China and US: Stumbling into War?

Yves here. While the general thesis, that opposed interests, rising hostility, lack of negotiating inclination/skills, mutual misunderstanding, and aggressive gestures being believed to be popular at home could too easily lead to an otherwise not intended war, is sensible, I’m not sure I agree with Klare’s take on Taiwan. He acknowledges that “Both sides recognize that such contradictory impulses are only likely to be resolved through armed conflict” yet argues that neither side wants war but that it might come about by mishap. That’s not the report I get from individuals in countries in Southeast Asia who watched China’s seizure of Hong Kong with alarm. They admittedly can react to only what they see, but they view China as full intent on perfecting its territorial claims and therefore judge a Chinese attempt to take Taiwan in the next 5 years as disconcertingly probable.

Needless to say, reader input welcomed.

By Michael Klare. Originally published at TomDispatch

The leaders of China and the United States certainly don’t seek a war with each another. Both the Biden administration and the regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping view economic renewal and growth as their principal objectives. Both are aware that any conflict arising between them, even if restricted to Asia and conducted with non-nuclear weapons — no sure bet — would produce catastrophic regional damage and potentially bring the global economy to its knees. So, neither group has any intention of deliberately starting a war. Each, however, is fully determined to prove its willingness to go to war if provoked and so is willing to play a game of military chicken in the waters (and air space) off China’s coast. In the process, each is making the outbreak of war, however unintended, increasingly likely.

History tells us that conflicts don’t always begin due to planning and intent. Some, of course, start that way, as was the case, for instance, with Hitler’s June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union and Japan’s December 1941 attacks on the Dutch East Indies and Pearl Harbor. More commonly, though, countries have historically found themselves embroiled in wars they had hoped to avoid.

This was the case in June 1914, when the major European powers — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire — all stumbled into World War I. Following an extremist act of terror (the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo), they mobilized their forces and issued ultimatums in the expectation that their rivals would back off. None did. Instead, a continent-wide conflict erupted with catastrophic consequences.

Sadly, we face the possibility of a very similar situation in the coming years. The three major military powers of the current era — China, the United States, and Russia — are all behaving eerily like their counterparts of that earlier era. All three are deploying forces on the borders of their adversaries, or the key allies of those adversaries, and engaging in muscle-flexing and “show-of-force” operations intended to intimidate their opponent(s), while demonstrating a will to engage in combat if their interests are put at risk. As in the pre-1914 period, such aggressive maneuvers involve a high degree of risk when it comes to causing an accidental or unintended clash that could result in full-scale combat or even, at worst, global warfare.

Provocative military maneuvers now occur nearly every day along Russia’s border with the NATO powers in Europe and in the waters off China’s eastern coastline. Much can be said about the dangers of escalation from such maneuvers in Europe, but let’s instead fix our attention on the situation around China, where the risk of an accidental or unintended clash has been steadily growing. Bear in mind that, in contrast to Europe, where the borders between Russia and the NATO countries are reasonably well marked and all parties are careful to avoid trespassing, the boundaries between Chinese and U.S./allied territories in Asia are often highly contested.

China claims that its eastern boundary lies far out in the Pacific — far enough to encompass the independent island of Taiwan (which it considers a renegade province), the Spratly and Paracel Islands of the South China Sea (all claimed by China, but some also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines), and the Diaoyu Islands (claimed by both China and Japan, which calls them the Senkaku Islands). The United States has treaty obligations to Japan and the Philippines, as well as a legislative obligation to aid in Taiwan’s defense (thanks to the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in 1979) and consecutive administrations have asserted that China’s extended boundary claims are illegitimate. There exists, then, a vast area of contested territory, encompassing the East and South China Seas — places where U.S. and Chinese warships and planes increasingly intermingle in challenging ways, while poised for combat.

Probing Limits (and Defying Them)

The leaders of the U.S. and China are determined that their countries will defend what it defines as its strategic interests in such contested areas. For Beijing, this means asserting its sovereignty over Taiwan, the Diaoyu Islands, and the islands of the South China Sea, as well as demonstrating an ability to take and defend such territories in the face of possible Japanese, Taiwanese, or U.S. counterattacks. For Washington, it means denying the legitimacy of China’s claims and ensuring that its leadership can’t realize them through military means. Both sides recognize that such contradictory impulses are only likely to be resolved through armed conflict. Short of war, however, each seems intent on seeing how far it can provoke the other, diplomatically and militarily, without triggering a chain reaction ending in disaster.

On the diplomatic front, representatives of the two sides have been engaging in increasingly harsh verbal attacks. These first began to escalate in the final years of the Trump administration when the president abandoned his supposed affection for Xi Jinping and began blocking access to U.S. technology by major Chinese telecommunications firms like Huawei to go with the punishing tariffs he had already imposed on most of that country’s exports to the U.S. His major final offensive against China would be led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who denounced that country’s leadership in scathing terms, while challenging its strategic interests in contested areas.

In a July 2020 statement on the South China Sea, for instance, Pompeo slammed China for its aggressive behavior there, pointing to Beijing’s repeated “bullying” of other claimants to islands in that sea. Pompeo, however, went beyond mere insult. He ratcheted up the threat of conflict significantly, asserting that “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law” — language clearly meant to justify the future use of force by American ships and planes assisting friendly states being “bullied” by China.

Pompeo also sought to provoke China on the issue of Taiwan. In one of his last acts in office, on January 9th, he officially lifted restrictions in place for more than 40 years on U.S. diplomatic engagement with the government of Taiwan. Back in 1979, when the Carter administration broke relations with Taipei and established ties with the mainland regime, it prohibited government officials from meeting with their counterparts in Taiwan, a practice maintained by every administration since then. This was understood to be part of Washington’s commitment to a “One China” policy in which Taiwan was viewed as an inseparable part of China (though the nature of its future governance was to remain up for negotiation). Reauthorizing high-level contacts between Washington and Taipei more than four decades later, Pompeo effectively shattered that commitment. In this way, he put Beijing on notice that Washington was prepared to countenance an official Taiwanese move toward independence — an act that would undoubtedly provoke a Chinese invasion effort (which, in turn, increased the likelihood that Washington and Beijing would find themselves on a war footing).

The Trump administration also took concrete actions on the military front, especially by increasing naval maneuvers in the South China Sea and in waters around Taiwan. The Chinese replied with their own strong words and expanded military activities. In response, for instance, to a trip to Taipei last September by Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Keith Krach, the highest-ranking State Department official to visit the island in 40 years, China launched several days of aggressive air and sea maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait. According to Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang, those maneuvers were “a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Speaking of that island’s increasing diplomatic contact with the U.S., he added, “Those who play with fire will get burned.”

Today, with Trump and Pompeo out of office, the question arises: How will the Biden team approach such issues? To date, the answer is: much like the Trump administration.

In the first high-level encounter between U.S. and Chinese officials in the Biden years, a meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18th and 19th, newly installed Secretary of State Antony Blinken used his opening remarks to lambaste the Chinese, expressing “deep concerns” over China’s behavior in its mistreatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province, in Hong Kong, and in its increasingly aggressive approach to Taiwan. Such actions, he said, “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.” Blinken has uttered similar complaints in other settings, as have senior Biden appointees to the CIA and Department of Defense. Tellingly, in its first months in office, the Biden administration has given the green light to the same tempo of provocative military maneuvers in contested Asian waters as did the Trump administration in its last months.

“Gunboat Diplomacy” Today

In the years leading up to World War I, it was common for major powers to deploy their naval forces in waters near their adversaries or near rebellious client states in that age of colonialism to suggest the likelihood of punishing military action if certain demands weren’t met. The U.S. used just such “gunboat diplomacy,” as it was then called, to control the Caribbean region, forcing Colombia, for example, to surrender the territory Washington sought to build a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Today, gunboat diplomacy is once again alive and well in the Pacific, with both China and the U.S. engaging in such behavior.

