An open commitment to defend Taiwan won’t mean much unless the U.S. has the certain capacity to do so.
Date: October 09, 2020
By: Andy Zelleke
In a recent Foreign Affairs piece, Richard Haass and David Sacks proposed that the United States abandon its longtime posture of “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan, in favor of “strategic clarity” in regard to defending the island from a potential Chinese attack. In the prevailing climate of pessimism about U.S.-China relations and fast-mounting concern for Taiwan’sfuture, their proposal has developed some momentum in the American policy community.
But the proposed shift to strategic clarity would be unwise. It likely wouldn’t substantially enhance deterrence, its primary objective, but it would materially increase risk for the U.S., perhaps dramatically, at a difficult time. Strategic ambiguity continues to deliver a healthy dose of deterrence, and shouldn’t be abandoned.
For one thing, a change now would be needlessly provocative. Strategic ambiguity, in the context of the “one China” policy artfully crafted by Washington ahead of normalization with Beijing in 1979, has managed for four decades to help keep China at bay with regard to Taiwan – an island that Beijing emphatically considers to be its rightful territory and the unfinished business of China’s civil war. Meanwhile, in 2020, Sino-American relations are at their worst shape in almost half a century. And Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly highlighted Taiwan’s centrality to Chinese sovereignty and his project of “national rejuvenation.” Against that backdrop, it’s hard to imagine that an important policy shift announced by a U.S. president – an explicit, public commitment to go to war in support of Taiwan’s autonomy from China – would be heard in Beijing as anything short of an incendiary provocation. [FULL STORY]