The United States and its allies cannot afford to take a passive stance with regard to Taiwan and plan to rely only on sanctions in the event that Beijing acts on long-held plans to invade the sovereign territory.
That’s according to Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), who offered their insights at an April 5 virtual event sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace entitled “What Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Means for the Indo-Pacific.”
While Taiwan and Ukraine are similar in respects, namely in the danger posed to them by much larger neighboring authoritarian powers, the sanctions applied in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine are not an all-purpose solution and might not prove an effective punishment against Beijing, they said. Hence other options such as bolstering Taiwan’s defensive capabilities must be on the table.
“A month ago, the world watched in horror as Vladimir Putin began an unwarranted and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The question on a lot of people’s minds is whether Putin’s illegal acts will encourage other authoritarian regimes across the globe,” Chabot said.
While the ramifications of the Ukraine invasion are myriad and complex, Chabot believes that in the context of Indo-Pacific geopolitical relations, the issue of overwhelming importance is the impact on the attitudes and actions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“While the CCP’s strategy may evolve, they are pursuing the same gray-zone tactics against several countries in the region that Russia is engaged in. This includes military activity to advance baseless territorial claims against, for example, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India,” Chabot said.
Nations in the Indo-Pacific share a few general goals such as improving their economies through trade and development and boosting the quality of life for their citizens, he said. But Beijing’s territorial ambitions have forced “a new arms race” on the nations of the region. Taiwan, in particular, is a coveted prize for Chinese leader Xi Jinping because possession of Taiwan would dramatically expand Beijing’s ability to project strength both in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia, Chabot said. It would have the further effect of hampering the United States in any efforts to support friendly governments in the region, making the United States look weaker.
Another factor that makes the Taiwan situation unique is the territory’s status as the leading maker of semiconductors in the world, Chabot continued. Such products are essential to the new cold war in which Beijing wants to square off against the United States, he said. Chabot called Taiwan’s spirited Chinese-speaking democracy a “direct threat” to CCP ideology and control.
“The biggest implication of Putin’s invasion for the Indo-Pacific is that Ukraine must serve as a wake-up call. We must deter Xi Jinping from following Putin’s playbook. Hopefully, he’s learning the right lesson here: don’t bite off more than you can chew,” the lawmaker said.
But whatever lessons Xi takes away from the Ukraine crisis, imposing sanctions on Beijing over a Taiwan invasion might be a difficult proposition given the communist regime’s dominance of the markets for cobalt, lithium, and other rare earth minerals. The corner on the market that Beijing currently holds has drawn concern from President Joe Biden, who said last month that “we can’t build a future that’s made in America” if the United States continues to depend on China for the supply of rare earth metals.
“It’s going to make it a lot tougher to sanction them if they take military action against Taiwan,” Chabot said.
Given these realities, the lawmaker said he favors ramping up Taiwan’s defense and deterrence capabilities, and avoiding the kind of stalling that deprived Ukraine of the resources it needed to resist Russia’s invasion.
“We need to provide aid earlier, and provide deterrence earlier in the process. We knew for months and months that [the Ukraine invasion] was likely to happen, but we really didn’t step up getting lethal aid into their hands quickly enough,” he said.
Bera said that similar issues are at play elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific region. For example, India, which has had border conflicts with China in the past, has its own concerns around territorial integrity. New Dehli, according to Bera, is unlikely to receive support from Russia in any border dispute with China, as Moscow would probably take Beijing’s side. This creates an opportunity for the United States to bolster its presence in the region by solidifying economic and defense ties with India.