Analysing U.S.-China Relations with Regards to Taiwan in the aftermath of Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine

Amber Cummings is a second-year History and International Relations student and is also the North American editor. Originally coming from the United States, they are extremely passionate about this region. With special interests in security dilemmas and diplomacy between regions, Amber hopes that they can share their passion with others and possibly get others interested in the topic of international relations as well.

China has long considered Taiwan under its sovereign rule as a part of its “one-China” principle. This claim has been disputed by not only Taiwan but by other actors in the international system. Previously, the United States has maintained a position of strategic ambiguity; however, following three of Biden’s statements within the last few months, it appears that the U.S. has been shifting towards a policy of strategic clarity with regards to the dispute. This clarity is made even more clear following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the United States has made itself known as a fierce supporter of Ukraine in this raging conflict. The Biden administration’s emerging policy of clarity has seemed to transcend single countries and has been representative of their policy towards all countries.

In a recent visit to Japan, United States president, Joe Biden, promised that the U.S. would intervene and provide military assistance if China were to invade Taiwan. This statement came as a surprise to those who were familiar with the United States’ policy of strategic ambiguity towards China. This strategic ambiguity has the goal of maintaining both safe competition and neutrality between the U.S. and China, given that they do not cross any boundaries set by the other. Both the effect of strategic ambiguity and the criteria for boundaries are debatable when considering China’s view on them.

China appears to not hold the same values of strategic ambiguity as the United States attributes to it. As stated by Zhao Tong, who is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “In Beijing’s view, the Biden administration has a darker heart than it is willing to admit.” Arguably, the policy of strategic ambiguity is not as effective as the United States considers it to be, as China has no trust in the U.S., to begin with. 

It has been made explicitly clear by the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, that the United States is not seeking out a cold war with China. However, there are no promises as to whether or not the United States would be willing to engage in a “hot” war with China. This type of war is the type that could occur following a Chinese takeover of Taiwan. The United States would be forced and willing to provide military aid to Taiwan, as was made especially transparent in Biden’s recent statement in Japan. China is viewed as a long-term challenge to U.S. foreign policy.

Despite insisting that they do not want a cold war, it is difficult to not see the parallels between China and the defunct Soviet Union. With the United States and China boasting the largest economies and militaries in the world, the world situation today appears like the bipolar international system that prevailed during the Cold War. Each country has a line that must not be crossed unless the other is willing to go to war. However, it is difficult to define these lines.

Similar to the current Ukraine situation following Russia’s invasion, the lines were also quite blurry here. Russia cites Ukraine joining NATO as their line that must not be crossed unless the other actor is willing to go to war. However, NATO was not planning on admitting Ukraine any time soon. So, what was it that incited Russia to go to war? Even some Russian officials are stumped by this question. It is therefore unsurprising that this invasion was not foreseen.

Like Russia, China’s lines they draw are also unclear. Likely, even Xi Jinping does not have a clear grasp on what would incite a full-blown takeover of Taiwan. The United States’ lines are more tangible when it comes to the Taiwan dispute. If China makes the first move, the U.S. will respond as required. This can be viewed through the Biden administration’s current policy towards China: invest, align, and compete. The United States is willing to compete with China if they refuse to align with the country’s ideas for the modern world.

This competition has not always meant direct military involvement. In the past, the United State’s policy of strategic ambiguity has promised to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but no direct involvement besides that. Under Biden’s administration, this policy has changed into one of strategic clarity. It is possible to see an additional policy shift with this clarity in strategy, as the United States no longer limits their means to assist Taiwan in the case of an invasion.

Once again, our attention is drawn back to the parallels between the United States’ relations with China and Russia. President Biden continues to enforce a new policy of strategic clarity in both situations. Biden has explicitly stated that he wishes for Putin to pay the price for his unforeseen invasion of Ukraine. In stating this, Biden hopes that China will receive a similar message for what the United States’ reaction would be if China were to attack Taiwan.

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