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The Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) conducts routine underway operations. Barry is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region; DVIDS

With an acting U.S. Secretary of Defense abruptly appointed and a U.S. presidential election being contested, our adversaries may well be calculating opportunities to gain influence. In this gray zone competition environment, tensions with China are heightening. From repressive policies in Hong Kong to the successful establishment of the Spratly Islands within their domain, China is flexing its muscles, demonstrating its overmatch with Taiwan in its long-term quest for the island.

The threat posed by China to Taiwan is real and escalating:
  • Last week, China publicly opposed the United States’ newest arms sale to Taiwan.
  • On November 1, China released a video documenting a live-fire drill of Dongfeng cruise missiles following a simulation drill of a ‘seizing an island attack’ directed at Taiwan.
  • The PLA flew through Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) 25 out of 31 days in October, the highest frequency of flights seen in 2020.
  • On October 18, it was reported that China had deployed a Dongfeng-17 hypersonic cruise missile along its southeastern coast facing Taiwan.
  • From October 13-17, the PLA conducted live-fire drills in the eastern part of the Gulai Peninsula, the closest exercise to Taiwan conducted since August.
  • In September, the PLA violated Taiwan’s ADIZ several times while performing live-fire drills with its Chengdu J-10 fighter jet.

“The PRC has developed its conventional missile forces unrestrained by any international agreements. The PRC has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.” Department of Defense: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China: Annual Report to Congress; September 1, 2020.

Taiwan was founded in 1947 by Kuomintang Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek opposing Mao’s developing Communist China. In 1979, under President Nixon, the United States made the unprecedented decision of shifting official recognition from Taipei to Beijing in order to gain leverage against the Soviet Union in the ongoing Cold War. The Three Communiques consecutively established the nations’ mutual respect of sovereignty and territory, formally recognized the PRC as the sole governing body of China, and strengthened their economic, cultural, educational, scientific, and technological ties. The U.S. then created the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which ended the mutual defense treaty between the U.S. and Taiwan but promised continued support to the island through unofficial relations. It specifically provided a provision for the U.S. to support Taiwan through “defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities.”

That commitment and support remains to this day, with the U.S. most recently approving a $600 million armed drone sale and a $2.37 billion sale of harpoon anti-ship missile coastal defense systems to Taiwan on October 26th. These sales bring the total approved arms sales in 2020 to $4.2 billion, and the total since 1979 to over $88.5 billion. The only other nation to serve as a major military ally of Taiwan is Singapore. Since 1975, Taiwan and Singapore have partnered up in “Project Starlight” which sees joint training exercises and houses a “Starlight Command” base in Taipei. While Taiwan’s military allies were once greater in number, the PRC has made efforts to convince long-term partners to break their relations with Taipei, most recently in Central America and the Pacific Island States.

The U.S. demonstrates its commitment to Taiwan with operations as well. On October 14th, the USS Barry, a baseline 9 BMD capable guided-missile destroyer, and its strike group intentionally sailed through international waters of the Formosa Strait that splits China from Taiwan by less than one-hundred miles, demonstrating the United States’ commitment to Taiwan as an ally and partner. This marked the sixth time this year that the United States navigated through these international waters in leadership by action to maintain a ‘Free & Open’ Indo-Pacific.

Maritime routes critical to regional and international economic trade pass through the East China Sea, Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea. China’s continuous A2/AD build-up across this terrain plays a major role in its ability to deny U.S. Allied access in the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, with a particular focus on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and Taiwan. Taiwan, the first island of the first island chain, is a major factor in all Chinese strategic planning. Taiwan follows the Spratly islands, as it sets the precedent for the first and second island chains for expansion of its A2/AD for China. The United States continues to secure access to Taiwan and throughout the South China Sea, as well as demonstrate its commitment to disrupting Chinese A2/AD areas through open sea ship passage. In July, two U.S. carrier battle groups (the Nimitz and Reagan strike groups) exercised in the window of the Chinese A2/AD capabilities in the South China Sea.

Taiwan is an independent nation-state with a thriving, transparent economy and a free and open democracy. Taiwan’s security is vital to the credibility of U.S. alliance guarantees in East Asia. Without a free and open Taiwan backed by American support, the nuclearization of the first island chain will likely be considered. The sovereignty of our Indo-Pacific allies will be at extreme risk should the U.S. ignore its commitments and Taiwan be enveloped and repressed by China. There is no Gray Zone.

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MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.

MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.