An American-led quartet of democratic allies could link with Taiwan to thwart China’s potential to conquer the island democracy and expel U.S. troops from the region.
“We need to think about something more formal, or something more security oriented,” Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in remarks aired Wednesday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We need to go deeper, to discuss the security challenges in the region so that the Quad countries or other like-minded countries can join in to discuss more [about] the security challenges in the region.”
Chinese officials suspect that the Quad — a bloc comprised of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan — will develop into a NATO-style mutual defense organization for Asia. U.S. officials have downplayed that likelihood, but the Taiwanese representative’s comments underscore the degree to which China hawks perceive a need to network democratic forces against Beijing’s military might.
“Military planners in Beijing look at the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait, and they are much happier with what they see now than what they saw 10 or 15 years ago,” said Foundation for Defense of Democracies’s Bradley Bowmen, a former senior Senate adviser who now directs the FDD’s Center for Military and Political Power.
Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping has affirmed his priority of gaining control over Taiwan, the last redoubt of the Nationalist government overthrown by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. Yet Beijing’s growing aggression throughout the region has heightened Taiwan’s importance in Washington, where strategists value the island as “a cork,” situated north and south of other U.S. allies to impede the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to conduct military operations away from the Chinese mainland.
Wu acknowledged that it’s going to be difficult for Taiwan to participate.
“I know it’s going to be hard for Taiwan to play a formal role in the Quad,” Wu said, in a nod to the fact that the U.S. and other powers do not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. “Taiwan can participate in some of the sidetracks of those discussions, and, of course, we can benefit from those formal discussions — we can have more knowledge about those formal discussions, and at the same time, Taiwan can raise also some of our concerns or our hope for Taiwan to be able to make contributions.”
The cooperation could include multinational plans for “being networked” for “anti-submarine warfare” and other kinds of maritime security, a former senior Pentagon official suggested, even if the people involved keep a low profile.
“If Taiwan has those capabilities, given its geographic location, there will be a demand signal from other countries in the region to want to cooperate with Taiwan,” Project2049 Institute Chairman Randall Schriver, who led the Defense Department’s Indo-Pacific Security Affairs team for two years under President Trump, said Tuesday in a related CSIS panel. “So, I think we should keep an open mind to that.”
The security ties between Quad members have tightened in recent years, most recently through joint military exercises. Australia plans to develop a missile arsenal capable of striking Chinese forces in a crisis. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently signed a “pivotal” military accord with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Trump’s team also brokered a pair of landmark security agreements with India, the South Asian heavyweight that U.S. officials regard as a key counter to China.
U.S. officials want to “enable Taiwan to develop an effective asymmetric defense strategy and capabilities that will help assure its security, freedom from coercion, resilience, and ability to engage China on its own terms,” according to a newly declassified strategy document.
Still, Taiwanese forces unaided can’t hope to repel a Chinese invasion for long, meaning that any successful defense would require U.S. support — and perhaps assistance from other allies. “U.S. and Australian forces have fought together in every significant conflict since World War I,” as the State Department notes, and a senior Japanese defense official warned China last month that an attack on Taiwan would be a “red line” for Tokyo.
And India is far removed from the straits, but the nuclear neighbor is embroiled already in a border dispute with Beijing in western China — just one of the arenas in which New Delhi could punish a Chinese Communist move to take over Taipei.
“These things can spiral out of control, and whoever initiates them, they will inevitably, predictably, proceed in ways that one does not anticipate or predict,” Bowman said. “The goal here is to make things as scary as possible for Beijing so that they don’t do it … convince Beijing that they cannot accomplish their political objectives in Taiwan at an acceptable cost.”