Buried within the more than twenty-one hundred pages of the National Defense Authorization Act is a single sentence that signals a historic change in defense cooperation between Taiwan and the United States. It quietly sits in Section 1248 and simply reads,
“It is the sense of Congress that the naval forces of Taiwan should be invited to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise conducted in 2022.”
Rim Of The Pacific
The Rim of the Pacific Exercise or RIMPAC is the world’s largest joint naval exercise. First held in 1971 it includes the combined fleets of the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Australia, and Canada. In the past, other nations have also participated such as Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand.
The exercise tests new weapons, sensors, tactics, communications systems, and interoperability procedures between the U.S. and the ships of other friendly nations. Running approximately two weeks in length RIMPAC concludes with the sinking(SINKEX) of a decommissioned vessel by missiles, gunfire, and torpedoes. You can watch the destruction of the ex-USS Durham here. She gets popped by a couple of Harpoon anti-ship missiles
Other nations, even potential adversaries like Russia and China have been invited to observe the exercise.
But never Taiwan.
Communist China has been engaged in an ever-increasing series of provocations and escalations aimed at Taiwan aimed at asserting its dominance over the island and the Pacific region in general.
In October of this year, China has flown some one hundred and fifty aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone which has prompted Taiwan to launch fighters to intercept them. China’s intent with the sorties is to exhaust Taiwan’s defense resources, in terms of money and material. Taiwan refers to this as “Grey Zone” warfare.
On a single day in October, fifty-four aircraft from Communist China violated the Taiwanese air defense zone.
These incursions are also aimed at U.S. support for the island as they are accompanied by warnings from Beijing that the U.S. must stop giving military assistance support to Taiwan.
A Measured Response By The U.S.
The U.S. response has been measured and cautious. Some would say even timid. It has included increasing arms sales to Taiwan, closer contact with the island’s government, and sending detachments of Army Special Forces to train the Taiwanese army in unconventional warfare techniques.
These responses have not yet resulted in a decline in provocations by the Bejing since they do not include economic sanctions which is where things would really have an impact. The access to international trade and banking is the engine that drives the economy of Communist China and provides them with the currency to fund their military. Hitting them in the wallet would be the most effective means of deterring their moves against Taiwan and the other flexing the communists are engaged in at reefs and small island chains that they are claiming belong to them.
These island territorial claims have brought Beijing into conflict with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and even India.
Adding Taiwan to the Pacific Rim Exercises which are held every two years is a sign of recognition that deterring the territorial and political aims of Communist China in the Pacific must become a foreign policy priority for the U.S. and its allies in the region.
Beijing takes a slow, incremental approach to its foreign policy aims. It prods and probes looking for weaknesses to exploit but will step back from direct confrontation. Its economy is based on foreign trade with the West even as it postures against the West as its adversary. As a result, Communist China recognizes that a war with Western countries in the Pacific would bring with it some pretty dire economic consequences. Having control of the waterways of the South China Sea and the Formosa Straits wouldn’t be worth much to China if there was no trade passing through these waters and its own ships were denied entry to the ports of Western countries and Japan.
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