What Rand Paul Gets Wrong About China and Taiwan - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
What Rand Paul Gets Wrong About China and Taiwan

Writing in the American Conservative, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul urges Congress and the Biden administration to maintain America’s long-standing policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan. Paul’s reasoning is simple: switching to “strategic clarity” now and providing additional military funding to Taiwan, as is contemplated by the Taiwan Policy Act (which has bipartisan support in the Senate), “may well be interpreted by China as a provocation,” is too “explicit and aggressive,” will result in “escalating tensions,” is “bellicose,” and “may very well” lead China to prepare for war.

This raises the questions: What does Paul think China has been preparing for this past decade under the leadership of President Xi Jinping? Haven’t China’s military exercises and frequent air and naval incursions into Taiwan’s defensive zone been “aggressive” and “provocative”? Who is it that has been “escalating tensions” since at least the fall of 2021? As for bellicose rhetoric, China claims that the entire South China Sea belongs to her (the so-called “nine-dash line”) and repeatedly has called for the reunification of China and Taiwan, by force if necessary.

Just because a policy is “long-standing” does not mean that it corresponds to today’s geopolitical realities. The policy of “strategic ambiguity” can be traced back to the Shanghai Communique, negotiated by President Richard Nixon and Chinese leader Mao Zedong. At that time and throughout the 1970s and 1980s, China was our de facto ally against the Soviet Union. China opened relations with the United States because it was by far the weaker party in its conflict with the Soviet Union. This was, after all, the same Mao Zedong whose planned invasion of Taiwan was deterred by America’s 7th Fleet when the Korean War broke out; the same Chinese leader whose military designs on Taiwan were foiled twice in the 1950s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who threatened nuclear war to defend the island.

What is often forgotten by foreign policy observers is that when the Cold War ended, both the United States and China were winners. But while America sought a “peace dividend,” China pursued policies that resulted in sustained growth in its economic and military power. And China’s goal of reunification with Taiwan never changed. Chinese leaders were, however, patient and circumspect in pursuing that goal, at least most of the time. Sometimes, as in 1996, they tested the waters by threatening military action against Taiwan, which caused President Bill Clinton to send the 7th Fleet to the Taiwan Strait.

Xi has been the most bellicose and aggressive of China’s leaders since Mao. And as Paul notes, China today “is a country with economic power, a growing military, and alliances with our other adversaries.” The circumstances under which we adopted and followed the policy of “strategic ambiguity” have changed considerably. Keeping China “guessing” about whether the United States will defend Taiwan, as Paul advocates, no longer makes sense. “Strategic ambiguity” deterred China from invading Taiwan when the United States had overwhelming military superiority vis-à-vis China. That is no longer the case in the South China Sea. What we need is strategic clarity backed by sufficient force. Paul appears to understand that, for he also writes, “If the United States announces an ironclad commitment to defend Taiwan prior to establishing the capabilities to do so, China may invade before the United States can significantly bolster Taiwan’s military.”

But deterrence always involves taking risks. The United States was never in a position to defend West Berlin in the event of a Soviet invasion, but our on-the-ground forces served as a psychological tripwire that was backed by a sufficient nuclear deterrent. There was very little we could have done to defend northern Norway in the event of a Soviet attack, but NATO and our nuclear deterrent effectively deterred such an attack. Strategic ambiguity with an insufficient military capability is the worst of both worlds. But strategic clarity even with a less-than-optimal military posture can serve as a deterrent, as the examples above proved.

Paul is right to criticize the Biden administration for a policy that can only be described as “confusion,” with the White House repeatedly having to walk back the president’s remarks on Taiwan. Yet isn’t that similar to a policy of strategic ambiguity? Surely, the Biden administration’s missteps on this issue have Chinese leaders “guessing” just what U.S. policy is towards Taiwan. And isn’t that what Paul wants? (READ MORE from Francis P. Sempa: More Confusion From Biden White House on Taiwan)

If Taiwan’s independence is in the vital national security interests of the United States — if Taiwan is the West Berlin of Asia — then strategic clarity backed by a manifest military commitment to the region (hopefully including key allies like Japan) is a better deterrent than strategic ambiguity.

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