On four separate occasions since he took office, President Biden has said he would defend Taiwan. On each of those occasions, his Cabinet and staff have walked back his statement, denying that there is any change to our “one China” policy regarding Taiwan.
Our “one China” policy emanated from the 1972 Shanghai Communique agreed to by President Richard Nixon and Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong. It said, in part, that, “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.”
Four years later President Jimmy Carter improved the situation by signing the Taiwan Relations Act which commits the U.S. to supply Taiwan with defensive weapons. Subsequently, Mr. Carter made it much worse by recognizing Communist China as the sole legal government of China, robbing Taiwan of its legitimacy (and its seat in the United Nations.)
Both Messrs. Nixon and Carter gave China too much and got too little in return.
Over the past few weeks, there have been statements by Biden cabinet members and military leaders who are evidently very worried that China will soon attack Taiwan. But they’re not worried enough to do anything to deter it.
During his October 16 speech opening the Chinese Communist Party conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China desired peaceful reunification with Taiwan, “But, we will never promise to renounce the use of force. And we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary.”
One day later Secretary of State Antony Blinken worried aloud saying, “Instead of sticking with the status quo that was established in a positive way, a fundamental decision [was made] that the status quo was no longer acceptable and that Beijing was determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline.”
In an interview with The Washington Times published on October 19, Adm. Sam Paparo, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait, “The first thing I will say is, we’re ready today. We’ll be ready tomorrow. We’ll be ready next week and next year.”
With all due respect to Adm. Paparo, his forces may be as ready as he can make them, but they may not be able to defend Taiwan successfully. As this column has often pointed out, China has designed its forces to deny U.S. ships and aircraft access to that potential battlefield. In an open war between the U.S. and China, our aircraft carriers would be vulnerable and our airfields in Japan – where a substantial portion of our airpower is based – would be subject to preemptive attack.
Mr. Biden’s new National Defense Strategy labels China as our most consequential adversary in the coming decades. It would take at least a decade to design and build new types of ships and aircraft to counter China’s threats. The threat we and our allies face is not in the distant future: It’s right here and right now. The time for modernization, according to the Chief of Naval Operations, has run out.
On October 19, Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, told the Atlantic Council that the potential for Chinese action against Taiwan is not as far in the future as we had assumed. “When we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind that has to be a 2022 window or potentially a 2023 window. I don’t mean at all to be alarmist . . . it’s just that we can’t wish that away.”
Adm. Gilday’s words must have reached the White House and even the State Department. If we cannot wish the threat away, what can we do about it?
We can’t simply declare that our “one China” is now a “two-China policy,” recognizing Taiwan as a separate nation because that would obviously outrage Beijing and probably cause an almost immediate attack on Taiwan. We can, at least, do three other things that would severely anger China but could also deter it.
First, we should engage secretly with Taiwan, Japan and Australia to determine how best we can defend Taiwan together. That engagement would, inevitably, be discovered by China’s espionage efforts but that would be a side benefit.
Second, that engagement should result in joint military exercises with those three nations in the skies and waters east of Taiwan.
Third, because Taiwan lacks any stealth aircraft, we should sell it a couple of squadrons of F-35s, our stealthy attack bird. We could also sell Taiwan the stealthy Joint Air-Surface Standoff Missile for its F-16s.
Mr. Biden will do none of those things. If China attacks Taiwan before the 2024 election, Mr. Biden may well decide to not defend Taiwan. If he does, the Taiwanese will fight as well and as bravely as the Ukrainians have against the Russian invaders. But China will win within days or weeks.
As belligerent and determined to reunite with Taiwan by force as Mr. Xi is, he and his nation are still susceptible to deterrence. Proper deterrent actions, carefully calibrated and applied, are the only real choice between allowing Taiwan to be conquered and a very big war we might well lose.
• Jed Babbin is a national security and foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times and contributing editor for The American Spectator.
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