U.S. Sends Two Ships Through Taiwan Strait

Less than a month after U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, the U.S. Navy sent the warships USS Chancellorsville and USS Antietam through the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. considers the strait international waters, a claim that China disputes, and has conducted other freedom of navigation manoeuvres in the past through the strait to solidify its status as international waters. Speaker Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan raised tensions with China, whose response was to send 27 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone as part of a planned four-day military exercise. 

U.S. National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby defended the U.S.’s transit, claiming that it was “very consistent” with the policy of seeking “a free and open Indo-Pacific.” China observed the ships’ movement and prepared its troops for a potential attack. “Troops of the (Eastern) Theater Command are on high alert and ready to foil any provocation at any time,” said senior colonel and Spokesperson for the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army, Shi Yi. 

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore who has kept a database on U.S. transits, put this transit into historical context. “Having two instead of the usual one vessel to do this mission is certainly a ‘bigger’ signal of protest,” stated Koh. 

The U.S. has remained steadfast in defending Taiwan against any potential Chinese aggression. Senator Marsha Blackburn, on a visit to the island, claimed that “Taiwan is our strongest partner in the Indo-Pacific Region,” and President Biden announced that the U.S. would defend Taiwan military in the event of a Chinese invasion. 

Publicly announcing the U.S.’s support of Taiwan is a moral and sound policy. Taiwan’s right to sovereignty as a free and democratic country trumps China’s nationalistic claim over the island and the strait; asserting this fact promotes Taiwan’s legitimacy amongst the international community. Free governments deserve legitimacy and sovereignty, and they deserve not to have these rights threatened by authoritarian states like China; this is the moral case for Taiwan’s independence and the U.S. should continuously make it.

The issue regarding how the U.S should provide for Taiwan’s defense, however, deserves more attention. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act states that the U.S. “will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capabilities.” This policy differed from the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, which lasted from 1955-1980 and obligated the U.S. to defend Taiwan from any Chinese attack on its mainland and outlying islands. 

The defense policy of the Taiwan Relations Act outlines the correct approach for the U.S. regarding Taiwan’s defense. The U.S. should not engage in foreign conflict unless it has an explicit self-defense purpose. Democratic states, such as Taiwan, that are threatened by authoritarian states should be encouraged to purchase the necessary weapons for their own self-defense, and the U.S. should share intelligence and other technology necessary for defense with these states. Besides their use in combat, the sale of weapons such as anti-ship harpoon missiles, HIMARS, and F-22 fighter jets (which Defense and National Security Columnist Stavros Atlamazoglou suggested in a 19fortyfive piece) would deter China from launching a full-scale invasion of Taiwan due to the increased difficulty of invading a well-armed nation.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine displayed the brutal impact of failing to effectively equip a nation with the technology and weapons necessary for self-defense. The U.S. must avoid making the same mistake by encouraging Taiwan to purchase the most advanced weapons and military technology.