The US has approved an 8 billion dollar sale of advanced F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, which signifies an economic conflict transitioning into military confrontation. The weapon sale is also indicative of the US abandoning its strategic ambiguity over Taiwan’s status by incrementally withdrawing from yet another key international agreement – the One China policy.
The US position on Taiwan has been characterised with “strategic ambiguity” by consecutive US administrations for four decades. The bellicose relations between the US and China’s communist government came to an end in 1979 when full diplomatic relations were established, and Washington changed its diplomatic recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing. Washington committed itself to the One-China policy, recognising there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it. Concurrently, the US has bolstered Taiwan’s ability to act as a de-facto sovereign state and an ally against China by arming Taiwan. Taiwan is an unsinkable aircraft carrier and thus a key component of the US “island-chains” to contain China in the Pacific.
The US and China are locked in a “deterrence dilemma” over Taiwan. The US deters China from seeking reunification by force by arming Taiwan, while China deters Taiwan from declaring independence by threatening reintegration through military means. US sale of advanced weapons and extending political recognition to Taiwan emboldens the Taiwanese hardliners to push for independence, which will trigger a military response from China. Similarly, the more China threatens to bring Taiwan back under Chinese sovereignty to break the island-chain containment, the more the US will sell arms and become less ambiguous about its support for Taiwanese independence.
Taiwan’s limbo status and the ability to manage the “deterrence dilemma” fail as US primacy wanes. China’s economic and military strength is growing and it is intent to break free of the island chain containment, while the US needs to use Taiwan for greater leverage against China. China optimally seeks “peaceful reunification” by political and economic means, yet reserves the right to take back Taiwan by force if its red lines are crossed. Economic integration assists integration as the shift in economic interests is expected to be followed by political loyalties. Concurrently, China uses its economic prowess to convince other states to de-recognise Taiwan and exclude Taipei from international institutions and events. As China military rises and asserts sovereignty over the South China Sea, Taiwan is expected to be deterred from advancing independence movements.
Following his election, Trump played the “Taiwan card” by indicating the One-China policy would be used as a bargaining chip towards a trade deal. Trump argued: “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘One China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade”. In March 2018, the US passed the Taiwan Travel Act that opened for diplomatic visits to Taiwan, which upgraded diplomatic relations from the former four decades of unofficial and informal ties. Independence hardliners in Taiwan have since been emboldened and placed increasing pressure on the Taiwanese president to sever political ties with China. The 8 billion dollar sale of advanced F-16V fighter jets to Taiwan, followed by a US warship sailing through the Taiwan Strait, is another escalation that will contribute to transition the current economic war towards a hot war.
US arms sales and revision of Taiwan’s status is paradoxically intended to cement the status-quo as security depends on containing China and preserving US primacy. Provoked by the US sale of advanced weaponry to Taiwan, military incursions into the South China Sea, alleged interference in Hong Kong, and intensifying economic coercion – China is under great pressure to respond as any concessions is feared to be interpreted as a sign of capitulation and thus embolden the US.