Taiwan: Asia’s Ukraine – Politics

The status quo is crumbling, making a war over Taiwan more likely.

It is not difficult to understand why some American generals believe that China will invade Taiwan in the next decade. The threat of attack has hung over the self-ruled island since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists drove China’s defeated Nationalist regime there. President Xi Jinping would like to claim overall victory in the civil war. No Chinese leader has placed greater emphasis on unification since Mao. The Chinese army is equipped and trained to launch the attack. And they have reportedly been ordered to be ready by 2027, when Xi’s third five-year term as party leader ends. Alignment cannot be postponed forever, he says.

Also in 2022, there was cause for concern after Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan. In the eyes of the Chinese government, while there was precedent, Pelosi’s trip upset the status quo on which rests the uneasy peace. America does not recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, but neither does it recognize Taiwan as an independent state. The US maintains only diplomatic relations with mainland China, although it exports arms to Taiwan. Pelosi was the most prominent American politician to visit Taiwan in decades. After her departure, China expressed its outrage with great drama. The country fired ballistic missiles over Taiwan, sent dozens of military ships and aircraft, and held target exercises around the entire island as if practicing a blockade.

Transformation

If war seems inevitable, it is partly because China notices that Taiwan is slowly drifting away. Two generations ago, the island was a military dictatorship, led by a nationalist party – the Kuomintang or KMT. He agreed, at least in theory, that Taiwan would be part of China. Today, the island is a vibrant democracy, ruled by President Tsai Ing-wen and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. Its GDP per capita is nearly three times that of mainland China. Taiwan has a population of 24 million, almost all Han Chinese, and their freedoms and prosperity pose an implicit challenge to Beijing’s autocrats. China’s promise to give Taiwan autonomy in a “one country, two systems” model has rang hollow since Beijing cracked down on Hong Kong, which had a similar regime. Opinion polls show that less than 7 percent of Taiwanese want reunification.

The US attitude is also changing. The country has no formal defense treaty with Taiwan. In the 1970s, when America began to recognize Beijing’s government, Richard Nixon even considered dropping Chiang Kai-shek, the despotic leader of the KMT. Recent presidents have pursued a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ aimed at stopping provocations from all sides. However, the transformation that Taiwan has undergone makes it more likely that America will come to the island’s aid in the event of an attack. President Joe Biden has promised it in so many words, though his advisers qualify his comments. Allies view any conflict as a potential test of America’s resolve to maintain security in the Asia-Pacific.

Useful problem

For some analysts, an escalation depends on whether China believes it can prevail. The stronger the country becomes, the more the risk increases. However, the situation in Ukraine can affect the sum from all sides.

America hopes that this war will convince Taiwan to work more on its self-defense and to choose a better strategy. The island has already decided to make less use of conscripts and build a more professional armed force. It can increase its military budget, which now amounts to just 2 percent of GDP. And it could pursue a “hedgehog strategy” based on mobile and covert defensive weapons rather than the expensive fighter jets, ships and submarines preferred by its military planners. These nifty devices probably won’t last long if real firefights ever break out.

China, for its part, sees the invasion of Russia as a useful problem for the West. In Beijing, however, some people are already drawing comparisons with Taiwan, wondering whether an invasion there might turn into a symbolic quagmire like Ukraine, with disastrous consequences for the Communist Party. An attack across 100 miles of water would also be more difficult than crossing a national border.

A war with Taiwan is seen as a bad outcome in Beijing as long as other options are on the table. However, many experts believe that the number of options available to China is diminishing. In 2005, the government passed an anti-secession law that forces Chinese rulers to take military action if they believe peaceful unification is no longer possible. However, the problems Russia is experiencing in Ukraine will have given them pause for thought.

The author is the China editor of The Economist

It is not difficult to understand why some American generals believe that China will invade Taiwan in the next decade. The threat of attack has hung over the self-ruled island since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists drove China’s defeated Nationalist regime there. President Xi Jinping would like to claim overall victory in the civil war. No Chinese leader has placed greater emphasis on unification since Mao. The Chinese army is equipped and trained to launch the attack. And they have reportedly been ordered to be ready by 2027, when Xi’s third five-year term as party leader ends. Alignment cannot be postponed forever, he says. There was also cause for concern in 2022 after Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan. In the eyes of the Chinese government, while there was precedent, Pelosi’s trip upset the status quo on which rests the uneasy peace. America does not recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, but neither does it recognize Taiwan as an independent state. The US maintains only diplomatic relations with mainland China, although it exports arms to Taiwan. Pelosi was the most prominent American politician to visit Taiwan in decades. After her departure, China expressed its outrage with great drama. The country fired ballistic missiles over Taiwan, sent dozens of warships and aircraft, and held target practice around the island as if practicing a blockade. If war seems inevitable, it is partly because China notices that Taiwan is slowly slipping away. Two generations ago, the island was a military dictatorship, led by a nationalist party – the Kuomintang or KMT. He agreed, at least in theory, that Taiwan would be part of China. Today, the island is a vibrant democracy, ruled by President Tsai Ing-wen and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. Its GDP per capita is nearly three times that of mainland China. Taiwan has a population of 24 million, almost all Han Chinese, and their freedoms and prosperity pose an implicit challenge to Beijing’s autocrats. China’s promise to give Taiwan autonomy in a “one country, two systems” model has rang hollow since Beijing cracked down on Hong Kong, which had a similar regime. Opinion polls show that less than 7 percent of Taiwanese want reunification. The US position is also changing. The country has no formal defense treaty with Taiwan. In the 1970s, when America began to recognize Beijing’s government, Richard Nixon even considered dropping Chiang Kai-shek, the despotic leader of the KMT. Recent presidents have pursued a policy of “strategic ambiguity” aimed at stopping provocations from all sides. However, the transformation that Taiwan has undergone makes it more likely that America will come to the island’s aid in the event of an attack. President Joe Biden has promised it in so many words, though his advisers qualify his comments. Allies see any conflict as a potential test of US resolve to maintain security in the Asia-Pacific.For some analysts, an escalation depends on whether China believes it can prevail. The stronger the country becomes, the more the risk increases. However, the situation in Ukraine can affect the sum in all directions. America hopes that this war will convince Taiwan to work more on its self-defense and to choose a better strategy. The island has already decided to make less use of conscripts and build a more professional armed force. It can increase its military budget, which now amounts to just 2 percent of GDP. And it could pursue a “hedgehog strategy” based on mobile and covert defensive weapons rather than the expensive fighter jets, ships and submarines preferred by its military planners. These nifty devices probably won’t last long if real firefights ever break out. For its part, China sees Russia’s invasion as a useful problem for the West. In Beijing, however, some people are already drawing comparisons with Taiwan, wondering whether an invasion there might turn into a symbolic quagmire like Ukraine, with disastrous consequences for the Communist Party. An attack across 100 miles of water would also be more difficult than crossing a national border. A war with Taiwan is seen as a bad outcome in Beijing as long as other options are on the table. However, many experts believe that the number of options available to China is diminishing. In 2005, the government passed an anti-secession law that forces Chinese rulers to take military action if they believe peaceful unification is no longer possible. However, the problems Russia is experiencing in Ukraine will have given them pause for thought. The author is the China editor of The Economist

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