National Security / Politics

Understanding U.S.-Taiwan Links


News pops that a bipartisan delegation of U.S. House and Senate members are in Taiwan, thumbs up. Meantime, Communist China conducts military exercises nearby. The truth is, U.S.-Taiwan links are long, deep, and enduring – just like Chinese harassment. 

Four facts help define the special relationship. They offer hope and concern. The question is: As tensions rise globally, is Taiwan in trouble? What dominates, hope or concern?

First, recall history. U.S.-Taiwanese relations are complex but tight. China’s civil war started in 1927 and got suspended during WWII, with Japan the aggressor. It resumed after Allies beat Japan and tried to guide China to democracy. 

That effort failed, although led by U.S. General George C. Marshall.  The Communists, learning from Soviet Joseph Stalin, prevailed by force in December 1949.

Ironically, on the eighth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the Communists pushed China’s democratic Nationalists to Taiwan. On December 7, 1949, Communists took over China.

They did – and still do – by repression. Although living standards climbed for some, poverty is ubiquitous, and government control over individuals suffocating. Communism leaves no room for individuality or liberties we enjoy unthinkingly.

China’s 1.4 billion people cover an expansive landmass, are systematically oppressed, pockets of prosperity vastly outweighed by brutal suppression of childbearing, free speech, worship, travel, grievance, self-defense, with no freedom from captivity, imprisonment, torture, concentration camps “reeducation,” or fair trials, appeals, or Habeas Corpus rights. None.

In 1972, anti-communist U.S. President Richard Nixon tried a Sun-Tzu move and visited Communist China, thinking (naively) democracy’s influence would win them over. In 1979, Jimmy Carter opened official relations with Communist China.

Unfortunately, all this led to back-seating Taiwan, subject to “informal” and “unofficial” relations with the U.S., an ally in principle but with no formal alliance.

Under the 1979 “Taiwan Relations Act,” a “one China” policy was hatched, a clever artifice that permitted “strategic ambiguity, China imagining Taiwan part of their Communist world, the West imagining Taiwan the vanguard of a someday democratic China.

Too clever by half, this act by Jimmy Carter, who also managed to forfeit the Panama Canal and crush the U.S. economy, nullified the “Sino-American Defense Treaty” with Taiwan.

Bringing history to this hour, the policy remains unchanged – as Joe Biden makes Jimmy Carter look better with botched policy descriptions. The U.S. is not obligated to defend Taiwan but may deliberate ambiguity. Fortunately, Biden has not suggested China make a “minor incursion.”

Second big U.S.-Taiwan link: The U.S. sells defensive weapons to Taiwan beyond anything sold to other nations not formally allied with us, including Ukraine. Since Carter, but especially after Reagan, we have sold tens of billions of dollars weapons to Taiwan.

These weapons are not insignificant, but a major deterrent to Communist Chinese aggression. We have sold everything from Maverick, Tow, Hawk, Stinger, Patriot, HARM, and Harpoon missiles to aircraft including C-130s, F-16s, and Super Cobras, mine-hunting ships to sub-killing systems.  Trump conducted 20 deals, and Biden has done three. So we are tied closely.

Third, on any given day, roughly 80,000 Americans are in Taiwan, and of that number perhaps two-thirds are resident citizens.  The connectivity includes, therefore, major shared vulnerability.  If the U.S. is concerned about fractions of this number elsewhere, this bond is especially tight.

Fourth, having spent time in Taiwan in years past, the ideological tie to Americans – the shared reverence for freedom, willingness to fight for it, understanding everything from the Bill of Rights and free markets to deterrence and respect for limited government is acute. If not the most freedom-loving country in our mold, they are surely one of them.

So, weighing hope against concern, the reality is deeper than a few congressmen visiting Taiwan with thumbs up, or another Chinese false charge or set of exercises meant to given Taiwan pause. Reality is that hundreds of trips by members of Congress have gone to Taiwan, and hundreds of Communist Chinese exercises have aimed to intimidate that free nation.

The real question of this moment is – what are Communist China’s calculating leaders thinking about Biden’s weakness, his on-and-off resolve to defend Taiwan, and what do they think about Putin’s stumbling attempt to forcibly take Ukraine?

Answers to those questions directly affect Taiwan, deterrence, America’s credibility, and potential military engagements. Are these links enough to tip the balance toward peace, or is Taiwan in growing danger – with all the downstream consequences of Chinese adventurism?

