WASHINGTON — The American and Taiwanese militaries should ramp up sharing of tactical intelligence to better prepare for the threat of a potential Chinese invasion of the island, said U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a leading figure in recent congressional efforts to turn the White House’s foreign policy focus more toward Asia.
In an online interview with Nikkei on Wednesday, Chabot called for more funding and diplomatic resources to be put toward the Indo-Pacific. “The Biden administration is saying the right things, but their actions have not lived up to what they said,” he argued.
Chabot is the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and nonproliferation — a panel with substantial sway over legislation and budget decisions related to the region. He is also a co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Taiwan Caucus.
“I do think that we need to coordinate military intelligence very closely and very cooperatively, between the United States and Taiwan,” he said, soon adding that while the two sides are already working together in this area, “that needs to be improved and developed even further.”
Chabot declined to go into detail but may have been referring to such information as the positions of fast-moving Chinese fighter jets and naval vessels.
While Taiwan reportedly has sophisticated military radar systems of its own, they would likely be among Beijing’s first targets should it choose to invade and may also be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Giving Taipei access to American intelligence could be critical to repelling the invading forces.
Randall Schriver, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, notes that American and Taiwanese intelligence agencies already share information on China’s political situation and military forces but that little of this goes on at the tactical level between the two militaries.
Drew Thompson, visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Center on Asia and Globalization, sees possible scenarios under which Taiwan could provide tactical intelligence to the U.S. Taiwan, with its limited offensive capability, would be better served relaying the positions of Chinese forces to the U.S., while America works as the shooter, the thinking goes.
The value of intelligence sharing has been highlighted by the war in Ukraine. America has supplied military intelligence to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion, reportedly contributing to the sinking of the flagship of Moscow’s Black Sea fleet in April.
Chabot was critical of Taiwan’s preparations for a potential conflict. “Unfortunately, over the years they haven’t taken the threat seriously enough, either” he said. “They’re not devoting enough of their budget to their own military preparedness.”
The Biden administration’s approach to arming Taiwan has focused on strengthening its asymmetric-warfare capabilities with anti-ship missiles, missile defenses and early warning systems. Taipei has talked about making this a priority as well, but Chabot said its efforts so far are “not enough.”
He also questioned the policy of “strategic ambiguity” maintained by successive U.S. administrations in regard to the question of whether Washington would intervene in the event of an invasion. This approach “can actually be dangerous,” Chabot said. “I think, actually, strategic clarity is the way to go,” he added. This would mean the U.S. unambiguously making a commitment to the defense of Taiwan.
“I think that would make it less likely that China would actually take military action,” Chabot said.
Asked about the Indo-Pacific Engagement Act he introduced with Democratic Rep. Ami Bera in June, Chabot said the goal is to “match our resources with our rhetoric” about the importance of the region.
“We’ve, unfortunately, allowed our diplomatic resources, our aid, to go to other areas across the globe, when the Indo-Pacific is our most significant challenge in the future,” he said.
As an example, he cited the security agreement that China signed in April with the Solomon Islands, a pact he warned could have “dangerous implications” for countries in the region as well as for the U.S. and its ally Australia.
“This is an example where I really do think the Biden administration was asleep at the wheel,” he said. “They were caught off guard by this.”
Chabot also reflected on the situation in Hong Kong ahead of the 25th anniversary Friday of its handover to China from the U.K. Pro-democratic activism there has been quashed under the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020, and the U.S. and Europe have criticized the loss of the high degree of autonomy promised to the territory under the “one country, two systems” framework.
“We saw most of their freedoms taken away, their ability to have their own way of elected representatives, for example, or having the people who are in charge of them be their own people, that they get to pick,” Chabot said.
“I think the whole world ought to learn a lesson here, that you can’t believe the PRC [People’s Republic of China], the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. “They’re going to do what they think is in their best interest, no one else’s.”
By RYO NAKAMURA, Nikkei staff writer