China is now using its increasingly powerful navy and coast guard on a regular basis to intimidate other claimants to islands it insists are its own in the East and South China Seas — Japan in the case of the Senkakus; and Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the case of the Spratlys and Paracels. In most instances, this means directing its naval and coast guard vessels to drive off the fishing boats of such countries from waters surrounding Chinese-claimed islands. In the case of Taiwan, China has used its ships and planes in a menacing fashion to suggest that any move toward declaring independence from the mainland will be met with a harsh military response.

For Washington in the Biden era, assertive military maneuvers in the East and South China Seas are a way of saying: no matter how far such waters may be from the U.S., Washington and the Pentagon are still not prepared to cede control of them to China. This has been especially evident in the South China Sea, where the U.S. Navy and Air Force regularly conduct provocative exercises and show-of-force operations intended to demonstrate America’s continuing ability to dominate the region — as in February, when dual carrier task forces were dispatched to the region. For several days, the USS Nimitz and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, along with their accompanying flotillas of cruisers and destroyers, conducted mock combat operations in the vicinity of islands claimed by China. “Through operations like this, we ensure that we are tactically proficient to meet the challenge of maintaining peace and we are able to continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific,” was the way Rear Admiral Doug Verissimo, commander of the Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, explained those distinctly belligerent actions.

The Navy has also stepped up its patrols of destroyers in the Taiwan Strait as a way of suggesting that any future Chinese move to invade Taiwan would be met with a powerful military response. Already, since President Biden’s inauguration, the Navy has conducted three such patrols: by the USS John S. McCain on February 4th, the USS Curtis Wilbur on February 24th, and the USS John Finn on March 10th. On each occasion, the Navy insisted that such missions were meant to demonstrate how the U.S. military would “continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Typically, when the U.S. Navy conducts provocative maneuvers of this sort, the Chinese military — the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA — responds by sending out its own ships and planes to challenge the American vessels. This occurs regularly in the South China Sea, whenever the Navy conducts what it calls “freedom of navigation operations,” or FONOPs, in waters near Chinese-claimed (and sometimes Chinese-built) islands, some of which have been converted into small military installations by the PLA. In response, the Chinese often dispatch a ship or ships of its own to escort — to put the matter as politely as possible — the American vessel out of the area. These encounters have sometimes proven exceedingly dangerous, especially when the ships got close enough to pose a risk of collision.

In September 2018, for example, a Chinese destroyer came within 135 feet of the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur on just such a FONOP mission near Gavin Reef in the Spratly Islands, obliging the Decatur to alter course abruptly.  Had it not done so, a collision might have occurred, lives could have been lost, and an incident provoked with unforeseeable consequences. “You are on [a] dangerous course,” the Chinese ship reportedly radioed to the American vessel shortly before the encounter. “If you don’t change course, [you] will suffer consequences.”

What would have transpired had the captain of the Decatur not altered course? On that occasion, the world was lucky: the captain acted swiftly and avoided danger. But what about the next time, with tensions in the South China Sea and around Taiwan at a far higher pitch than in 2018? Such luck might not hold and a collision, or the use of weaponry to avoid it, could trigger immediate military action on either side, followed by a potentially unpredictable escalating cycle of countermoves leading who knows where.

Under such circumstances, a war nobody wanted between the U.S. and China could suddenly erupt essentially by happenstance — a war this planet simply can’t afford.  Sadly, the combination of inflammatory rhetoric at a diplomatic level and a propensity for backing up such words with aggressive military actions in highly contested areas still seems to be at the top of the Sino-American agenda.

Chinese and American leaders are now playing a game of chicken that couldn’t be more dangerous for both countries and the planet.  Isn’t it time for the new Biden administration and its Chinese opposite to grasp more clearly and deeply that their hostile behaviors and decisions could have unforeseeable and catastrophic consequences?  Strident language and provocative military maneuvers — even if only intended as political messaging — could precipitate a calamitous outcome, much in the way equivalent behavior in 1914 triggered the colossal tragedy of World War I.

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  1. ambrit

    The mainland Chinese attitude towards Taiwan looks similar to the pre-WW2 practice called Italia Irredenta. China’s stance towards Taiwan is pure irredentism. If, for instance, China claims sovereignty over the South China Sea “islands,” based on a seventeenth century map, then Taiwan, which all accept was a part of China till Japan seized it in 1895, would seem to be an open and shut case. To the Chinese, the alternative to asserting full control over Taiwan would be the return of warlordism.
    Plus, ominously:

  2. Sound of the Suburbs

    It never did occur to Western leaders that no matter how much you cut costs in the West, costs in China would always be lower.
    China was always going to the winner in an open globalised world.

    Maximising profit is all about reducing costs.
    Western companies couldn’t wait to off-shore to low cost China, where they could make higher profits.
    China had coal fired power stations to provide cheap energy.
    China had lax regulations reducing environmental and health and safety costs.
    China had a low cost of living so employers could pay low wages.
    China had low taxes and a minimal welfare state.
    China had all the advantages in an open globalised world.
    It did have, but now China has become more expensive and developed Eastern economies are off-shoring to places like Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

    In open globalised world, the West had everything stacked against it.
    China was a new, fast growing economy compared to the mature, slow growing economies of the West.
    Investors would be able to achieve better returns in the new, fast growing Chinese economy and this is where the money headed.
    US investors love China and know it’s the best place to make real money.
    George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos …..

    China’s success was inevitable.
    The Washington Consensus set up the conditions that allowed China to become so powerful.
    It is China that benefitted the most from an open, globalise world, and the West suffered the most.
    This was baked in from day one.

    It would probably help if the US understood the problem rather than just lashing out and blaming others for a situation it created.

    1. Mikel

      It all defies logic until it is realized that there are no “national interests” being served, only corporate interests.
      Looking at this situation, I am only reminded of how the elite have more in common with the elite of other countries and little to none with their own alleged countrymen.

      1. The S

        In a corporate state like the US, corporate interests ARE national interests. Corporate news is corporate state propaganda. Corporate lackeys run the state. Citizen well-being isn’t a consideration, and never has been.

      2. John k

        I don’t see most corporations wanting cooperation; as it is, this new Cold already damaging Corp supply chains. Corps can easily disappear in a hot war, particularly one in Taiwan where so many chips are made… can Ford make cars if Taiwan factories get bombed? Plus our corps are making stuff in China – that will hit a sudden stop in even a warm war.
        Seems much more to me that mic and their exceptional egos, not most profit focused corps, are calling the shots here, just like the period leading up to ww1.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      The ” US ” did not create the problem. The IFTC ( International Free Trade Conspiracy) created the problem. The IFTC rulers of the US created the problem against the US as against many others. The ” always the lowest cost” in China and elsewhere was not a “problem” the US did not foresee. It was a prospect the IFTC ( International Free Trade Conspiracy) deliberately engineered for and maximised deliberately and on purpose with malice aforethought. Think of Bormann Democrat Scum like Nancy Pelosi voting for NAFTA. The rest of the US also foresaw it, and opposed it, and stopped it as long as we could.

      When the rest of us in the US were not able to stop it any longer, the enemy within ( Bill Clinton) worked with the IFTC Republicans to get NAFTA and MFN for China and US “membership” in WTO and etc. passed.

    3. Alvin Ja

      RE: Yves “That’s not the report I get from individuals in countries in Southeast Asia who watched China’s seizure of Hong Kong with alarm.”

