Biden’s commitment to Taiwan isn't entirely good news for the Taiwanese
President Biden on Monday made it clear to the world that the United States is willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan in the event of China aggression against the democratic island.
According to the Associated Press:
TOKYO (AP) — President Joe Biden said Monday the U.S. would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan, declaring the commitment to protect the island is “even stronger” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was one of the most forceful presidential statements in support of Taiwan’s self-governing in decades.
Biden, at a news conference in Tokyo, said “yes” when asked if he was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if China invaded. “That’s the commitment we made,” he added.
For Taiwan, and for the world, Biden’s Monday statement is good. And is bad.
It is good because Taiwan is now assured that it will not be left alone confronting a potential Chinese military attack.
What's more, the timing of President Biden’s statement could not be more critical and revealing: It was made just hours before the president, together with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, unveiled the widely anticipated Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that includes 13 nations to curb China’s influence in the region.
Rather than a slip of tongue, as interpreted by political analysts over a similar statements made by the president twice last year on defending Taiwan, the revelation made by Biden seems to signal a clear change of U.S. stance on Taiwan’s security: A shift from a strategic ambiguity that had been traditionally followed by Biden’s predecessors, to an unequivocal, all-out commitment to defending Taiwan, including military intervention against any unprovoked China aggression. For Taiwan, that is good.
Now the bad. Biden’s Monday statement on Taiwan should not be taken lightly, especially by Taiwan. Before this moment, the U.S. had kept its four-decade-long “strategic ambiguity” stance on Taiwan to discourage any unilateral actions from either side of the Taiwan Strait to alter the status quo in terms of the relationship between the two rivals. With this statement, the balance is becoming more difficult to maintain due to China’s increasingly aggressive actions towards Taiwan. Biden’s shift of strategic rhetoric and stance may well be the result of political deliberation and security necessity based on substantial intelligence evidence.
Although not until its declassification would the outside world know the exact China-related intelligence that Biden had based on for his critical statement, there are mounting signs reported in the news that suggest the approaching danger from China.
The first and most obvious indicator is China’s economy.
Economic data released by Chinese officials suggest that China’s “Zero COVID-19” policy is paralyzing its economy in the name of halting a few hundred “COVID-19 positive” cases. While economists around the world are scratching their heads to understand China’s irrational COVID-19 control measures, they forgot that China not long ago was the most successful economic miracle and the subject of praise of their own economic analyses and recommendations.
How could a country once so shrewd at building economic wealth lose all its economic wisdom overnight?
No, China did not lose its economic sense at all. In fact, China is applying its economic wisdom in an unconventional way.
Once upon a time, China was a major foreign investment draw. That has changed, in part, because of China's COVID-19 response, but also for other factors.
As foreign investments accelerate their pace of exiting the country, China’s once busy manufacturing hubs have become emptier by the day.
For the Chinese government, an entire population locked inside their apartments and quarantine centers is much easier to control than desperate crowds gathering outside of empty factories. After all, what good would saving the economy do if the ruling party CCP lost its grasp of power, as Chairman Xi Jinping once warned his inner circle comrades.
But the population could not be locked up forever; their anger and resentment would eventually erupt.
For CCP to survive this economic crisis, the Chinese ordinary people and their sentiments must be directed away from any actions that might endanger the power of CCP.
Stirring up nationalism fervor has traditionally been used by the CCP as a failure-proof tool to deflate domestic tensions. Taiwan would be the easiest decoy to use for this purpose.
Second, Russia should not be left out of the picture when a China threat is the subject. Russia’s war on Ukraine has marked its third month. Despite Russia’s heavy loss in military capacity and economic setbacks due to international sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin is still clinging to power. Russia’s resilience might have given China’s Xi a false sense of confidence, that China could follow suit and withstand the consequence of a Taiwan invasion.
After all, during the 1950s through the 1970s of the past century, the newly established communist China survived extreme poverty from its man-made famines and the international isolation it encouraged. Thus, the measures applied to Russia by the West might have encouraged China to take an even bolder move.
Third, older generations of Taiwanese politicians believing in unification with mainland China are losing influence. Knowing this, China senses that its only chance of taking Taiwan is by force. As China’s economy deteriorates rapidly from within, the voice of international resistance to China’s influence solidifies. The window for China to take Taiwan by force is closing. China is unlikely to let the opportunity go to waste.
And from Xi’s perspective of his own fate, Taiwan is a more urgent issue than anything else. If Xi is confident in remaining in power after the 20th National Congress of the CCP to be held in the second half of this year, a Taiwan invasion could be China’s first major movement as part of the CCP’s great national revival ambition and Xi’s personal dream of fame in the annals of CCP history. If, however, Xi sees his power in danger, he might resort to an early Taiwan war and a simultaneous nation-wide emergency law to extend and secure his power.
All these signs indicate that a Taiwan invasion has become a necessity for CCP’s survival.
The world that dismissed Biden’s warning on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February should pay attention to the unspoken words in his statements about China this time.
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