The War Nerd: Taiwan — The Thucydides Trapper Who Cried Woof

Yves here. We are delighted to feature the War Nerd’s incisive and colorful take on the saber-rattling by the US and China over Taiwan. Note that the reference to the book The Thucydides Trap is apt. Just as too many people who ought to know better are misrepresenting the stakes for fun and profit, so to did the book The Thucydides Trap fundamentally represent the standing of Athens and Sparta.

By Gary Brecher. Republished from the Radio War Nerd subscriber newsletter. Subscribe to the Radio War Nerd podcast hosted by Gary Brecher & Mark Ames for podcasts, newsletters and more!

Republished from the Radio War Nerd subscriber newsletter. Subscribe to the Radio War Nerd podcast hosted by Gary Brecher & Mark Ames for podcasts, newsletters and more!

It’s a full-time job, keeping track of the US/NATO campaign to start a fire somewhere on China’s borders. It’s like tracking an inept arsonist by satellite image: “Oh, there he goes again…the idiot started a trash fire next to a concrete wall.”

Of course, no one who matters in the defense business wants total war with China. They just want to keep those trash fires burning, hoping one of them will blaze up big, like a gender-reveal wildfire. And even if none of them do, it’s good for business, because most war scares are about funding. The US Navy always, always wants more ships. What’s scarce is plausible reasons to buy them.

So when you read US analyses of the Taiwan situation, you have to remind yourself that this isn’t necessarily about a real war. That’s a lesson you learned the hard way if, like me, you’re old enough to remember the NATO/Warsaw Pact war that was always just about to happen. Looking back, it was never going to happen. The whole idea was absurd, because that war would have gone nuclear in a half hour, and nobody in power wanted that.

So when you read some hyperventilating wonk enthusing over a 21st c. Anaconda Plan to blockade China, remember that it’s budget season (because it’s always budget season at the Pentagon), and nobody who matters could really imagine that reviving the Anaconda Plan, which didn’t even work very well against the Confederacy, is gonna work against the PRC and its long-range anti-ship missiles.

There’s a catch, though. The US/NATO command may be woofing just to get more ships and planes funded, but woofing can go badly wrong. The people you’re woofing at may think you really mean it. That’s what came very close to happening in the 1983 Able Archer NATO exercises. The woofing by Reagan and Thatcher in the leadup to those exercises was so convincing to the Soviet woof-ees that even the moribund USSR came close to responding in real—like nuclear—ways.

That’s how contingency plans, domestic political theatrics, and funding scams can feed into each other and lead to real wars.

Military forces develop contingency plans. That’s part of their job. Some of the plans to fight China are crazy, but some are just plausible enough to be worrying, because somebody might start thinking they could work. Case in point, this plan to defeat a PRC invasion of Taiwan:

“The only method of preventing China from successfully annexing Taiwan is to reject calls for a cease-fire, contain Chinese bridgeheads and airheads into as small a perimeter as possible, and then drive the invaders into the sea. Contrary to the limited Army supporting role envisioned in the Pacific, an Army corps will be indispensable and must be fully incorporated into U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) Taiwan contingency plans.”

Taiwan is the most promising theater for US military planners for pretty simple, obvious reasons: it’s an island in an area where the US has massive bases. Since US military power is mostly sea- and air-based, the US can imagine (and has imagined) it could win in Taiwan. Other regions that get the most media attention, above all Xinjiang, are hopeless from a US military planner’s perspective. Xinjiang is in the middle of the world’s largest land mass, and the countries surrounding it have their own problems. A conventional US military attack there isn’t just implausible, like the other China-war scenarios; it’s flat-out impossible.

What you do with a place like Xinjiang, if you’re a CIA/DoD planner, is file it under “promote insurgency” — meaning “start as many small fires as possible,” rather than “invade and begin a conventional war.”

