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NEWS | Sept. 21, 2023

U.S. Strengthening Deterrence in Taiwan Strait

By Jim Garamone, DOD News

The Defense Department is working with other government agencies, allies and friends to strengthen deterrence across the Taiwan Strait to ensure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, Ely Ratner told the House Armed Services Committee today.

Ratner, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, testified about the situation in the Taiwan Strait and moves the United States is making to deter China from bellicose activities toward Taiwan.

Ratner told the committee that DOD activities are fully in accordance with long-standing U.S. policy. He said the United States "remains committed to the well-established One China policy … guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three communiques and the six assurances." 

This policy has helped preserve peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait for more than four decades. "It is why this administration opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo," he said.  

But China is pushing the envelope by waging a campaign of military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan, he said. "China's leaders have yet to renounce the use of military force, while they increasingly turn to the [Peoples Liberation Army] as an instrument of coercion in support of their revisionist aims, conducting more dangerous activities in and around the Taiwan Strait," Ratner said.  

China remains the department's top pacing challenge. Chinese actions also focus U.S. attention on "meeting our commitments consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act — providing Taiwan with self-defense capabilities, as well as maintaining our own capacity to resist any use of force that jeopardizes the security of the people on Taiwan," he said.

The international rules-based order has kept the peace in the Indo-Pacific since the end of World War II. It has also economically lifted up the nations of the region — including China. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has said that "conflict in the Taiwan Strait would be devastating." 

"Taiwan is a thriving democracy that plays a vital role in the world economy with high technology exports like semiconductors," Ratner said. "The strait itself is an international waterway, where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight are guaranteed under international law and [are] absolutely essential for global commerce and prosperity." 

A major conflict in the strait would result in thousands of casualties and jeopardize more than $2 trillion dollars in global economic activity, igniting a global economic depression. A conflict would be extremely costly around the world with no one affected more than China itself, Ratner said.  

"These risks underscore the extent to which peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait matter for modern life across the Indo-Pacific region, global prosperity around the world, and the economic and national security interests of the American people," the assistant secretary said. "Military aggression across the strait — whether in the form of an outright invasion, a blockade or other means — would risk human life and global prosperity unimaginable in this century."

Ensuring peace in the region is not just an U.S. wish. "We have seen a growing number of states in the Indo-Pacific and throughout the international community raise their voices about why peace and stability in and around the Taiwan Strait matters so much to them," he said. "Maintaining peace, stability and deterrence across the Taiwan Strait is not just a U.S. interest or an interest of the people of Taiwan, it is clearly a matter of international concern." 

U.S. officials do not believe conflict with China is inevitable, Ratner said. Part of this is because deterrence works. "Deterrence across the strait today is real and strong, and we are doing more than ever to keep it that way," he said. "Our budget request shows that the department is focused on delivering cutting-edge capabilities for our military right now, while investing in the capabilities we need to maintain deterrence well into the future." 

Just as important, the United States is working to advance alliances and partnerships in the region. "Over the past year, we have announced transformative achievements with Japan, Australia and the Philippines, among others, that will make our force posture across the Indo-Pacific increasingly distributed, mobile, resilient and lethal," Ratner said. 

The United States is also providing Taiwan with the systems they need for defense. "Looking ahead, we know that funding to support these authorities would advance our bipartisan, whole-of-government commitment to strengthening Taiwan's self-defense," Ratner said. "We are confident that our approach is yielding results."


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