The U.S. Must Do More to Deter China and Support Taiwan, Urges New CFR Task Force Report

The U.S. Must Do More to Deter China and Support Taiwan, Urges New CFR Task Force Report

Last updated June 20, 2023 3:23 pm (EST)

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“For more than six decades, a tenuous peace has prevailed in the Taiwan Strait, enabling Taiwan’s democratic transformation and economic ascendance, and allowing the United States to build productive commercial relations with [China] and a close partnership with Taiwan. It is no longer clear, however, that what has worked will continue to do so,” warns a new Independent Task Force report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  

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The report, U.S.-Taiwan Relations in a New Era: Responding to a More Assertive China, asserts that “a conflict over Taiwan has thus far been avoided, but deterrence has dangerously eroded; under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China is aggressively and consistently moving the status quo in its favor and increasing pressure on Taiwan. The Task Force thus believes that although a military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait is by no means inevitable, the United States and China are drifting toward a war over Taiwan. To avoid such an outcome, the United States must restore balance to a situation that has been allowed to tilt far too much in China’s favor.”  

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The Task Force is co-chaired by former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Susan M. Gordon and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen, USN, Ret., and is directed by CFR Fellow David Sacks. The bipartisan Task Force includes twenty-six distinguished members and observers representing a variety of areas of expertise.  

“The Task Force concludes that it is vital for the United States to deter China from using force or coercion to achieve unification with Taiwan, to fulfill its legal commitments to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), and to support a close democratic partner that is under immense threat.” The report outlines what is at stake for the United States: 

  • “If China were to successfully annex Taiwan against the will of the Taiwanese people, doing so on the heels of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it would severely undermine international order by again demonstrating that countries can use coercion or force to unilaterally redraw borders.”
  • “If China were to station its military on the island, the United States would find it far more difficult to project power, defend its treaty allies, and operate in international waters in the Western Pacific. U.S. influence would wane, because its allies would question U.S. commitment to their defense and either accommodate China or pursue strategic autonomy.” 
  • “A war in the Taiwan Strait would also halt the production and shipment of the majority of the world’s semiconductors, paralyzing global supply chains and ushering in a severe economic crisis.” 
  • “Finally, if China were to take control of Taiwan, it would spell the end of a liberal democracy and have chilling effects on democracies around the world. The Task Force thus finds that it is vital for the United States to deter China from using force or coercion to achieve unification with Taiwan.” 
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“The Task Force assesses that although China is developing the military capabilities it would need to annex Taiwan and is determined to subjugate the island, it has not yet decided to pursue a nonpeaceful resolution and deterrence remains possible.” The United States, however, will need to move “with urgency to bolster deterrence” and “shape Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s decision-making calculus to raise the costs of aggressive action against Taiwan.” 

While the Task Force proposes an ambitious agenda for U.S.-Taiwan relations, it cautions against overturning the political framework that has enabled cross-strait stability for decades. In particular, the report calls for the United States to 

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  • “maintain [the U.S.] One China policy” while “emphasiz[ing] that such a policy is predicated on China pursuing a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues” and 
  • “avoid symbolic political and diplomatic gestures that provoke a Chinese response but do not meaningfully improve Taiwan’s defensive capabilities, resilience, or economic competitiveness.”

The Task Force urges U.S. policymakers to take the following steps, among others, to preserve peace in the Taiwan Strait and strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan partnership: 

  • “Promote people-to-people ties between the United States and Taiwan” and “explain to the American people why Taiwan matters and why they should care about its fate.” 
  • “Create additional international and multilateral forums that allow Taiwan to have its voice heard and contribute to resolving global issues, in a way that does not suggest Taiwanese independence.” 
  • “Negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan” and “assist Taiwan in reducing its economic dependence on the PRC.” 
  • “Build resiliency in global semiconductor manufacturing.” 
  • “Raise awareness of the economic consequences of a Chinese blockade or attack on Taiwan with allies and partners and coordinate with them to prepare sanctions on China.” 
  • “Prioritize Taiwan contingencies as the [U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)] pacing scenario and ensure DOD spending supports capabilities and initiatives critical to success, securing the United States’ ability to effectively come to Taiwan’s defense” and “seek greater clarity from allies on the assistance they would provide during Taiwan contingencies and work to improve their capabilities and define their roles and responsibilities.” 
  • “Conduct a joint study with Taiwan of its war reserve munitions, ability to produce weapons during wartime, and stockpile of essential goods.”  

“U.S. diplomacy should focus on deterring Chinese aggression, signaling to China and Taiwan that it opposes unilateral changes to the status quo, and ensuring that any future arrangement between China and Taiwan be arrived at peacefully and with the assent of the Taiwanese people,” the report maintains.  

“Washington’s approach to Beijing should focus both on making clear the risks and costs of using force against Taiwan and on reassuring it that Washington does not seek to permanently separate Taiwan from China.” 

To read the report, visit www.cfr.org/US-Taiwan.

For more information, please contact the Global Communications and Media Relations team at 212.434.9888 or [email protected]

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