Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Transformation of U.S.-Taiwan Military Relations

The Transformation of U.S.-Taiwan Military Relations

Taiwan is a country under siege. On the people-to-people level, its social and economic ties to China are expanding and indeed thriving, but China has isolated Taiwan diplomatically in the world. China refuses to renounce the use of force against or to communicate with Taiwan. It claims to have hundreds of missiles trained on Taiwan and seeks to impose political dominion over it. China’s obsession with recovering Taiwan derives more from strategic and nationalistic than from historical considerations, for the PRC has never ruled Taiwan. The island has enjoyed de facto independence as the Republic of China (ROC) since 1949, after being a Japanese colony for the first half of the twentieth century, and it was directly administered by China only intermittently in the nineteenth century. Most significant in Beijing’s calculus is the strategic location of the island, which sits astride sea lanes that are critical to the region’s economic life and can serve as either a barrier or a stepping-stone for the projection of China’s power and influence in the Western Pacific region.

Taiwan cannot stand alone against China. Locked out of the system of formal alliances as well as the UN, Taiwan can neither deter nor retaliate against a possible attack by China by itself, for it has no offensive weapons systems. Moreover, the difference between the two countries in size, population, and military power is so great that Taiwan cannot overcome it with even the most advanced defensive technology. As long as Taiwan’s security concerns are dominated by threats from China, it must ally, however informally, with the United States.

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