US response to Ukraine invasion sows further doubts about defending Taiwan if mainland China attacks

  • Joe Biden has said the US will not send troops in after the Russian invasion, prompting questions over how far Washington would go to stop Beijing
  • A high-level US delegation recently visited Taiwan in what was seen as a tacit show of support for the island

Washington’s insistence that it will not send troops to help Ukraine after the Russian invasion has prompted questions about whether the United States would be willing to help Taiwan protect itself from an attack by mainland China.

Last week a delegation of high-level former US military and national security officials travelled to the island in what was seen as a tacit show of support from the White House.

The delegation – including Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon’s former policy chief, Michèle Flournoy – met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday.

Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, condemned the meetings.
Shao Zonghai, a Taiwanese political scientist from Macau Polytechnic University, said that despite the symbolic importance of the visit, US President Joe Biden’s insistence he would not send the US military to Ukraine was a clear signal that the US would probably not send troops to protect Taiwan in the wake of a military action from the mainland.

“Biden’s insistence on not sending the US soldiers into Ukraine to participate in the war is actually a clear sign – the US doesn’t want to be involved into a direct conflict with Russia,” Shao said.

“So if something happens in the Taiwan Strait, and when Taiwan faces severe challenges from mainland China, how can the United States jump out and send troops to Taiwan for military assistance?”

Allen Carlson, associate professor of government at Cornell University in the US, said Taiwan was already on edge after seeing what Biden’s administration had done in other parts of the world.

“America’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan underscored worries as it raised questions about Washington’s commitment to its allies,” Carlson said.

“Now, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated all this anxiety as it is a direct challenge to Washington, and America’s deterrent capabilities.

“More directly stated, it leaves those in Taiwan pondering if Xi [Jinping] will now follow Putin’s lead in achieving a territorial objective that has until now been held in check.”

Last Tuesday, Biden said: “We have no intention of fighting Russia. We want to send an unmistakable message, though, that the United States, together with our allies, will defend every inch of Nato territory.”

Nato’s members are committed to collective action if one of them is attacked, whereas the US has a security partnership with Taiwan, under the Taiwan Relations Act, which stipulates that the US will supply Taiwan with what it needs to defend itself.

The act also states that the US will consider “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means … a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States”.

Author: Kristin Huang, SCMP

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