And in the meantime, you keep working on the real complaints of the Uyghur and other non-Han ethnic groups, so that if you do need to start a conventional war in the Formosa Straits, you can use the Uyghur as a diversion, a sacrifice, by getting them to rise up and be massacred. Since there’s a big Han-Chinese population in Xinjiang, as the map shows, you can hope to stir up the sort of massacre/counter-massacre whipsaw that leaves evil memories for centuries, leading to a permanent weakening of the Chinese state.

This is a nasty strategy, but it’s a standard imperial practice, low-cost — for the empire, not the local population, of course. It costs those people everything, but empires are not sentimental about such things.

This strategy worked well during the US attack on the Iraqi Army in Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. US intel used the legitimate complaints of the Iraqi Kurds and Shia, and convinced them to revolt by dropping leaflets promising US military support.

That was a lie, of course. The Iraqi Kurds were, like the Uyghur, a landlocked, stateless population spilling over into the territory of US/NATO allies, meaning it would’ve been logistically difficult and politically unwise to give them any real military support. The Iraqi Shia were more accessible, since Basra is very close to Kuwait — but the US was acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia in that war, and KSA can’t even tolerate its own Shia population. Offering effective help to Iraq’s Shia majority would have infuriated KSA, Israel, and the UAE, the only states the US worried about.

So once the Kurds and Shia had served their purpose, diverting Iraqi troops from the real front lines in Kuwait, both insurgent groups were left to the tender mercies of Saddam’s army.

BTW, if it seems I’m being too cynical here, let me add that I knew someone who was friends with a DIA agent who had the job of dropping leaflets in Iraqi Kurdistan urging the Kurds to revolt in the leadup to Operation Desert Storm. She asked him if he felt bad about stirring up a doomed insurgency. He said, “They’re all animals anyway.”

The woman who told me that story was no bleeding-heart liberal — far from it. But even she was shocked a bit. So “too cynical” is not a valid objection here.

The Uyghur in Xinjiang would serve the same purpose as the Iraqi Kurds: “straw dogs destined for sacrifice.” If you want to get really cynical, consider that the reprisals they’d face from an enraged Chinese military would be even more useful to the US/NATO side than their doomed insurgency itself.

Atrocity propaganda is very important in 21st c warfare. At the moment, there’s no evidence of real, mass slaughter in Xinjiang, yet we’re already getting propaganda claims about it. Imagine what US/NATO could make out of the bloody aftermath of a doomed insurgency. Well, assuming that US/NATO survived a war with China, a pretty dicey assumption. More likely, CNN, BBC, and NYT would be the first to welcome our new overlords, Kent Brockman style. Those mainstream-media whores aren’t too bright but Lord, they’re agile.

Hong Kong, one other widely publicized dissident region, is as hopeless as Xinjiang in terms of a beachhead for conventional war with China.

Just look at the map. Hong Kong is a great harbor but an indefensible peninsula on a heavily populated part of the Chinese coastline. Hell, the British couldn’t even hold it in WW 2 against an outnumbered Japanese invasion force. There is no way on earth it could be held against the PLA for even a day.

It’d be easier to defend Berkeley against the rest of America (a cool scenario, BTW — I wonder if anybody’s made it into a video game). Constantinople in 1453 would look like victory compared to any attempt to defend Hong Kong. Ever see Bambi vs. Godzilla? Like that.

Even as propaganda, Hong Kong won’t work very well. We know this, because it’s been tried, and didn’t pan out.

You may have noticed that a couple of years ago, stories on Hong Kong dissidents were constant in Anglo media. They’ve all but vanished now, in favor of Xinjiang stories. There are two reasons for this, and the difference in these two reasons illustrates something important about the weird double-vision of 21st c. conflict.

First, Hong Kong is an open society, stuffed full of good reporters. That means that it’s hard to reduce the problems there to a simple morality play. You can do that in Xinjiang because facts on the ground are very scarce (and nobody in the media wants to go there and spoil the dream, either) — but you can’t in Hong Kong. It’s a purely urban, argumentative, hyperliterate, online place, and ten minutes googling disabuses you of any notion that it’s a simple story of bad PRC vs. good dissidents. Families are deeply split, people are talking and acting messily on every side, and it’s just too much like real life to make a good sermon.

