Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said Wednesday that the United States should announce an "explicit and unambiguous" commitment to defend Taiwan from a potential Chinese invasion.
For decades, Washington has made it unclear as to how it would respond to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing views as its sovereign territory. Cotton said Wednesday that a public defense commitment from the United States would send a message to China and limit the likelihood of an invasion.
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"The main source of restraint in the minds of Xi Jinping and the Central Military Commission is whether or not an invasion of Taiwan would succeed," the senator said during a Hudson Insitute event. The success of an invasion is contingent on the response time from American forces, which may be decreased by a public declaration to defend Taiwanese sovereignty.
In recent months, China has increased its amphibious capabilities for a possible invasion of Taiwan and has displayed increasing aggression toward the island nation. When Undersecretary of State Keith Krach visited Taiwan in September, more than a dozen Chinese aircraft stalked Taiwanese airspace in a show of force to Taipei and Washington.
Some regional experts believe Cotton's proposal would signal "strategic clarity" to both China and Taiwan.
"Senator Cotton talked about the need to ‘restore deterrence,' which is a particularly critical issue in Asia," American Enterprise Institute scholar Zack Cooper told the Washington Free Beacon. "I think there is much to recommend this position, as long as it is carefully and accurately described to both Taipei and Beijing."
Cotton also said that Washington should pursue further arms sales with Taiwan. In the last year, the Trump administration has facilitated the sale of Patriot missile-defense systems, complex sea mines, and drones to Taiwan to help the island nation defend against a potential invasion from Beijing. Taiwan's spending to defend against Chinese aircraft has jumped to nearly $900 million this year alone
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Tuesday that a strengthened Taiwan will deter Chinese aggression.
"I'm confident we would prevail today in any conflict [across the Taiwan Strait]," Esper said. "We recognize China's direction and we know what we need to do."