In late November, in the wake of the APEC Summit, Chinese leader, Xi Jinping stated that the Taiwan issue needed to be resolved soon. An attack on Taiwan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) appears more imminent than ever before, and the US must plan how to support Israel and Ukraine, while also providing for Taiwan’s defense.
On November 9th, the Taiwanese Navy reported the sighting of a Chinese PLA Navy aircraft carrier group navigating through the Taiwan Strait. China claims sole control of the Strait, in spite of international court rulings that it is an international waterway. The recent passage of the aircraft carrier group not only serves as a demonstration of China’s dominance over the Strait but also sends a clear signal of intimidation to Taiwan. This incident is part of a growing trend of aggressive actions directed at the island nation, raising concerns about regional tensions.
The Hamas war on Israel has added to the defense burden of the United States government which is also bogged down in Ukraine while continuing to support Taiwan. Xi Jinping has repeatedly warned the United States that they cannot fight a war on two fronts and be successful. The White House, however, is determined to support all three nations. Meanwhile the CCP threat to Taiwan appears more imminent.
Former head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday warned that China may time its attack on Taiwan to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) which would be in 2027.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, supports a strategy of deterrence. He said, “We need to be moving heaven and earth to arm Taiwan to the teeth to avoid a war.” Deterrence is a kind of diplomatic psychology designed to manipulate the would-be-aggressor into not attacking. This aim is achieved by ensuring that both the United States and Taiwan have sufficient military firepower to thwart a PLA invasion of Taiwan and to inflict enough retaliatory damage on China, that Xi Jinping will think twice before acting. To do this, the U.S. must increase its defense spending, as well as increase the quantity of weapons and defense aid provided to Taiwan.
While it is unlikely that Xi Jinping will ever give up his desire to take Taiwan, it is hoped that he would not be willing to wreck China’s economy or lose large numbers of troops and military hardware in the process. As long as Xi believes that at an attack on Taiwan would be too costly, he will wait.
The series of bipartisan recommendations for Congress Rep. Gallagher supports includes resolving the $19 billion backlog in arms sales to Taiwan, creating a reserves arms stockpile for Taiwan, initiating multiyear procurement of munitions, enacting cybersecurity legislation tailored for Taiwan, and allocating $2 billion in foreign military financing to bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
Apart from heightened military expenditures, an essential element of deterrence involves publicly reaffirming unwavering U.S. support for Taiwan.
In addition to increased military spending, , an essential element of deterrence involves publicly reaffirming unwavering U.S. support for Taiwan. This ensures that there is no ambiguity in Xi’s perception, leaving no doubt that the United States remains committed to defending the island nation. At the same time, it is critical to ensure that neither the U.S. nor Taiwan, engages in behavior that would trigger a violent reaction from Beijing. A unilateral declaration of independence is generally considered to be one of the most certain triggers of conflict. Unfortunately, this means that Taiwan may have to wait for the day that it will be a fully recognized, sovereign nation.
Building coalitions is a key factor in deterrence. Alliances led by the U.S., like Aukus (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and the Quad (including India and Japan), play a vital role by increasing the perceived threat to China. In a September 2023 House Armed Services Committee Hearing on Defense Cooperation with Taiwan, it was acknowledged that “Whether it is shipping lanes, semiconductors, or democracy, our partnership with Taiwan is important for American workers, families, and our national security.” Convincing organizations such as NATO, the G7, and ASEAN that the security of Taiwan is similarly in their best interests enhances the collaborative aspect of deterrence.
The recently expanded defense agreement with the Philippines gives the U.S. additional access to bases in the regional operational zone. South Korea is also expressing interest in potentially becoming a plus-member in the Quad or Aukus, showcasing the growing strength from these coalitions. The multitude of coalition partners, spanning various directions on the map, adds complexity to the PRC’s strategic planning, heightening the risk for Beijing. Moreover, coalition members could synchronize their efforts in planning sanctions against Beijing if Taiwan comes under attack.
In terms of budget, forming coalitions costs nothing, while increasing the defense budget, which already exceeds $831 billion in order to prevent a war would still be cheaper than going to war in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Taiwan. And most importantly no Americans or Taiwanese have to die in combat.