Xinjiang, by contrast, can easily be imagined as One Giant Concentration Camp. After all, our leading “expert” on the province has never been there, and neither have his readers.

So, if you’re a US/NATO planner, you file Xinjiang under “diversionary doomed insurgency, with PR benefits,” and Hong Kong under “agent recruitment/sleeper cells,” and consign both to small, side bets. That’s all you need to do, and given the godawful military record of US/NATO forces in recent warfare, that’s all you really want to do. You don’t want war. You may get it, but you don’t want it.

You’re running out of places to confront China at this point. Where else, Tibet? That’s been tried.

From the moment the PLA launched its uncharacteristically gentle takeover of Tibet in 1950, right up to the time Nixon and Kissinger started cozying up to Mao, US intelligence tried to create a Tibetan insurgency. You can guess how that went. It’s downright amazing the way US intel refused to concede that one of the few things Marxist-Leninist regimes were really good at was espionage and (especially) counter-espionage. A lot of trusting Tibetans died in those campaigns. A lot of Agency men got promoted. It’s a grim story.

So what’s left? Not much. China is just a hard target, as the past 70 years have shown. The Han-Chinese majority is becoming more nationalistic every year. The economy is booming, on the verge of knocking the US off the number one spot it’s held for 150 years. China has played this century smart, staying out of the black hole of Middle Eastern wars, picking up friends quietly, letting the US state make enemies.

Only Taiwan offers any hope to US military planners. And even that hope isn’t much. Back in the 1950s, US intel had high hopes that the remnants of the Kuomintang in Taiwan could be used to stage a Pacific D-Day, storming the beaches of Fujian and overthrowing the Communists. US rightists even had a slogan, “Unleash Chiang Kai-Shek,” which was kind of like threatening to unleash your Papillon-Shih-Tzu cross on the Lion Safari Park next door.

Truman listened to his saner generals and announced in 1950 that the US wouldn’t intervene in China/Taiwan disputes over the Formosa Straits. But the US elite was deeply factionalized even then, at the height of American power, and powerful elements of the DoD weren’t willing to let China alone.

MacArthur’s open 1951 revolt in Korea showed that elite commanders were willing to use nukes (34 of them, to be exact) to get rid of the CCP.

A real war with China was off the table, once the US military lost its 1950s infatuation with nukes, for the simple reason that nukes were the only possible way the US could win a war with China. The USSR came to the same conclusion during its 1969 border war with China, and may even have sounded out the US for permission to use these taboo weapons against Mao.

The only real scenario which offers US forces a chance to accomplish anything in military terms depends on China invading Taiwan. That’s the only reason you see so many articles in the Anglo media asking hopefully, “Will China Invade Taiwan?” I swear, they’re like kids on Christmas Eve, dreaming that Chinese fleets will swarm the Formosa Straits, making the Americans’ obsolete naval and air assets meaningful again.

You’ll notice that it’s a USN admiral leading the PR campaign boosting a PRC invasion of Taiwan. It’s downright embarrassing, how transparently this guy Aquilino is drooling over the prospect of a good ol’ fashioned 20th c. naval war in the Formosa Straits. He might as well order up some commercials with the slogan, in Mandarin and English, “Puhleeeze, China! Invade Taiwan! Make the US Navy relevant again!”

It reminds me of those sad commercials that California almond farmers ran when I was young, begging you to gobble “A can a week, that’s all we ask.”

It won’t happen, of course. No one really thinks it will, including Aquilino and his planning staff. The era of naval war based on carrier groups is over. They know that, even if they won’t say it.

If there’s a real war with China, the carriers will wait it out in San Diego harbor. I don’t say Honolulu, because even that wouldn’t be safe enough.

