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As president, Joe Biden will not support, defend, or rescue Taiwan. That sounds harsh. But based on his colossal foreign policy errors, including his disastrous execution of American withdrawal that led to Afghanistan’s breakneck capitulation, it’s a pretty reasonable conclusions.
His actions resulted in a loss of confidence in the U.S. as a global leader and as a reliable partner by the allies.
Pundits opined Biden’s handling of Afghanistan does not predict how the U.S. will carry out its foreign policy in regions such as in the Indo-Pacific and, specifically, Taiwan. They note that Taiwan is not Afghanistan because:
1. There are no large numbers of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) subversives or spies embedded in Taiwan, nor are there a high percentage of Taiwanese who would emerge to help an invading People’s Liberation Army (PLA), like the Taliban or ISIS-K fighters did when the U.S. withdrew.
2. The Taiwanese have the will to fight for their democracy and basic freedom.
3. The U.S. will aid Taiwan.
These arguments ring hollow:
1. Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalist Party (AKA Kuomintang or KMT) has never renounced its desire to sign a peace agreement with China, nor dismissed its wish to align with CCP’s “One China” ideology. There is no assurance that the KMT leadership will not rally the 40% of the population who voted for the KMT in the 2020 elections to support, aid, and abet an invading PLA force.
2. In a 2020 National Chengchi (Taiwan) University poll, nearly one third of Taiwan’s population do not consider themselves as solely Taiwanese, as 28% identify as both Taiwanese and Chinese and 3% as solely Chinese.
3. Polls in Taiwan are inconclusive as to the true will of the Taiwanese to fight for and defend their homeland. Two surveys in 2020 asked Taiwanese their willingness to fight in a Taiwan-China war and contradict each other: Focus Survey Research found that 77% of nearly 1,100 Taiwanese were willing to fight for Taiwan, but an ETtoday study found 49% of the 2,640 sampled were not willing to fight.
4. The Taiwanese military has never been battle-tested.
From a policy perspective, the premise that the U.S. will assist Taiwan is questionable due to the decades-long U.S.-Taiwan “strategic ambiguity” stance.
Strategic ambiguity has led and will continue to lead to mistaken and forlorn hope that it deters adversaries; it only invites miscalculations and unintended armed conflicts.
Sadly, U.S. “strategic ambiguity” has led to wars in Asia and the Middle East. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea six months after U.S. secretary of state Dean Acheson made no mention of the Korean peninsula being a part of the U.S. defense perimeter in a speech to the National Press Club. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991 one week after U.S. ambassador April Glaspie told Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that America had “no opinion on … Arab-to-Arab conflicts, like the Iraqi border disagreement with Kuwait.”
In the Korea and Kuwait examples, U.S. strategic ambiguity emboldened the antagonists; though never a guarantee, had there been strategic clarity and clear intentions, aggression may have been deterred. Inexplicably, in addition to a lack of any U.S.-Taiwan security agreements following the 1979 U.S. de-recognition of Taiwan, no U.S. president has discarded the strategic ambiguity dogma regarding the defense of Taiwan.
The argument that a defense treaty begets support is a fallacy. The 2012 U.S.-Afghanistan Security Partnership Agreement was to have lasted at least ten years. But with the U.S. withdrawal, America voided any obligation to defend Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan debacle has also exposed Biden’s shortcomings as he failed in his biggest test to lead, plan, and execute U.S. foreign policy. This does not bode well if a larger scale threat in the Taiwan Strait arises during his presidency.
Biden has done nothing to dismiss warnings of his two closest colleagues. U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates wrote in 2014 that “Biden has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” U.S. president Barack Obama quipped, “Don’t under-estimate Joe’s ability to f— (screw) things up.” And Biden’s lack of conviction to take calculated risks when he was the only one on Obama’s team to oppose the 2011 raid that ultimately killed bin Laden did not advance Biden’s standing as a decisive leader.
If nothing else, the Afghanistan fiasco and the blatant abandonment of partners reinforced past misgivings about Biden. Add to that the constraints of an outdated strategic ambiguity policy, a lack of a mutual defense treaty and the abject failure to execute the most important foreign policy charge he has faced, Biden cannot be relied on to support, defend or rescue Taiwan in there is a flare-up in East Asia.