Will US really walk the talk on Taiwan?
It vows to defend Taiwan in the event of Chinese attack
If China attacks Taiwan will the US come to its rescue? This question is relevant not only to Taiwan but also to China. If Taiwan is hopeful that the US would keep its word when – not if –the gargantuan neighbour attempts something as crazy, the latter is constantly calibrating whether Joe Biden's patience is snapped.
Amid this conundrum, Biden has now responded to a question in favour of defending Taiwan. The American President was talking to CNN in this regard. When a specific question was posed to him regarding the stand of the US in the event of a Chinese attack, he said 'Yes, we have a commitment to do that."
Whatever Biden said matters a lot to the world because there was some wavering stand on coming to the rescue of Taiwan in the event of such an attack. America is breathing easy now having withdrawn from Afghanistan. It has also turned its attention towards its relations with China and both the countries are hoping that their businesses would become normal again.
However, Taiwan would come in the way of these 'normal equations,' it seems. Biden uttered almost the same lines earlier, too. But, here now he sounds a bit more enthusiastic in coming to Taiwan's rescue by saying 'yes, we have a commitment to do that.'
One needs to read between the lines, too, in this matter not because of Taiwan itself. This tiny country a few miles away from the Chinese mainland is treated as a breakaway province of China by its rulers and it has made it clear that it would be using force to seek the merger. China has been sabre-rattling all the while and flying its warplanes over Taiwan's air space. It is also using its fishermen to dominate the Taiwan Strait to the detriment of the smaller power's interests.
It is well known that America defends foreign soils out of its own interests. In the China-Taiwan context, too, it is no different. The US has no diplomatic ties with Taiwan but a business interest in the name of 'Taiwan Relations Act' of selling its arms.
What sounds exasperating is Joe Biden's observations in this regard. He stated that he was not alarmed about any international conflict itself because "China, Russia and the rest of the world know we're the most powerful military in the history of the world. What you do have to worry about is whether or not China is going to engage in activities that would put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake," he said.
He sounds more like his immediate predecessor. A statement of that sort coming from Donald Trump, former US President, is understandable and one would take it with a pinch of salt. A war is not a child's play. It also does not matter who is the most powerful and who is lesser in this world nowadays. The consequences of a war hurt everyone. All countries are knitted strongly, either directly or indirectly and none can escape the ramifications of a deadly war.
There is no formal defence alliance between the two countries – America and Taiwan. Whether Biden is intentionally heating the discourse is to be seen. After all, his image has taken a lot of beating with the hasty retrieval from Afghanistan. There was no plan at all to it and it was obvious to everyone that the US does not value the lives of Afghans. Did he just aim at refurbishing his own sagging image? Or was it a reaction to the Chinese advances in hypersonic weapons systems.
If the US really acknowledges the 'One China' policy because it never recognised Taiwan's independence, why did he say what he said? If it's a rhetorical war that he intended to wage against China, will the latter respond similarly? Biden has simply put the ball in the Chinese court. It is up to Beijing to respond now. The next time China talks about Taiwan it would also be addressing the US simultaneously.
Taiwan's Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng recently commented that the tensions with the neighbour were at their worst in the last four decades. Chiu was responding to China's provocation in sending a 'record number' of military jets over his country's air defence zone for four consecutive days. In fact, Taiwanese air defence zone extends beyond the Taiwan Strait well into the Chinese mainland.
Going by the Minister's calculations, China would mount a full-scale invasion of the island by 2025. He did not specify the reasons for the deadline, but it is presumed that he has a specific knowledge of it. However, there is also a view to the contrary among Chinese watchers that the Minister was only referring to a probability but not a certainty.
It all depends on the pact between Biden and Xi. Has China not given a word against a bloody cross-Strait war to Biden? So, what made Biden speak about the strength of the militaries and their capabilities in such a sweeping tone and tenor as to include even Russia in the same breath?
American Presidents never had this predicament in the past. There was no need for them to defend Taiwan militarily. Top military heads of the US have warned the US lawmakers sufficiently about Chinese intentions vis-a-vis Taiwan. The US defence officials may disagree with their four-star generals on this count.
But, China is a credible threat to Taiwan and also to world peace. The repercussions of Chinese military aggression will impact the world. "Strategic ambiguity" is all well and good, until the US President has to actually decide whether to defend Taiwan, it is believed. Biden now says he will defend Taiwan as it is his commitment.
Has America made its decision not to allow its decades-long partner to fall to Chinese aggression? Two things will be dominating the concerns of the two powers anyway. One will be the cost of a war. Both the Chinese and the Americans must be prepared to spend billions on a war over Taiwan. The second concern, more significant for the US, is the status of Taiwanese if it remains silent over the Chinese moves. Will the Americans dump Taiwanese just as they have done the Afghans or keep their word?