I’m not denigrating the courage or dedication of the crews and officers of USN vessels. At any level below JCOS, most of them are believers. But their belief is increasingly besieged and difficult to sustain, like an Episcopalian at Easter. You just can’t think too long about how cheap and effective antiship missiles are and still be a believer in aircraft carriers. As platforms of gunboat diplomacy against weak powers, they’re OK. No better than OK, as the USN showed in Lebanon in 1983, when it managed to lose two A-6s in one day, after the IDF’s air force had demolished the Syrian AF, knocking down 82 SAA aircraft and gutting their air defenses without losing a single plane.

The moral of that Lebanon story, not that anybody in DC wants to learn it, is that if you’re gonna do gunboat diplomacy, it’d be safer and about a thousand times cheaper to do it with actual gunboats than with carriers.

And that’s not even considering what would happen to those unbelievably expensive carriers in an all-out conventional war with China. The Pacific would gain some overpriced artificial reefs, and a lot of decent, trusting sailors would die without inflicting any damage on the “enemy.”

But the scenario is useful, useful for funding, which is the real purpose of the DoD. You all know the F-35 story by now, so I don’t need to go over it again, but keep the moral of that story in mind: defense appropriations have nothing to do with defending and everything to do with business. 

At the moment, the eager scenarios promising that “we” could defeat a PRC invasion of China are so deeply stuck in 1940s strategic thinking that you might as well get your military news from the reenactors who show up at the park on weekends to bang each other up with homemade swords. That’s over too, but at least it doesn’t cost as much money or as many lives as a carrier-based attempt to defend Taiwan would.

Very few of these articles bother much with what’s going on in China itself. China is just The Enemy, the red force in some Fort-Irwin scenario that gives aspiring officers a chance to shine. The thing is, and it’s weird you even have to say this: China is a big strong country coming out of an era of deep national humiliation and suffering, proud of its new prosperity. China’s success in lifting a desperately poor population into something like prosperity will likely be the biggest story from this era, when the canonical histories get distilled.

A nation hitting this stage is likely to include a lot of people, especially young men, who are itching to show what their country can do. Their patriotic eagerness is no doubt as gullible as most, but it’s real, and if you pay any attention in the online world, you can’t help seeing it.

People who mouth off about China never seem to imagine that anyone in China might hear, because as we are told over and over again, China-is-an-authoritarian-state. The implication is that nobody in China has any of the nationalistic fervor that we take for granted in our own Anglo states.

The only time you see anything about Chinese nationalism is when it’s used as one element of the war-fever talk: “Look! China’s gnashing its teeth! Buy us more carriers!” This is how most sources interpret the “Wolf Warrior” meme.

Wolf Warrior is a nationalistic Chinese war movie. That’s where the term “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy” comes from. The existence of such movies is deeply alarming…to the people who’ve watched Rambo II and III every night for decades, cheering every time Stallone shoots an NVA man with a arrow. (I say “*a* arrow” advisedly. “*An* arrow” gives far too much credit.) This stuff is so transparently stupid. It’s odd that life-long jingoists might be alarmed to discover that another great power has its own patriotic feelings, its own demographic eager for tales of martial glory.

If you know any recent Chinese history, any at all, then the PRC’s desire to reintegrate Taiwan doesn’t seem a very aggressive or frightening development, for the simple reason that the US used to be the most fierce advocate of Taiwan/Mainland China unity, to the point of madness. Until Nixon and Kissinger abandoned Taiwan for Beijing, the US was, to use a newspaper word, “adamant” that there was only one China.

And even after the big visit, years passed before the US acknowledged publicly that the PRC existed. Until 1979 — 1979! — the US insisted with a straight face that Chiang Kai-Shek’s exiled elite in Taiwan were the only legitimate government of China, all China, from Xinjiang to Taipei. The PRC did not exist. There was no US diplomatic representation in Beijing, no official contact. Everything had to be done by a farcical go-between, usually some European country willing to concede that Taiwan did not actually rule in Beijing.

