China, Taiwan, U.S., All Revisit Military Preparedness In Case of Conflict

After respective August and September trips to Taiwan by Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach, the state-run Xinhua News Agency issued a statement claiming that the United States had crossed a “red line” and “[jacked] up the tensions” in the strait. U.S.-China friction over the “Taiwan issue” has risen over the past four years due to the Trump administration’s embrace of Taiwan as a “tough on China” strategy and the People’s Liberation Army’s increasing strength relative to that of the Republic of China Armed Forces. The U.S. officials’ trips to Taiwan, the subsequent buzzing of the island by Chinese military aircraft and a general increase in militaristic propaganda on the mainland have analysts and scholars thinking about the possibility of war. For The Guardian, Emma Graham-Harrison and Helen Davidson write about the threat of invasion and how one Beijing think-tanker believes Hong Kong’s National Security Law is a blueprint for Taiwan’s future:

The law was not just about ending a year of protests in Hong Kong, Tian Feilong said in an interview with DW News, it was also sending a message to Taipei – and to Washington, which has recently approved new arms sales and high-level visits by US officials to self-rule Taiwan.

The provisions being used to crush dissent across Hong Kong could provide a template, he argued, for tackling “the Taiwan problem”.

“I believe that in the future, you could just change the name of the Hong Kong national security law, and substitute instead ‘Taiwan national security law’,” said Tian. [Source]

Tian Feilong’s views are believed to mirror those of Xi Jinping, who has long disdained the “two states theory” proposed by current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s mentor and presidential predecessor Lee Teng-hui. In 1999, while Governor of Fujian, Xi called the theory “rubbish,” adding that it “exposed Lee Teng-hui’s fundamental motive of plotting the division of our homeland.” In a Substack essay expounding on the possibility of cross-strait conflict, Claire Berlinski shares a series of Xi Jinping quotes indicating his willingness to use military force against the island, including: “We have firm will, full confidence, and sufficient capability to defeat any form of Taiwan independence secession plot.”

On October 6, the KMT, issued a statement calling for Taiwan to re-establish official ties with the U.S. government.

Editor-in-Chief of the state-run Global Times Hu Xijin published a same-day response to the proposal, saying: “The more trouble Taiwan creates, the sooner the mainland will decide to teach Taiwan independence forces a hard lesson.” Although Taiwanese perceptions of the mainland are largely negative, nearly 80% of Taiwanese citizens do not believe that China will invade the country.

Can Taiwan defend itself? In a 2018 Foreign Policy article, Tanner Greer wrote that Taiwan was capable of defending against a PLA invasion. In a September 2020 follow-up blog post, however, he revised his argument and said that fatalism, substandard training, and a lack of prestige have undermined the ROC Armed Forces. Earlier this year, the suicide of a young Taiwanese officer under pressure to procure military parts with his own funds exposed corruption and incompetence in the ROC military. In the Los Angeles Times, David Pierson and Ralph Jennings sketch a Taiwanese university student’s views on a potential Sino-Taiwanese war:

The 21-year-old French-language major regards his upcoming mandatory four-month military service as an unnecessary burden, even as complaints persist that such stints are too short to protect the nation compared with the two to three years that previous generations served.

Weeks of flaring tensions between China and Taiwan, which has been buzzed by dozens of Chinese warplanes in a disquieting show of force, have not emboldened Lin or changed his mind. If China and its much larger military decides to invade, the island’s devastation would be a fait accompli, he said, even with the outside chance the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense.

“The faster those four months pass, the better. It’s a waste of time,” Lin, swiping at his phone at a cafe on the campus of National Chengchi University in Taipei, said of his military service. “I don’t think the U.S. government will help us anyway. Whether they do or not, for us ordinary people, the outcome will be the same.” [Source]

For the first piece in a series on the “New Cold War”, Gideon Rachman of The Financial Times looks at Taiwan’s place in future U.S. defense policy:

In a recent article, Michèle Flournoy, who is tipped as a possible US defence secretary if Joe Biden wins the presidential election, worried that “dangerous new uncertainty about the US ability to check various Chinese moves . . . could invite risk-taking by Chinese leaders”, adding: “They could conclude that they should move on Taiwan sooner rather than later.”

Ms Flournoy’s recommendation is that America should strengthen its military capacity, so as to restore deterrence. The fact that a prominent Democrat is taking this position points to an important aspect of the new US-China rivalry: it will not disappear if Mr Trump loses the White House in the presidential election.

[…] However, if America stood aside in the event of a Chinese assault on Taiwan, then the US alliance system might not survive the shock. Conversely, if the rivalry between Beijing and Washington never escalates into military confrontation, then China has other assets it can deploy. It is the largest trading partner for more than 100 nations; compared with 57 nations for America.[Source]

Taiwan, as Antonio C. Hsiang writes in the South China Morning Post, is the “canary in the coal mine” of U.S.-China conflict. Taiwanese businesses were caught up in the U.S.-China trade war, with the chip-maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company particularly impacted. As fears that economic conflict will give way to military conflict increase, critics have started to question the long-standing U.S. policy of “dual deterrence”, with some calling for unequivocal U.S. military support for Taiwan. An article published in War on the Rocks proposes that the American military actively help Taiwan prepare for war by organizing territorial defense forces, launching bilateral military exercises, and training Taiwanese troops. In The Washington Post, Steven M. Goldstein defends the “dual deterrence” policy and highlights the risks of abandoning that time-tested strategy:

A guarantee of protection would limit the flexibility and leverage of the United States in any future cross-strait conflict and have two inherent risks: it could embolden independence forces in Taiwan to provoke a cross-strait conflict, leading to possible American involvement. And it could add an especially volatile issue to an already contested and extensive slate of differences between Beijing and Washington.

Beijing has bitterly criticized dual deterrence as an unacceptable interference in its domestic affairs that favors Taiwan’s present status. However, numerous discussions with Chinese officials, as well as the fact that Chinese writings on a potential cross-strait clash assume American intervention, confirm Beijing takes dual deterrence seriously. This strategy appears to have helped to keep the peace in the area. [Source]


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