U.S. allies could play key roles in a U.S.-China war over Taiwan

A war between the U.S. and China over Taiwan would be a nightmare scenario for America’s allies in the Pacific, but it’s becoming increasingly clear what roles they might play if one breaks out.

The big picture: French President Emmanuel Macron declared last month that Europe should not get “caught up in crises that are not ours,” such as escalation over Taiwan sparked by U.S.-China rivalry. U.S. allies in the region don’t have that luxury.

  • The U.S. has no formal commitment to defend Taiwan, but President Biden has repeatedly said that Washington would intervene.
  • A Taiwan crisis could take several forms short of all-out invasion — a blockade, cyberwarfare, or attacks on offshore islands. In any contingency, U.S. allies in the region would play a critical role.
The Philippines

Driving the news: Philippines President Bongbong Marcos visited the White House on Monday, shortly after the largest-ever version of annual U.S.-Philippines military drills. For the first time, the wargames focused in part on securing the 7o-mile wide channel between the Philippines’ northern islands and Taiwan.

  • As U.S. and Filipino forces rehearsed for potential conflict with China, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang visited Manila and urged the Philippines — a U.S. treaty ally that moved closer to Beijing under Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte — against “picking sides.”

Earlier this year, Marcos granted the U.S. access to four new bases, three of which are in the north and face Taiwan.

  • Beijing’s ambassador to Manila, Huang Xilian, declared in April that Washington clearly planned to use the bases to “interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait.” Huang accused the Philippines of “stoking the fire” rather than prioritizing the security of its 150,000 overseas workers in Taiwan — comments some interpreted as a veiled threat.
  • Ahead of his visit, Marcos said the bases were for collective defense not “offensive operations,” and his country will not become a military “staging post.”
  • Asked whether the U.S. could utilize the bases in the event of war with China, a senior U.S. official told reporters Sunday, “we’re careful not to go through scenarios in public.”