Washington Should Deter an Attack on Taiwan

On Thursday it was reported that two dozen U.S. special operations forces have been on the ground in Taiwan for the past year providing training to Taiwan’s forces. This comes after a week of intense Chinese military threats against the island, including more than 100 sorties from Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The security situation has deteriorated to the point that Taiwan’s foreign minister asked Australia for help as it prepares for a possible war with China. As the dangers of war over Taiwan grows, it is essential that Washington and its allies work together to deter a Chinese attack on this vulnerable island democracy.  

The risk of a war over Taiwan is real. China has the intent—and it is working on building the capabilities—to retake the island. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) takes an unreasonably expansive view of its territory, believing that any land previously controlled by Beijing needs to be taken back. From Beijing’s point of view, therefore, Taiwan is a renegade province, and it has been clear that it will use military force if necessary to reclaim it. Chairman Xi Jinping has not been shy about articulating this goal. Earlier this year, he said that “Solving the Taiwan question and realizing the complete reunification of the motherland are the unswerving historical tasks of the Chinese Communist Party and the common aspiration of all Chinese people.”  

This is not a bluff. China is investing in military capabilities, like amphibious warships, tailor-made for a Taiwan invasion. Adm. Philip Davidson, who served as head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command until earlier this year, predicted that China will try to invade Taiwan within “the next six years.” 

A successful CCP invasion of Taiwan would be a disaster. Taiwan, a longstanding U.S. partner and thriving democracy, would lose its freedom. The episode would set the precedent that China can gobble up its neighbors by military force with impunity. Other countries would see China as ascendant and question the ability and willingness of the United States to play its traditional international leadership role. And China would possess a new military base of operations on Taiwan that would allow it to more easily project power against other U.S. treaty allies with which it also has territorial and maritime disputes, including Japan and the Philippines. 

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