Taipei, Taiwan – For the first time in more than half a century, the United States and Japan are expected this week to make a joint statement on the security of the Taiwan Strait following a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
While largely symbolic, the statement would be an indication of increasing concern about the security of the democratically-run island amid dire public warnings from senior US military officials about the threat of an invasion by Beijing, which claims the island as its own.
Admiral John Aquilino recently told a Senate Armed Services committee that taking Taiwan is a “number one” priority for China’s Communist Party, while US Asia Pacific commander Philip Davidson has said publicly that China could invade in the next six years.
Such fears may seem justified by the threatening tone of the Chinese state media and an escalating number of missions by PLA aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).
But on the ground in Taiwan, people are neither running for one of the island’s 117,000 working bomb shelters nor enlisting en masse.
Having lived under the threat of Chinese military action for the past 70 years, the island’s 23 million people have come to understand what they consider the strange paradox of Taiwan’s existence: even as China’s military might grows, invasion does not necessarily come any closer.
Some experts believe much of the threat assessment by the US military may actually be more of a reflection of a shift in US perceptions about China amid the deteriorating relationship between the world’s two economic giants.
“The (Chinese Communist Party’s) hopes for unification with Taiwan have been clear for decades, and (President) Xi Jinping has made clear during his term that use of force is on the table,” said Eric Lee, a research associate at the Project 2049 Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
“This challenge is nothing new. Rather, it reflects an updated threat perception of the CCP and PLA in the context of US strategic competition with…