      Fact: HK is part of China. It was seized by Britain via the Opium War. Those so-called freedom fighters were pro-British/US colonialist flunkeys. They gratuitously beat up people who voiced opinions different from theirs in a fascistic manner. Democracy was only for those who agreed with them. Doxxing, violence, and hatred and suppression was for those who disagreed with the protesters.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    There is no question but that China is very serious when it says that Taiwan is a renegade province and that invading and controlling it is exclusively an internal matter. Just as there is no question but that the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese disagree. The successful squashing of any meaningful local governance in Hong Kong has undoubtedly made a lot of smaller Asian countries neversous – and not just smaller ones. Mao claimed the true extent of China as being the maximum extent of the Qing empire, and that includes significant chunks of Russia and Vietnam. There are certainly ultra nationalists within the Chinese establishment that believes that, for example, southern Okhotsk (including Vladivostok) should be part of China, although its anyones guess as to whether this is taken seriously at a senior level. But certainly all China’s neighbours are well aware of those historic claims.

    The disjointed and often reckless posturing of the US is a ‘known’ quantity, as is its long term strategic objective of making the Pacific a US protectorate. And its becoming pretty clear – something even mainstream centrists now seem to realise – that the Biden administration is not made up of ‘adults in the room’, but a lot of ideologues who have made a career of failing upwards, and has neither the willingness nor competency to take a more considered and sensible approach. But the big ‘unknown’ is not just China’s intentions – but its competence at dealing with foreign affairs. So far they’ve been quite clumsy and have regularly overstepped ‘normal’ diplomacy when dealing with countries it should be able to get onside, including the Philippines and South Korea. China is growing into its new found strength and there is no guarantee whatever that the type of person who has risen to a high level in the government or military is any more competent than those on the US side.

    A major brake on China’s plans for Taiwan is Taiwan itself. The country has developed a formidable domestic military industry and is well capable of defending itself from an assault, for a few weeks at least. China does not yet seem to have the capacity to swallow it up in a quick and efficiently without the possibility of getting ground down in a grinding war of attrition on Taiwanese beaches (which are generally very easy to defend). This would be catastrophic politically for the Beijing leadership – I suspect that the fear of a botched invasion may be the main brake on any military action (they will well remember the failure to take even Kinmen in 1949, which was a major humiliation for the new PRC. More recently, Vietnams successful defence of the 1979 ‘incursion’ may also play on their minds. In contrast to Russia, China does not have a proven military, nor does it have a cadre of officials with experience and skill in dealing with allies and opponents alike when outside the boundaries of their own country.

    But as the article says, I doubt any side want a war, although there may be some on both sides dreaming of a nice clean smack on the face for the opponent. The US cannot win a war of attrition against China, but China also knows that a conflict could inflict enormous damage on China’s economy, and could result in humiliating individual defeats. So if a war comes about, it will almost certainly be the result of an escalating series of stupid actions, not necessarily authorised at the highest levels. It is, in short, a very dangerous situation.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > China does not yet seem to have the capacity to swallow it up in a quick and efficiently

      The Straits of Taiwan are 100 miles wide. The English Channel is only 21 miles wide, and has a pretty good record (since 1066) of protecting England from invasion.

      I’m sure all sides have gamed this out. What the Chinese have going for them, IMNSHO, is the ability to manufacture materiel in literally any quantity, and staff it, also literally in any quantity. So, is there a number X of troop transports that would overwhelm Taiwan, even given the 100 miles to travel? Good, manufacture double X, and problem solved.

      Absent nukes. And nobody wants to go there. Right?

      1. Andrew Watts

        The PLA doesn’t have to cross the Taiwan Strait to attack territory under Taiwan’s control. Kinmen is six miles off the coast of the mainland and within range of land-based artillery. It’s only defended by a few hundred troops.

        Controlling the islands under Taiwanese jurisdiction is the key to controlling the Strait. After the Strait is secured the the PLAN could “quarantine” (read: blockade) Taiwan. I doubt an invasion would even be necessary. That’s assuming an American intervention isn’t in the mix.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > Controlling the islands under Taiwanese jurisdiction is the key to controlling the Strait. After the Strait is secured the the PLAN could “quarantine” (read: blockade) Taiwan.

          It looks to me like the Port of Taiwan has access to the open sea.

        2. skippy

          Was informed in the early 80s by a Gurkha stationed in Taiwan, on the coast next to Kinmen, a PLA solider swam across and had a friendly game of basketball, then swam back afterwards

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Taiwan was on the verge of getting nukes in the mid 1980’s and stopped under US pressure. I’d be surprised if they didn’t have the capacity to go nuclear very rapidly.

        I’ve seen various assessments of China’s ability to take Taiwan, but they all depend on one huge unknown – how well the Taiwanese army would fight, especially given its reliance on reserves. Some question whether they’d really do more than offer token resistance if it was clear they were not going to win and they would do a France 1940 type fight and semi-honourable surrender. Others seem to think that they’d fight as hard as the Vietnamese did in 1979 – given the terrain, it would be an absolute nightmare for the Chinese to take if a significant number of soldiers and reserves decide to defend every street and mountain, or if they failed to deliver a killer blow on the first strike. I doubt if either the Taiwanese or Chinese know the answer to that question. A big danger is that the Chinese could start to believe their own propaganda and miscalculate the possible level of resistance. The Taiwanese people I know (not a representative sample obviously) would have no hesitation in taking up a gun to fight.

        I doubt that the Chinese would go for a surprise invasion and assault. Its much more likely that they will, as with HK, be patient and keep a constant grinding pressure up to wear down Taiwanese willingness to resist.

        1. Roger

          China knows that its industry will overtake that of Taiwan in semiconductors etc. within about a decade, and the Taiwanese economy will become more and more integrated with China. Then there will be quiet words behind closed doors with the Taiwanese leaders and Taiwan will accept its place within the Chinese orbit. God forbid what a complete disaster zone the US will be by then, certainly in no position to do anything about Taiwan.

          The Chinese just have to wait and not be triggered, and they know this. The US elite are utterly decrepit and are strip mining their own nation, so best for China to leave them to it. China+Russia+Iran are now standing strong and winning the soft power war on so many levels, while not allowing themselves to be bullied. The only risk is the sheer hubris and stupidity of the US elites.

          1. Lambert Strether

            > The Chinese just have to wait and not be triggered, and they know this. The US elite are utterly decrepit and are strip mining their own nation, so best for China to leave them to it.

            True on both counts, but Xi seems a little bit cruder and nervous than he ought to be.

        2. David

          In all these scenarios, you have to ask what the final objective (what strategists call the “end state”) would actually be. For the Chinese, it clearly isn’t to go and take over a smoking ruin, to fight their way into a ruined Taipei, or to get involved in counter-guerilla operations in the hills. Nor do they want to run the risk of the kind of complex, risky operation that they have never carried out before end in failure (and failure would be anything except immediate, overwhelming success). Nor do they want to frighten the region to the point where the Japanese and Koreans start serious nuclear programmes. I imagine what they want is a pretty smart surrender, followed by a change of regime, a few show trials and the installation of a puppet government. The most likely scenario is surely a ratcheting up of tension over the course of years, leading to air and sea blockades, but without any overt violence.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I’d absolutely agree that the Chinese would be very loath to engage in any kind of assault for the reasons you set out. But they are fully willing to ratchet up tensions. The problem – which I’m sure they are aware of – is that the Taiwanese won’t necessarily passively accept slow strangulation. They could try to deliberately heat things up in order to draw the US or others onto their side by striking Chinese ships or even making direct strikes to the mainland. China could find that its blockade becomes a self blockade if Taiwan makes moves to attack any vessel or aircraft within its striking zone, which would include many of Chinas most important trade links. I don’t see China as being strong enough yet to be confident that they could control a situation like that without it developing its own momentum towards a hot war.

            I’d also not assume that China’s desires towards Taiwan is based necessarily on rational strategic considerations. Its a deep matter of pride for China that it takes Taiwan back – as they demonstrated with HK, they are fully willing to accept a significant economic hit in order to unify the homeland.

          2. Bill Smith

            It’s an island. So “guerilla operations in the hills” are not likely to last long.

            But how are they going to get a ‘smart surrender’ short of actually doing something? And that something would likely have to be military.

            1. coboarts

              Kinda like how them Cubanos couldn’t hold out. Unless, nuke the hills is the strategy, but then those dern city streets.

