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April 27, 2022
Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges for U.S. foreign policy.
Taiwan plays a pivotal role in East Asian and global affairs. It has long been a central point of contention in the strategic competition between the United States and China. Effective U.S. policy toward Taiwan can enhance regional security, drive continued economic and technological progress, and support a rules-based international order. And the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to speculation about the fallout of a similar situation in Taiwan. CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation around Taiwan policy. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas and recommendations.
Global Island: Sustaining Taiwan's International Participation Amid Mounting Pressure from China
China under Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has ramped up political, economic, and military pressure on Taiwan. The roots of Beijing’s pressure campaign, including Xi’s personal interactions with Taiwan policy, go back decades. But recent events have deepened and intensified China’s efforts, which include seeking to block Taiwan from engaging the rest of the world as part of a comprehensive strategy to force Taipei to move toward unification with the mainland on Beijing’s terms. A new report from authors Jacob Stokes, Fellow in the Indo-Pacific Security Program; Alexander Sullivan, Adjunct Fellow in the Indo-Pacific Security Program; and Zachary Durkee, former consultant with the Indo-Pacific Security Program explores trends related to Taiwan’s international participation and offers a framework for how Washington, Taipei, and interested allies and partners can respond to growing pressure from Beijing.
When the Chips Are Down
Essential to the day-to-day functioning of modern society, semiconductors are increasingly at the center of a high-stakes competition between the U.S. and China. Taiwan—already a flashpoint in this competition—accounts for 92 percent of the world’s most advanced chip manufacturing capacity. Control over Taiwanese semiconductor facilities and human capital would give China roughly half of global chip fabrication capacity and almost all state-of-the-art manufacturing capacity. A virtual strategy game conducted by CNAS, and detailed in a report, has produced critical insights into the nature of U.S.-China strategic competition and global competition for semiconductors.
The Poison Frog Strategy
How could the United States respond if China seized one of Taiwan’s outlying islands in the South China Sea? A recent report from CNAS’ Gaming Lab details the outcomes of the virtual strategy game, which saw the U.S. team relying on military force in ways that were risky and would be difficult to sustain. At the same time, other non-military options, such as economic sanctions or information campaigns, took too long to produce effects and appeared too weak to compel China to abandon its gains.
Noteworthy: Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States
In February of 2022, the Biden-Harris administration released a strategy for the increasingly important Indo-Pacific region, stating, "The United States has long recognized the Indo-Pacific as vital to our security and prosperity." Experts from the Center for a New American Security weighed in with in-line analysis of the strategy document, including maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Why China Sees Opportunity in Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
"In recent weeks, China has touted its strategic partnership with Russia while being circumspect about Moscow’s threats to Ukraine, raising questions about whether the two authoritarian powers will stick together," observes Jacob Stokes in POLITICO. "There’s even been speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin conferred with Chinese President Xi Jinping before deciding to invade or that China will take notes for a future invasion of Taiwan. The reality is that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was probably not China’s preferred outcome. But now that it’s happened, China will likely find ways to support Russia while leveraging the crisis for its own benefit. The two countries genuinely share a worldview of the West as aggressor and China and Russia as victims. More tangibly, China will also seek to profit from Russia’s economic and political isolation."
Where the U.S. Chips Fall: Fault Lines and Big Breaks in the Global Semiconductor Industry
"Modern life hinges on reliable access to semiconductor chips. Recent shortages have shaken critical supply chains, highlighting how precarious the global semiconductor industry is and how reliant the international community is on chips for their economic and national security," argues Hannah Kelley in The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. "Taiwan stands at the center of this dynamic. As the third-largest producer of silicon-based hardware and foremost leader in chip fabrication, jeopardizing Taiwan’s production would threaten the stability of the global information technology economy. Taiwan uses its economic indispensability to generate foreign interest in maintaining the status quo with China in the Taiwan Strait, a strategy dubbed its “silicon shield.” How the United States engages with Taiwan and the global semiconductor industry at large—whether prioritizing its own domestic capabilities or seeking increased bilateral and multilateral cooperation—will not only impact global supply chain resiliency but set the tone for future technology competition with China and other illiberal actors."
Mind the Gap: How China's Civilian Shipping Could Enable a Taiwan Invasion
"Despite many worrying aspects of the degrading cross-Taiwan Strait military balance, the Chinese military does not appear to have enough amphibious assault capacity on its own to successfully invade Taiwan, and hasn’t seemed to make it a high priority to get more," writes Thomas Shugart in War on the Rocks. "The U.S. Department of Defense’s assessment of China’s amphibious lift capacity stated that the amphibious fleet seemed to be focused on global expeditionary missions rather than “the large number of landing ship transports and medium landing craft” that would be required for a full-scale beach assault. Taiwan’s own Ministry of Defense has largely concurred, indicating that China 'lacks the landing vehicles and logistics required to launch an incursion into Taiwan.'"
In the News
Featuring commentary and analysis by Jacob Stokes, Martijn Rasser, Emily Kilcrease, Chris Dougherty, and Kelley Currie.
About the Sharper Series
The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.
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