VSHINAS RISE involves fateful decisions for President Xi Jinping, the head of the country. Nothing matters more than attacking Taiwan, bringing this democratic and pro-Western island of 24 million people under the control of the Communist Party. If one day an armored Red Flag limousine conquers Mr. Xi through the streets of the island’s capital, Taipei, he will become an immortal Communist. He will join Mao Zedong as the co-winner of a Chinese civil war that remained unfinished in 1949 when the defeated nationalist regime fled into exile in Taiwan.
Perhaps Mr. Xi will walk through the streets of Taipei still scorched, bloodstained and emptied of ordinary Taiwanese by the dictates of martial law. But the conquest of Taiwans would always mark the rise of China to the rank of powers so powerful that no country dares to defy their wishes. For the tough men who rule China, history is not written by the picky ones. If Mr. Xi orders the People’s Liberation Army to take Taiwan, his decision will first and foremost be shaped by a judgment: whether America can stop him. For 71 years, the existence of the Taiwans as a self-governing island has relied on America’s deterrence of Chinese aggression. To be sure, Taiwan also benefited from a certain degree of Chinese patience, as China attempted other gambits that might avoid war.
Since the time of Deng Xiaoping, Chinese leaders have economically linked Taiwan to the mainland. They also tried to woo the Taiwanese public with promises of autonomy if they accepted the Beijing government, under the rubric of one country, two systems. That concept was transformed last year from dubious to empty by the crushing of civil liberties in Hong Kong, a territory that has been offered similar promises. But China is losing patience with peaceful reunification, and colder calculations have always mattered more. At the root, China remained the hand for fear that the Taiwanese troops would hold it back until the arrival of American rescuers.
The centrality of the Americas in this impasse is well known to President Joe Biden and his foreign policy assistants, who are an experienced group. That is why, on the fourth day of the Biden administrations assuming office, the State Department rebuked China for its military, economic and diplomatic attempts to intimidate Taiwan and declared that the Americas’ commitment to l he island was solid.
In reality, the ability of the Americas to deter an invasion of Taiwan is collapsing. The main reason is China’s steadfast pursuit, for more than 20 years, of the advanced weapons and skills needed to keep US forces at bay. Another is Mr. X’s sense of historic destiny and his use of populist nationalism to bolster his authority, although nationalism also increases the costs of a botched attack. In some forums, retired U.S. academics and senior officials have praised the Trump administration for approving more than $ 17 billion in arms sales to Taiwan. They also scolded Trump aides who used blatant support for Taiwan to provoke China, without thinking about the risks to the island. Some academic diplomats, such as Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), urged America to end its policy of strategic ambiguity, which avoids making an explicit commitment to respond to aggression against Taiwan. This vagueness is intended to discourage reckless moves by Taiwanese politicians and to avoid angering China.
Bonnie Glaser, Chinese and Taiwanese security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, says the Biden administration shows determination when it talks about China and Taiwan because it is so worried the potential for accidents and calculation errors. It is disappointing to hear Ms Glaser, a well-connected academic, voice her concerns about accidental clashes today, for example between Chinese and Taiwanese planes or ships, and the possibility of deliberate military conflict in five. or ten years.
Robert Blackwill, former national security assistant to George W. Bush and co-author of a new article in the CFR, The United States, China and Taiwan: A Strategy to Prevent War, want America to create credible geoeconomic deterrence, as well as to strengthen the military type. He says America and its allies such as Japan should make it clear that China will be kicked out of dollar-based financial and trade systems if it attacks Taiwan. If the Chinese commanders push for war, we want the business leaders in the room to spell out the costs, says Blackwill.
Asians will miss America if she leaves
Sadly, the hardest part of deterring China is building strong coalitions ready to challenge Chinese aggression. Comparisons to the Cold War fail to capture the problem. The survival of the West Berlins was considered a vital national interest by America and its NATO Allies, who planned the war to prevent the Soviets from cutting off access to the city. But it is important that the Soviet Union is an economic pygmy. Today, there is no consensus among regional allies in the Americas that the survival of the Taiwans is a vital interest in which China, often their largest trading partner, is worth angering.
Meanwhile, Chinese leaders are trying to reduce their country’s vulnerability to external economic pressures. In an article from last May, Qiao Liang, a retired Air Force major general, predicted that in a war against Taiwan, America and its allies would block the sea lanes to Chinese exports and imports. , and cut China’s access to financial markets. General Qiao duly endorsed the measures taken by Mr. Xis to reduce China’s dependence on economic demand from the rest of the world. He added that the key to the Taiwan question would be the result of China’s showdown with America. The general is a nationalist provocateur, but his comments reflect the views of many of Mr. Xis China. This should give American allies pause. For many Chinese, the recovery of Taiwans is not just a sacred national mission. Its accomplishment would also indicate that America’s world leadership is coming to an end. If China thinks it can get the job done at a reasonable cost, it will act.
This article appeared in the China section of the print edition under the headline “How to Kill a Democracy”
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