At this point, the US/NATO elite believed more strongly than the PRC elite does now that there is only one China — that the mainland and Taiwan were part of the same country. That was the whole basis for ignoring the PRC.

Given the history of US/China relations, from the pogroms against Chinese immigrants to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, through the demonization of Chinese mainlanders in the Cold War (which I remember distinctly from elementary school scare movies), the endless attempts to start insurgencies in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Fujian, to the nonstop violence and abuse of Asians in America, you don’t need to find reasons for Chinese people to want a war.

The odd thing is that most of them don’t seem to. That’s a remarkable testimony to the discipline and good sense of the Chinese public…so far. And it’s also, if you’re thinking clearly, a good reason not to keep provoking China in such gross, pointless ways. A population with that level of discipline and unity, matched with zooming prosperity, technical expertise, and pride on emerging from a long nightmare, is not one to woof at.

Of course the plan in the Pentagon is not real war. The plan is to slow China down, trip it up, “wrong-foot it” as they say in the Commonwealth.

Along the way, all of the populations Western media consumers are exhorted to care about can be sacrificed. They’ll vanish as quickly as the Tibetans vanished when their usefulness was exhausted. (Adrian Zenz started as a Tibetan specialist, BTW. He switched to Xinjiang when the bottom fell out of the Tibetan-provocation market in the 1990s.)

So what will China do about Taiwan? China could take it right now, if it wanted to pay the price. Everyone knows that, though many fake-news sites have responded with childish, ridiculous gung-ho stories about how “Taiwan Could Win.”

But will China invade? No. Not right now anyway. It doesn’t need to. The Chinese elite has its own constituencies, like all other polities (including “totalitarian” ones), and has to answer to them as circumstances change.

So far China has been extraordinarily patient, a lot more patient than we’d be if China was promising to fight to the death for, say, Long Island. But that can change. Because, as I never tire of repeating, the enemy of the moment has constituencies too. And has to answer to them.

So what happens if the US succeeds in hamstringing China’s economy? Welp, what’s the most reliable distraction a gov’t can find when it wants to unite a hard-pressed population against some distant enemy?

That’s when China might actually do something about Taiwan. Oh, not the silly 20th c. style invasion the USN dreams about. That’s nonsense. The PLA has contingency planners too, and they won’t want to play those retro games. There’s a whole new military technology and an evolving strategy to optimize it, and it includes dozens of ways to neutralize carrier battle groups. Planning that campaign is probably the most requested assignment among ambitious PLA planners.

And that’s how this looks, when you stare coldly: If our military and media elites are very lucky, China will zoom ahead and ignore the endless woofing. But if US/NATO somehow succeed in crippling China’s economy, then, as Mao might put it, the flabby Golden Retriever woofing behind its picket fence at the pit bull might find that the yard gate is open.

Or, to come down out of the metaphors: Taiwan is a permanent, legitimate casus belli for China. It can be ignored when things are going well domestically, but is always available for use if the economy goes badly and the PRC elite needs a distraction.

It will be interesting to see how the Anglo media, now doing its Sidney Ferocious routine, reacts when and if that happens. My money is on a light-speed Kent Brockman flip.

Gary Brecher is the nom de guerre-nerd of John Dolan. Buy his book The War Nerd Iliad. Hear him read his comic memoir Pleasant Hell in audiobook format.

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  1. John Siman

    The War Nerd certainly has some telling anecdotes: “BTW, if it seems I’m being too cynical here, let me add that I knew someone who was friends with a DIA agent who had the job of dropping leaflets in Iraqi Kurdistan urging the Kurds to revolt in the leadup to Operation Desert Storm. She asked him if he felt bad about stirring up a doomed insurgency. He said, ‘They’re all animals anyway.’”

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I’m a big fan of the War Nerd, but I think he is seeing this far too much from the ‘everything is a US blob plot’ perspective.

