U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says China is accelerating its preparations to invade Taiwan, but Biden is slowing down efforts to get Taiwan’s weapons delivered before it’s too late.
U.S. President Joe Biden needs to very quickly decide if he really wants to defend Taiwan, because time is running out. Right now it looks as if the U.S. is committed to supporting Ukraine, while treating the critical Taiwan issue as a side note.
Antony Blinken announced on October 17 that China has decided to seize Taiwan on a “much faster timeline” than previously thought. Taiwan’s former military chief, retired admiral Lee Hsi-Min, said China is now on track to invade by 2027. Right now, Taiwan is still waiting for weapons it ordered years ago from U.S. manufacturers, as many of those weapons had to be diverted to Ukraine. Taiwan currently does not have the asymmetric-warfare weapons and structures it needs to be the “indigestible porcupine” that it should be to deter an invasion.
Taiwan’s immense strategic importance
Does it make sense for the U.S. to prioritize Ukraine over Taiwan? The answer for that is a hard “no.”
Taiwan’s location puts it at the crossroads of Asia’s shipping routes and the might of Asia’s economic capabilities. Asia is fast becoming the world’s production powerhouse, soon to surpass 50% of global GDP. If Beijing could dominate Asia, it would be in a very strong position to dominate the world — and the U.S. If Taiwan falls to China, it would leave the Chinese Communist Party as the only dominant power in a vast and very productive economic zone.
If the U.S. fails to keep Taiwan free, it would cause other nations to bandwagon around China. “If the U.S. won’t fight for a country as important as Taiwan, then who will they fight for?” would be the big question on everyone’s mind. As a central part of the “first island chain” that contains China’s military expansion into the Pacific, a free Taiwan is also of great strategic importance to the U.S. Make no mistake, if Taiwan falls, the U.S. will feel it as a series of body blows for decades to come.
Thus, once China gets control of Taiwan it will be able to enrich itself immensely. China’s next step would be to diminish the U.S. This is just basic power politics: America is the only country that can possibly stand up to China. So, to secure its dominance, China will seek to weaken and by extension impoverish the U.S. To do this, Beijing’s new-found power will give it many tools to use against the U.S.
In addition, Taiwan produces some of the world’s most sophisticated microchips in large, very expensive factories spread across the country. Taiwan dominates the world’s chip market and there is currently a critical shortage of all the chips that Taiwan manufactures.
The U.S. needs Europe to shoulder more of the burdens associated with the Ukraine issue, so it can focus on Taiwan. Let Europe deal with its own backyard. Ukraine is an expensive distraction that is currently handing Taiwan to the Chinese Communist Party. If Taiwan falls, it would have disastrous long-term consequences for the U.S.
The arms manufacturing bottleneck
Does it make sense to ignore the challenges of speeding up weapons delivery to Taiwan? Right now Taiwan is still waiting for weapons it bought years ago. The country ordered a number of Harpoon and Stinger missiles years ago, but those have now been sent to Ukraine. Apart from the new arms deals the U.S. approved in the last two years, Taiwan is still waiting for another $14 billion in U.S.-made weapons, some of which had been ordered as long ago as 2017. And for some of these weapons, Taiwan has to wait for the previous clients’ products to be finished first. For instance, Taiwan is currently on the waiting list behind multiple Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries for the 66 F-16 fighter jets the U.S. approved in 2019.
This backlog is made worse by the global supply chain crisis. U.S. producers sometimes have to temporarily stop production because they can’t find crucial components of their high-tech systems. The war in Ukraine has prompted the U.S. to push Ukraine to the front of the waiting line and send large numbers of its weapons stockpiles to Ukraine. This means that the U.S. now has to replenish its own stockpiles as well as those of its allies who sent their systems to Ukraine, and all that gets added on top of the orders still stuck in the waiting lists.
Biden presses the snooze button
In the U.S., lawmakers from Biden’s Democratic Party are leading an amendment to the initial version of the Taiwan Policy Act, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed by a vote of 17 to five in September. While increasing the total military aid package to Taiwan, the amendment seeks to reduce the urgency of the help that the U.S. can give to Taiwan, because the Biden administration had expressed concerns regarding the initial version of the Taiwan Policy Act.
The amendment retains some measures intended to ameliorate the arms delivery backlog to Taiwan, but drops a key requirement that would have required U.S. defense manufacturers to “expedite and prioritize” the production of weapons that Taiwan purchased, by pushing Taiwan ahead of other countries in the queue. This requirement was apparently dropped because “contract law does not offer a legal way” to force U.S. arms manufacturers to bump Taiwan up to the front of the customer waiting list.
This does seem like a shockingly trifling reason to avoid solving the catastrophic crisis of a major strategic ally being threatened with imminent invasion and not getting the weapons it needs to deter and repel the invasion.
Saudi Arabia, for instance, remains ahead of Taiwan in the queue for certain backlogged items. But without forceful action by Biden to force the prioritization of Taiwan, the Saudis would have to consent to letting Taipei’s weapons orders jump ahead of its own. Given the tension between Saudi Arabia and the Biden administration over the OPEC+ oil production cuts, this would be an unlikely scenario.
The amendment also removes provisions that would upgrade diplomatic ties with Taipei, give Taiwan the same treatment as major non-NATO allies, and sanction China.
Currently the U.S. is putting effort into long-term alliances with traditional Pacific allies like Japan and Australia. It is building up Australia’s ability to field nuclear-powered submarines, as part of the AUKUS (Australia, U.K. and U.S.) alliance. However, the sailors who will sail in these submarines have not even been born yet, because that’s how long-term the AUKUS planning is right now. Taiwan needs help NOW, not in five or 50 years from now.
The U.S. needs to declare the obvious reality: Taiwan is extremely important for the future of the U.S., and Taiwan is currently at risk of being overrun. As part of that declaration, the U.S. needs to declare an emergency that requires it to pause weapons delivery to other nations in order to prioritize deliveries to Taiwan. The U.S. also needs to make emergency plans to speed up the actual arms production process itself.
If the Biden administration does not act quickly and forcefully to break rules and deadlocks to get asymmetric-warfare weapons to Taiwan as soon as possible, then Taiwan may fall and the U.S. will remember that Biden and the Democrats were in charge when the time to act came, and they did nothing about it.
The White House needs to stop kicking the can down the road. The time for leadership is now. Taiwan needs a forceful act of focusing attention on what it urgently needs to deter an invasion. Failing to act now will cause irreparable harm to the U.S. and its people over the next few decades.
Image: U.S. Department of State
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