Can US defend Taiwan against China ?
During a 60 Minutes interview the other day, US President Joe Biden said that Washington would send its troops to defend Taiwan if " there was an unprecedented attack" on the island nation by communist China.
Observers , however, say it would not be wise for democratic Taiwan to infer that Washington would defend Taipei against a possible communist Chinese aggression. Soon after the said interview, the White House clarified that US policy regarding Taiwan had not changed. The US still maintains a policy of "strategic ambiguity" on Taiwan. It only pledges to help equip the island to defend itself under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
In accordance with this policy of strategic ambiguity , the US State Department announced the sale of a $1.1 billion defense package to Taiwan last month too. The systems the US gives to Taiwan are only for "defensive purposes" .
More importantly, Washington may not prefer to take on Beijing in case the latter attacks Taipei. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) today lacks the ability to "fight a peer conflict." It is confronted with a decreasing number and increasing age of the tactical aircraft fleet. It lacks modern equipment . In 2021 , flying hours across all aircraft in the Air Force averaged just 10.1 hours per month.
In the latest budget, the Biden administration asked Congress to fund a smaller budget --- for the Air Force in the Fiscal Year 2023 ($169.5 billion); for the Navy ($180.5 billion); and the Army ($177.5 billion). This will do little to modernize on new aircraft like 400 5th generation F-35A fighters designed to fight in the high-threat operational environments the U.S. would face against China (or Russia).
There are no signs things would change in the near future. Since President Joe Biden took office, the U.S. military and its branches have faced a significant decline in military equipment and recruitment.
The President and members of Congress have primarily focused on domestic spending issues rather than military spending.
Commander of the US Seventh Fleet Vice Admiral Vice Admiral Karl Thomas says, "They(China ) have a huge navy ...If they want to bully and put ships around Taiwan, they very much can do that."
The observers suggest Taipei would better explore the chances of more meaningful cooperation with the capitals of the world's advanced democracies which are militarily powerful . Meanwhile, Taipei could continue to work with Washington to bolster Taiwan's self-defense.
(Jagdish N. Singh is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. He is also Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, New York)
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