A War That No One Wants

U.S. Air Force Tech. watches a C-17 Globemaster III at Yokota Air Base, Japan. In February 2022, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a bold statement . The United States, he said, should abandon its traditional policy of strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan, and commit publicly to defending it in case of military action by China to regain control of the island. Ambiguity has been the defacto US policy regarding the defense of the government of Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan since 1979, when US President Jimmy Carter severed diplomatic relations with the ROC as a condition for establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which it subsequently recognized as the sole legitimate government of all of China. That change was accompanied by the unilateral US passage of the Taiwan Relations Act, which was intended to ensure ROC-US ties remained everything short of an official diplomatic relationship. The act does not commit the United States government to defend Taiwan, but allows for military aid to the ROC government it can use to maintain a military capacity to defend itself. The act also preserves US legal, commercial, and cultural ties with the people of Taiwan. A Taiwan contingency, Abe said, is a Japan contingency, reiterating a phrase he first coined in 2006. But what Abe did not say, and what current Japanese and US leaders do not seem to recognize, is that a dramatic change to the longstanding US and Japanese policy of ambiguity regarding the defense of Taiwan could lead PRC leaders to believe using military force to retake the island is their only option. They downplay the possibility that if PRC leaders were to act on that belief, Abe’s recommendation, echoed by influential US voices , would lead to the outbreak of a major […]

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By Donato