The United States is not alone in its support for Taiwan
There has been an awful lot of talk in political circles recently about Taiwan and the US commitment to Taiwan’s security – and for good reason.
The Chinese are increasing pressure on Taiwan to an extent that has not been seen in at least 25 – and perhaps 60 – years.
The good news is that the US is not alone. It has friends and allies who also support Taiwan. The following are the five most critical:
Japan is Taiwan’s second best friend in the world after the US That is true in peacetime. See how quickly Japan has welcomed Taiwan’s application to join the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the comprehensive and progressive trans-Pacific partnership agreement with 11 nations. Building these types of economic stocks in Taiwan’s future is important in creating incentives for the international community to keep Beijing in check.
But Japan is also important to deter in a more direct way. In the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the US Navy and Japanese naval forces will work hand in hand on defense. That means something, because Japan has one of the most powerful navies in the world, which regularly operates with its American counterpart.
The challenge for Japan lies in military scenarios that avoid direct invasion. There are a number of other avenues China could take to force Taiwan. Taiwan is not just an island. Beijing could occupy one of its small islands – Kinmen, for example, from which you can literally see mainland China – or Taiwan’s territory in the South China Sea.
Alternatively, China could take advantage of a humanitarian or political crisis and gradually and clandestinely take military action.
The Heritage Foundation (whose news agency is The Daily Signal) has run some war games with these more subtle scenarios. The consistency of the obvious threat they pose with the pacifist constitution of Japan puts the Japanese bureaucracy in a knot. In a real-world situation, this could delay, if not prevent, Japanese ships from engaging in combat.
Australia has a smaller military and is further away from Taiwan than Americans sometimes imagine. What it praises most is the proven interoperability of its military with US forces in the Indo-Pacific and its remarkably consistent record of alliance with the US in international crises, from World War I to the war in Afghanistan.
Canberra strengthened US confidence in Australia and recently entered into a new security partnership with the US and UK called AUKUS, which will provide Australia with new nuclear powered submarines that will give its navy unprecedented range.
There are still many details to be worked out, but if it lives up to expectations, AUKUS will tie Australia even deeper into its alliance with the US and position it to play an important role in any defense of Taiwan.
The only risk with Australia is that the US will take it for granted. It’s a democracy, after all. Should it ever be called to defend Taiwan, it will face its own voters.
However, Australia’s concerns about China are a long way from what it was a few years ago. And it’s a lifetime away from the debates of 15 or 20 years ago, especially about what it would do in the event of a conflict in the strait.
3) Great Britain
This one might surprise you. Britain has not been a great power in the Indo-Pacific for decades. What makes the UK, like Australia, so crucial is its intense ability to interoperate with the US armed forces. The US has no closer ally in the world.
Britain also has real maritime power. The recent deployment of a carrier attack group in the Pacific and associated joint carrier operations with the USA and Japan underscore this strength.
It has also just put a second airline online and plans to permanently station two smaller ships in the Indo-Pacific, paving the way for a larger, more permanent presence.
The tight strategic focus on the US leaves little doubt that in the event of strikes in the strait, Britain will be with the US
Any doubt about Britain concerns its commitment to Taiwan in peacetime. Unlike the US, which is generally withdrawing from international trade (not only to the detriment of its own economy, but also its ability to stand up for Taiwan), the UK is trying to anchor itself economically in the region.
It has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That’s all good. However, there remains a lack of clarity in the UK’s approach to the region. The “integrated report” it issued earlier this year protects China. Taiwan is never mentioned.
The truth is that there are only two militaries in Europe who are relevant as combat troops in the Western Pacific. One is Great Britain, the other France.
Aside from the quality of its relations with the US, France is even more strongly represented in the region. It has a vast territory in the Pacific, two permanent force commands, military planes, ships, and a few thousand soldiers. And since 2014 it has been regularly using more powerful ships in the Pacific – an average of twice a year in the South China Sea.
France supports Taiwan. It recently agreed to maintain or upgrade French-made military equipment, fighter jets and frigates that it sold to Taiwan in the early 1990s. This is pretty much not a different country, but the US has the courage to do so.
However, Paris still has ambivalences in dealing with China. Does it see China more as a partner or a rival?
The operational disadvantage with France is a reflection of Britain’s strength. It is not that fully interoperable with US forces. The US is working with the French on it, very gradually. But one cannot assume that the two military in the Pacific can easily do the same thing because we have a common command structure in NATO and we conduct joint missions in Africa.
5) The European Union
Bringing a ship to the region from the Netherlands or Germany – both have done so this year – is constructive evidence of concerns about stability. And insofar as Taiwan is in the potentially most unstable place in the region, that’s good for Taiwan.
However, the EU itself does not have a navy. Its cross-strait value is mostly economic and, to some extent, diplomatic.
The EU is very broadly involved with Taiwan on a number of economic and regulatory issues. There is even the prospect of a bilateral investment agreement with Taiwan, strongly promoted by the EU Parliament.
The Foreign Ministry of the European Union, the Foreign Service, is also involved on the diplomatic side.
These non-military sources of support are important because they signal to China that it would pay a heavy price for an armed attack on Taiwan – and not just from countries willing to respond with force.
On the other hand, the EU consists of 27 nations. It is not easy for them to develop consensus, on Taiwan or anything else related to China policy, especially in the face of some Chinese-friendly members who have already obstructed consensus.
With such strong support, Parliament has limited power to impose its will on the rest of the EU bureaucracy.
There are other countries that could be mentioned here. Singapore is by far the best peace partner Taiwan has in Southeast Asia. Otherwise, it will keep its cards close to its chest.
India has reluctantly approached Taiwan in recent years, but its main concern is China’s presence in its own neighborhood at sea, especially along its northern border. It will shy away from anything that it finds provocative.
In summary, the importance of international concern for Taiwan’s security is that it prevents China from taking military action against Taiwan.
As like-minded nations, we must work together to ensure that Beijing wakes up every day, its leadership says, “Today is not the day.”
Do you have an opinion on this article? For sonication please email [email protected] and we will consider posting your edited comments on our regular “We Hear You” feature. Make sure to include the article’s URL or heading, as well as your name and city and / or state.