    Yes, there is little doubt that there has been a systematic push by defense interests to hype the events in the Uighur lands, but he seems unaware that the conflict has been going on there for decades, and long predates any interest from the US. As with Tibet in the run-up to the Olympics, we seem to have seen the last thrashings by a small ethnic group who realize that they’ve lost their lands and their self determination, and the ruthless suppression of this by the Chinese. You don’t need to invent magical CIA interference everywhere, sometimes these things do arise organically.

    As for Chinese nationalism, its pretty wide of the mark to describe this as a response to US pressure. Mao himself said that China’s ‘real’ borders were the maximum extent of the Qing empire, and this includes chunks of Vietnam, Myanmar, Afghanistan and a very sizeable chunk of Russia. All China’s neighbours are very aware of this and its a very significant factor in how China’s neighbours plot their own foreign policy strategies.

    I’m fairly well hooked in to Chinese social media via a number of friends, and there has definitely been a wave of defensiveness due to the hypocritical hyping of what is going on in HK and Urumqi, although I wouldn’t describe it as a new form of nationalism – Han (not Chinese) nationalism has always been a strong feature, but what is new now is a form of hyper defensiveness. But this is as much due to regional changes – in particular the resistance of South Korea and Japan and Vietnam to Chinese influence, and increasing skepticism about the Belt and Road Initiative. There is a strong rising wave of anti-Chinese feeling in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines which has nothing to do with US interference.

    I’d also question whether China is showing great patience. The South Koreans certainly wouldn’t agree, as they’ve been on the wrong side of massive Chinese over reaction to the THAAD deployments. China been very fast to react/aggressive (depending on how you describe it) on border issues with India, Bhutan and Vietnam.

    So while the story told here is true in general – it is deeply disturbing the way that US military interests have no compunction about rising geopolitical pressures in order to win internal budget wars (and the fact that nobody at the top seems inclined to stop them), the situation in the region is vastly more complicated than simply ‘US provokes/China defensively responds’. This only looks to be the case when taking a very US-centric perspective. The perspective from the point of view of Chinas immediate neighbours looks very different.

    1. vlade

      The “Only the US has agency” (a more generic case of “only the CIA has agency”) gets my goat a lot. Although I do find it funny when it’s used by the people who accuse the US of nationalism and “feeling of being special”.

      1. Thuto

        While I agree in the main, I also have to say not all agency is created equal. Some groups have agency that has to contend with systemic hard constraints (e.g. oppressed minorities in totalitarian regimes). Institutions like the CIA have become skilled at free riding on the agency of such groups to foment internal conflict and promote insurgency. My own sense is that groups that face hard constraints on their agency can have it prodded and manipulated under false pretenses by the likes of the CIA (as aptly demonstrated by the example of Iraqi Kurds mentioned by the author), which is to say exercising agency isn’t mutually exclusive with the existence of (rogue) groups willing to align with it for gains that have nothing to do with advancing the cause of the group exercising it.

    2. vlade

      And I’ll add one more thing to this. It’s not only the US that has military (that has to justify it’s budget) and arms industry (that has to sell its stuff).

      I’ve always thought that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” a very stupid bonmot.

    3. upstater

      Mao has been dead for 45 years; he said a lot of things. I do not recall any successor claiming the boundaries of the Quing empire as belonging to modern China.

      The territories China claims as it’s own, including the nine dashed line in the South CHINA Sea were all claimed by the Nationalists. I doubt the Taiwanese have relinquished those claims, either.

      One wonders how China’s neighbors would conduct relations with China if most did not host occupation or “visiting” troops from a war that ended 76 years ago and did not have to witness or directly experienced huge wars largely initiated by the US. I don’t suppose the outright subservience or dependence of the elites that run China’s neighbors has much to do with this, either.

    4. ltr

      “As with Tibet in the run-up to the Olympics, we seem to have seen the last thrashings by a small ethnic group who realize that they’ve lost their lands and their self determination, and the ruthless suppression of this by the Chinese….”

