Top Pentagon official declares Taiwan critical to “vital US interests”

In a little reported meeting of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations last month, top officials of the Biden administration made clear that it will make Taiwan—potentially the most explosive flash point in Asia—central to its aggressive stance towards China.

The status of Taiwan was fundamental to the establishment of US-China diplomatic relations in 1979. In recognising the One China policy, Washington de facto acknowledged that Beijing was the legitimate government of all China including Taiwan and ended its formal diplomatic ties with Taipei. Now Biden, following Trump, is upending the diplomatic status quo.

Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

In his opening remarks, chair Senator Bob Menendez declared that the hearing on future US policy on Taiwan could prove to be “one of the more consequential” held by the committee in 2021. While blaming China, he warned that “the Taiwan Strait remains one of the most dangerous divides in the world today and one of the handful of places in the world where miscalculation could lead to a war with potentially catastrophic global consequences.”

These remarks underscore the degree to which Washington is actively focused on preparing for war with China over Taiwan. The opening testimony of Ely Ratner, assistant defence secretary for the Indo-Pacific, pointed to the underlying reasons—strategic and economic—for Washington’s determination to bring Taiwan firmly into the US camp.

Ratner described Taiwan as “a critical node within the first island chain, anchoring a network of US allies and partners—stretching from the Japanese archipelago down to the Philippines and into the South China Sea.” The first island chain runs parallel to the Chinese mainland and is regarded as central to the Pentagon’s war strategy of hemming in Chinese naval and air forces and potentially mounting a blockade in the event of war.

The US has long maintained a hypocritical doublespeak when it comes to the status of Taiwan. While formally recognising it as part of China, Washington has opposed any prospect of Beijing forcing Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland and has sold increasing volumes of “defensive” weapons to Taipei. Over the past year, the Biden administration acknowledged for the first time that US special forces troops are on Taiwan as “trainers.” All US forces were previously withdrawn in 1979.

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