A strategy is a definite approach to an objective and ambiguity is the definite opposite – indirect, doubtful, uncertain and confusing — so the two are definitely out of sync.
So, when a nation decides to define its policy approach to anything as one of ‘Strategic Ambiguity’, it’s clear the strategic intent is to definitely keep the rest of the world guessing endlessly, at best, or worse, forever confused.
The US has for decades defined its policy on Taiwan as ‘Strategic Ambiguity’ — clearly intended, from inception, to deliberately keep the world confused or uncertain about what Washington’s policy toward the island is.
Washington has always found new and different ways to devise explanations of and for its ever-readiness to treat Taiwan like an independent nation despite the fact it isn’t, while claiming it adheres to three bilateral diplomatic treaties signed since 1971 with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) recognizing there’s only ‘One China’, with Beijing as its capital.
Up to 1971, the United Nations (UN) recognized Taiwan as the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC), but the US decided that year to recognize the PRC — and the UN followed, today China being recognized by188 UN member-states, with only 14 recognizing Taiwan, five in the Caribbean, three in South America and the other seven spread-out between East Asia and the Pacific, Africa and Europe.
After 52 years existing without UN recognition, Taiwan remains an island, but not a nation or a country, as it never became independent.
The island, like Hong Kong, was originally part of China and was in fact ruled by Portugal and Japan until 1949, when the Kuomintang (KMT) forces led by Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland to the nearby island after being defeated by the People’s Liberation Army (PRA) led by Mao Tse Tung.
After Chiang died in 1975 and Mao died in 1976, the KMT ruled Taiwan with the same iron fist as it did in China, until multiparty elections were allowed in 1987, intermittently won by the dominant KMT until the establishment of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) that became strong enough to defeat the KMT in local polls.
But the PRC has, since 1949, insisted Taiwan is a breakaway China province and has treated it that way, always making it clear the island (and the 1.5 million Chinese who followed Chiang and the KMT) could rule itself — once it did not seek or pursue independence.
Beijing has always consistently promised it will take military action anytime Taiwan tries to seek independence – as it’s done several times before, with actions limited to the waters surrounding the island and the air above.
But ever since 2016 when the DPP’s Madam Tsai Ing-wen was elected as the island’s president, followed by Donald Trump a few months later, Strategic Ambiguity started getting a face, as Washington was no longer prepared to be strategically ambiguous in its approach to Taiwan.
During the 2016 Taiwan presidential election, when candidate Tsai started promising to embrace and invite the US to help dismantle the fruitful all-round economic, political, trade, tourism and overall communications and people-to-people ties between the island and the mainland, outgoing President Barack Obama (and at least three ex-US Defense Secretaries) made it pellucidly clear the US would not acquiesce to Madam Tsai’s declared intent to invite Washington to support her party’s independence bid.
But the DPP won — and in six years there’s been nothing left that can be called ambiguous about the US strategy for Taiwan under her watch, with Washington’s support graduating from economic and diplomatic to more direct military cooperation, including the US supplying weapons and teaching Taiwanese how to prepare to fight China.
The Biden administration’s confusing interpretation of America’s Strategic Ambiguity policy was laid bare earlier this year when he said he would commit US troops to fight China if ever it attacked Taiwan, only to eat his words later.
Explaining his diplomatic booboo, Biden also said he did not support the planned visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only to later again eat his words and support it.
Strategic Ambiguity has allowed Washington to be strategically ambitious by establishing stronger military ties with Taipei while stoking fears for a typical invasion and occupation of the island.
But Beijing’s announcement – 16 minutes after the US House of Representatives Speaker landed in Taiwan — of four days of live naval and air force drills around and now extended for one month (to September 8) offered a very clear and unambiguous indication of stage-one of many tactical options to be strategically implemented as part of its five decades of unambiguous preparation for a military response to any independence move by Taiwan.
Beijing has always said (loudly) – and is again showing – it’s determined not to allow what it considers a breakaway province to make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, but in pursuit of its own expansion of its military presence in the South China Sea, Washington has embarked on its own military maneuvers by deploying an Aircraft Carrier and eight warships near Taiwan.
Contrary to the warmongering propaganda claiming that China wishes to decide who can visit Taiwan, or that Madam Pelosi’s visit was not the first (preceded 25 years ago by then US Speaker Newt Gingrich), or that China wants to ‘invade’ Taiwan like Russia was claimed to have done in Ukraine, or treatment of the current issue as one of a larger nation attacking a smaller one, China is only doing today what it said it would do, since 1949.
On the other hand, there’s been nothing ambiguous about China’s Taiwan strategy — except (perhaps) declaring what military strategies and tactics it would implement.
Meanwhile, Washington has chosen and decided to escalate instead of de-escalating the tensions that can eventually lead to a world war involving the two most nuclear-armed nations, leading most to ask now: Was the Pelosi visit worth what it yielded?