              1. Bill Smith

                Possible, But it’s a long time since the mid to late 1950’s or so when Castro was up in the Sierra Maestra’s.

                The PLA may not be as inept as Batista’s forces. Nor is there likely to be any Western media coverage of what is going on.

            2. Sara K.

              Have you been to the mountains of Taiwan? I have.

              Even though the Japanese took over Taiwan in 1895, indigenous people continued to fight against Japanese rule for decades, even as late as 1930 (the Musha Incident), despite the Japanese having the advantage in material resources/technology.

              After the February 28 Massacre, guerilla warfare against the Republic of China government lasted quite a while, and there are still police restrictions on who can enter certain mountain areas in Taiwan.

              Guerilla operations in the mountains of Taiwan can last a long time, as history shows.

                1. Jeff

                  This article is 10 years old. Taiwan sees the sociopathic behavior of CCP in the last few years, how they hid covid, cracked down on HK, etc. Hard to believe they’d accept living under China’s boot.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                Absolutely correct. The mountains of Taiwan are another world from the densely populated coastal regions. Even the Taiwanese have had to abandon roads that proved too expensive to maintain in the face of constant typhoons and tectonic activity. I cycled around and up and over the mountain roads in 2009 – you couldn’t even find a campsite among the dense vegetation. And the inaccessible areas run right up smack again the cities. The Taiwan military have been digging in to those mountains for years to make any first strike by China very difficult.

                Whether the Taiwan army would have the stomach to hit the mountains to engage in guerrilla warfare in the event of losing Taipei is of course an open question, I’m not sure whether anyone knows. But if you look at Taiwanese history you can see that the majority non-han Chinese (i.e. those with roots in the country going before the KMT arrived in the 1940’s) have a history of fighting to defend their rights.

          3. Lambert Strether

            > he most likely scenario is surely a ratcheting up of tension over the course of years, leading to air and sea blockades, but without any overt violence.

            The problem is that this style of logic also applies to Hong Kong. There were surely more subtle ways of reigning Hong Kong in, but the CCP seems to have gone out of its way to make an example.

            “Kill a chicken to scare the monkeys.” In this case the chicken would be Taiwan, and the monkeys the whole of Southeast and South Asia.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              I think that the Chinese approach to HK was a long slow strangulation/embrace, but they saw the opportunity for a quick kill and went for it. What happened in HK was a complete reversal of decades of Chinese policy (essentially, be super nice to HK and hope the Taiwanese and Macau people decided that being part of China wasn’t such a bad idea).

              HK really was the chicken, this is why the Taiwanese people were so disturbed (and are still) to see whats happening there. I think the Chinese have been content with a long slow strategy, but that doesn’t mean they would not change their minds if they either saw an opportunity, or internal politics (a threat against Xi’s position?) forced a change of mind. Its not just the US which has become erratic and impossible to negotiate with – China has also upset a lot of people in the region unnecessarily. Just ask any South Koreans about Lotte.

              As I noted above, its not just SE and South Asia that are nervous about this, the ultra nationalist faction in China talks about South Okhutsk as being part of China. Mao considered the maximum extent of the Qing dynasty as the natural borders of the country. That includes what are now part of most of China’s neighbours – India as well as Russia. I’ve no idea how prevalent the ‘ultra’ position is within senior positions in China.

              The other wild card in all this is the growing military/economic power of Vietnam, South Korea and Japan. The Chinese have been doing their best the last few years to turn public opinion in Vietnam and South Korean against them. If, for example, citizens of those countries were killed in a Chinese action, then you can’t assume they will stand idly by. This is not a simple matter of China vs the US, there are many other dynamics at work.

        3. drumlin woodchuckles

          I have read that the Chinese are in general very pragmatic people. If this is true for the Taiwanese as well, then if they see themselves about to be well and truly conquered, they will make their grudging peace with that new dispensation. The business of business is business, after all.

          Now, IF the Taiwanese were like the Balkanians ( peoples of the Balkans) , then the Taiwanese would have detailed plans and preparations in place to destroy every single productive asset on the Island of Taiwan, so thoroughly that China could never ever again produce anything of any economic value within the borders of Taiwan. Destroy every factory and workshop and sow the wreckage with hot high-level radioactive waste, poison all the farmland, blow up every dam, fill every water pipe, gas pipe, etc. with concrete, and so on.

          But of course part of that plan would have to be actual plans for the entire population of Taiwan to move en masse to other countries which would be pre-ready and prepared to accept them and resettle them. Otherwise, the Taiwanese would never be able to make China’s victory hurt “the Balkan way”, even if they wanted to.

      3. drumlin woodchuckles

        America’s Rapturanian Armageddonites ( like Pompeo and worse people than that) are eager, desperate and driven to go there.

      4. Sara K.

        Another factor is that, due to weather, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would almost certainly have to happen in either April or October. And climate change is making weather even less predictable.

        This was the first source I could find online for the April/October factor, but it’s something I’ve read about before elsewhere, this is not the only source making this claim:

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Thanks, thats an interesting link. The Chinese will know of course about the ‘divine wind’ and what it did to the Mongol invasion of Japan. The intensity of typhoons in Taiwan is mind-blowing, its incredible the engineering they’ve put in place to just stop the country getting regularly washed away.

          Incidentally, one point often overlooked is just how well run Taiwan is as a country – its no coincidence that it, along with South Korea, handled Covid so much better than anyone else and with such little fuss. And of course its the main test bed for medicare for all – the basis of their incredibly cheap and efficient health system (they pretty much imported Medicare as the basis for their system in 1995 and then… made it universal. It would not surprise me if their military and intelligence system was similarly low key but extremely efficient.

  4. The Rev Kev

    If it comes down to it, I can’t see a military invasion of Taiwan being on the cards for a very long time, if ever. The costs would be far too high for any perceived benefit. Supposing that China tried to do an invasion, they would have to commit a huge part of their military and perhaps nearly all their navy. The part of the island facing China is composed of gently sloping plains which is good for an invasion force but most of the east is mountainous and fighting in mountains is not fun. But if the Chinese tried to land, the Taiwanese military would pound the whole region to decimate any Chinese invasion force troops. It could be a massacre.

    The Republic of China Armed Forces has about two million people both active and in their reserves and they would have to be defeated. I do not know what defenses and tunnels the Taiwanese have but they have had seventy years to build them in face of constant threats from China. And while China was fighting this battle, they would be unable to protect their South China Seas bases nor their trade routes from being destroyed. Then they would have also lost all that Taiwanese chip production that helps power their country. Internationally they would be isolated and I do not think that the Russians would back them either. And all to what end? National pride? They are not that stupid.

    And supposing that the Chinese were able to take Taiwan. What then? They would have to set up an occupation force which these days is about one soldier for every 40 inhabitants. For Taiwan, that works out to be nearly 600,000 soldiers. Guaranteed there would be guerilla fighting as that is what happened when the Japanese invaded Taiwan back in 1895. So you might be talking about a force of a million soldiers trying to put resistance down in face of a hostile population that will never reconcile with being forced into China. So I am saying here that probably the Chinese idea is to put pressure on Taiwan to keep the west busy while they probe for weaknesses on their other borders to break out of being contained. There will be confrontations, Chinese and US ships will end up banging each others ship hulls like happened with the Russians, recon flights will be met by Chinese fighters armed with missiles, Chinese weaponry and training will appear in places like Africa but it is a new game. The days of a unipolar world are now gone and so aggression will be met with aggression but probably not war.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > any perceived benefit

      Hegemony over the South China, the Gulf of Thailand, the Java Sea, the Straits of Malacca, and the Andaman sea is a big “perceived benefit.” That plus undoing a century or so of national humiliation.

      IMNSHO, the Buddist/Muslim countries “below” China want what they have always wanted: To be able to bend with the wind (even Laos and Cambodia would like to do this, had they they power). But what if the wind comes only from one direction?

