AMAC Exclusive By: Joshua Charles
As the Biden administration abandons US allies in Afghanistan, other countries around the world – both American friends and foes – have taken notice. Nowhere is this more true than in the South China Sea, where Taiwan has suddenly been left wondering if its most important ally might suddenly abandon it in the face of the growing Chinese threat.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controlled media outlets have also seized on the opportunity, gloating over the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and what it portends for Taiwan. China’s Global Times openly mocked Taiwan for relying on American aid for its defense, saying that “the situation in Afghanistan suddenly saw a radical change after the country was abandoned by the US. And Washington just left despite the worsening situation in Kabul. Is this some kind of omen of Taiwan’s future fate?” If the Americans didn’t keep their commitments in Afghanistan after 20 years of blood and treasure, the CCP asks, why would they keep them to Taiwan?
It’s a fair question in light of all that has transpired in Afghanistan. President Biden clearly didn’t recognize the strategic importance of preventing a hostile takeover of the country. If he makes that same mistake with Taiwan, the results may be even more catastrophic.
First, a little history is in order. Americans need to be reminded why we support Taiwan.
After the allied victory in World War II, China descended into civil war, with the Communists on one side and the Nationalists on the other. The Chinese Communist Party was the victor, and established the People’s Republic of China on the mainland in 1949. The Nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan.
The two regions—mainland China, and the island of Taiwan—have remained under separate governments ever since. The CCP has insisted on a “one China” policy in its foreign relations. In other words, the CCP views Taiwan as a renegade province and expects the rest of the world to adopt the same view. Any government with full diplomatic relations with China must acknowledge this policy, which means few nations recognize Taiwan as an independent country—today, only fifteen total. The United States is not among them.
In 1979, the United States re-established relations with China. In its “Joint Communique” with the Chinese government, the US “acknowledged” China’s position on Taiwan. This was intentionally ambiguous, however, and the United States does not necessarily recognize Taiwan as part of China, as the CCP contends.
Nonetheless, the United States has not affirmed Taiwanese independence. But it has stood for a strong “unofficial” relationship with Taiwan through the nonprofit “American Institute in Taiwan,” while Taiwan maintains a similar institute in Washington. This “unofficial” relationship has included economic and scientific cooperation, but most importantly military assistance. The Biden administration, for example, just recently approved a nearly $1 billion arms sale to Taiwan. This during a time when China has been increasing pressure in the South China Sea just south of Taiwan, and conducting more invasion drills near Taiwan.
Today, Taiwanese independence and security remains important to the United States for three main reasons: freedom, technology, and world trade.
Freedom: In short, Taiwan is a free society, and China is not. Every year, the Freedom House think tank ranks countries according to how free they are, based on an evaluation of the extent to which they respect political rights and civil liberties. Taiwan scored 94/100 for 2021. By contrast, China scored 9/100, and they observed that “China’s authoritarian regime has become increasingly repressive in recent years” under Chairman Xi Jinping. The United States has a long-term interest in supporting free societies around the world against totalitarian dictatorships that seek world domination, like China.
The story of Hong Kong makes clear what would happen should the CCP ever gain control of Taiwan. In 1997, the UK gave Hong Kong back to China after the CCP committed to a “one country, two systems” policy that preserved many of Hong Kong’s freedoms. But over the last several years, that arrangement has been eviscerated, and Hong Kong is now under the same iron boot as the rest of China.
Technology: Whoever has the most advanced technology will likely have the strongest economy, and national defense. Technology is key to US vital strategic interests, especially as the pace of innovation continues to increase. One of the single most important technologies upon which so many others depend are semiconductors. Whether it’s 5G, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, computer chips, and many currently-existing technologies, semiconductors are essential. Without them, you can’t produce advanced technology of any kind—whether civilian or military.
Taiwan is home to most of the world’s most important semiconductor manufacturers, most notably the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which produces many of the world’s most advanced chips. In 2020, the Trump administration convinced TSMC to build one of its new chip making facilities in Arizona. This is the biggest onshoring of a global supply chain in American history, one that is very important not only for our domestic economy, but national security. But despite this onshoring, a large majority of TSMC’s chip production continues to take place in Taiwan, and the new facility won’t be fully operational for a number of years. Taiwan will therefore remain crucial to the global chip supply for the foreseeable future. Chinese control of the industry would be disastrous.
World Trade: Approximately 80% of world trade is carried by sea, and it is estimated that 20-33% of that trade goes through the South China Sea just south of Taiwan. In recent years, China has grown increasingly aggressive in its territorial claims in the South China Sea, even going so far as to build artificial islands for use as military bases. If China were to control Taiwan, it would no doubt bolster its claims, and effective control, of the South China Sea, further increasing the Communist dictatorship’s influence over world trade. This would be a threat not only to the United States, but many regional allies and partners like South Korea, Japan, India, and Australia.
The CCP has made no secret about its ambitions to dominate Taiwan and undermine American influence in Asia. For decades, American military preeminence has kept Chinese aggression at bay. But Biden’s debacle in Afghanistan has perhaps convinced China it would have a better chance against the United States than previously thought. Would the United States keep its commitments to Taiwan, or would it fold, even if doing so was chaotic and detrimental to its international prestige? The world is watching to see who blinks first.
What happened in Afghanistan will not stay in Afghanistan.
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