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Here's how to face down China's growing threat to Taiwan | Opinion

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A day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan, China has begun massive military drills around the island including the launch of nearly a dozen ballistic missiles. The exercises demonstrate that Taiwan remains highly vulnerable to Chinese military coercion, including a potential full-scale invasion, blockade, or a "hybrid" form of hostile Chinese takeover. To prevent catastrophe, Taiwan, the United States, and their close allies and partners must strengthen deterrence in the Taiwan Strait, the likeliest flashpoint for a great-power conflagration between the United States and China.

The prospect of Chinese aggression against Taiwan is growing. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has vowed to use force if necessary to reincorporate it. Admiral Phillip Davidson, former commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, believes China will be ready for an invasion by 2026. China is now facing an extraordinarily challenging period economically, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has recently had to expend substantial political capital enforcing draconian policies to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. These internal challenges come as the Chinese leader is trying to consolidate his hold on power and remain chairman of the Chinese Communist Party for a third term. To strengthen his position amidst such challenges, Xi may resort to fanning the flames of nationalism through military flair and intimidation—and possibly an outright attempt to take over Taiwan.

A television shows a news broadcast about China's live-fire drills around Taiwan on August 04, 2022, in Taipei, Taiwan. Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

To deter Xi, Taiwan, the United States, and its allies and partners need the ability to successfully deny a Chinese assault. As one of us (Pavel) learned on an Atlantic Council transatlantic delegation trip to Taiwan last month led by former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and former Italian Ambassador to NATO Stefano Stefanini, there is much more that Taiwan can and should do to mount an effective self-defense. First, Taiwan should adopt an asymmetric strategy that incorporates lessons learned from Ukraine's military operations. Second, it should procure the weapons to support that strategy, including many more anti-aircraft, anti-ship, and unmanned capabilities to blunt any invasion and diminish its chances of success. Third, Taiwan will need to increase its defense budget significantly to procure these weapons and to sustain an appropriately sized and well-trained force.

Fourth, Taiwan should strengthen its ability to mobilize reserve forces rapidly and effectively. Conscription terms also should be increased from the current four-month period to at least one- or two-year terms to ensure a well-trained force is readily available in the event of an invasion.

Fifth, Taiwan should also ensure it maintains sufficient supplies of energy, food, weapons, spare parts, and the like in case a conflict precludes resupply from off the island.

But there is much more the United States and its allies should do as well. While Putin's invasion of Ukraine has rightfully occupied substantial attention, Washington needs a National Defense Strategy, force posture, defense budget, and set of alliance arrangements capable of deterring Russian and Chinese aggression in overlapping timeframes. The United States needs to radically increase its defense cooperation with its closest allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific on all such efforts. Right now, the United States is woefully short of these requirements.

Moreover, the United States and its allies should make clear that they will not be intimidated by China's threats. Pelosi's decision to follow through her visit is a good step toward that end. The United States should coordinate with its allies and partners in ramping up freedom-of-navigation operations in the region and increasing support for Taiwan's efforts to acquire the capabilities it needs to defend against an attack.

U.S. allies and partners in Europe and the Indo-Pacific should also take greater steps to demonstrate that China faces a resolute free world. These include upgrading their recognition of Taiwan's diplomatic status, as countries such as Lithuania have recently done. They could send symbolic military forces, such as staff officers, to participate in military exercises in the region. They also could make stronger diplomatic statements about the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait, strengthen economic ties with the island, affirm support for Taiwan's vibrant democracy, and signal to Beijing that any invasion would yield a substantial economic rupture.

Finally, geopolitics has changed significantly since the United States adopted the original One China Policy more than 40 years ago. It is now time for a conversation about reviewing its key tenets, which are no longer aligned with the new era of history in which we now find ourselves. Taiwan is a thriving democracy with a world-leading economy and a critical part of advanced technology supply chains. The United States should lead other democracies in a strategic reassessment of the artificial restrictions that prevent Taiwan from becoming a normal nation.

Barry Pavel is the outgoing Senior Director of the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. Matthew Kroenig is the Center's Deputy Director and now serves as its Interim Director. They are both former Pentagon strategists.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.

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