      I’m very concerned that a combination of an overbearing and nervous China and an aging superpower that over-estimates its strength may be an explosive one, with no good outcomes.

      China attacks Taiwan. The Strait of Taiwan are harder to cross than the PLA thinks (and they’re not battle-tested). So an invasion meant to take days stretches into weeks. As Taiwan runs out of ammo, we start airlifting it in from our carriers. Then we lose a carrier. Then what?

      1. Howard Beale IV

        Let’s face facts: Taiwan’s only true value are its semiconductor fabrication facilities, so you’re left with two options: 1) Naval blockade of supplies for the fab plants or 2) destruction of the fab plants.

      2. The Rev Kev

        The Chinese would only get hegemony if they won but with their trade lines shattered. Even then the chances of winning are dubious. They would not be taking a risk doing this but taking a gamble instead. And General Erwin Rommel was very clear about the difference between the two which I have always remembered-

        “A risk is a chance you take; if it fails you can recover. A gamble is a chance taken; if it fails, recovery is impossible.”

      3. cbu

        I don’t think China will take Taiwan for hegemony. They will take Taiwan for sovereignty, which is priceless, and China is willing to achieve reunion at any cost.

    2. Andrew Watts

      Taiwan has less then 200,000 active duty personnel and the bulk of it’s reserves is made up of conscripts with only four months of training. This amount of training is woefully inadequate for a major power conflict.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Except it would not be a major power conflict. It would be a defensive operation where they hold the home ground advantage, with the opponent having a major stretch of sea to cover to supply their troops. That massively complicates things for the Chinese, especially as they would struggle to get any significant amount of armoured vehicles over the Strait.

        1. Bill Smith

          Supply of troops…

          Wouldn’t that be the same for Taiwan? Though there I am talking about supplying a country and weapons in the face of naval blockade by Chinese subs? With Taiwan having to be supplied over a major stretch of sea?

          (Unless it was over in a few days.)

          1. Sara K.

            When I lived in Taiwan, I recalled reading that they have a strategic reserve of petroleum which could last a few months if Taiwan were cut off from imports. That’s just one resource though, and I’m sure the PLA would be interested in destroying that reserve. However, the point is that the Taiwanese have a huge advantage in stockpiling supplies on Taiwan itself in advance.

            1. steelyman

              China has an overwhelming advantage in naval power, air power, standoff weapons and conventional missiles (supersonic, high supersonic and possibly hypersonic) versus the ROC. They could blockade and lay siege to Taiwan without having to ever set foot on it.

              All those stockpiles of food and fuel that Sara K mentions and all key infrastructure necessary for a prolonged islandwide defence would be targeted and destroyed in a few days by salvos of Chinese precision guided munitions and, believe me, they have a plentiful supply of these weapons. It would be shock and awe Beijing style!

              And unlike Taiwan, the West could not enforce a complete blockade on China as they can still get key supplies like food and energy from the Russian Federation (and probably certain countries in ASEAN) via land based logistic routes. Let the US send its CBGs into the South China Sea and the Straits Of Malacca. They will be just as useful as the Prince of Wales and the Repulse were to Singapore in Dec 1941. Hopefully these US vessels don’t meet the same fate.

              Like the Rev Kev above, I don’t think the Chinese will go to war with Taiwan at this time. It would take a truly provocative act to make them do so eg recognition of ROC by USA, UK or some other Western country.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                China does not have overwhelming sea power. China has very little experience and even though it has more ships, they don’t add up to the effective firepower the US has.

                I agree the distance is a disadvantage but Japan and the Philippines would be part of our staging grounds.

                1. steelyman

                  I should have been more specific. I meant that China has an overwhelming naval advantage versus ROC. And yes, no disagreement with you re Chinese experience in naval operations versus the USN although I suspect in any actual naval showdown the real question to be answered is whether the PLAN’s multi-decade focus on long range anti shipping missile technology pays off.

              2. PlutoniumKun

                You are assuming that other countries will help China out. They won’t, because quite simply they are aware that Chinese nationalists believe the true extent of China is that of the Qing dynasty at its height. This includes a significant chunk of Russia (including Vladivostok), parts of Vietnam, Myanmar and north Korea. Just because the Russians and others are very friendly with China now does not mean they have any intention of encouraging its territorial claims.

                There is also the reality that Taiwan is a major world supplier of many key electronic components as well as a key hub on information and sea highways. An unjustified blockade on Taiwan would be a de facto declaration of war on most of the world, it would not be tolerable to any advanced nation, including those hostile to the US and/or on very good terms with China. And China is every bit as dependent on fuel and energy imports as Taiwan.

                As to China’s naval power, thats a nonsense. They have a very large and increasingly modern navy, but it is completely untried and untested in combat. The history of ‘new’ navies hitting experienced ones is not good. None of their high tech weapons have been used in real combat. The Taiwanese have been digging in their key defence infrastructure into the mountains and forests of the inner island for years, so would be very difficult to strike with any certainty of success. Maybe all those new Chinese weapons will work perfectly. Maybe they won’t. Nobody, including probably the Chinese, know.

                1. steelyman

                  Hi PK,

                  Please see my reply to Yves above re Chinese naval power.

                  With regards to your opening paragraph about other countries helping China out or not. I disagree especially as to whether the Russians would help out. Please note that I did not suggest the Russians would assist China militarily but rather they would continue to keep her supplied with basics like energy and food. My personal opinion is that while there would be no overt obvious military support the Russians would most probably provide the Chinese with intelligence and satellite info during any hot conflict with the US. Your views obviously differ but I see the Russian-Chinese partnership getting deeper and stronger. Not quite a military alliance but certainly strategic in nature.

                  Finally, I never said anything about China launching an unjustified naval blockade of ROC out of the blue. I noted in my original post that I did not believe China would go to war against ROC except in the case of “a truly provocative act”. Acts of unjustified and unprovoked military aggression are far more likely to be performed by the US and its partners in the West (see Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc. etc.).

                  1. PlutoniumKun

                    Fair points. I would though, disagree about Russian/Chinese relations. They are close now in what amounts to an anti-US alliance and they have economic interests in common, but ultimately they share a long and occasionally contested border. Russia has show repeatedly that it dislikes any attempts at instability in any region of interest unless it can benefit, and it can only lose from an increase in Chinese nationalism. It is simply not in Russia’s interest to encourage the Chinese to swallow up neighbouring territories, because they know they are on the list.

                    The other issue in Chinese-Russian relationships is Vietnam. Russia has always been close to Vietnam and Vietnam in particular would be extremely hostile to any Chinese move on Taiwan because they are next in line. Vietnam is the fastest growing power in Asia and in the long term, Russia will value its close relationship with them far more than that with China.

      2. coboarts

        That’s the thing about all this geewhiz warfare stuff. Like the US in Iraq, after the geewhiz, then, you have to climb down out of your geewhizzer, and you’re just a dude with a gun in indian country.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      They could and would just kill enough chickens to keep the monkeys scared. ” Kill the chicken to scare the monkey”.

      And if that doesn’t work, they could just fill Taiwan up with concentration labor camps as in East Turkestan, and give everyone in Taiwan a concentration labor-camping vacation, for life if necessary.

    4. David Long

      I would like to add a domestic angle to the great points made by others. As long as political stability continues to be maintained on the mainland, the CCP is unlikely to invade Taiwan anytime soon. The CCP views the most cogent threat as as any challenge to its hold on power. A muddled outcome from a war with Taiwan might precipitate crises that challenge the legitimacy of CCP rule, the so-called “mandate of heaven”. All bets are off if political stability in China is threatened by economic problems, internal strive within the CCP, and overly aggressive moves by the US (such as declaring Taiwan to be an independent country). A cornered rat is more dangerous than a complacent one.

