As China's aggression grows, US allies reassess security in the Indo-Pacific region

by Rep. French Hill
Washington Examiner
May 5, 2023

During a recent bipartisan congressional delegation with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, my colleagues and I traveled to the Indo-Pacific region. While there, we listened to our partners and allies in South Korea and Japan and assessed China’s heightened aggression toward Taiwan . Our delegation held work sessions with our military strategists and leaders at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the Navy’s 7th Fleet headquartered in Japan, and with our military and security officials in Korea.

In short, North Korea's increased missile and nuclear tests and the Chinese Communist Party’s decadelong military buildup of offensive weapons are aggravating the region. These provocative actions, accompanied by the sudden crackdown and abrogation of China's treaty with Great Britain over Hong Kong and by Russian President Vladimir Putin's unprovoked, illegal military invasion of Ukraine, have prompted the first full-scale reconsideration of regional security in Asia in more than six decades.

Since World War II and the 1953 armistice in the Korean conflict, the security arrangements with our allies, including the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, have anchored peace and prosperity in the region. These commitments enabled the growth of market economies throughout Asia, lifting millions out of poverty. We live in such prosperous times that many here at home, as well as in the Indo-Pacific region, take economic success and vibrant democracies in the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Taiwan for granted. These apparent, easy successes today are the result of decades of incredible leadership and steadfast support by the United States.

Despite all three of these Asian countries having significant economic ties with China, just as the U.S. does, these nations have growing concerns over China's offensive militaristic moves in the South China Sea and are weary of the coercive bully tactics the CCP is using. The Republic of Korea, Japan, and Taiwan are actively and carefully assessing new supply chain resilience to become less dependent on China and, more tellingly, are also considering revisions to their national security strategies.

For example, Japan is making significant efforts to bolster its defense, increasing defense spending in its projected fiscal 23 budget by 26%. Japan is also considering allocating 2% of its GDP for security, which would enhance its cybersecurity and allow it to develop a larger defense industrial base.

The Republic of Korea has also developed a new national security strategy, which outlines its comprehensive assessment of the Indo-Pacific region. Its strategy rejects the use of force to settle disputes and states the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, a critical route in the South China Sea that is necessary for the trade of energy and goods. Foreign trade accounts for a large portion of Korea’s economy, and the country seeks to partner with the U.S. and other nations to promote development and trade opportunities to counter the neocolonial “Belt and Road” efforts of the CCP.

Because the Taiwan Strait is such a crucial shipping point, Taiwan’s position as the island anchoring the first island chain of the Pacific Ocean is critical. Gen. Douglas MacArthur once described Taiwan’s value as “an unsinkable aircraft carrier.” From Taiwan, the island chain extends northward to the Japanese islands — a strategic placement in countering the military aspirations of the CCP.

Taiwan is led by President Tsai Ing-wen, who has exhibited unmistakable courage. She has broadened conscription for military service, expanded the country’s military reserve force, and enhanced basic training in both substance and term. Tsai is also seeking key defensive weapon systems to harden Taiwan against any possible hostile invasion or blockade.

Most Taiwanese people want to remain independent from China. And, according to the Financial Times, the vast majority of Taiwanese see themselves as “Taiwanese only." Only a tiny percentage of people on the island support full unification with China.

Only in recent decades have the mainland Chinese communists threatened military action against Taiwan. And even when China claims it will not invade Taiwan, many Taiwanese do not trust the word of the CCP because of its dishonesty, which was exemplified by China's deceit in Hong Kong.

Tsai cannot afford to be an optimist — she must prepare her citizens for the worst possible outcome. Autocrats in Beijing should pay close attention to her strong resolve and bold actions to strengthen the security of her island home.

Our job, and the job of all freedom-loving nations, is to promote trade and tactical defensive support so that the Taiwanese people can continue to live in peace, democracy, and prosperity. Otherwise, Taiwan might soon be subsumed into an authoritarian dystopian surveillance state led by China. Our allies in the Indo-Pacific region must continue their efforts to strengthen their security and counter the aggressive efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to ensure the CCP is prevented from following in Putin’s footsteps.

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