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Is America Obliged to Defend Taiwan?

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global communist bloc, China has largely flown under the radar. The last three decades have seen unprecedented and uncontested American supremacy in almost every department; however, that is changing.


Market reforms have brought wealth, innovation, and power to China, bringing it near parity with the U.S. The American issue lies in learning how to share the stage in what has been a solo act up until now. America must figure out how to balance its interests while obliging its responsibility to avoid a dangerous escalation with China.

China has its own set of rules, contrary to the ones we play by here in America and the West writ large. The word I believe best describes American society is liberty; in China, it’s order.


Chinese society evolved separately from Western society. Principles like individual liberty and democracy are understood in very different ways. Where we see happiness and integrity in maximum personal freedoms, they see the chaos that those freedoms might create. The modern Chinese state under President Xi Jinping has effectively deemed democracy inefficient, hypocritical and divisive.


For all its flaws, American democracy has shown itself to be a system that balances a right to individual liberties with prosperous economic policies and wealth generation. No doubt, our democracy is going through a painful and challenging period. However, the American people have shown themselves time after time to be shrewd enough to solve those issues, emerging from crises more resilient than ever.


In my view, China is attempting to take advantage of an America that is weakened and distracted by political infighting to achieve its goal of exporting Chinese autocracy to the rest of the world.  


The 2020s might prove a critical point in U.S. history. China is gearing up to reclaim Taiwan (by force if necessary), which produces the majority of America’s semiconductor chips used in both household and military technologies. An enormous effort to quickly reduce dependency on Taiwan is currently underway, with U.S. companies pledging roughly $200 billion towards domestic chip manufacturing projects since 2020. However, these efforts could prove delayed and ineffective. Semiconductor factories are incredibly complex and take years to build - time that the U.S. might not have. 


China has been testing the waters with Taiwan in increasingly aggressive fashions. If China decides to invade in the near future, America will be thrust into a seemingly impossible situation.


It’s been implied that America could indeed come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese invasion, but it is not written into any law or legislation anywhere in Washington: strategic ambiguity forbids as much.


Whether America should involve itself in yet another war is a hot topic for debate, especially given the unprecedented levels of civil unrest and instability at home in recent years. However, America seems almost obliged to come to Taiwan’s defense. In fact, it is a must in order to avoid the catastrophic economic consequences that would be inflicted upon not only the American industry but individual Americans and their standards of living. China would almost certainly leverage the island against the U.S. to decimate its economy. 


A war with China in the Pacific would cost U.S. lives, untold amounts of money and billions worth of sensitive equipment. That being said, semiconductors are undoubtedly a cornerstone of the modern American economy. At the moment, America has no other option but to safeguard Taiwan from Chinese hands until it can secure its own domestic manufacturing capabilities.


Australian policymaker Kevin Rudd, in an article on the matter, puts the situation eloquently: “The geostrategic standing and international moral authority of the United States would then collapse due to America’s failure to defend a small but vibrant democracy with which it had been a de facto ally for three-quarters of a century.” Time is of the essence. American companies must work around the clock to beat deadlines if possible.


It is in Xi Jinping’s best interest to reacquire Taiwan before his term expires in less than five years. The U.S. has a responsibility to exhaust every diplomatic avenue first and foremost. However, if soft power fails to achieve a peaceful agreement, the U.S. must protect Taiwan not only to prevent American economic ruin but also to preserve its integrity as the global guarantor and protector of the free world.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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