The Heritage Foundation’s new approach to China recognizes that US-Taiwan relations and deterrence in the Taiwan Strait are vital US national interests. On March 28, Heritage released a new policy report titled Winning the New Cold War: A Plan for Countering China (hereafter referred to as the “Plan”). Representing a landmark shift in Heritage’s approach to national security threats emanating from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Plan acknowledges that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has undertaken a Cold War strategy against America—and accordingly, that the PRC is more appropriately seen and dealt with as an adversary, rather than as a competitor.
The Plan offers a comprehensive policy agenda for securing American prosperity in the face of the greatest external threat the United States has faced since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among over 100 policy recommendations for the government, the business community, and civil society, the US-Taiwan partnership stands among the Plan’s most critical elements. Taiwan-related policy recommendations are found throughout the Plan, in four overarching categories:
- Prioritizing Taiwan among competing US interests
- Arming Taiwan with critical defense systems
- Recalibrating the policy of strategic ambiguity
- Non-military forms of deterrence
Each of these four critical issue areas for US policy towards Taiwan and the PRC will be addressed in further detail in the sections below.
The Plan acknowledges that the Indo-Pacific is the priority theater for US foreign policy and national security, and that “[n]owhere else in the world do the interests of China and the United States collide as directly or dangerously as they do in the Taiwan Strait.” The Plan notes that “[a]n armed conflict over Taiwan, whether the United States is directly involved or not, would be distinct from any conflict that generations of younger Americans have experienced” in terms of its economic harm to the United States.
Heritage finds that PRC forced reunification with Taiwan would “cement the PLA’s control of the Western Pacific, threaten critical interests of the US and key allies, disrupt the global supply of semiconductors, and give the CCP unprecedented leverage over vital sea lines of communication and, therefore, the global economy.” Further, “US credibility among its regional allies and partners would be dealt a mortal blow, as would broader US efforts to thwart China’s global ambitions.” In light of these unparalleled stakes, the Plan clearly identifies “[d]eterring the CCP’s aggression toward Taiwan” as “an apex priority,” and makes recommendations to prioritize allocating US resources toward this challenge.
The Plan aims to prioritize the United States’ own resources and capabilities for the purpose of deterring the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from aggression more generally, and preventing conflict in the Taiwan Strait specifically. To that end, the Plan recommends restoring conventional deterrence in the Indo-Pacific by immediately adopting and resourcing a strategy of deterrence by denial. To begin implementing this approach, the Plan suggests a block purchase of naval vessels, the development and deployment of ballistic and cruise missiles formerly prohibited by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and Congressional support for unfunded priorities identified by United States Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM).
Heritage’s Plan also focuses on prioritizing resources necessary to harden Taiwan’s own defenses. This is particularly critical given the significant backlog in deliveries of systems sold to Taiwan under Foreign Military Sales (FMS), as well as increased stresses on the defense industrial base and US munitions stockpiles. The Biden Administration has thus far not explained what actions it will take to resolve delayed FMS deliveries to Taiwan and increase munitions production more broadly. Requests to Congress for supplemental spending for Ukraine have not included an analysis of either potential tradeoffs regarding Taiwan, or requested funding for Congressionally authorized Taiwan security programs.
Heightening concerns that deterrence in the Taiwan Strait is not being appropriately prioritized, the administration has yet to respond to Congressional requests for a plan to implement the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act (TERA). To address this shortcoming, the Plan suggests that “[w]hen the administration sends capabilities that are backlogged for Taiwan to other places, it should be required to justify the decision to Congress with full transparency about the trade-offs to deterrence in the Taiwan Strait.”
Given the scale of US interests in Taiwan’s security and the need to prioritize those interests appropriately, the Heritage Plan also makes specific recommendations for how the United States can help arm Taiwan in the immediate term and over the near future. Heritage’s suggested policy actions would implement authorities created by Congress in the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act, which became law in December 2022 as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Heritage recommends utilizing the presidential drawdown authority included in TERA “to arm Taiwan with critical munitions to fill the gap left until delayed FMS platforms are delivered.” Numerous critical defense capabilities sold to Taiwan under FMS have been delayed for years, and will not be fully delivered until after the 2027 deadline reportedly set by General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) for the PLA to be prepared to wage a successful invasion of Taiwan. The use of drawdown authority to provide systems acutely affected by FMS delays, such as Javelin and Stinger missiles, could reinforce deterrence in the immediate term and give Taiwan’s forces a head start on folding these systems into regular training and operations while awaiting FMS deliveries.
