Vladimir Putin’s brutal attack on his Ukrainian neighbors has sparked global outrage — and forged unprecedented unity — among the democratic nations of the world. Not so with Xi Jinping, the hypernationalist president of the People’s Republic of China. Rather, he is no doubt taking notes and learning lessons from Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine to apply to his plans for Taiwan.
The United States and our partners in the international community need to do the same to develop and put in place a new and more resilient strategy for Taiwan while there is still time.
A clear lesson from the war in Ukraine is that authoritarian leaders have been emboldened in recent years by dysfunctional democracies and hesitant international institutions. Accordingly, the United States needs less ambiguity to guide our approach to Taiwan. In today’s world — with Mr. Xi’s China — a robust and credible deterrence to preserve peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait requires clarity in word and deed. President Biden vowed in May to use force to defend Taiwan — the third time he has said so, even though his aides have said the longstanding U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity has not changed.
The moral and strategic case for standing with Taiwan, whose people share our interests and our values, could not be clearer. China is carrying out influence campaigns against Taiwan using cyberattacks and disinformation, deploying propaganda to reinforce its “one China” message, spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories to divide Taiwanese society and make it easier to gain control of the island. This is a plan of attack eerily reminiscent of Mr. Putin’s in Ukraine.
China is also employing coercive economic tactics against any nation or company that does not fall in line with Beijing’s anti-Taiwan policy, going as far as imposing a trade embargo on Lithuania for welcoming a Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius. Given Taiwan’s role as “foundry to the world” for the manufacture of advanced microchips, Beijing’s willingness to threaten supply chains and potentially hold the global economy hostage is a matter of concern for the United States’ prosperity and security and those of our allies and partners.
Making matters worse, Taiwan now also faces an aggressive Chinese military, which seems determined to be postured for an invasion in the coming years.
China’s rapid military buildup with new technologies and weapons deployed against Taiwan threatens to destabilize the entire Indo-Pacific. There are near daily Chinese military incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone and dangerous and unsafe Chinese Navy maneuvers intended to coerce and intimidate Taiwan on the high seas as well. Only a few weeks ago, 29 Chinese military aircraft, including six bombers, flew into Taiwan’s air defense zone — sending a clear message of a potential blockade — before returning to base. These are not the actions of a nation with a policy of maintaining peace and stability. These are the actions of a nation intent on aggression.
Moreover, Beijing’s recent threats over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan were as predictable as they were indicative of Mr. Xi’s truculence. But the United States must be clear: Using her visit as an excuse for performative sound and fury is simply that: a pretext for more aggressive steps that China has been preparing to take anyway. That is why Ms. Pelosi was right in not letting China decide who can and cannot visit Taiwan. The result of Beijing’s bluster should be to stiffen resolve in Taipei, in Washington and across the region. There are many strategies to continue standing up to Chinese aggression; there is clear bipartisan congressional agreement on the importance of acting now to provide the people of Taiwan with the type of support they desperately need.
We saw the warning signs for Ukraine in 2014 and failed to take action that might have deterred further Russian aggression. We cannot afford to repeat that mistake with Taiwan.
That is why I have worked with Senator Lindsey Graham to introduce the bipartisan Taiwan Policy Act of 2022.
Our legislation would reinforce the security of Taiwan by providing almost $4.5 billion in security assistance over the next four years and recognizing Taiwan as a “major non-NATO ally” — a powerful designation to facilitate closer military and security ties. It would also expand Taiwan’s diplomatic space through its participation in international organizations and in multilateral trade agreements.
The legislation would also take concrete steps to counter China’s aggressive influence campaigns, impose crippling economic costs if Beijing takes hostile action against Taiwan (such as financial, banking, visa and other sanctions) and reform American bureaucratic practices to bolster support for Taiwan’s democratic government. In short, this effort would be the most comprehensive restructuring of U.S. policy toward Taiwan since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
While Beijing will likely rely on a planned narrative of blaming the United States for any aggression, the fact is that it’s China, not the United States, that has been steadily seeking to change the status quo with Taiwan.
The United States and our partners must remain cleareyed as we respond with measured steps during this critical window of opportunity — before China unalterably changes the cross-strait dynamic to its advantage and sets the stage for a possible invasion of Taiwan—to reinvigorate our diplomatic strategy. To work with Taipei to modernize its military to maintain deterrence. To combat Beijing’s political influence and misinformation campaigns. And to develop deeper ties between our two peoples.
As China challenges us across every dimension of national security — militarily, economically and diplomatically and on values — we are laying out a new vision that ensures our country is positioned to defend Taiwan for decades to come. Getting our strategy right is essential to deter and constrain Beijing’s problematic behavior and to encourage Mr. Xi to make different choices from Mr. Putin’s.
To be clear, the United States is not the world’s policeman. But surely we have a moral and practical obligation to stand with the people of Taiwan, who want only to be able to determine their own future.
If we do nothing, then we must be comfortable with effectively ceding Taiwan by letting China continue its unabated military, economic and diplomatic bullying campaign.
Mr. Putin’s delusions in Ukraine could not make the catastrophic global consequences of inaction clearer.
Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez), Democrat of New Jersey, has served as a senator since 2006. He is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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