In a recent statement, the incoming European Union ambassador to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Jorge Toledo Albinana, said that the EU believes that Taiwan is part of China. He said Europe supports Taiwan’s peaceful unification with the PRC and not Taiwanese independence.
The PRC is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), an atheist Marxist-Leninist regime that exercises total control over all aspects of the state and society in China. Taiwan is a fully independent and sovereign country that has never been part of the territory ruled by the authorities in Beijing. Unlike PRC nationals, Taiwanese citizens exercise popular sovereignty and have the right to self-determination. In official settings, Taiwan is called the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan).
Ambassador Albinana’s remarks were notable because the term he used, “peaceful unification,” is a CCP euphemism that refers to the subversion and coerced annexation of Taiwan’s ROC government. It’s a seemingly benign phrase that, in reality, describes the destruction of a nation-state that is ranked among the top ten democracies in the world.
The PRC claims all of Taiwan’s territory and has been conducting a global campaign to isolate and weaken the country, laying the groundwork for a future takeover that would likely involve a mix of clandestine operations and overt military attacks.
Experts believe it is unlikely that Taipei will capitulate to Beijing’s demands, a view backed by polling data. On March 15, 2022, a Taiwanese public opinion poll found that 70.2 percent of respondents were willing to go to war in defense of Taiwan.
Another poll found that over 60 percent of Taiwanese between ages 20-39 said they were willing to “go to the battlefield” if China attacked. The same poll showed that 72 percent of respondents between the ages of 40-49 said they would fight.
The PRC is engaged in the largest peacetime military buildup undertaken by any country in over a century. Beijing now has the largest army, navy, and theater missile force in the world — along with a rapidly growing nuclear arsenal capable of intercontinental strikes. Chinese military officers writing in authoritative documents describe the United States as their main enemy and portray the conquest of Taiwan as their number one mission.
China’s ruler, Chairman Xi Jinping (習近平), has said that his government aims to export its totalitarian model abroad and achieve what he calls “world socialism” and “international communism.” World socialism is a concept that envisions the overthrow of all liberal democratic governments and the formation of an integrated system of one-party dictatorships under Beijing’s control. Xi calls this process “the construction of a community of common destiny for all mankind” and “the construction of a shared future for all mankind.”
According to Xi, the violent socialist phase in humanity’s political development would be followed by a borderless utopia: international communism. Since 2020, new textbooks have been published by the CCP’s Central Party School and the Central Propaganda Department on Xi Jinping’s personal ideology. Some texts suggest Xi believes his goals could be realized in the next three decades.
Analysts cannot measure the degree to which Xi and other CCP elites believe in the radical ideas they publicly espouse. It may be the case that Chinese officials view ideology as an instrument for accruing greater levels of state control and international power. But according to their own words, China’s ruling class is driven by an irrational and regressive dogma that rejects science, reason, humanism, and universal values.
The US and PRC are locked in a war of ideas, and the outcome will hinge, in part, on the future of Taiwan. However, the US government continues to support the legitimacy of the PRC (China), while consciously undermining the legitimacy of the ROC (Taiwan). An example of this could be seen on July 21, 2022, when President Joe Biden publicly discouraged Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi from taking a long-planned trip to visit Taiwan. President Biden said, “The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now.”
In October 2021, over 150 Chinese warplanes, including a significant number of nuclear-capable bombers, conducted a threatening exercise inside Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. President Biden refrained from calling President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to express support and solidarity. Instead, he requested a call with Chairman Xi, and the two held a 3.5-hour virtual summit.
To date, President Biden has not called, met with, or emailed Taiwan’s president. While the Biden administration has hailed bilateral relations as “rock solid,” little movement has occurred to make progress on building closer US-Taiwan relations.
Absent real policy changes in Washington, Chinese military operations could fundamentally transform the security situation in the Taiwan Strait. As such, the US and Taiwan should consider integrating their forces into future joint training and operational readiness exercises. Both sides should consider how to safely conduct coalition operations, something they are currently unprepared to do without a significant risk of friendly fire.
The US government should give careful consideration to the benefits of establishing a significant presence of Special Operation Forces and Marines in Taiwan for training, advisory, and liaison missions. They could serve as a strategic trip-wire, signaling American resolve in the face of military coercion.
Ship visits, joint Taiwan Strait patrols, and routine senior leader delegations from Washington to Taiwan are additional low cost and high impact options that are available to deter CCP aggression, bolster Taiwan’s defense, and enhance prospects for peace.
While sometimes overlooked, the survival and success of Taiwan’s democracy is of vital importance to American efforts to stop the spread of illiberal forces around the world.
Ian Easton is a senior director at the Project 2049 Institute.
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