If China invades, don’t count on the US to support Taiwan like it did Ukraine

It was inevitable that US military and economic support for Ukraine’s self-defense against Russia would draw comparisons with our relationship with Taiwan. Each country is not exactly an American ally, but it is undeniably friendly, relatively democratic, and threatened by one of only two remotely likely contenders for the title of global superpower.

“China is watching what we’re doing in Ukraine,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.) said on CNN in August, arguing that expanded U.S. aid to fight Moscow could double as a warning to Beijing: If we back Ukraine to the hilt, perhaps Taiwan will never need the same help.

There is no denying that Beijing is watching. But we – and, more importantly, Taipei – should be wary of overdoing this comparison. Despite all the similarities, there are real differences here, and the war in Ukraine itself remains a living factor in how the US will respond to a Chinese attack on Taiwan. The most prudent assumption is that Taiwan is its own best defender, whatever US support for Ukraine might suggest.

Perhaps the most significant difference between these two situations is that between China and Russia. While both are formidable nuclear-armed international rivals to the US, Russia is a declining power with an ill-equipped and outdated military that has been forced to conscript old men into its war against a smaller, poorer country. It has a defense budget one-tenth that of the US and a gross domestic product (GDP) smaller than Italy’s. Despite self-sabotaging its zero-epidemic policies, China remains a rising power with an expanding military, a defense budget about a third of the Pentagon’s, and the world’s second-largest GDP. Russia’s nuclear arsenal poses a more serious threat, but China’s growing stockpile could still do a lot of damage.

If we have to engage in the absurd horror of ranking great power conflicts, a war with China is a deeper nightmare. In the 2022 Taiwan War Game hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the US beat Beijing, but only at a terrible cost. According to a Military times exercise report, the US military defense of Taiwan against a Chinese invasion “would likely turn into a brutal, large-scale struggle the likes of which no nation has seen in decades” and result in losses that would be “historic by any modern measure”.

There are also less tangible differences. Would Taiwan receive the broad and consistent sympathy of the American public that Ukraine has? How many Americans would hang a Taiwanese flag on their porches and in their business premises? Shortly after Moscow’s invasion, some argued that white Americans and Europeans only cared because Ukrainians were racially and culturally similar. That claim, while overblown, was not unfounded, and we know from psychological research that our brains have in-group biases: Americans’ ethnic and cultural distance from Taiwan could have political consequences.

President Joe Biden’s verbal recklessness regarding Taiwan may also be a relevant difference. Regarding Ukraine, Biden made it clear that the US “will not be directly involved in this conflict” and that he is not seeking regime change in Moscow. In contrast, he has committed the United States four times to fight on Taiwan’s behalf, contradicting long-standing American policy and angering Beijing. The statements could prompt new caution in the next administration, making the US less inclined to respond to a Chinese attack than it otherwise would be.

Depending on Beijing’s timing, Washington could also be constrained by the protracted conflict in Ukraine. We do not know when or how this war will end, and there are no signs that the West’s vision of a contrite Russia in retreat was even close to being realized.

In November, the Biden administration reportedly began encouraging Ukraine and Russia to signal openness to negotiations. That outreach and Biden’s public determination of limits to the US role in Ukraine show a push for prudence. But there is no evidence of any concrete plan to prevent Ukraine from becoming a new perpetual war mediated by the United States.

And that could have ramifications for Taiwan. The very war that provides a model of American support could make that support less feasible. Understandably, leaders in Taipei hope that Washington will do for them what it did for Kyiv. But they would be rash to count on it.

This article originally appeared in print under the title Taiwan should not count on US support.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *