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Status report: Will China invade Taiwan?

Following a weekend when Beijing flew dozens of sorties into Taiwan airspace, and a Chinese exile blew the whistle on Chinese government kidnappings and torture of Uighurs, President Biden said “he has spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan and they agreed to abide by the Taiwan agreement,” CNBC reported on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 (story here).

That agreement basically is that Washington “officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, and … the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing instead of Taiwan rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian said on Tuesday (here), “While there is growing speculation that China many make a move on Taiwan, the timing and nature of such action is strongly debated among analysts and [Taiwan] government figures.”

On Wednesday, October 6 (Taiwan time), the island’s defense minister said China has the capability now to attack Taiwan, but would be “completely prepared to launch an invasion in three years,” the Guardian said.

The nervousness in Taipei is understandable, and Biden’s comments seem at odds with a recent and obvious escalation of Chinese aggression, not only against Taiwan, but across the board. That includes breaching its agreement to keep Hong Kong autonomous, its rounding up and incarceration in “re-education” camps of Uighurs, its military posturing against Taiwan, its construction of military bases on artificial reefs in the South China Sea, and its aggressive naval moves in the East and South China seas — plus a ramp-up of verbal posturing and threats. Under Xi, China is simply more militaristic and threatening.

Is Biden being blindsided, or willfully blind? The latter seems unlikely, as one of his stated rationales for pulling out of Afghanistan was to concentrate U.S. defense resources in the Far East, a tacit acknowledgement of a perceived rising Chinese threat that the U.S. began responding to under Obama (the latter’s “Asia pivot”).

China’s intentions are no secret: “Beijing claims Taiwan as a province of China and has vowed to retake it, by force if necessary, and accuses its democratically elected government of being separatists,” the Guardian says. The difference under Xi is that Beijing seems less patient at bringing this about, is more rapidly modernizing its military in ways that appear aimed at (1) invading Taiwan, and (2) confronting the U.S., and overall seems more willing to resort to military means of achieving its aims.

Given that, nothing can be taken for granted. This blog has followed the Taiwan issue in previous postings, and has noted that discussion of what might happen tends to be more pessimistic — and militant — in conservative-leaning sources, e.g. those publishing opinions emanating from rightwing think tanks. Still, there’s no mistaking China’s recent posturing and rhetoric; Beijing clearly is becoming more militant in asserting its claims, which the rest of the world rejects. And it’s upgrading its weaponry, including a large expansion of its ICBM and nuclear warhead arsenal, which obviously is intended to deter U.S. intervention against any military moves it might make.

Taiwan is the most obvious target of such a move, but not the only one. China also is making an aggressive grab for the South China Sea’s oil and fisheries resources, which impinges on the interests of other countries in the region, such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Those countries would be hard-pressed to defend themselves without outside help, and the U.S. has security agreements in the region. Last month, the U.S. unveiled a plan to arm Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. Even before the announcement of that agreement, relations between China and Australia — a major source of Chinese imports of iron ore, coal, and other commodities — had deteriorated sharply.

An issue this blog hasn’t delved into, but one lurking in the background, is China’s internal economic problems. An overlooked feature of Xi’s leadership is his step back from capitalist economic reforms instituted by his predecessors, which can only further weaken China economically. (China also has major corruption problems.) Xi, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) falling into line behind him, may calculate they have a limited window of opportunity to achieve their expansionist aims. They also may be looking for a way to distract their population’s attention from their domestic failures and problems.

This blog has no special insight or inside knowledge of what might happen with respect to Taiwan or other issues that could lead to military conflict with China. It draws entirely on published and public sources, and you can get varying impressions of how fraught or urgent the situation is, depending on which sources you read. But there’s an unmistakable drift toward heightened tension, and Biden calling Xi on the phone and telling him to “stick to the agreement” isn’t going to change that. The U.S. needs to be less reliant on goods from China, and we shouldn’t be sending them our consumer dollars to convert into military hardware, and also needs to have a backup source for semiconductors in case Taiwan, the free world’s major supplier of those devices, is attacked and we can’t save it from Chinese domination.

As for whether China will invade Taiwan, they’ve all but said they will, and are spending huge sums on military preparations, so I think maybe we should take them at their word on that and assume the only question is when. At least, that’s how I still look at it, notwithstanding anything Xi says to Biden. (If you don’t believe Trump, why would you believe Xi?)

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  1. Mark Adams #
    1

    The declining population is making it unlikely the Chinese can achieve the dreams of the party. They are already having problems manning their new destroyers.
    The Chinese needs workers yet they are racist and the Han dominate.

    They have raised wages and the interior migrant workers are not happy, and the social scores exacerbates the problem.

    The Chinese open source publications make the point they follow Sun Tzu. They are building a large impressive military. The Chinese realize the Taiwanese are more motivated, and the Chinese don’t do well initially. The Chinese want Taiwan back, but are unwilling to actually fight a war. The Chinese know they have created an anti Chinese alliance in Asia that can match China in naval and Air Forces and will increasingly have problems in manning their new weapon systems.



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