  5. David

    It’s an article by a Professor of Peace Studies, and if I wanted to be cruel, I would dismiss it as the usual peace studies paint-by-numbers alarmism. (Peace studies activists have, I think, predicted about thirty-eight of the last zero superpower conflicts). In particular, the author can’t make up his mind whether the US and China would “stumble” into war through some accidental clash, or whether a deliberate Chinese invasion of Taiwan would spark a war, so he talks about both interchangeably. (Since there’s no doubt that a Chinese invasion would bring the US in, and since the Chinese know that, an invasion would not be “stumbling” into anything).

    As PK says, the Chinese position has always been very clear. Taiwan is a province in rebellion against the central power, and they want it back. Moreover (as is often forgotten) Taipei also claims to be the seat of government for the whole country, not just Taiwan. But the Chinese are famously long-term thinkers, and they seem to want to try to bring Taiwan back progressively through economic and military intimidation, whilst creating a capacity to keep the US out of any conflict that might result. It’s hard to believe that even the Biden administration doesn’t realise this.

    As a side-note, I wish people would stop reflexively citing the outbreak of WW1 in such articles unless they can show they have a licence to do so. As recent studies (notably Christopher Clark’s 2014 book) make clear, the situation in 1914 was very complex, and nothing at all like the situation in China today. The Austrians did not “stumble” into war with Serbia: they had been looking for an excuse for some time. The Germans believed that a defensive war against Russia would soon be necessary because of that country’s rising military power, but were afraid that the French (who had recently increased their national service to three years) would attack them, because the French had been dreaming of an aggressive war to recapture Alsace and Lorraine ever since 1870. And so on. Nobody wanted WW1 the way it actually played out (same could be said of WW2) but all of the major combatants had plans for war, and the war took place on their territories. In other words, the situation has virtually nothing in common with China/Taiwan. And there were no provocative military exercises in 1914 (tension was low, it was summer, and the Kaiser, for example was away on his holidays) and “gunboat diplomacy” was the use of small naval forces (hence gunboat) to intervene against threats to colonial interests.

      1. Basil Pesto

        ooh, cool, I bought this for my Dad around then, well before I came across NC. Been meaning to check it out myself.

    1. upstater

      I don’t suppose better-credentialed RAND researcher or some other MIC think tanker would ever make statements in the same article or paper that the US and China could “stumble” into conflict or have it initiated by a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? Would that be OK if they did? How many of their works have contained analytical errors or intentional lies over the past 70 years? (cf: “missile gap”, dissolution of the USSR, WMD, etc, etc)

      The failure of the US to recognize “the American Century” is almost over is the root of the problem. We’re hollowed out, in case you have not visited recently. The MIC has been consuming 50-60% of the discretionary budget for close to 2 decades now with pathetically little to show for it. It has fostered a militarized culture of hubris that will end very badly if not brought to heel. I am not optimistic.

      1. David

        I’m afraid I have no idea what you mean. People from the RAND corporation write silly articles as well. And?

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Perhaps Rand writes silly articles but it does have a few decent papers on how to manage inventories — they are no Amazon of course. Sometimes reading Rand policy papers can offer a cloudy view of what kind of thinking might show up in TRADOC threat assessments and mission statements, thereby providing a murky view of potential directions for future procurement.

        2. upstater

          You denigrate Klare with an ad hominem first sentence. It does nothing to support subsequent statements. The point is whether one does “peace studies” or “war studies” shouldn’t make a difference in your arguments. Ridicule may work, but it isn’t polite.

    2. Bill Smith

      “Taipei also claims to be the seat of government for the whole country”

      Got a link to the last time a high ranking Taiwanese government official claimed this? Wondering how recent that would be…

        1. Bill Smith

          From the link:

          It looks like it has been more than 30 years since Taiwan claimed to rule the mainland

          “However, in 1991, President Lee Teng-hui indicated that he would not challenge the Communist authorities to rule mainland China.”

          1. David

            Since the 90s, both sides have toned down the rhetoric, with occasional ups and downs. (They seem to be on a down at the moment). Neither government, as of today, recognises the legitimacy of the other, but both have tacitly agreed to stop talking about “One China” in public. With the the final passing of the KMT generation (some of whom, at least, did believe that they would be going back to conquer the mainland) the Taiwanese have been playing a very good game of creative ambiguity, talking about independence (historically a causus belli for the PRC) but not taking serious steps towards it. The latest Constitution talks about the “free area” (ie the ROC) and the “Mainland”, and can certainly be read as implying that the “One China” policy is alive in Taipei. In any event, the Taiwanese would only give up this demand formally in exchange for a pretty big concession by the PRC. Given the region of the world we are discussing, few if any public statements should be taken at face value. But this is something of a tangent to the main question we’re discussing.

    3. A

      thank you for your earnestness in reading the essay:
      i too had similar objections.

      the disingenuous opinion of the author is exposed in an early line:

      … History tells us that conflicts don’t always begin due to planning and intent. Some, of course, start that way, as was the case, for…

      no mention of the US starting any wars, yet the author goes all the way back to WW1-

      conflicts do start with planning and the US has been planning and executing wars at a quickening pace:
      Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and now Taiwan.

      The US has perfected the art of selling hatred of your neighbors as freedom. This is the most pernicious part of the “planning” exercise.

      {You are a unique “people” and have the right to hate your neighbors! Let’s do it together!}
      said the instigator…

      Dropping the actual bombs is the easy part.

  6. Robert Gray

    I don’t know how serious, or not, Beijing is in regard to ‘reclaiming’ their ‘renegade’ province nor how logical, or not, their military thinking on this matter is. If they should decide to do so, however, I don’t think it would be the insurmountable (or too-expensive) challenge that others here are suggesting. You’ve got to remember that Taiwan is really only a postage stamp of an island, less than half the size (42%) of Ireland and about half the size of Tassie, not to mention smaller than 41 of the 50 US states.

    Remember too that unlike other Big Power invasions going all the way back to WWII, the supply lines would be short and easy. I doubt if the PLA would even need to assault any beaches — at least not as the main line of attack — when they could pretty well saturate the island with numerous paratroop divisions.

    Having said that, I do think that an invasion would be a big mistake, if only because of the psychopaths in the Pentagon.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The psychopaths are not in the Pentagon. They are in the White House and other centers of civilian power.

  7. Michael C.

    “All three are deploying forces on the borders of their adversaries, or the key allies of those adversaries,….”

    It seems to me this statement widely missed the mark. One only look at a map of U.S. bases around China and compare to China’s bases around the U.S. to see that there is a tad bit imbalance here. Maps are easily available. Beijing currently has four overseas military bases (according to Wikipedia, for what that is worth). I’ve read where the U.S has upward from 800 to 873 around the world, though the foot prints of some may be rather small.

    This dangerous game where the US tries to reassert its global hegemony in a world that increasingly is balking at that design is dangerous to the max. The U.S. recently threatened sanctions on Germany, a troubling development. An empire that is in decline may resort to stupid measures threatening the entire world, all the recent thumping for a New Cold War with Russia and China must be fought against with vigor, if of course the government listens to the people anymore anyway. Let’s hope reason rules and diplomacy is sought soon.

  8. Randy

    There’s zero percent chance of a hot war because China and the US don’t want their cities to glow green after a nuclear exchange. Thanks for reading. How do I get one of these cushy jobs producing crap reports?

  9. stefan

    China is 20% of the world population. America is 4%.

    China’s huge internal market has always been enough to entice corporate greed. The Chinese are excellent at business, highly energetic, and often unruly.

    The Taoist/Confucian philosophical basis of China has been remarkably resilient and effectively sound.

    Historically, China’s two problems have been overpopulation and unification (the “two-China” problem). These problems are inter-related: crowded conditions lead to fractiousness, rivalries, and factionalism. China has also usually been complacently inward looking, “middle kingdom.”

    When Chinese have gone overseas they have tended to remain apart, “Chinatown.” In southeast Asia Chinese enclaves are successful commercially and resented.

    The current regime is not much different from the imperial organization of China throughout its long history. Xi’s ability to make himself “president-for-life” is remarkable.

