Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen made a stopover in Hawaii on Wednesday after visiting several of Taiwan’s Pacific allies. From there she held a teleconference with the Heritage Foundation in which she praised the Trump administration’s support for Taiwan and its positive response to a request for more advanced weapons to hold China at bay.
“Taiwan is a force for good in the region,” Tsai told the Heritage panel. “We are a democracy, and the only democratic Chinese-speaking country in the world, showing – as Vice President Pence said – a better path forward for all of the Chinese people.”
“We’re proud that freedom and human rights are the basis of our values, and we are determined to take the lead in improving livelihoods across the Pacific,” she said, highlighting Taiwan’s efforts in medicine, humanitarian relief, economics, and human rights.
“Today, I want to make clear that we are ready to play our part in ensuring that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open for generations to come,” she said.
Tsai encouraged the free world to be “much more proactive in defending democratic values, both at home and abroad” because the enemies of democracy have become more proficient at subversion in the Information Age. She cited the relentless pressure campaign waged against Taiwan by authoritarian China as a prominent example.
“We have taken a much more aggressive approach to counteract the Chinese government’s infiltration of our society and economy, as well as their interference in our domestic affairs,” she said.
Tsai praised the close cooperation her government has received from the United States and Japan as a model for the aggressive mutual promotion of democracy she envisioned and vowed Taiwan would take the lead in pushing back against China’s campaign to expand its influence in the Pacific Islands.
“Taiwan is grateful for the United States’ support in keeping our diplomatic allies,” she said, alluding to China’s campaign to systematically isolate Taiwan. “We remain committed to working with like-minded countries to protect the core values of good government, accountability, and sustainable development in the Pacific.”
Tsai stressed the importance of maintaining a strong defense to deter Chinese aggression.
“Fortunately, in facing these challenges Taiwan does not stand alone,” she said. “The United States’ commitment to Taiwan is stronger than ever.”
Along those lines, Tsai said her government has held “frank discussions with the U.S. on the right equipment for Taiwan’s defense” and the Trump administration “is responding positively to our request.”
That request includes dozens of F-16V fighters and M1 Abrams tanks, the latter representing a major upgrade to Taiwan’s armored warfare capability. The Chinese government restated its firm opposition to the arms deal after Tsai’s remarks to the Heritage Foundation and repeated its routine threat to respond with “all necessary measures” if Taiwan makes a bid for full independence. Beijing also warned the U.S. could damage its relationship with China by selling arms to Taiwan.
Tsai mentioned Taiwan’s steadily increasing defense budget, which is dwarfed by China’s even more rapidly increasing military spending, and how it must cover the costs of advanced training and the transition away from military conscription to an all-volunteer force like America’s.
“Altogether, I hope that these actions will ensure that the people of Taiwan remain able to choose our own future free of coercion,” she said.
Tsai made numerous references to Taiwan’s “asymmetrical defense strategy,” a doctrine developed in 2017 that moves away from the earlier “war of attrition” model that assumed China would never pay the cost in manpower necessary to take the island by force. That model assumed a level of overwhelming technological superiority over China that Taiwanese forces no longer enjoy, and China’s advances also make the geography of the Taiwan Strait a less formidable obstacle than it once was.
The asymmetrical defense strategy basically involves hitting a hypothetical Chinese invasion force at its most vulnerable points: blanketing the Taiwan Strait with so many anti-ship missiles that ferrying troops to the island becomes all but impossible, preventing the Chinese air force from attaining the air superiority it would need to shut Taiwan’s anti-ship defense down, and covering key invasion beaches with a blanket of land and sea mines.
Chinese invaders would find themselves facing a frustrating barrage of missiles launched from trucks and small boats that could not be wiped out in a first strike, the beaches would explode when Chinese troops set foot upon them, and invaders who made it past the land mines would find themselves facing powerful M1 Abrams tanks.
The new weapons Taiwan has requested are important for the strategy because the idea is to raise the ante of troops and hardware China would have to land on Taiwan’s beaches to stand a chance against its ground forces. An invasion force that could go toe-to-toe with the Abrams tanks would have to be formidable indeed.
Tsai praised bipartisan congressional support for Taiwan as a sign of the American people’s commitment to the island, a commitment bound to impress Chinese strategists who might otherwise hope the current administration is succeeded by one less invested in protecting Taiwan.
Tsai cited the dismaying example of Hong Kong as a reason why Taiwan could never accept China’s false promise of “one country, two systems.” She called Hong Kong a “deeply concerning case study” for Taiwan.
“It reflects that democracy is inherently incompatible with the Chinese regime, especially the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] system,” she said. “Hong Kong is a reminder that all politicians in Taiwan, regardless of political party, should carefully avoid falling into a trap laid by China which includes economic incentives and other promises, but ultimately leads to the same destination – that is, ‘one country, two systems.’”
“Sooner or later, just like the 1992 Consensus has become ‘one country, two systems,’ that ‘one country, two systems’ will become just one country, which is the example of Hong Kong, and is exactly what Hong Kong is going through right now,” she warned.