The US has always been one of the most powerful countries in the world. It’s also one of the closest allies to Taiwan, with over $14 billion worth of arms sales since 1990. The US also has an important role to play in the development of Taiwanese democracy. However, what’s even more important is that its geographical position provides Taiwan with a critical advantage over China.
China needs approximately six months to prepare for war against Taiwan, while it would take Taipei 60 days at most to absorb mainland China’s first blow and launch massive counter-attacks. This is a huge problem for Beijing. It means that China would need to maintain a block against Taiwan’s outside contacts and suppress its economy before the Taiwanese military could be fully mobilized. In essence, Taipei has an advantage in flexibility it can exploit by arming itself with US weapons.
Any war between China and Taiwan will have global repercussions, and the US knows it. This is why Washington has been willing to provide Taiwan with weapons and sell it advanced technologies to defend itself. However, both sides know that Taiwan would never be able to defeat China on its own. It has always depended on the US as a safety net for this reason, but Taiwanese politicians have often put their faith in the wrong places.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s approach to cross-strait relations has been brilliant, but he wasn’t able to sell it to Taiwanese society during his first term in office. His pro-Beijing policies were met with public outcry and caused him to lose the 2012 presidential elections to Tsai Ing-wen . The public has since taken a more conciliatory approach toward Beijing, but it’s still wary of its intentions.
Taiwanese people are predisposed to believe that China is out to crush them. Those old enough to remember the 1950s often recall the White Terror, when the government interrogated and imprisoned political dissidents after the KMT’s arrival from mainland China.
China is still wary of its own citizens, which fuels Taiwanese fears about how it would treat them once they are one country again. Most young Taiwanese have no recollection of life under KMT rule, but everyone knows what happened when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.
People in their 20s and 30s who grew up under former President Lee Teng-hui still believe that China is out to crush Taiwanese democracy, and they fear how Beijing would treat them if it ever did take over. Beijing’s social and economic policies have been relatively liberal, but many Taiwanese cannot separate the Chinese Communist Party from its actions in Tibet. Their fear of China is understandable; however, it can also be dangerous if they start overestimating Beijing’s true intentions.
The US needs to continue selling arms to Taiwan if it wishes to maintain peace with China. The US has always tried to act as an intermediary between Taipei and Beijing, but it has also sold arms to both. Doing so would guarantee that China doesn’t forget about Taiwanese resistance even if the US offers to help reach a truce.
The more advanced Taiwan’s military is, the more difficult it will be for China to start a war with it. Taiwanese people must also see the US as a country that is willing to sell arms for peace, not one that only tries to broker deals between the two sides of the strait. Peace can’t be reached by negotiating with those who regard you as their enemy.