Weaker U.S. Leads to Insecurity in Taiwan

Despite the "era of good feeling” that has emerged between Taiwan and China, tensions in the Taiwan Strait have not disappeared. There are 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan. It is also the case that Beijing’s military posture toward Taiwan has hindered efforts to create a thaw in the relationship. China has not given up the notion of using force against Taiwan.

In the latest edition of its biennial military review, the Taiwan Ministry of Defense released a metaphorical bombshell. It noted that with China’s continuing and unrelenting military buildup, “it can now deter foreign militaries from assisting Taiwan.” This, of course, is a euphemism for deterring the United States. Since the U.S. deployed an aircraft carrier in the Taiwan Strait a decade ago when conditions heated on both sides of the divide, China has vowed to thwart any American military assistance for Taiwan. And if the report is accurate, that moment may have arrived.

Taiwan and China have been ruled as separate nations over the last 60 years, but Beijing claims the island must eventually unify with the mainland. The only question that remains is what is meant by “eventually.” Whenever the word independence has been used by Taiwanese politicians, China ratchets up the threat level.

Since the election of President Ma Ying-jeou, who is noticeably cautious in reference to independence, Taiwan's relations with China have improved. The two nations now have regular commercial flights and are negotiating a possible free trade deal. What has not received much publicity is the fact that Taiwanese business investments in China have led to the employment of millions of Chinese mainlanders. However, these developments exist against a backdrop of China’s insistence that Taiwan is part of “one China.”

Holding China at bay is Taiwan’s most important international ally, the United States. According to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. government has noted it will provide defensive weapons and would intercede if China attacked the island. This report by the Taiwan Ministry, however, indicates that vows of intercession are meaningless gestures now that China’s military strength is sufficient to deter U.S. involvement.