      Tibet was a feudal territory of China, through which a nobility controlled all the land and held serfs who could be bought and sold. The Chinese Communist Party ended serfdom and distributed land to the former serfs, thereby bettering lives at a stroke. Life in Tibet is vastly better today, better than ever and improving rapidly still.

    5. Harry

      Not that Im an expert in these areas, but if THAADs are what I think they are Im not sure its an “over reaction”. The Russians are quite upset about the antimissile systems deployed on their border. Mostly cos there is no way of telling whether the weapons are antimissiles or missiles till they hit you (or the target missile). At least thats my understanding. Of course there is bugger all the Russians can do about these deployments. But I can see the Chinese may feel differently about SK hosting the same kind of systems.

    6. Soco

      OTOH, it’s hard to explain the way that nutcase Zenz’s highly speculative reports about Xinjiang have taken over the narrative without some sort of organized effort. Ditto for the lack of mention of ETIM and other Islamic terrorist orgs in the “discussion” of Uighur oppression.

      Regarding China’s patience, I view the THAAD thing as expert diplomacy. China took decisive action that made it clear that S. Korea had crossed a line, gave S. Korea an out which was within their ability to deliver (i.e. no more anti-missile deployments), and left no lingering damage.

      Patience isn’t a factor when one is provoked, it’s relevant when pursuing long-term goals. And China seems pretty good at not pushing too fast to too hard.

      1. Bill Smith

        The South Koreans have not stopped anti missile deployments.

        The South Korean Navy is the process of building more ships with anti missile capability. They are also deploying more land based anti-missiles of various kinds other than THAAD.

    7. Oscar Alx

      Yes, there are strong anti Chinese sentiments in some SE-Asian countries. They have little to do with China as such but are rather directed to the ethnic Chinese in their countries for a variety of reasons, mostly of economic nature. Those found eg. expression in the Malayan Emergency (1948-60) or more recently in the wave of ethnic Chinese refugees that left Indonesia in the wake of the quagmire that followed the fall of the Soeharto dictatorship. South Koreans have very few misgivings about China. They increasingly see problems with the presence of the US-forces on their territory, which prevents meaningful steps towards re-unification with the north, which becomes increasingly desirable in the context of the demographic developments in S. Korea, a nation which due to the high ethnocentricity of its population does not take lightly to mass immigration from third countries. For the US, of-course, their position on the Korean peninsula is of importance due to its location avis Russia and China. The north would never “surrender” to an American dominated South – for good reason when one considers more unsavoury details of US actions in the Korea War.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Vietnam would not agree with your assertion. They were occupied by China and take considerable pride in the fact that they remained cohesive enough as a people to throw them out after a 1000 year struggle. My understand from contacts in Thailand is the Thais would also disagree.

        1. Oscar Alx

          The European nations also had lots of trouble with each other. Those things can be overcome.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        You are not paying any attention at all if you think South Koreans do not have misgivings about China. There are strong anti-Chinese currents in South Korean politics that cross the left-right divide and repeated opinion surveys show mistrust of Chinese policies and intentions in the population, young and old. Some of this is historical, but its increasing due to the aggressiveness of Chinese economic sanctions against South Korean businesses.

        There are similar strong anti-Chinese currents in Vietnam, Thailand and other smaller Pacific nations. Obviously, these are deep rooted and can’t always be separated from historic anti-Han discrimination, but increasingly they are based on a distrust of Chinese intentions in the region. The US isn’t anywhere near as unpopular among regular people in those countries as you might imagine if you only read left wing media (just as the reverse is true with right wing media). Both the populations and elites of those countries if given a choice would probably prefer a power balance between the major powers in the region that would allow them to leverage their own power and independence. Having one major power completely dominating is never good for smaller countries. They didn’t like it when the US was clod hopping all over the place, but neither do they want the US replaced with an all powerful China.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, I am really getting tired of these Chinese propagandists who tell flagrant falsehoods. There’s a case to be made for China’s position, but their line is backfiring.

