The U.S. has been warning that a crisis on Taiwan is nearby. In 2021, the then-Chief of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Philip Davidson, said that China may try to attack Taiwan by 2027. And in 2022, the Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director, David Cohen, stated that Chinese President Xi Jinping wants the People’s Liberation Army to have the capability to take control of Taiwan by force by 2027. Air Mobility Command head Gen. Mike Minihan also delivered a memo within the Air Force that predicted that China would attack Taiwan in 2025. Given the increasing landing ship capability, it is true that Chinese troops will more easily be able to land in Taiwan.
Therefore, the prediction by informed U.S. personnel is that China will soon attack Taiwan. If that happens, will the U.S. really risk soldiers’ lives to defend it? And how? Is there some way to prepare for this potential conflict now?
Will the U.S. Really Risk Soldiers’ Lives to Defend Taiwan?
Taiwan is remote from the U.S. When Germany bombed London in 1940, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was planning to join the war to support the British. However, he needed legitimate reasons to persuade the U.S. citizenry to mobilize and equip their military to join a war across the Atlantic. Before Germany’s ally, Japan, attacked Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941, the U.S. could not justify direct intervention in the British-German war. By extension, it would also seem unnatural for the U.S. to risk soldiers’ lives for faraway Taiwan. However, in such a situation, I am confident to say, America will defend Taiwan.
First, if America abandoned Taiwan, U.S. allies and partners would be skeptical of the U.S. commitment to their security. This would affect the alliance system not only in Northeast Asia but also throughout the whole world.
And second, if the U.S. loses Taiwan, it will lose a vital card in dealing with China. Nearly 250 years ago, the U.S. was just a colony of the British Empire. However, the U.S. has changed from a colony to a major superpower since then. And during the process, the U.S. defeated and disbanded all rivals, including Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union. If President Biden says that China is its “most serious competitor,” it is natural to conclude that the U.S. will not allow China to gain too much of an advantage. Taiwan is located off the coast of China, a core area of the Chinese economy, and is in a strategic location for deterring Chinese aggression. If Taiwan is collaborating with the U.S. and Japan, it can exert military pressure on China’s coastal area.
In addition, when reporters asked in September 2022 whether U.S. forces would defend the democratically governed island claimed by China, President Biden replied, “Yes.” Another question was asked to clarify the meaning of his remarks: Would American men and women defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion? Biden replied, “Yes.” Again, clearly. Will the U.S. abandon Taiwan? Given the above reasons, we cannot imagine such a situation.
How to Defend Taiwan?
A January 2023 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies titled, “The First Battle of the Next War: Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan,” predicted that China’s invasion would fail and that “Taiwan remains autonomous,” even if “this defense comes at a high cost.” This report was the result of many simulations. Currently, the U.S. and its allies, such as Japan and Australia, are preparing long-range strike capability against the Chinese mainland. These strike capabilities will raise the cost for China if it invades Taiwan.
However, if the U.S. wants to guard Taiwan as a vital asset in order to compete with China, war is not the only threat it faces. For example, in one wargaming scenario, China could blockade Taiwan and forcefully persuade the Taiwanese people to accept unification with China. Even if this does not constitute a war, such a condition is not acceptable for Taiwan or the U.S. The U.S. needs to support the courage of the Taiwanese people to reject a Chinese takeover. What should the U.S. do in this case?
To defend Taiwan militarily, the continental (or west) side of Taiwan is vital. All the big cities of Taiwan are located on its continental side, and a military attack would most likely come from this side. However, the Pacific side of the island is also vital because it is there that Taiwan hides ammunition and other supplies. China could deploy forces on the Pacific side that could attack the entrance of these ammunition and supply dumps. As a vulnerable point to Taiwan’s defense supply, the Pacific side is important.
Also, if China deploys enough military forces on the Pacific side, the Taiwanese people will be cut off from Japan, the Philippines, and the U.S. Such an isolated situation would test the courage of the Taiwanese people and could make them more vulnerable to accepting China’s unification offers.
Recently, China has been testing out its military presence on the Pacific side of Taiwan, and its aircraft carriers, surface warships, and bombers have repeatedly conducted exercises there. Chinese submarine activities are also a matter of concern. If China deploys enough submarines, it could blockade Taiwan by attacking and deploying sea mines.
Is There Some Way for the U.S. to Prepare for this Potential Conflict Now?
If the U.S. wants to secure the Pacific side of Taiwan, the amount of firepower it can deploy in this region will be critical. Recent U.S. weapons exports to Taiwan indicate that the U.S. is focusing on air power. Since the Biden administration was sworn in, the U.S. has provided missiles for jets such as AGM-84 Harpoon, AGM-88B HARM, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles. These missiles are for air-to-surface and air-to-air combat purposes.
However, this air power relies on secured air bases. China is increasing missile and bomber arsenals and extending its ranges. Any air bases that fall within the range of China’s missiles could be attacked. Therefore, the 2023 Han Kuang exercises, Taiwan’s major war games, which have been held annually since 1984, focused on such a situation. In 2023 (May 15-19 and July 24-28), Taiwan simulated a scenario in which Taiwan’s military airports and airstrips are severely damaged by enemy fire, requiring fighter jets to land at civilian airports or on the highway.
Recent U.S. moves also indicate plans to be involved in the case of Chinese bombardment. For example, the U.S. has repeatedly trained B-1B strategic bombers to deploy from Guam and other air bases far from northeast Asia. B-1B is a long-range bomber and carries long-range cruise missiles with conventional warheads. Therefore, these bombers can deploy and attack from an airbase outside the range of Chinese missiles. It could be a valuable tool to pressure China and provide encouragement to the Taiwanese people.
The U.S. Marines have also taken steps to enhance readiness. They have formed small groups that equip new anti-ship missiles and can mobilize from island to island very rapidly. Even if China identifies the location of these Marine units, they can move to different places immediately and launch their missiles to destroy Chinese ships. These Marine units can be operational even if they are within the range of Chinese missiles.
As an ally of the U.S., Japan has deployed missiles to deter China on the Pacific side of Taiwan. And the Philippines has opened three more bases near Taiwan for U.S. use. That can help in deploying more forces to attack Chinese ships on the Pacific side of Taiwan. Under the AUKUS security pact, Australia is equipping nuclear submarines with cruise missiles. Conventional submarines cannot deploy in the East China Sea from the submarine base in Perth, Australia, which is located outside of the range of major Chinese missiles. However, if Australia uses nuclear submarines, these submarines can come to the sea near Taiwan, operate for 73 days, and return to Perth. Even if they are under the range of Chinese missiles, they can still be active.
Therefore, the U.S. and its allies are preparing not only for war but also for coercive diplomacy with China. If the U.S. can maintain deterrence on the Pacific side of Taiwan, China’s intimidation will fail.