Former US defence chief says one-China policy has ‘outlived its usefulness’
- Mark Esper tells Taiwanese president it’s time to move away from ‘strategic ambiguity’
- ‘Bold decisions’ by Taipei, such as longer military service and more defence spending, would show island is committed to standing up to Beijing, he says
Esper is heading a three-member delegation of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, on a four-day Taiwan visit that began on Monday.
Washington has long adopted a strategic ambiguity policy of neither confirming nor denying whether it would defend Taiwan against a potential attack from Beijing.
“I think it’s important that we begin that national discussion [on strategic ambiguity] back in the United States. It would help us educate the American people if we can also point to bold decisions being made in Taipei,” Esper said.
Those decisions could include an increase in the island’s defence spending, adoption of asymmetric warfare and corresponding capabilities, lengthening mandatory military service and reserve mobilisation, he said.
“It is important that the American people and our leaders in Washington fully see that the Taiwan people are fully committed to standing up to communist China and defending themselves as we, the democracies of the world, stand behind Taiwan,” he said.
He said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had proved that autocrats continue to exist and threaten global democracies.
“But the greatest challenge facing the democracies of the West today is not in Russia. It is here in Asia where China continues to challenge the rules-based international order [and] threatens freedom-loving people throughout the region,” he said, adding Taiwan was on the front lines of the challenge posed by Beijing.
He said it was important for Western democracies to stand up and defend democracies such as Taiwan against Beijing’s bullying.
Esper and his group will meet other senior government officials and business leaders to discuss trade, diplomatic matters and security in Taiwan.
The former Pentagon chief and two other delegates – Barry Pavel, senior vice-president and director of the Atlantic Council, and Stefano Stefanini, former Italian permanent representative to Nato and currently a non-resident senior fellow of the council – also met Eric Chu, chairman of Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, on Monday.
Esper’s visit comes as Nicola Beer, vice-president of the European Parliament, arrived in Taipei on Tuesday for a three-day trip.
Beer, the most senior European Parliament official to have visited the island so far, told reporters that there was “no room for Chinese aggression in democratic Taiwan” and that Europe would not “turn a blind eye” to Beijing’s threat to Taipei. She is expected to meet Tsai on Wednesday and other senior Taiwanese officials during her trip.
Beijing has ramped up pressure on Taiwan in recent years by staging war games near the island and sending warplanes into its air defence identification zone almost daily.
It has also warned countries that recognise Beijing against establishing official contact with or supplying arms to the island.
On Monday, Beijing condemned Washington for approving a new round of arms sales to Taiwan, saying it was an “evil scheme” for the US to try to use the island to counter the mainland.
It demanded that the US cancel the deal, which includes US$108 million in military technical and logistic support for the island. It is the fifth US arms sale to the island since US President Joe Biden took office in 2021 and the fourth this year.
Esper’s visit also comes amid reports that US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to visit Taiwan next month in a trip that is expected to rile Beijing.