Net-net, while Communist China could miscalculate as badly as Putin did in Ukraine, the balance of history, military support, American citizen presence in Taiwan, and ideological alignment between our two peoples, suggest that hope should prevail.

Yes, Communist China could take the wrong lessons from Russia’s invasion, Biden’s weakness, slow military sales, and global distraction, but if concern is high – and it should be – strong reasons exist to believe a Chinese assault would be foolhardy. Let us hope we can keep thumbs up.

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2 months ago

The USA should make moving “Chip Manufacturing” back to USA asap & stop our dependence on goods from other countries. More important than stopping XL pipelines in my opinion.

2 months ago

Thanks for this great article on Taiwan & history. Covers a lot of territory & good data. One thing missing was Chip Manufacturing importance in Taiwan & how a lot of that moved from USA in 80-90s’

Gregg L. Friedman MD
2 months ago

Interesting article on Taiwan. Thanks for publishing it. 5 Stars. By Gregg L. Friedman MD

Phillip Ridenour
2 months ago

I’m hoping that China’s economic woes and the resurgence of COVID are obstacles in the path to a planned invasion. Anything that buys time for the Taiwanese and for the US to get it’s political house in order could prevent an all out war with China.

Kyle Buy you some guns,and learn how to shoot
2 months ago

The U .S. should have thrown in with Shek ,and wiped out Mao years ago. Course the troops were wore out from fighting, and needed to come home. A new army could have been assembled a couple years later and sent to China. They could have wiped out Mayo and his crowd. Kyle L.

2 months ago

Another fine article, RBC. Taiwan is in a salient position in the front lines. It would have been great if one of the previous administrations would have signed a formal agreement with Taiwan, but no one wanted to upset Communist China. China is dealing with its own internal problems right now but could try to force the issue about Taiwan at any time. Militarily, an invasion would pose a logistical nightmare for the Chinese but then if invasion is en masse like the Chinese involvement during the Korean War with higher than normal casualties which the Chinese can afford, Taiwan is most definitely in trouble. The Chinese are adamant that Taiwan is just a run away province the will be brought back into the fold.

2 months ago
Reply to  Max

Max, right you are! Well said. Vigilance is essential – thank you! RBC

2 months ago

Good article RBC. From the mid 1930’s, successive American administrations have miscalculated badly regarding China with disastrous results. Compounding one error on top of another. All resulting in our creating the greatest threat to world peace and stability that the world has ever seen. What really empowered the ability of the Communists to take control of China, was the U.S. decision to not support Chiang Kai-shek against Mao more forcefully. Imagine all the needless deaths and destabilizing world actions that would have been prevented if Mao was prevented from taking control of China in the first place. The world would be a much different place today.

Now we are in the position of having to massively arm up Taiwan, which is a vital technology source for the entire world supply chain through another series of bad economic decisions carried out by Presidents Clinton through Obama, against a communist adversary we have been empowering and building up for the last 30 years.

Between you and me, the only two U.S. Presidents that had a clear-eyed view of global foreign policy and long-term strategic thinking were Reagan and Trump. They both understood the long-term ramifications of short-term thinking on how things would play out on the global stage. Sadly, the Obama era retreads and socialist academics running the current administration, being fronted by the two puppets Biden and Harris, are the worst possible choices to have their hands on U.S. foreign policy and national defense at the present time. We’ve seen how they have stumbled from one man-made crisis to the next (intentionally because of ideological dogma), with no interest in correcting any of their self-inflected mistakes along the way.

Hope is NOT a strategy as they say in both the military and the business world. It takes people making intelligent, well thought out decisions, with a long-term plan and vision to try and ensure the best outcomes. When I look at what I call Team Biden, I see none of those attributes present. We should already be sending Taiwan the type of heavy weaponry necessary for it to defend itself from what will be an inevitable invasion by the CCP. The rate Trump was supplying Taiwan showed the correct sense of urgency. We should also be taking a much more aggressive stand to make ourselves far less dependent on China for nearly everything we require as a nation. However, that is also unlikely to happen with the current administration in the White House. We’ve actually gone backwards since Biden has been in office. That is putting the United States in a very tenuous position on many levels.

2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Paul, great analysis! Concur on Reagan and Trump! Thank you! Have a great week! RBC

2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Well stated Paul.

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