Most foreign policy leaders and professionals in the United States support the use of American troops to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, but it is opposed by the majority of the US public, a new survey has found.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs said in a report published on Monday that most of the more than 900 surveyed opinion leaders – including executive branch officials, congressional staff, think tank scholars, academics, journalists and interest group representatives – favoured a US military defence of Taiwan in an invasion scenario.
But it found only 41 per cent of the public supported military intervention. Public support has grown significantly in recent years, however, up from 26 per cent in 2014.
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In the survey of US opinion leaders – taken last August and September with the University of Texas at Austin – the defence of Taiwan was supported by 85 per cent of Republicans, 63 per cent of Democrats and 58 per cent of independents.
The findings are a barometer of the political consensus in Washington, which has hardened in recent years against China and in favour of US support for Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing has vowed to bring under its control, by force if necessary. Beijing has stepped up its pressure campaign against Taiwan, including by poaching some of its few remaining diplomatic allies, blocking Taipei from joining multilateral institutions like the World Health Organization, and with increasing military incursions into the island’s airspace.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has signalled it will make China central in its foreign policy, even as the approach will differ from his predecessor Donald Trump in that he will work more with US allies to confront Beijing. The US State Department urged Beijing to “cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan” days after Biden was inaugurated on January 20.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs report said almost all of the opinion leaders surveyed believed the US was very likely to make a major effort to counter the rise of China in the next two years, including 97 per cent of Republicans and 91 per cent of Democrats.
While most said the effort would be bipartisan, 85 per cent of Republican foreign policy leaders believe that China’s development as a world power was a critical threat to the US, compared to 45 per cent of Democrats. Similarly, 88 per cent of Republican leaders said the US should “actively work to limit the growth of China’s power”, while 56 per cent of Democrat leaders said the US should “undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with China”.
The report noted that Republicans took a fairly hawkish view of China compared to Democrats, but that the inclination by Democrats for cooperation was not an open-ended one.
“The broad bipartisan support among opinion leaders for the American defence of Taiwan against Chinese invasion suggests that there are some red lines for opinion leaders when it comes to the US-China relationship,” it said. “Additionally, early statements from Biden administration officials suggest that opinion leaders’ expectations of a bipartisan American effort to counter the rise of China may well be met.”
Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a Senate confirmation hearing that there was “no doubt” China posed the most significant challenge to the US, and said in a TV interview on Monday that the US needed to ensure that its military was postured “so that it can deter Chinese aggression”.
As relations between Beijing and Washington have reached their lowest point in decades – souring in particular in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that was first reported in China – concerns among the US public about China have also risen. Tensions have soared between the major powers over trade, technology, competing global influence and interests, ideology and human rights issues in places like Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
The report, which included public polling from more than 2,000 American adults conducted last July by the market research firm Ipsos, found that 55 per cent of the public saw the rise of China as a “critical threat” to the US.
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