by the American Institute in Taiwan.
Significance: The multi-pronged approach to challenging Taiwanese sovereignty is a national security issue because it presents Communist Chinese Party (CCP) imperial, revanchist designs in Asia. Should the CCP succeed in subjugating Taiwan, the impact will be felt across alliances and partnerships seeking to maintain free trade and economic relationship. The issue of China’s imperialist designs matters not just to the United States but to its allies and partners in North Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian subcontinent.
Option #1: The United States could indirectly counter the CCP’s multi-pronged approach through increased relationships between the United States and Taiwan in all aspects of national power. What the U.S. can do is maintain the one-China policy while simultaneously increasing its partnerships with Taiwan. The current President of Taiwan is a graduate of Cornell University. The U.S. could use this point to increase exchanges of students and experts across academia, public, and private sectors. There are military training events occurring between Taiwan and the United States. The U.S. could develop a recurring exercise between Taiwan’s military for conventional, joint, and special operations forces. There are significant networks between Taiwanese and United States manufacturing, transportation, and free trade. The U.S. could increase the size and remit of the American Institute of Taiwan and provide the same openness to the Taiwanese. Refining and bolstering financial ties between the U.S. and Taiwan, as well as increasing ties with regional partners such as the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan is also possible.
Risk: Increased U.S. investment in Taiwan, even with the bounds of the one-China policy, could be seen as duplicitous and cause an escalation between the PRC, the U.S., and Taiwan. This option may lead to political stalemate or infighting within the U.S. Additionally, increased investment in Taiwan, in accordance with the one-China policy, may be perceived as curtailing or divesting of U.S. interests in other regions of Asia, thus alarming allies and partners.
Gain: Option #1 provides the U.S. with clarity within the bounds of the one-China policy and the Six Assurances. It is a continuation of the larger status quo, but a refinement of U.S. actions. Option #1 provides a basic for dialogue and openings for cooperation, while mitigating misunderstandings.
Option #2: The U.S. has the option to move away from the one-China policy and support Taiwanese independence. This includes modification or cancellation of the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances.
Risk: Disavowing the one-China policy may prompt a PRC invasion of Taiwan. This risk can be mitigated by diplomatic negotiations and talks that could occur since U.S. policy will have changed. Second, it may be seen that disavowing the one-China principles limits options for the U.S. President in addressing the Taiwan issue. This risk can be addressed by labelling the one China policy as no longer tenable given the PRC’s inflammatory rhetoric and behavior. Furthermore, U.S. recognition of Taiwan provides increased opportunity for diplomatic relations with both countries. Option #2 opens opportunities for PRC dialogue within the U.S., however the policy will require changes agreed upon by the U.S. legislative and executive branches. U.S. politicians may see Option #2 as limited the options of future presidents, and thus may not refute the one-China policy.
Gain: There are three gains with this approach. First, this option moves the U.S. away from strategic ambiguity and towards strategic clarity. Strategic clarity provides allies and partners a touchstone of U.S. credibility and legitimacy. Second, all options can still be on the table for how the U.S. addresses PRC responses to the Taiwan issue—including cooperation—but disavowing the one-China Policy sets clear opposition to PRC revanchist schemes. Third, U.S. recognition of Taiwan may staunch the loss of its formal allies, which stands at 14 after the departure of Nicaragua in 2021.
Other Comments: The U.S. government need not follow the whims of private companies or institutions who modify language, maps, or statements showing Taiwan as part of China. The PRC and the ruling-CCP have shown themselves to be bullies in the international community and appeasement of a bully provides no benefit.
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