Invading Taiwan: Increasingly aggressive actions taken by China against Taiwan are creating concern over the threat of catastrophic war breaking out. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
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Over the past five days, the Chinese military has flown 145 fighter planes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), setting a new record. The “growing aggression toward Taiwan is drawing fresh fears of a catastrophic war and threatens to put that rhetoric to the ultimate test,” Axios’ Zachary Basu reports. “These are not idle threats: China has crushed democracy in Hong Kong, once a semi-autonomous territory where Chinese nationals enjoyed rare political freedom and fortified its military presence in the disputed South China Sea.” Moreover, highlighting his Type-A personality, “During a speech earlier this year, President Xi Jinping of China pledged ‘complete reunification’ with Taiwan. The mainland Communist government views it as a breakaway province that must be brought to heel — including by force, if necessary.” Zooming out, most experts don’t anticipate a direct Chinese invasion, but the Chinese flybys increase the chance for error, which could then tip the scale. Here’s what both sides are saying about the Chinese flybys.
On The Right
Right-leaning commentators describe China’s increasing aggression as a way for leader Xi Jinping to project strength at home. They believe Xi is testing the Biden administration and now Washington must answer by arming Taiwan and working to coordinate exercises with allies in the region. Remember, when the Biden administration signed the AUKUS submarine agreement with Australia and the UK a few weeks ago, conservative columnist Henry Olsen said, “This masterstroke is exactly what the United States should be doing to combat China.” Olsen infers this is just the first step, however, writing, “The more that Asian democracies are united in response to Chinese aggression, the less likely China is to embark on military adventures such as invading Taiwan.” The New York Post Editorial Board echoes these sentiments below as well.
“The two motives behind China’s air force message to Taiwan” Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner: “These intrusions reflect Beijing’s desire to deter Taipei from its cultivation of Western support. But the flights are also motivated by Xi Jinping’s interest in projecting leadership strength. … Beijing also wants Washington to think twice about inviting Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen to a democracy summit in December. … The incursions are also about Beijing politics. … As [Xi Jinping] faces an increasingly skeptical international community, economic struggles, demographic and societal weaknesses, and energy shortages, Xi’s credibility is at risk. These flights thus allow Xi to broadcast strength at home and abroad. … Ultimately, then, this action reflects both the Communist Party’s growing concern over Taiwan’s international prestige, and the rise of the Beijing hawks. The next few years should be interesting.”
“How to Deter China From Invading Taiwan” Robert C. O’Brien and Alexander B. Gray, Wall Street Journal Opinion: “The fall of Afghanistan and the chaotic American withdrawal have been a propaganda windfall for autocrats across the world. Nowhere has the perception of American weakness been more trumpeted than in China … The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, Global Times, called Afghanistan an ‘omen’ for Taiwan’s fate. … Post-Afghanistan, deterring China from a catastrophic invasion of Taiwan must be the Biden administration’s principal national security objective.” As retired Admiral James Stavridis once noted, Taiwan should be transformed into a “porcupine.” “First, the US and its European allies should provide Taipei with significant quantities of the Naval Strike Missile … A substantial number of them would seriously threaten any Chinese amphibious force. … Second, Taiwan should acquire Quickstrike air-dropped sea mines or other advanced sea mine technology from the US … A third priority should be delivering shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to strategic locations, such as Taiwan’s more than 2,000 police stations [because] China has dramatically expanded its helicopter fleet in recent years … Finally, Taiwan must improve its trained military reserve. … By acting swiftly, the US and Taiwan can dissuade Mr. Xi from making what could be the most disastrous geopolitical calculation since 1939.”
“Washington needs to answer Beijing’s growing aggression toward Taiwan” Editorial Board, New York Post: “It’s all plainly a test of the Biden administration: Will it protect Taiwan? For decades, the United States has maintained a policy of strategic ambiguity, refusing to say publicly if it will come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a mainland attack. But signals of weakness from Washington could lead Beijing to guess the answer is ‘No’ — and finally make the move it’s threatened for so long. The Biden team has sailed Navy ships through the strait a couple of times, but that’s not enough. … [Currently,] only Taiwan’s own considerable defense force and the fear that an invasion could trigger a far wider Pacific war keep the island safe and free. … [Biden] needs to answer China’s provocations with its own maneuvers, ideally in concert with Japan and other allies, to keep the peace.”
On The Left
Left-leaning outlets amplify voices that call for de-escalation, with the first writer stating, “There is no rational scenario in which the United States could end up in a better, more secure place after a war with China.” The second commentator argues that the withdrawal from Afghanistan will actually deter Chinese aggression, and the third echoes comments above from Tom Rogan of the Washington Examiner that these flybys are a PR stunt for Xi Jinping.
“The US must avoid war with China over Taiwan at all costs” Lt Col Daniel L Davis (ret), The Guardian: “Bluntly put, America should refuse to be drawn into a no-win war with Beijing. It needs to be said up front: there would be no palatable choice for Washington if China finally makes good on its decades-long threat to take Taiwan by force. Either choose a bad, bitter-tasting outcome or a self-destructive one in which our existence is put at risk. … There is no rational scenario in which the United States could end up in a better, more secure place after a war with China. The best that could be hoped for would be a pyrrhic victory in which we are saddled with becoming the permanent defense force for Taiwan … costing us hundreds of billions a year. … The only way the US could have our security harmed would be to allow ourselves to be drawn into a war we’re likely to lose over an issue peripheral to US security. In the event China takes Taiwan by force, Washington should stay out of the fray and lead a global effort to ostracize China, helping ensure our security will be strengthened for a generation to come.”
“What the US Withdrawal From Afghanistan Means for Taiwan” Oriana Skylar Mastro, New York Times: “Some critics of President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan argue the move will embolden Beijing [to attack Taiwan] because it telegraphs weakness … The reality is, though, that the US departure from Afghanistan will more likely give pause to Chinese war planners — not push them to use force against Taiwan. … The withdrawal shows Mr. Biden is truly refocusing his national security priorities — he even listed the need to ‘focus on shoring up America’s core strengths to meet the strategic competition with China’ as one of the reasons for the drawdown. … Chinese leaders already expected a tense relationship with the Biden administration. Now they are faced with the fact that the United States might have the will and resources to push back against Chinese aggression, even if it means war. So, while there may be other reasons to oppose the end of the war in Afghanistan, the impact on China’s Taiwan calculus is not — and should not be — one of them.”
“Xi Seeks PR Mileage in Risky Taiwan Flybys” Rosalind Mathieson, Bloomberg: “Xi is very focused on burnishing his image at home as a strong leader ahead of a key Communist Party meeting next year. It suits him to sound tough on Taiwan, given he has already curtailed the pro-democracy movement in nearby Hong Kong. … He may also be calculating that US President Joe Biden has bigger fish to fry as he struggles to get his economic plans through Congress. … Xi probably doesn’t want a war and figures the incursions are manageable PR, especially if Chinese aircraft avoid crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait or flying over the island itself.”
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In August, a survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that “Just over half of Americans (52%) favor using US troops to defend if China were to invade the island. This is the highest level ever recorded in the Council’s surveys dating back to 1982, when the question was first asked.” Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura note that on a party level, “Republicans (60%) are more likely to support sending US troops to Taiwan’s defense than Democrats (50%) or Independents (49%).” More broadly, “The American public supports a range of US policies in support of Taiwan. Majorities favor US recognition of Taiwan as an independent country (69%), supporting its inclusion in international organizations (65%), and signing a US-Taiwan free trade agreement (57%).”
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