Why is Taiwan important to the United States?

President Joe Biden brought Taiwan back into the headlines last week when he publicly declared in Tokyo his intention to help defend against a Chinese attack.

In the decade since Xi Jinping came to power as Chinese Communist Party general secretary in 2012, reports and analysis have been dominated by the prospect that the confident Chinese leader would lead his country to war with Taiwan, and like the West in general and the United States in particular could respond. Less is said about why America would want to do this.

The US-Taiwan relationship is contemporary and fundamentally different before and after World War II. For half a century, until 1945, the island was a Japanese colony known to Americans as Formosa.

As the Allies advanced across the Pacific in the summer of 1944, Formosa became a legitimate military target and was considered for an amphibious assault. But General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt to call off Operation Causeway because of its operational challenges, the history books show.

After the war, in 1949, Mao Zedong’s communist forces overran the mainland and proclaimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing, while Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist army withdrew to Taiwan, where the government of the Republic of China (ROC) and their capital, Taipei, remain today.

During the first three decades of the Cold War, the United States and the ROC maintained diplomatic relations in Taiwan; They even signed a mutual defense pact to prevent the PRC’s cross-strait advance.

Why Taiwan Matters to the United States
President Joe Biden said in Tokyo last week that the US would defend Taiwan if China attacks. Above, Biden speaks at the US Coast Guard change of command ceremony at USCG Headquarters in Washington, DC on June 1, 2022.
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Taipei’s fortunes changed in the 1970s, first with the loss of the “China” seat at the United Nations in 1971, despite strong American lobbying and efforts to find a middle ground; then with Washington’s loss as an ally altogether in 1979, as President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger spearheaded a rapprochement with Beijing to counter the Soviet Union.

For 43 years, the United States has recognized only a single China — based in Beijing — and has officially maintained unofficial ties with Taipei, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), a bill sponsored by then-Senator Biden in 1979 and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

The United States does not officially recognize Taiwan as a country, nor does it accept Beijing’s claim that the island is part of China. Officially, Washington takes no position on sovereignty over Taiwan, and its long-held if seldom articulated position is that Taiwan’s post-war status, “abandoned” by Japan, remains indefinite.

The TRA is known as the primary vehicle through which the United States conducts legal arms sales to Taiwan, an ongoing commitment to the island’s self-defense against China to ensure its future is determined by peaceful means, “consistent with the desires and Taiwan’s best interests, the people of Taiwan,” Washington said.

The law also requires that the United States maintain its own “ability to oppose any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of Taiwan,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken in China told the Biden -Government policy speech last week.

Its provisions contain no specific guarantee that the United States will stand by Taiwan in the event of a future cross-strait conflict, although many believe American forces would be involved to some extent.

Why Taiwan Matters to the United States
The US does not officially recognize Taiwan as a country, nor does it accept Beijing’s claim that the island is part of China. Above: China’s President Xi Jinping arrives at Hamburg Airport for a G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 6, 2017.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Certainly there are few disputed areas in the world that have achieved Taiwan’s current status. Its economy is among the 25 largest in the world; the EU is its largest foreign investor; and while there are no formal ties with its strongest international backer, US-Taiwan ties are likely to be at an all-time high. Last year, Taiwan moved up one spot to become America’s eighth-largest trading partner.

Amid rising cross-strait tensions and friction between Beijing and Washington, military analysts are quick to point to Taiwan’s geostrategic importance to the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia.

Taiwan lies at the center of the first chain of islands that China sees as central to the US strategy to curb Chinese military projection. To the south of the island is the Bashi Channel, part of the Luzon Strait, one of the few international waterways through which China’s naval forces can safely thread the island chain and reach the vast western Pacific — and directly threaten US territories including Guam, Hawaii and the continental United States.

Since the Cold War, military planners in the United States have understood the geostrategic importance of a Western-leaning, or at least neutral, Taiwan. A failure to stop China from forcibly taking Taiwan could also have unpredictable consequences for US credibility in Asia, officials said. Others, however, see Taiwan’s importance to the American government and its people through the lens of shared values.

“Besides these geopolitical or strategic calculations, one thing is very important: Taiwan is a vibrant democracy,” said Professor Yeh-chung Lu, chair of the Department of Diplomacy at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “Especially to the general public in the US, Taiwan sounds more like an advantage than a liability because we all belong to this international democratic community.”

Taiwan, one of the top semiconductor suppliers to the United States, has also become part of Biden’s band of “techno-democracies,” according to Lu — a multilateral and ideological alliance to counter China’s digital authoritarianism.

Lu believes the American public’s strong support for Taiwan also stems from the different ways Taipei and Beijing have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this regard, China is self-destructive because of the Chinese government’s policy towards its own people,” he said news week. “I’m not saying Taiwan is always a role model, but on many fronts Taiwan is doing better than China in terms of transparency etc.”

Why Taiwan Matters to the United States
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, seen above at the Taipei presidential office on March 8, 2022, wrote in Foreign Affairs: “Taiwan is an affront to the narrative both by its very existence and its continued prosperity and a Obstacle to the Chinese Communist Party’s regional ambitions.”
Chien Chih-Hung/Office of the President, Taiwan

Taiwan was not always a democracy. It was governed as a one-party state until, thanks in part to American encouragement, the government accepted democratic reforms in the 1980s. The Taiwanese public took part in the first direct presidential elections in 1996, which led to the first change of power four years later.

In 2022, Taiwan will be a different story, Lu said. “The fact is that the PRC has never ruled Taiwan for a day, so for the general in Taiwan, we’re not very familiar with the CCP, and I think the supermajority in Taiwan doesn’t want to be ruled by the CCP.”

Craig Singleton, senior fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said: “Today’s geopolitical environment revolves around the perceived competition between democracies and autocracies for global influence, a sentiment that lies at the core of the United States’ bilateral relationship with Taiwan. “

“Trade and security-related matters often dominate talks about US-Taiwan relations, but that’s not why Taiwan is important to the United States. It’s important because the island nation’s very existence shows that democracy and democratic values ​​can flourish just 100 nautical miles from mainland China, amidst a mostly Mandarin-speaking population,” he argues.

In other words, the US government and the American people understand that what China fears most is not Taiwan itself, but Taiwan’s democracy. So when Americans see China ramping up pressure on the island nation and Beijing threatening violent reunification, they not only see a threat to freedom, they see themselves.”

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan seems to agree. She has enrolled Foreign Affairs last October: “After the COVID-19 pandemic, authoritarian regimes are more convinced than ever that their model of government is better adapted to the demands of the 21st century than democracy. This has fueled a contest of ideologies and Taiwan lies at the intersection of competing systems.

“Vibrantly democratic and western, yet influenced by a Chinese civilization and shaped by Asian traditions, Taiwan, by virtue of both its very existence and continued prosperity, represents both an affront to the narrative and an obstacle to the regional ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party. “

https://www.newsweek.com/why-taiwan-important-united-states-china-1712363 Why is Taiwan important to the United States?

Rick Schindler

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