As the world grapples with Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, questions surrounding why Western deterrence has apparently failed to prevent such a situation will be hotly debated. But beyond the implications for the United States and Europe, perhaps the most common analysis, rightly or not, compares Russian President Vladimir Putin’s designs on Ukraine to the machinations of Chinese leader Xi. Jinping regarding Taiwan (formerly the Republic of China, or ROC), a de facto independent state that Beijing claims is part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Some observers believed that a weak response from the United States and its allies in Europe would encourage Xi to undertake a military takeover of the island. US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield addressed this line of thinking in an interview with CNN when she said, “When it comes to Taiwan and China, we are committed to protecting the security and to support the security of the people of Taiwan…if China is making efforts towards Taiwan because of what it sees happening in Ukraine, these are two different types of situations.
The Biden administration’s repeated invocations of a possible “World War III” to deflect calls for greater US material support for Ukraine’s defense likely don’t help the relevant lens in Asia. Yet the United States should be far more concerned about its daily deterrence signals to China over Taiwan, which are woefully inadequate and prepositioned on dated calculations that render them ineffective.
Briefly explained, the roots of strategic ambiguity are found in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, which states that the United States will maintain the ability to defend Taiwan, but does not specify whether or not the United States would. . Actually intervene militarily should the PRC attack – ultimately, that remains a US presidential decision. The strategic ambiguity allowed the United States to prevent its normalized relations with China from being completely derailed by a Taiwanese-American alliance while still threatening to call off a Chinese attack across the strait. It also helped prevent more pro-independence Taiwanese leaders from assuming they had a blank check from Washington to declare de jure independence, risking a Sino-American war in the process.
This framework worked well for U.S. interests at a time when U.S. military might so outstripped that of China that the mere possibility of U.S. intervention was enough to outweigh the benefits of war in the Chinese regime’s calculations. , and with it the benefits of China’s devoted preparations for a cross. -attack of the strait. Even as Beijing’s military might grew alongside its economy – and although Beijing probably felt that US resolve to undertake military intervention was capricious and vulnerable to its diplomatic pressure (particularly during times of obvious frustration from the United States with regard to Taiwan, such as under the Chen Shui-bian administration) – The PRC’s inaction was largely decided by the danger of facing the superior military power of the United States.
Sadly, however, it is now more likely than not that this calculation of CCP leadership has changed, and not just based on China’s gradual rise to power. China’s military power is certainly the first factor: militarily, the PRC can finally hope to defeat an American intervention in a Taiwan Strait conflict. Equally important, however, the second key factor is Supreme Leader Xi Jinping’s apparent willingness to take the political risks inherent in a cross-strait invasion scenario.