In a speech earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to China as the “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.” To be sure, the escalation of threats from the Chinese mainland toward the small island nation of Taiwan represents a challenge to the United States’ influence in Asia and its enduring alliance with Taiwan. State Department spokesman Ned Price stated in April that “The United States maintains the capacity to resist any resort to force or any other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan.” Just how the United States would stand up to Chinese aggression remains unknown, however.
China has made no secret of its long-time view of Taiwan as a breakaway province, regarding reunification with Taiwan as integral to “national rejuvenation.” President Xi Jinping’s refusal to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation stands as one of many points of contention in the relationship between the United States and China. A softened foreign policy toward China and a failure to outline deterrence and defense on behalf of Taiwan serve only to embolden Chinese efforts to reabsorb the island nation with perhaps a more imminent timeline than before.
In a speech last week commemorating the 110th anniversary of the revolution that established the Chinese republic, President Xi Jinping again spoke of his intent for reunification with Taiwan: “National reunification by peaceful means best serves the interests of the Chinese nation as a whole, including our compatriots in Taiwan.” Speaking more forcefully, Xi added that “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end; they will be disdained by the people and condemned by history.”
Xi Jinping promises reunification through peaceful means. However, the recent rhetoric emanating from Beijing follows an incursion of Chinese warplanes into Taiwanese airspace in the last week two weeks. CNN reported that nearly 150 Chinese fighter jets, bombers with nuclear capabilities, anti-submarine aircraft, and airborne warning and control planes crossed into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone near the beginning of the month.
If the United States stands idly by in the event of a Chinese invasion, the loss of credibility and regional influence for America will be great. Already, during Biden’s short time in office, the current administration has abandoned American allies and countrymen in terrorist-controlled Afghanistan, causing allies and partners to question U.S. commitment. A loss of Taiwan means a gain for China, not simply in terms of territory, but also influence. Countries are more likely to align themselves with China if the United States abandons a presence in the region and leaves its allies to fend for themselves.
Moving forward, the biggest unknown is not if China will seek to follow through on the goal of “national rejuvenation,” but whether or not the United States will seek to prevent it all together when it happens.