Taiwan key to freedom of Indo-Pacific: former U.S. defense official

10/20/2020 12:02 PM
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AT-3 jet trainers fly over the Presidential Office during a rehearsal for Oct. 10 National Day celebration. CNA file photo
AT-3 jet trainers fly over the Presidential Office during a rehearsal for Oct. 10 National Day celebration. CNA file photo

Washington, Oct. 19 (CNA) The survival and safety of Taiwan is key to the United States' ability to secure freedom and openness in the Indo-Pacific region, former U.S. defense official Randall Schriver said Monday.

Speaking at an online seminar hosted by the Atlantic Council, an American think tank, Schriver described Taiwan as a "modern-day Asia Fulda Gap" whose fall would be catastrophic for the region.

The Fulda Gap was a region between the borders of East and West Germany that was where the U.S. and Soviet Union would "most likely clash if war were to start" during the Cold War, Schriver said.

Holding the Fulda Gap, therefore, was thought to be key to the U.S.' ability to protect Western Europe, Schriver said, which is the position that Taiwan now holds in the Indo-Pacific region.

If Taiwan were lost to China, it would damage Japan's ability to protect its islands in the East China Sea and jeopardize peace in the South China Sea, he said.

It could also "greatly complicate" the U.S.' ability to be good partners and uphold freedom and openness in Oceania, said Schriver, who was assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs from 2018 to 2019.

According to Schriver, it is this perspective that Taiwan is key to the security of the Indo-Pacific region that is driving the current U.S. administration to broadly support Taiwan.

This involves the "normalizing and routinizing of arm sales," as well as recent high-level visits to Taiwan by top U.S. officials, such as Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar's visit in August and Under Secretary of State Keith Krach's visit in September, he said.

When asked about whether China would invade Taiwan in the next two months while the U.S. is busy with domestic elections and rising COVID-19 cases, Schriver felt it was unlikely.

Although China uses military tools as a means of coercion and to raise tensions in the region, Schriver said he believes "they'd far prefer to win without fighting if they can."

Whether or not an invasion would actually work is also up in the air, as the People's Liberation Army would have to transport 100,000-plus soldiers across the Taiwan Strait and hold ground, which might not be manageable for the PLA despite recent advancements in their capability, he said.

Another consideration for the PLA would be the U.S., as it would be risky for them to assume that the U.S. would not intervene in a possible attack, Schriver said, adding "I think it's unthinkable that the U.S. would do nothing."

Schriver was also asked about dealing with China's coercive diplomacy, following an incident in Fiji in which Chinese diplomats physically assaulted a Taiwanese diplomat at a National Day event held by Taiwan in the Pacific island country.

Taiwan has formal diplomatic ties with 15 countries at present, including the Marshall Islands, Palau, Tuvalu and Nauru in the Pacific, and the U.S. has tried to keep allies bound to Taiwan as China lures them away.

But as much as Taiwan's trying to maintain formal ties with its remaining 15 diplomatic allies around the world is important, Schriver said "Taiwan's most important relationships are with the United States, Japan and the EU" and a handful of others.

(By Chiang Chin-yeh and Chiang Yi-ching)

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