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Taiwan

Asian hub

What does Taiwan need – Diplomatic engagement or military deterrence? 

Published 6 February 2024 in Asian hub • 7 min read

While there is widespread concern that tensions around Taiwan might escalate into conflict, opinions vary on how this could be avoided. A recent Asia Society Switzerland debate heard the arguments for two different approaches.

For decades, Taiwan has existed in a fragile balance, neither truly independent nor unified with mainland China. While this status quo has proven surprisingly enduring, China’s continued economic and military rise and its government’s increasing nationalistic rhetoric have increased fears of a conflict around the island – accidental or intentional. 

Taiwan’s outsized importance – geostrategic as a key element in the first island chain, economically with its semiconductor industry, ideologically as an example of a “Chinese democracy” – means that the global community has a strong interest in avoiding conflict.

Since Taiwan elected a new president on 13 January, there has been ample discussion on how to deter China from taking offensive action without risking provocation. Is a strong military presence the most effective way to maintain the status quo and discourage further offensive actions from China? Or are diplomatic engagement, economic partnerships, and international law the way to a more stable and peaceful environment?  

In a recent Oxford Debate hosted by Asia Society Switzerland, four experts discussed the best way to deter China from escalating the Taiwan issue: Simona Grano, TOY Senior Fellow on Taiwan at Asia Society’s Policy Institute’s (ASPI) Center for China Analysis (CCA), Amanda Hsiao, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for China, Yu-Hua Chen, Assistant Professor at Akita International University, and James Lee, Assistant Research Professor at the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica. The following two op-ed pieces lay out the case for each side. Decide for yourself which you find more convincing!

“ Only diplomacy can provide credible assurances to China that no one is seeking unilateral changes to the status quo.”

Diplomacy over force: A sustainable path for Taiwan’s security

In a world where might often overshadows right, the complex issue of Taiwan’s security warrants a nuanced approach. Diplomacy, not force, emerges as the sustainable path forward. The solution lies not in the escalation of military might but in the intricate dance of diplomatic engagement.

Taiwan, a vibrant democracy, finds itself in the shadow of China’s assertive expansionism. Beijing’s claim over Taiwan is not just a regional concern – it’s a litmus test for the international community’s commitment to democratic values and the rules-based international order. In responding to this challenge, the tool of choice must be diplomacy.

The cornerstone of this diplomatic approach is not just supportive rhetoric or high-profile visits to the island, but integration. Integrating Taiwan into global networks and organizations is a subtle yet powerful counter to China’s isolation tactics. By ensuring Taiwan’s participation in international fora, we not only legitimize its sovereignty but also fortify its defenses through global solidarity.

A critical aspect of this strategy involves leveraging the influence of major powers. The United States and European countries play pivotal roles. Their support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations is more than a diplomatic gesture; it’s a statement of shared values. This support, however, must be strategic, avoiding overt provocations while steadily reinforcing Taiwan’s global standing.

WTO headquarters in Geneva
Taiwan has full membership in 45 intergovernmental organizations and their subsidiary bodies including the World Trade Organization WTO

 

Another dimension of this strategy is economics. Integrating Taiwan more deeply into the global economy serves multiple purposes. It not only bolsters Taiwan’s economic resilience but also binds the interests of other countries with Taiwan’s stability. This economic interdependence creates a web of shared interests that acts as a deterrent against unilateral aggression by Beijing.

The efficacy of this approach is evident. Diplomatic engagement has enabled Taiwan to navigate through a landscape riddled with threats in the past, maintaining its de facto independence without provoking direct conflict. This success underscores the potency of diplomacy over military escalation.

Moreover, diplomatic engagement aligns with the global community’s broader goals. In an era where challenges like climate change and global health crises demand international cooperation, Taiwan’s involvement contributes significantly to these global public goods. Its exclusion, driven by geopolitical rivalries, does a disservice to the global community.

