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Reviews |  In Taiwan, Biden should find his inner Truman


The White House insists President Biden did not break with longstanding policy when, during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday with the Prime Minister of Japan, he answered emphatically “yes” to the question, “Are you ready to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?

Don’t believe the diplomatic spin that there is nothing to see here. Don’t think the president didn’t know what he was doing either. What Biden said is dramatic – as well as prudent, necessary and strategically shrewd. He exhibits a sense of history, a sense of the moment, and a sense that after Russia invaded Ukraine, new rules apply.

US policy toward Taiwan over the past 43 years has been governed primarily by two fundamental, if somewhat ambiguous, agreements. The first, the one-China policy, which Biden reaffirmed in Tokyo, is the basis for Washington’s diplomatic recognition of Beijing as China’s sole legal government.

The second, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, is the basis of our continued ties with Taiwan as a self-governing entity. But unlike the treaties the United States maintains with Japan and South Korea, the law does not do not force US forces to come to the defense of the island in case of attack — only that we will provide Taiwan with the weapons it needs to defend itself.

Former presidents, including Donald Trump, have hinted that the United States will fight for Taiwan, but have otherwise been very vague on the issue. This may have served Washington’s strategic goals, at least as relations with Beijing warmed or stabilized.

But Xi Jinping has changed the rules of the game.

He did it in Beijing by setting himself up as a leader for life. He did so in Hong Kong by scrapping the “one country, two systems” formula and crushing pro-democracy protests. It did so by flouting the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling against China’s outrageous claims to own most of the South China Sea. It did this through a policy of industrial-scale theft of US intellectual property and government data. He did this through a policy of obstruction and Covid-19 misinformation. He did so with promises of friendship to Russia that reassured Vladimir Putin that he could invade Ukraine with relative impunity.

And he changed the rules of the game through some of the most aggressive military provocations against Taiwan in decades. Countries that spoil fights tend to have them.

All the more so after the chaotic US retreat from Afghanistan threatened to turn into a global rout. Chinese propaganda outlets started talking about the “Afghan effect.” An op-ed last summer in Beijing’s Global Times warned that “Washington’s arms are far too long, so Beijing and Moscow should shorten them where Washington shows its arrogance and flaunts its capabilities.”

So what should Biden have done? Stick to the diplomatic formulas of a now dead status quo?

It’s not the first time Biden has suggested the US would fight for Taiwan, but the last time he said something along the same lines it was treated as a classic Biden blunder by the press. . By now it should be clear that he really means it. In Tokyo, he stressed that an invasion of Taiwan would be a disaster just like Ukraine – and that he would go much further to stop it.

It’s a good way to avoid repeating Dean Acheson’s infamous mistake in 1950 of excluding South Korea from the US perimeter defense in Asia, which prompted the invasion of North Korea later that year. -the. It’s also a good way to avoid repeating Biden’s own mistakes in the run-up to invading Ukraine that gave Putin too much reason to doubt the strength of Washington’s commitments to Kyiv.

It is also a good basis for a more open military relationship with Taiwan. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that a few dozen US special ops and marines were in Taiwan, secretly training their island counterparts. This quota should grow.

The same is true for US sales of the types of smaller weapon systems – Stingers, Javelins, Switchblades – that have foiled the Russians in Ukraine and are hard to target and easy to disperse. Beijing will call such measures provocations, but that is only deterrence. The goal is to increase the costs of an invasion beyond what even a stubborn chauvinist like Xi is willing to pay.

Two more items. First, Taiwan’s defense budget, relative to both its robust economy and the military threat it faces, remains shockingly low, despite recent growth. The Biden administration should stress to Taipei that the American public’s appetite for helping our allies militarily is directly proportional to their willingness to help themselves.

Second, US defense spending, despite nominal increases, is also too low for inflation, with a navy that continues to shrink in a much more dangerous world in this decade than in the last. Biden may have wanted to model his presidency on FDR and the New Deal. History may give him no choice but to draw inspiration from that of Truman and his confinement. There are worse precedents.

nytimes Gt

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