Furthering Taiwan-US Military Ties

  • Post category:Op-Ed
By Brandon Chen 陳俊偉 | FAPA Summer Intern


The Taiwan-US defense relationship is a cornerstone of the partnership between the two nations, and plays a crucial role in ensuring peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the Indo-Pacific region at large.

Recent actions and statements by the US and other international actors in support of Taiwan have initiated a much-needed increase in its global presence, demonstrating to China that forcible annexation of the country is absolutely unacceptable. To further emphasize this tenet of the US’ Taiwan policy, parallel developments in defense policy are a natural and effective means of furthering a peaceful cross-strait environment.

By enacting the following measures, the US could directly counter the instability sown by China’s aggression and military posturing through tangible and effective bolstering of Taiwan’s defense capabilities.

The threat of annexation by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is at an all-time high, thanks to heightened nationalism and militant rhetoric under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) government and large advancements in China’s military capabilities.

This shift in the power balance means strategic ambiguity is no longer enough to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait — a goal codified in US policy under the Taiwan Relations Act and subsequent documents — as evidenced by China’s increased military planning against Taiwan.

The policy uptick in demonstrating Taiwan’s strong international backing, evident in unprecedented gestures such as the G7 and US-Japan statements of support, should continue in an even more overt manner. A clear US commitment to defending Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion would be a powerful mechanism to preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Strategic clarity increases stability by raising the cost of invasion. Taiwan’s strategic position for the Indo-Pacific region and in global semiconductor supply chains means its annexation would dangerously empower China, cripple key US objectives and allies, and severely damage the overall balance of power against US priorities.

The Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises — US-led maritime war drills held every two years around Hawaii — are meant to increase high-level military cooperation among Pacific nations, as well as to establish and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Taiwan, as one of the most strategically important actors in the region, is an essential part of upholding these goals. China’s increased naval aggression, especially in the South China Sea, threatens peace and stability in the region, and Taiwan specifically faces naval threats from Chinese sand dredgers near the Matsu Islands and the threat of amphibious invasion.

China’s naval aggression and contraventions of international law have already led to its expulsion from RIMPAC, and the inclusion of Taiwan in the exercises would be beneficial to all participants.

In terms of precedence and policy, military coordination between the US and Taiwan is highly encouraged in US policy, such as the Taiwan Travel Act, and an early version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2021 that specifically mentioned RIMPAC.

Taiwanese participation would not be purely defense oriented, and Ministry of National Defense spokesman Major General Shih Shun-wen (史順文) emphasized this by highlighting the benefits to humanitarian assistance operations through cooperative training. Taiwan’s participation in RIMPAC would be beneficial for Taiwan, for the US’ policy goals and for the Indo-Pacific region at large.

Taiwan constantly faces the existential threat of annexation by China. The PRC has and will not swear off using force to take over Taiwan. As such, a reliable and realistic defense strategy is vital to Taiwan’s survival as a democratic partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Under Taiwan’s Overall Defense Concept, large amounts of asymmetric weapon systems are necessary to realistically counter a Chinese attack. The likeliest method of a Chinese assault would be a naval blockade combined with various priority target airstrikes on Taiwan’s chain of command and infrastructure, as well as cyberwarfare destabilization.

However, Taiwan lacks sufficient asymmetric capabilities to defend itself from such an attack. In the event of an invasion, physical distance and China’s highly advanced capabilities mean that US military assistance would be late and unlikely to arrive unscathed.

A “war reserve stocks for allies” program would ameliorate this problem. Similar to ongoing initiatives with Israel and the EU, this program would store US military equipment in Taiwan to be readily available by the US or Taiwan. This stockpile would consist mostly of asymmetric equipment such as unarmed aerial vehicles, short-range munitions, mobile missile systems and sea mines, which could be used by Taiwan with explicit permission from the US Department of Defense.

These systems would be highly effective and efficient in the context of cross-strait tensions, and less likely to provoke a strong Chinese reaction due to their defense-oriented and understated nature. A “war reserves” stockpile program with Taiwan would greatly increase the capability to defend Taiwan in a smart, low-cost manner — increasing the level of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait through stronger deterrence.

Military exchanges between the US and Taiwan, especially at high levels, are an effective and pragmatic means of bolstering security ties. US policy objectives under NDAA 2021 emphasize exchanges and coordination between the Taiwan and the US — specifically with senior defense officials.

These exchanges improve the efficiency and morale of bilateral military relations, strengthen each military’s ability to preserve peace in the Indo-Pacific region, integrate joint Taiwan-US military cooperation, and increase communication and coordination effectiveness — decreasing the likelihood of miscalculation during a crisis.

High-level exchanges are explicitly outlined in NDAA 2021 as a means of fulfilling US defense commitments to Taiwan under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, and would effectively increase the capacity of US and Taiwanese armed forces, while signaling deterrence through strength and coordination.

The US Navy’s longstanding use of Hong Kong as a port of call is now forbidden, thanks to the Chinese government’s disapproval over US legislation condemning the breakdown of democracy in the territory.

Kaohsiung would be a perfect choice to succeed it. Attempting to plead with the PRC for Hong Kong port-of-call privileges would be futile and damaging for US interests, given China’s actions there fundamentally conflict with US strategic values.

Hong Kong’s utility as a “liberty port” (mainly for rest and relaxation) could easily be filled by Kaohsiung, a city with a similar climate and an equally unique culture. Kaohsiung also offers advantages as the largest port city in Taiwan, and is strategically placed along the Maritime Silk Road with geographic opportunities comparable to Hong Kong’s.

Additionally, Kaohsiung allows naval fleet planners to expand US-Taiwan naval agreements, engage more with a vital democratic partner in the region, and demonstrate commitment to Pacific allies that share the US’ values of free navigation and democracy.

This idea is not new. The 2017 Taiwan security act bill proposed it as a means of ameliorating the loss of Hong Kong and of increasing Taiwan’s international significance to combat Chinese diplomatic warfare.

The five measures outlined above are simple and realistic ways of strengthening the Taiwan-US defense relationship — and with it, the robustness of the overall partnership. These policy objectives directly align with previously established US goals and guidelines for Taiwan, do not offend diplomatic sensitivities and, most importantly, firmly demonstrate US commitments to Taiwan, its people and government.

As China continues to push its single-minded narrative, endangering countless lives through aggressive and simply unrealistic politicized rhetoric, the US and its international partners must stand firm for universal values by unequivocally backing Taiwan — which starts with enhancing the Taiwan-US defense relationship.


This article is first published in Taipei Times (2021/7/2)