Scared Strait


Feb 22, 2024

A retired military tank on the beach with China in the background in Kinmen, Taiwan, December 20, 2023, photo by Ann Wang/Reuters

A retired military tank on the beach with China in the background in Kinmen, Taiwan, December 20, 2023

Photo by Ann Wang/Reuters

By Raymond Kuo, Michael Hunzeker, Mark A. Christopher

This commentary originally appeared on Foreign Affairs on February 22, 2024.

In “Taiwan and the True Sources of Deterrence” (January/February 2024), Bonnie Glaser, Jessica Chen Weiss, and Thomas Christensen argue that Washington and Taiwan are not doing enough to assure Beijing of their intentions, in the process undermining deterrence in the Taiwan Strait. We agree that deterrence requires threats as well as assurances, and we support their call for strengthening Taiwanese defenses while pursuing increased cross-strait dialogue.

But the authors make several errors that together generate counterproductive policy recommendations. The first and most important error is that they claim that China, the United States, and Taiwan are caught in a so-called security dilemma. Such a scenario transpires when a defensive-minded state tries to strengthen its own security in a way that inadvertently makes another state feel less secure. That dynamic results in an escalating spiral that leaves both sides primed for war.

China and the United States may be trapped in such a vicious cycle, but China and Taiwan certainly are not. Beijing's intentions, particularly under its leader, Xi Jinping, are clear and unequivocal: China wants to assert political control over Taiwan. Offering concessions to a determined revisionist such as Beijing will only invite further aggression. Instead, clear redlines reinforced by credible threats of unacceptable pain are needed. Taiwan does not need to assure China. It needs to show strength.

The authors also draw a false equivalence.…

The remainder of this commentary is available at

Raymond Kuo is director of the Taiwan Policy Initiative and a senior political scientist at RAND. Michael A. Hunzeker is an associate professor at George Mason University. Mark A. Christopher is an affiliate professor at George Mason University.

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