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Biden’s Confusing Stance on Military Defense of Taiwan

Taiwán, El American

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President Joe Biden stated in Japan that Washington will defend Taiwan militarily in case it is invaded and warned that Beijing is “flirting with danger.” Biden’s comment differs from the traditional “strategic ambiguity.” Biden reiterated his agreement with the goal of one China, but the idea of Taiwan being taken by force is not acceptable.

The White House later clarified that the presidential statement means providing military equipment, not sending troops to fight. Earlier it had specified that regional policy had not changed at all, a dangerous zigzagging that raises serious doubts.

The statements infuriated Beijing, which is concerned about growing support for Taipei. Foreign spokesman Wang Wenbin said Washington should refrain from sending the wrong message, so as not to damage bilateral relations. “On issues affecting our fundamental interests, including sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is no room for compromise or concession,” Wang said.

On the contrary, Taiwan welcomed the statements, saying they demonstrate that the American guarantee is “rock solid.” It pledged to improve its self-defense capabilities and cooperation with allies, thus protecting the security of the sea strait separating the two countries.

China constantly provokes, invading Taiwanese airspace with its military exercises. Taipei’s military is constantly exercising for a red attack.

The policy of “strategic ambiguity” is intended to control the risk of a direct conflict. The president linked the war in Ukraine. He claimed that lifting sanctions on Russia would send the wrong signal about the cost of attempting to occupy Taiwan by force. Since taking office, Biden has used tough language that appears to alter existing policy. He has had to soften comments on four occasions in the past year, including his definition of the island as an independent nation. It is the red line that worries the mainland dictatorship.

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Success under threat

Taiwan is a success story: a prosperous, efficient, and democratic country. The 36,000 km² island—similar to the state of Maryland— lies off the coast of China, separated by a sea strait. It has a population of 24 million people.

Until 1971, when Beijing took its place in the UN, Taiwan defined its identity as “the real China.”

This reality turned 180 degrees when Washington recognized Beijing, putting Taipei in a delicate situation. Nevertheless, the world supported the reality of a “de facto” sovereign Taiwan, whose diplomatic relations function in a practical way. It is a state not formally recognized, but protected by the United States. The island is now a solid democracy.

At the same time, it has experienced spectacular development, based on exports, an open economy and a strong commitment to technology. Its per capita income exceeded $27,000, although social differences increased during the current president’s term of office. Thanks to a far-sighted policy and a successful production strategy, it is, together with Korea and Japan, the world’s largest producer of microchips, essential for the development of the digital economy.

China, for its part, has never given up its goal of annexing Taiwan. More aggressively under autocrat Xi Jinping. This claim is set in the context of the struggle for hegemony between Washington and Beijing to become the world’s leading power. The clash is geographically centered on the dominance of the regional seas. This situation has turned the sea strait into a dangerous focus of tension.

Beijing’s defiant discourse has led Washington to deploy its navy. A “security belt” has been created in the Indo-Pacific to contain Chinese expansionism. And alliances with Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand have been affirmed. If a war between the two powers can start anywhere, it is there.

If confrontation can be avoided, a promising future lies ahead. One key lies in the production of high-value-added goods. The growth of the chip and computer industry has been astonishing. Local companies, in partnership with Western companies, cooperate and exchange information. And this interaction, coupled with local competition, has led to extensive development.

Taiwan has become a key player in technological competition. Any everyday object (cell phones, computers, cars, trains, airplanes, satellites) is based on trillions of microchips, whose technology requires huge investments.

President Tsai-Ing-wen is a strong advocate of Taiwanese sovereignty. Citizens increasingly support full independence, which augurs well for times of freedom and development. Unless, of course, Xi’s Chinese ambition provokes a war.