The Plan also recommends using TERA authorities to begin security cooperation activities with Taiwan beyond FMS. “Congress must fund the Taiwan security assistance programs authorized in [TERA],” which were not included in the FY 2023 omnibus spending bill. The Foreign Military Financing (FMF) authorities provided by TERA could be used for a wide variety of activities to strengthen Taiwan’s security, including direct commercial contracting with US defense firms and bilateral training and exercises, as well as the production of munitions locally in Taiwan. These programs represent a critical tool to help Taiwan “pursue the optimal strategies and military platforms necessary to defend the island.”
Clarifying Strategic Ambiguity
Heritage’s Plan recognizes that “[t]he United States is progressively losing its once-decisive advantage in the balance of strategic and conventional military forces.” This shift is prompting a major rethinking of the underlying assumptions of US policies that have maintained stability in the Taiwan Strait, including the policy of strategic ambiguity. Heritage does not recommend changing the United States’ “One-China Policy” itself, or adopting a bilateral defense agreement with Taiwan. However, the Plan does suggest taking initial steps towards strategic clarity to reinforce deterrence as the status quo changes in the Taiwan Strait.
Heritage suggests that “the US government should have a declaratory policy that unambiguously states its commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes across the Taiwan Strait.” Such a United States “commitment” would begin clarifying Section 2 of the Taiwan Relations Act, which provides that “peace and stability in the area are in the […] interests of the United States,” and that “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means” would be “of grave concern to the United States.”
To substantiate this adjustment towards strategic clarity, the United States must demonstrate “the capacity to support the defense of Taiwan” as well as “the resolve—and above all the capability—to support Taiwan against a Chinese invasion, up to and including direct US military intervention.” The plan concludes that “[t]he most effective way to prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is to convince Beijing of US military superiority and its strong commitment to defending Taiwan,” without the need for changes to the United States’ “One-China Policy.”
Enhancing Non-Military Deterrence
The Heritage Plan also acknowledges that non-military dimensions of deterrence are essential for preserving Taiwan’s autonomy. US administrations have been excessively sensitive to performative outrage by the CCP, and have perpetuated futile efforts to reduce CCP aggression by restricting “symbolic” cooperation with Taiwan in favor of “substantive” outcomes. This false distinction can contribute to the CCP’s efforts to marginalize Taiwan. Heritage finds that “[t]he more that Taiwan enjoys the diplomatic space and engagement commensurate with its economic and geopolitical clout, the more the CCP will fear the international consequences” of its escalating belligerence.
Heritage recommends prioritizing US efforts to push back “on China’s efforts to distort the United States’ ‘One-China Policy’” and “the PRC’s distortion of [UN General Assembly] Resolution 2758.” The Plan recommends the United States support Taiwan’s engagement in international fora, including through participation in international organizations, and “encourage other free nations to enhance their bilateral diplomatic and economic engagements with Taiwan, including establishing representative offices and free trade agreements.” The Plan also recommends that the United States set an example by negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement with Taiwan and accepting Taiwan’s request to change the name of its diplomatic facility in Washington to the “Taiwan Representative Office.”
Heritage’s Plan for Countering China reflects a substantially reworked approach to PRC national security threats, and although many of the Plan’s policy proposals are new, Heritage’s longstanding support for Taiwan persists. Deterrence in the Taiwan Strait is a vital US national interest, and the policy recommendations discussed here—prioritizing Taiwan in US policy, arming Taiwan urgently, reassessing strategic ambiguity, and supporting Taiwan internationally—will be key elements of Heritage’s work to win the New Cold War.
The main point: The United States’ partnership with Taiwan, and restoring deterrence in the Taiwan Strait, are vital US national interests. The new Heritage Foundation report Winning the New Cold War: A Plan for Countering China recognizes that the PRC is acting as an adversary of the United States and offers policy recommendations in four critical areas of US-Taiwan relations.