Taiwan, which remains the beacon of democracy in Asia, is going to every extent for protecting itself from an expansionist China next door. And even nuclear ambitions are playing on Taipei’s mind heavily. Yet, Taiwan is set to face a unique challenge from next month when Taipei’s best friend, Donald Trump will leave the White House and give way to Joe Biden- a Democrat expected to go soft on Beijing.
However, a closer assessment of Taiwan’s enhanced status in international affairs, the island nation’s impressive Pandemic response and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s close relations with key US allies reveals that Biden will not be able to stop Taiwan’s nuclear plans.
If and when Taiwan actually decides to become a nuclear nation, it will not be an anti-pacifist show of strength but only an honest effort by President Tsai to keep the paper Dragon at bay. As per a report by Alex Littlefield & Adam Lowther in Real Clear Defense, Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party actually represents the anti-nuclear movement within Taiwan.
Yet, China’s increasingly belligerent character could be pushing strategic circles in Taiwan to think on lines of using nuclear power as deterrence against Chinese aggression. In recent times, Taiwan has seen how Beijing suddenly destroyed Hong Kong’s autonomy and killed its democratic character.
Hong Kong’s complete integration in a Communist China was one of Chinese President Xi’s two geopolitical goals. The other goal is the integration of Taiwan in mainland China as per Beijing’s ‘One China’ principle. According to China expert Michael Pillsbury, the CCP wants to integrate both Hong Kong and Taiwan by 2049- the centennial of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
Nevertheless, Taiwan does have latent nuclear power. In the 1970s, the island nation even produced plutonium for its indigenous weapons programme that was halted due to US pressure in 1976. If and when, the Tsai administration thinks fit, it can resume plutonium production at the two opposite ends of the island.
At this juncture, Biden’s role becomes crucial. The President-elect has already shown a tendency to succumb to Chinese pressure on strategic matters. As for Taiwan, there are signs that he will develop cold feet towards the time-tested US ally. Also, the Democrats like Biden fancy interfering in internal matters of other countries especially when it comes to nuclear weapons.
Yet, Biden won’t have much room to flex his arms on the Taiwan front, if Taipei decides to go nuclear. Firstly, because Taiwan does have a legitimate justification for taking bold steps against China. Chinese military build-up against Taiwan and Xi’s promise to use force for ensuring Taiwan’s reunification, allow Tsai to consider innovative military manoeuvres.
Secondly, Taiwan’s reputation is peaking all across the world. While the Pandemic let too many countries doubting their relationship with mainland China, Taiwan used the event to shore up its soft power by battling the Pandemic and also rendering generous aid to other nations.
Finally, the key US allies in the Asia-Pacific region won’t let Biden put unnecessary pressure on Taiwan. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has found new friends in the region- India, Japan and Australia. Japan has been already nudging the Biden camp to clear the air around its Taiwan policy, and other US allies will follow suit if Biden tries to undermine the island nation.
Xi’s war hysteria is thus pushing Taiwan towards nuclearisation, and Joe Biden won’t be able to stop Taipei from becoming a nuclear power, even if he wants to.