    So far, the ease with which China managed to smother a democracy movement in Hong Kong is also remarkable, especially considering that this has gone off without significant opposition from abroad even though they are clearly not complying with the Joint Declaration.

    So once they have consolidated things in Hong Kong, their attention will turn to Taiwan.

    Although America expends inordinate amounts of money on its military, its real defense is the Atlantic and Pacific. Events since 9/11 suggest that America may be a paper tiger with a glass jaw.

    1. doug

      Events since 9/11 suggest that America may be a paper tiger with a glass jaw.

      Try ‘Events since the loss of the vietnam war suggests that America may be a paper tiger with a glass jaw.’ ?

      The USofA military loses a lot, and claims to be all powerful; and many fall for that line, and worship/celebrate losers…

    2. Synoia

      Who was funding those “career protesters” in Hing Kong?
      They appeared to be full time protestors.

    3. Kouros

      The democracy in Hong Kong was destroyed by the reckless actions of the protestors.

      The one country, two systems equation was always peddled in the West as being just two systems, with Hong Kong on the verge of independence, any time now. The push against the extradition treaty with China – which is ultimately nonsensical, and undermining the One Country principle as well as the idea that China cannot access legally criminals that have sought refuge in Hong Kong.

      The protestors, who were not that peaceful to begin with, have undermined the democratic buds planted by UK in 1990s, as a poisonous pill to China (since they were fine without any democracy in Hong Hong for about 150 years) and have had interactions with intelligence elements from other countries (i.e. US, UK, Australia).

      All this was on the background of a total absence of a National Security Legislation that HK has consistently refused to adopt for 25 years, despite being mandated by the Basic Law.

      The undermining of the “One Country” part of the equation ultimately had consequences and no matter the howls most in the Western entities are emoting, the realities on the ground have shifted, especially from a legal perspective: You mess with the “One Country” part of the equation, you go to prison. Which is what all countries have on their books. Hey, the US had a Civil War about the same issue, which was the bloodiest war the US has ever been engaged in.

      As for Taiwan I am in two minds. While I am for them preserving all the democratic elements they have won, especially after 1990s, the danger Taiwan represents as a base of US military threat against China would make me understand Chinese claims, especially from this security perspective.

  10. Andrew Watts

    I think people overestimate American military power and underestimate China’s will to bring Taiwan under it’s jurisdiction. The US spends around a third of it’s military budget on bases around the world and does little to protect them. A war with any major power will expose this fatal flaw in American decision-making.

    The vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission commented recently that a war with the US was quote “inevitable”. The fact that the Chinese made that comment public alongside their recent actions is a dire warning. The last time the US ignored a similar warning was right before the Chinese intervention in the Korean War.

    The last time a land-air-sea war was fought between countries was the Falklands. The only time in recent memory where the US military used combined arms to defeat an enemy was in Panama.

    It didn’t work out great.

  11. Reality Bites

    The question is not necessarily whether or how quickly China could overtake Taiwan, but whether the blowback is worth it. Yes it could get Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, but all of the human capacity would quickly flee to Europe or the US. They would gladly accept them. It would also galvanize the US and Europe to spend whatever is necessary to divert the supply chain out of China. Right now it’s just talk because it is expensive, takes time, and the private sector is not that willing to do it. Once you get to the stage of armed conflict, those excuses go out the window. It also means that the pipeline of US-trained Chinese scientists and engineers ends abruptly. China doesn’t (yet) have the ability to decouple these things from the US/Europe.

    The current trade and supply chain situations, between COVID and Suez, have started half-hearted onshoring and near shoring discussions. Taiwan invasion is a game changer. I suspect China will do just like HK. Wait them out and slowly apply the grip behind closed doors.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I wish I could feel as optimistic as you do about the good sense lingering in enough of the US elites. I am inclined to believe they will cling to the belief that the shit may hit the fan but not on my watch … apres moi … The current problems obtaining chips or other parts for US assembly-kit ‘manufacturing’ are not a new experience. The flaws in the existing long narrow supply chains feeding just-in-time inventories have been known for decades. Concern over the lack of domestic manufacturing capability and the problems with counterfeit parts and assemblies and single source supply feeding military logistic chains has exercised the Senate Armed Services Committee every so often for decades. This has resulted in the generation of reports and studies, and further official concern.

  12. Bill Smith

    “human capacity would quickly flee to Europe or the US”

    If the Chinese overtook Taiwan, how would the people get out of Taiwan? Or are you talking about something short of an actual military conflict when you talk about “China overtake Taiwan”?

    1. Reality Bites

      In nearly every conflict there is a build up prior to the actual outbreak of armed warfare. There is rising political tension and usually some movement of military assets. It is rare for things like this to completely go from cold to hot. Completely unprovoked aggression hurts China. They need a fig leaf to justify occupation, even for domestic purposes. It is during this saber-rattling period where those with means plan or actually make their moves. I’ve witnessed this first hand with people that fled places like Syria, Crimea, and Iraq (fled ISIS, not US invasion). The Taiwanese know the strategic importance and would help key people get out.

  13. laodan

    Reading the comment section was more rewarding than reading the article I must say. Having said that from inside China things look a little different than what is being commented on here :

    — the population satisfaction with the government is at an all time high. The Chinese are proud again to be Chinese. This is a totally new experience for anybody living in China and it stands in stark contrast with the social and cultural meltdown that appears to afflict the West presently. In my understanding of the things to come societal cohesion will play a determinant role and so my view is that China is definitely in a far better place than the West in whatever future scenario.

    — the political priority in China today is “the internal circulation” : – local consumption satisfied in priority by local production, – scientific research boosted to reach self-sufficiency (by the way today the media announced that 7nm chips will be in production within the following months…), as Stefan rightly commented China’s population is 20% of the world population but what is perhaps less known is that total accumulated savings in bank accounts reach the equivalent of some 30 Trillion US dollars… I bet that Western big capital holders do not want to lose the opportunity to sell in what will soon be an internal market that is larger than the US and the EU combined. For proof check the position of German capital holders and their government relative to the US recent chest thumping.

    Michael Hudson is right that in the present international context the most significant conflict is between — Western financial rent seekers — Chinese state capital investing in infrastructure and industrial productions. In light of this, and what I laid out here above, the Chinese will not allow a kinetic conflict to take place. They have a better game plan which is to wait for a Western financial collapse to clean up the Geopolitical landscape and, those who watch attentively know that they are doing all they can for that to happen sooner rather than later…

    About Taiwan there is a factor nobody talked about but that nevertheless could play a decisive role. Some 25 to 30% of the total population (with higher % in the older generations) are agreeing with China’s position that Taiwan is an integral part of China. China’s game-plan definitely integrates that factor…

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      As the US Empire diminishes I too believe Taiwan will have many reasons to want to integrate with China.

  14. Synoia

    The US was warned by Japan that for any act of War by the US aimed at Japan would cause retaliation.
    The US Imposed Sanctions on Oil Deliveries to Japan.
    Japan then attacked a military target at Perl Harbor.

    Why does the US collectively continually avoid this?

  15. Alex Cox

    Excellent comments! There are most interesting and useful observations here.

    In International Law (remember that?) there is a concept called “territorial contiguity” which is used to decide which state has a legitimate right to a disputed territory. As I understand it, the fact that England seized Hong Kong, Gibraltar and Northern Ireland (when it was forced to withdraw from the rest of the island) didn’t give England any rights under International Law. Territorial contiguity says that China, Spain, and Eire have a legitimate right to the places in question.

    Would this apply to the former Chinese province of Taiwan? Or would the hundred miles make a difference?

    1. Bill Smith

      When did England “seize” Northern Ireland? And by that logic wouldn’t England have just kept all of Ireland, thus the Irish would have no right to an county at all?

      I think losing a war can trump “territorial contiguity”. Though as you pointed out Spain is lobbying for Gibraltar 300 years later.

