US absolutely able to ‘defend Taiwan,’ but that’s just empty words: Global Times editorial
Published: Nov 04, 2021 09:03 PM
US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley File photo: Xinhua

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley File photo: Xinhua

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said on Wednesday that it is unlikely for the Chinese mainland to make a move on Taiwan in the next six, 12, or 24 months. But he also claimed that the Chinese mainland is "clearly and unambiguously building a capability to provide those options." When asked if the US has the ability to "defend Taiwan," Milley said that "there's no question" the US has the ability to do that.

The US Defense Department released its annual China Military Power Report on Wednesday, alleging that the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s 2027 goals are to develop "the capability to counter the US military in the Indo-Pacific region, and compel Taiwan's leadership to the negotiating table on Beijing's terms."

Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, urged the Biden administration to be less ambiguous about what he called a US obligation to defend Taiwan. "I think probably less ambiguity is better than more ambiguity," he noted. There has been a heated discussion in the US about using "strategic clarity" to replace "strategic ambiguity" on the Taiwan question. For example, a recent Time magazine article argues that the US risks a catastrophe if it doesn't clarify its strategy on the island of Taiwan. 

American political elites must be clear: Whether the mainland will resort to force against Taiwan is not determined by whether Washington makes an explicit pledge of defending Taiwan once a war breaks out. Rather, it is determined by whether Taiwan authorities cross the redline and close the possibility of peaceful reunification across the Straits with blatant secessionist actions. Once secessionist forces prompt the mainland to resort to force, the situation will cascade.

It is increasingly unlikely for the US military to have the strength to defeat the mainland's PLA in the Taiwan Straits. And even if the US has the will to deploy a great number of soldiers and national resources in a life-or-death battle in the Straits, it has become less and less confident about an ultimate victory. Discussions in the US on its responsibility to "defend Taiwan" is only talk, as the resources to support Washington's determination are diminishing. If the US wants to scare the Chinese mainland, it will have to embolden itself first and bet on a fierce, face-to-face conflict with another nuclear power for those Taiwan secessionists.

Milley claimed that Washington is absolutely capable of "defending Taiwan." But what he boasted about is the US' ability, not determination. The US must have felt even more capable of winning the Korean War, but its troops were kicked back to the 38th Parallel by Chinese forces. The gap between the US and Chinese military power today is not what it was 70 years ago: The PLA's missile power is clearly able to make the US forces that come to help Taiwan pay a heavy price at sea once a war breaks out. The world has long been doubtful if the US military can defeat the PLA in China's coastal waters, and even fewer believe that it has the will to put up a life-and-death struggle in the Taiwan Straits.

The US applies strategic ambiguity on the Taiwan question and does not openly promise to "defend Taiwan," this way Taiwan is a card in Washington's hands. Once it sees that the situation is turning sour, it will have a way to back off. With clear commitment, the US will become a card of the DPP authority. When a war breaks out across the Taiwan Straits, the US military's retreat means that its credibility will collapse. If it does not retreat, it will pay an unbelievably huge price, and will get involved in a war it never wants to suffer.

The Chinese mainland is stepping up preparations for a military struggle across the Taiwan Straits. It does not prove our belligerence, but our determination to never allow Taiwan secessionism. The DPP authority has been paying lip service. The outside world is asking them more and more frequently: Once a war breaks out, how long can the Taiwan military hold? No one believes the nonsense of Joseph Wu, leader of the external affairs authority of Taiwan, that he will "pick up a weapon" himself or that the Taiwan military will "fight to the end." It is the US' illusion to try to use a so-called rock-solid commitment to change the general trend of the Taiwan Straits.