The United States announced on Friday, September 2, the sale of arms for 1.1 billion dollars to the Republic of China, that is, to Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China, which considers the island part of its territory, immediately asked Washington to surrender. Why such a commitment by the United States? For what escalation risks? Interview with political scientist and sinologist Stéphane Corcuff, specialist on the Taiwan Strait.
RFI: China has asked for the cancellation of the arms contract concluded between the United States and Taiwan on Friday 2 September. What conclusion should be drawn from these new arms sales to Taipei, which arouse the ire of Beijing?
Stephane Corcuff: This confirms a trend that we have seen since the end of the Trump period and which is confirmed by the Biden presidency. Americans no longer worry about the diplomatic precautions previously implicit in their “one China” policy. They decide to make more official visits to Taiwan and to address the military issue more clearly, as China is increasing its military pressure in the Taiwan Strait.
This arms sale clearly confirms the position of the United States in the unchanged framework of a single China policy. The United States is not going to recognize the Republic of China in Taiwan. But in this context they take over the military question, which could, if a war should break out, lead to a world war.
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China says it will take resolutely “ legitimate and necessary countermeasures given the situation. What kind of measures can be considered ?
It is almost impossible to answer this question, as it is above all an obscure, vague and systematic formula. China, as soon as it feels offended, responds with this type of formulation, there are no specific things. And in my opinion there won’t be much.
There really is to say ” we bang our fist on the table »?
The US is legally obligated to sell self-defense weapons to Taiwan, having agreed to do so in 1979. The sale announced on Friday is precisely a sale of self-defense weapons, including missiles, ways to improve their radar capabilities – which are already extraordinary. These are precisely defensive mechanisms.
Different types of missiles will be sold and this is a key problem in Taiwan. Taiwan already has the highest anti-missile missile density per square kilometer in the world, as China potentially targets thousands of missiles at Taiwan. It would be very difficult to have an effective anti-missile umbrella in Taiwan if China decided to launch 1,700 missiles at the same time, but it won’t.
It is essential that Taiwan have a highly developed anti-missile missile battery in its defense, and this is the direction in which the Friday sale is headed.
Why is the US investing so much in Taiwan?
The United States legally committed to selling arms to Taiwan a long time ago for several reasons. The first is that they now consider China not just a strategic competitor, but perhaps an enemy if it decides to attack Taiwan. The views of the United States and the People’s Republic of China on Taiwan are radically different, even though, I repeat, the United States has accepted the one-China policy.
This means that the United States does not deny the sovereignty of the Republic of China in Taiwan, but maintains diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. But it is an irredentist and believes that Taiwan belongs to it, even if no international treaty allows it. The United States therefore believes that if the People’s Republic of China attacks the Republic of China in Taiwan, it is an attack on a sovereign state by another sovereign state.
Second, Taiwan is a beacon of freedom, democracy and human rights in Asia. Facing Taiwan, on the other side of the strait, 300 km away, is one of the most dictatorial countries, the most brutal in the world in terms of repression of human rights. And this matters in the United States, whether you are a little isolationist or an internationalist, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican … It is a real constant in the United States in the political debate, the importance given to human rights of people and progress of democracy in the world.
Finally, the United States, and the world with them, have a vital economic interest in Taiwan: dependence on microprocessors, a good half of which are manufactured by Taiwanese factories. If we limit ourselves to the latest generation microprocessors, we are about 80-90% of the world market produced by Taiwan.
So we are all dependent on them, the United States first and foremost, to the point that now one of the biggest challenges is to secure our access to these microprocessors and guarantee their production, both in a way that does not depend on China and so that China does not catch. technology. In a more radical view of things, such as an economic war, one of the problems could also be to deprive China of access to the latest generation of microchips, or to limit it.
What are the risks of this escalation?
What you need to understand is that the United States, although some have a lot of criticism of them, is a democratic and liberal regime and that we are on their side. [la France, l’Europe, NDLR] politically and militarily. On the other hand, China is a neototalitarian regime, extremely violent in the repression of freedoms and human rights, on its territory and on its margins: Hong Kong, Tibet, which is absolutely not historically Chinese as China says, and Xinjiang, which is no longer historically for that matter.
If this comes to Taiwan, it means that all this balance of power between a liberal world and a world that isn’t – it’s a bit binary, but sadly confirmed today – would fall and we can’t afford to let Taiwan down.
So Taiwan is a strategic issue from every point of view. Not to mention the moral issues or the legal reality, which is that Taiwan is not what China claims to be, and it is a sovereign state. The Republic of China was founded in Nanjing in 1912, preceded the People’s Republic of China and still survives.
It is immoral to leave Taiwan out of international society. It is also a question in terms of fundamental interests, of progress or maintenance, of the democratic universe on the surface of the globe and of our dependence on semiconductors. It is essential to avoid a war that would not only be a local war, but a regional and world war, and which would drag with it not only the Chinese economy, but also the world economy.
We must be aware of this and review a theme on which, in France in particular, we have had many ideological wars inherited from the Maoist period that our country has gone through and which still leaves traces, in terms of fundamental and depressing illusions, about this. is the People’s Republic of China. It is a militarist, totalitarian, vindictive and nationalist state that wants to reclaim Taiwan. It is therefore irredentist and clearly threatens the security of the globe.