      1. Alex Cox

        London ruled Ireland for a very long time. Remember Cromwell? In the last century the Irish were able to force my fellow limeys out of most of Eire, but London hung onto the north-east corner of the country (Derry = “Londonderry”) and continues to do so, though it seems that Brexit may put paid to that.

    2. David

      There are people here who know much more than I do about Irish history, but the whole island of Ireland was a British possession for, oh, longer than the United States has existed, or longer than Bavaria has been part of Germany, or Lombardy part of Italy. A hundred years ago, after a nasty little war, the British gave up most of the island (which became the Free State and then the Republic), but kept the North, where most Protestants lived. International Law recognised Hong Kong as a British possession until 1997, and of course still recognises French overseas territories, such as Guyane, as part of France. Taiwan was annexed by China in the seventeenth century, and then occupied by Japan for fifty years until 1945. (Tokyo is almost as close to Taipei as Beijing is, and you can practically see Taiwan on the horizon from some of the outlying islands of the Okinawa chain). The whole position of the KMT historically was based on the argument that Taiwan had historically been an integral part of China, and it was the one part of the country that had not fallen to the insurgents (a bit like the north-east corner of Spain at the end of the Civil War). The CCP argument, of course, was that it was the one part of the country that had yet to be liberated. But for both it was only one country.

    3. Basil Pesto

      It’s been a while since I studied international law, and then only at undergraduate level and not especially engaged at the time for various reasons. I must confess that the term ‘territorial contiguity’ did not ring a bell, and a brief search could only turn up examples of it being used in specific academic contexts, as opposed to jurisprudential ones.

      This lecture has a good overview on the question of sovereignty in International Law. I skimmed through it but there is a passage that I believe speaks to your comment from 21:10:

      neither geographical unity nor contiguity are, as such, sources of title with regards to all areas contained within the area in question, nor is the proximity of islands to the mainland determinative, as such, to the question of legal title

      (this construction is sufficiently typical of the language of international law and its study to give you an idea of why I might have tuned out from time to time)

      he goes on to cite Eritrea v Yemen and Eritrea v Ethiopia

      he then goes on to mention that pre-existing legal title will have pre-eminence. Again I have to stress I’ve only skimmed the video (it’s very late here!!) but it’s a trustworthy source on international law.

      For an overview of Gibraltar with respect to international law, this article in the oxford encyclopedia on the subject is excellent. Reading it, I wonder if you had territorial integrity in mind instead of contiguity?

  16. Mr. Magoo

    There is a lot of probably valid criticism of the US military, and its likely over-confidence in what the US military thinks it can and cannot do. However, I am not sure elevating the Chinese military, without any real track record other than flying into other countries planes, ramming other countries boats, has any basis in reality.

    Any invasion of Taiwan would be messy. Period. US involvement would not necessarily be black or white – plenty of shades of grey here, running blockades, logistics and intelligence support, etc, that could make it messier.

    Taiwan is Taiwan. Seems like more a domestic issue than anything. The South China Sea is not, and considering the long term implications, surprised there is not a lot more squawking from the countries who are gradually loosing their economic exclusion zones, if not their only access to international trade routes.

  17. Susan the other

    We’ll just use Blinken’s new line – China is an autocratic capitalist country. So since we are a democratic capitalist country we’ll just occupy our fellow democratic trading partner Taiwan and bomb the Chinese mainland with strategic little nukes and blockade them until they are polite… because we are not autocratic. And don’t you forget it.

  18. George Phillies

    China relies on imports of iron ore, oil, and food, and international trade. In a war, the first three would disappear in a blockade, and the fourth would become untenable when their foreign currency reserves were seized and their access to the SWIFT system suddenly stopped.

    As Dwight David Eisenhower, who commanded the largest amphibious invasion in history, explained, under the conditions of modern warfare large amphibious invasions are impossible against major powers.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      How much oil, ore, coal, etc. has China been pre-buying and stockpiling against future embargo shortages?

  19. Jeremy Grimm

    Though Japan is mentioned in historical contexts in the post and comments I am curious whether Japan should be forgotten as a variable in the Pacific geopolitics discussed with respect to Taiwan. My impressions from very limited travels in the Far East is that memories there are long and there were many memories recalling the savagery of recent and past centuries of Japanese conquests and occupations. I also wonder to what extent the Kuomintang remain a presence or persistent memory in Taiwan. I suppose the present leadership of China must distance itself from the Kuomintang who I believe treated the native Taiwanese none too kindly. Is a new sinicization policy in store for the Taiwanese if China reabsorbs Taiwan? Chinese dealings with Tibet and the Uyghurs would not seem to bode well.

  20. Scott1

    From the time France was defeated by Germany till the beginning of World War 1 French schools taught the French children France would reclaim Alsace-Lorraine. Alliances had been put in place by treaties intended to give France power great enough to prevent a German attack or eventual success.
    The Chinese Communists have apparently been teaching that they and their system is superior.
    The only ally of the Communists is the Stalinist DPRK. The DPRK claims to be food secure.
    China must feed a large population and has been buying hog farms in North Carolina. Implied is the prospect that Communist China would have difficulty feeding its population in the event of conventional warfare.
    Communist China has made life for civilians attempting to enjoy living in Communist China difficult and threatening. The VLOGGERS I follow who were touring on motorcycles in China are getting out. An ambassador has packed up and moved himself and his family without asking the Communists for permission.
    The arrogance of the Communists is so great that one wonders what they base it on. Sure enough the US Navy appears to be undermanned in that theater. Morale must be low going by crashes of US Navy ships.
    Throughout the world there are professional soldiers, sailors, airmen and intelligence officers. We know that they have done great work since war has not come home to us excepting as we experience domestic warfare from within by our own. Still these professionals may well prefer to be at war with another nation just to stop feeling bad about their own.

  21. Ralph McRae

    Thank you Jeremy! So far, it seems that you are the only one (including Michael Klare) who has any awareness and/or consideration for legacy effects of the Chinese Civil War….which Mainland China has never felt completely resolved when they consolidated control of the mainland in 1949!

    Those of us who are old enough to remember, recall that when Chiang Kai Shek and the Kuomintang still ruled Taiwan with an iron fist, after their retreat and Taiwan beachhead was established at the end of the war, both the “Nationalists” on Taiwan and the Communist Chinese Government led by Mao were claiming control of the entire country.

    So, it wasn’t to anyone’s surprise back when their blood feud was still ongoing, that both sides claimed the entire pie and weren’t interested in negotiating with each other! And it’s been in the years after Nixon went to the real China and tried to push a “Two China” policy that was never accepted by either side, that the generations since on Taiwan have resolved themselves to the fact that, although the mixed Chinese/Australasian inhabitants could not repel the large invasion force that just moved in and took over, the best Taiwan can do in recent decades is try to become independent of the mainland.

    But, however it’s resolved, it is still not an issue that outside meddlers (especially the US) should be involved with!

  22. LadyXoc

    I lived in Taiwan for nearly four years. Never forget that the majority of Taiwan residents are ethnic Han Chinese (and quite a lot of Hakka). The “native” Taiwanese settled Taiwan in the 1600s, arriving from nearby Fujian province. Truly native Taiwanese are Polynesians. I am disturbed by the immediate reflexive armchair war-gaming people engage in. I cannot see the leaders of the PRC, who I perceive being as fairly adept (and more so every day) foreign policy practitioners, ever resorting to a military solution. Reopening this civil war would be a disaster (and open internal rifts, re freedom of speech for ex) and China knows it. Also, Taiwan is more analogous to Florida than Puerto Rico (i.e. would US gov invade/bomb to reintegrate?). One of festering problems here is failure, esp of US, to settle post WW2 territorial disputes which are lingering source of tension (and exploited by US for own ends of sowing discord). Taiwan is a lovely, fertile, productive island. The PRC knows there is no military solution and the US must stop trying to force its hand.

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