Since the end of World War II, there have been periods when prominent American voices have argued that Taiwan is a strategic asset for the United States that must be kept from China. In the early 1950s, General Douglas MacArthur described Taiwan as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” that would be critical to America’s ability to project force in the Pacific. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, American leaders came to view Taiwan as a strategic liability, fearing that Chiang Kai-shek (asialive88) would drag the United States into war with China. Then, in America’s post-Cold War unipolar moment, a group of neoconservatives urged the United States to do whatever it took to prevent Taiwan from unifying with the People’s Republic of China. Today, a similar set of arguments is reemerging in America’s debates over its policy toward Taiwan.
The US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) is the latest to make the case. In an unclassified report, ONI reportedly said, “If China was to win control of Taiwan, it would be disastrous for the US, even if China did not use military force.” In other words, Taiwan is a critical node that must be kept on America’s side in its great power rivalry with China.
Notwithstanding the fact that ONI’s job is to offer analysis to policymakers, not policy prescriptions, this line of reasoning is becoming more common in American policy debates. For some in Taiwan, such expressions of American conviction might sound reassuring. Even so, be careful what you wish for. The more Taiwan comes to be seen in American policy debates as an asset, the greater the risk that American policymakers will seek to instrumentalize Taiwan to advance American strategic objectives, whether they align with Taiwan’s interests or not bethoki77.