Will the U.S. risk war with China to defend Taiwan?

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This article first appeared in the Washington Times

Communist China has been threatening for years to regain control of Taiwan by any means necessary. For some time, the Communists ruling the Chines mainland believed this might be accomplished without resort to military force, but they have been more aggressive since the ascendancy of Xi Jinping in 2012.

Two factors necessitated the earlier strategy. The first is that until very recently, Beijing knew that using force against Taiwan would inevitably lead to a military confrontation and perhaps even war with the United States.

Second, it was not clear that an invasion would work or that if it did, it could prove incredibly costly. They had tried this in the closing days of China’s civil war when Chinese Nationalist forces decamped to the island. The Red Army tried to follow but lost thousands of troops on the beaches of Quemoy, the tiny island that Mao saw as a steppingstone to Taiwan herself.  An armistice was negotiated between the two sides shortly thereafter, but the two sides have never reconciled.

Thanks to US support, Taiwan has maintained its independence and developed into a free, democratic, and prosperous home for more than 23 million Chinese who have no desire to be “reunited” with their Communist brothers and sisters on the mainland. Although trade is robust and more than a million passengers flyback or forth each year, any hope that Beijing might agree to tolerate a semblance of freedom following a “reunion” was quashed by the recent Communist crackdown on Hong Kong.

Beijing is no longer as convinced that the United States will risk war to protect Taiwan, and doubt that even if the United States wants to it couldn’t muster the resources quickly enough to stop the modern invasion force mainland China has at its disposal today. Even as the Biden Administration officials continue to assure the Taiwanese that we have their back and continue to sell the island defensive weapons, many diplomats worldwide and even within US military circles wonder if the United States is doing enough to persuade Beijing of the seriousness of our commitment to a trusted and reliable ally.

The symbolic and real-world consequences of abandoning Taiwan cannot be overestimated. The island nation is a true outpost of democracy in the Pacific and one of the very few nations in history to develop on its own into a vibrant democracy. As such, it has served as a beacon to Chinese everywhere and an alternative to the vision of Beijing’s Communist rulers. As such, Taiwan’s mere existence just off the coast of the mainland must be particularly grating to Beijing.

After President Carter withdrew US recognition from Taipei and bestowed it on the mainland capital, I vividly remember a report from a DC Chinese eatery. Everyone was used to “Peking,” but there were differences of opinion at the time about how to spell “Beijing.” A diner asked his waiter how he would spell the name of the Chinese capital. The waiter replied without hesitation, “T-A-I-P-E-I.”

David Keene, a trusted adviser to presidents, a longtime champion of personal liberty and one of conservatism’s most respected voices, is the former opinion editor of The Washington Times. An author, columnist and fixture on national television, Mr. Keene has championed conservative causes for more than five decades while offering advice to Republican presidents and countless candidates. He additionally served as chairman of the American Conservative Union and president of the National Rifle Association. He can be reached at me@davidakeene.com.