In response to the growing threat that China poses to Taiwan, the U.S. State Department in April described its commitments to the island as “rock solid,” adding that the U.S. is able to “resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security…of the people on Taiwan.” Asked whether the U.S. would abandon Taiwan as it did Afghanistan, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Tuesday said that the U.S. commitment to Taiwan “remains as strong as it’s ever been.” Underscoring its role as Taiwan’s security guarantor, Washington on August 4 approved a $750 million deal for an array of advanced munitions for Taiwan.
But the scenes of chaos unfolding in Afghanistan — including images of U.S. military aircraft taking off from Kabul as desperate crowds tried to get on board — has invited comparisons to the U.S. evacuations out of Saigon in 1975, and left many in Taiwan wondering if the U.S. would also shrink from its role as Taiwan’s security underwriter, particularly if China were to actually attack or blockade the island. “The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,” said Angelica Oung, a business reporter at the Taipei Times and a prominent social media commentator, “has inevitably triggered some hasty and immature bedwetting about what this means for Taiwan.”
Tsai and the island’s premier, Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌 Sū Zhēnchāng), have struck a defiant tone, saying that the takeaway from Afghanistan is that the Taiwanese, in Su’s words, “must guard this country and this land, and…not talk up the enemy’s prestige and talk down our resolve.” In comments attributed to Su by Reuters on Tuesday, Su dismissed comparisons between Taiwan and Afghanistan, saying that Taiwan would not crumble like Afghanistan in the event of an attack, nor would the island’s leadership flee. “We’d [like to] tell foreign forces who want to invade and grab Taiwan, don’t be deluded,” Reuters quoted Su as saying, referring to China.
Behind the scenes, however, a mood of angst is spreading inside the Tsai administration, as Taiwanese policymakers ponder the limits of Washington’s security pledges in Asia, said a senior official from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We can’t rely on the U.S.,” he said. Indeed, “the example of Afghanistan,” said Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀 Lǐ Yànxiù), the deputy secretary-general of Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, speaking recently to Taiwan’s China Times newspaper (in Chinese), “tells us Taiwanese that we have to rely on ourselves.”