Taiwan’s status quo is fragile. In a world shaped by heightened US-China tensions, maintaining it requires a robust diplomatic effort. Only diplomacy can provide credible assurances to China that no one is seeking unilateral changes to the status quo.

Diplomacy, in this context, is not a sign of weakness but a testament to the strength of collective action and shared values. As we navigate these troubled waters, let us choose the path of diplomacy, a path that leads to a more secure and equitable world.

Strength in defense: Why military deterrence is key for Taiwan’s future

In the complex geopolitical landscape of the Asia-Pacific, the security of Taiwan stands as a crucial issue, demanding not just diplomatic finesse but also an unequivocal commitment to military deterrence. History has repeatedly shown that authoritarian governments respect strength, not conciliatory gestures. This is particularly true in the case of China’s stance towards Taiwan.

The argument for military deterrence is rooted in the reality of international politics: strength commands respect. China’s increasing militarization and assertiveness in the region highlight a disturbing trend of disrespect for international norms and agreements. In this context, a strong military presence in support of Taiwan is not just a strategic necessity; it’s a moral imperative.

Taiwan’s story is not just about a small island nation asserting its right to self-determination; it’s about the defense of democratic values against authoritarian expansion. The island stands as a beacon of democracy and human rights in a region increasingly overshadowed by autocratic rule. Ensuring its security through military deterrence is, therefore, not just a regional concern, but a global one.

The case for military deterrence is further strengthened by the understanding that peace depends on the ability to prevent war. A robust military presence serves as a clear signal to Beijing that any aggressive moves would be met with substantial resistance. This approach aligns with the principle of ‘peace through strength,’ a doctrine that has successfully maintained relative peace in various global hotspots.

For several decades, Taiwan has been the leader in global semiconductor manufacturing, producing over 60% of the world’s semiconductors – but of late, China has been elevating its game
For several decades Taiwan has been the leader in global semiconductor manufacturing producing over 60 of the worlds semiconductors but of late China has been elevating its game

 

Moreover, military deterrence is not just about the deployment of forces; it’s about a comprehensive strategy that includes technological advancement, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises. These measures not only enhance Taiwan’s defense capabilities but also integrate its defense systems with those of its allies, creating a formidable barrier against potential aggression.

The role of the international community, particularly the United States and European nations, is crucial in this regard. Their military support for Taiwan, whether in the form of arms sales, joint exercises, or strategic alliances, sends a strong message of solidarity and commitment to preserving the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

While diplomatic efforts are vital, they must be underpinned by a credible threat of military response. Only through a balanced approach that combines diplomacy with military deterrence can Taiwan’s security and the broader stability of the Asia-Pacific region be ensured.

Military deterrence, therefore, is not a call to arms but a call to vigilance, a necessary stance in a world where power dynamics often dictate the course of history. In defending Taiwan, we defend the principles of freedom and democracy, not just for one island but for the global community at large.

The role of the international community, particularly the United States and European nations, is crucial in this regard. Their military support for Taiwan, whether in the form of arms sales, joint exercises, or strategic alliances, sends a strong message of solidarity and commitment to preserving the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

While diplomatic efforts are vital, they must be underpinned by a credible threat of military response. Only through a balanced approach that combines diplomacy with military deterrence can Taiwan’s security and the broader stability of the Asia-Pacific region be ensured.

Military deterrence, therefore, is not a call to arms but a call to vigilance, a necessary stance in a world where power dynamics often dictate the course of history. In defending Taiwan, we defend the principles of freedom and democracy, not just for one island but for the global community at large.

“The case for military deterrence is further strengthened by the understanding that peace depends on the ability to prevent war.”

Authors

Nico Luchsinger

Nico Luchsinger

Executive Director of Asia Society Switzerland

Nico Luchsinger is Executive Director of Asia Society Switzerland, a foundation dedicated to fostering Asia competence. On its website, you can find the recording of the entire Oxford Debate on Taiwan, and more information about upcoming events.

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