          1. Basil Pesto

            notice they pop up some days after the post goes live, when comment engagement is considerably diminished? (to be fair, I sometimes do this, but I have a backlog of loads of tabs and a big timezone delay)

            Presumably they do this in the hope that their submissions go uncontested and the uninitiated might absorb them uncritically in the weeks and years to come when their internet peregrinations might bring them here. Kudos to you, PK, Ms Sara et al for not letting their bullshit go uncontested.

  3. The Rev Kev

    So I was reading an article by Gareth Porter earlier which indicates that Pentagon planners must be getting desperate. So after looking at a map, they decided that Vietnam would be a great place to station American troops and missiles against China and wouldn’t it be great? So they leaned hard on the Vietnamese to let them do this and ignored all the evidence that the Vietnamese had not developed a taste for nuclear suicide. In the end, to these planners surprise the Vietnamese just had to say no as it wasn’t gunna happen. No country that has any sense will host possibly nuclear-tipped missiles that would be used against China and Vietnam has plenty of experience dealing with China to know how they would react-

    But it case anybody is under the impression that using the Uyghurs against China can have no blowback back in the US well, that is not necessarily so-

    1. Susan the other

      The more things change. Very interesting stuff from Gareth Porter. I remember reading Gore Vidal back in the 80s and 90s – a little pamphlet that explained how in the late 60s the US was plotting to store nukes around Saigon for use against southern China. I assumed it was true. And decades later a report that those nukes, bunkered in South Vietnam, went missing. Probably just the paperwork went missing because it was a rogue operation. But still. And the thing Porter points out in this article is that recent negotiations failed with Vietnam to position nukes against China in Vietnam – well duh. “The bubble burst” in 2020. So… that’s less than a year. And voila! Now we have a convenient little war in Myanmar. Kinda makes sense to me.

    2. hemeantwell

      I’ve been seeing lots lately re the diminishing intellectual capacities of US elites. The Porter article takes the cake. The idea that the Vietnamese would lock themselves into dependency on the US by accepting US basing is beyond laughable. It’s like our war planners have cried “Let a Hundred Stupidities Bloom!” and even modest-sized offices in the Pentagon are turning into hooey gardens. The grandiosity of 2003 sputters along.

  4. vlade

    I take a serious objection to a statement that Anaconda plan didn’t work on Confederacy.

    It did, in the end the US did pretty much what Scott described and strangled Confederacy (for example, taking New Orleans and Vicksburg split the Confederacy in half, seriously impeding supplies). The naval blocade was more than porous to start with, but got progressively better, especially as the US took the ports – which weren’t (mostly) the glamorous field-battles of Gettysburg or Bull Run, but arguably in some cases were more important. When your smuggling is running out of deep sea harbours, landing enough supplies to equip a division gets pretty hard.

  5. David

    This is an aspect of a problem well known to historians, and which was a major feature of the Cold War, as I recall it.
    Defence structures have enormous inertia. Bases may be acquired for temporary reasons and then kept for generations. Equipment designed twenty years ago for completely different purposes will now be in service for another twenty years before it’s replaced. You can’t treat fighter pilots like Uber drivers, and so on. As a result (and this does resemble the Cold War) there are two military superpowers with force structures and deployments largely historically determined, that have no actual reason to fight each other and nothing really to fight about which could be worth the damage that they would each sustain. But in a climate of mutual political suspicion, then the possibility of some kind of conflict five, ten, fifteen years in the future can’t be ruled out, because history shows that these things happen. (If you’d said in 1985 that in 1990 the US would be in Kuwait, or in 1990 that in 1995 they’d be in Bosnia or in 1995 that in 2001 they’d be in Afghanistan, people would have thought you were mad)

    So what you do is exercises, war-games and scenario planning. It’s not acceptable to say to the political leadership “sorry we have no idea what our military options would be if there were a political crisis with country X because we haven’t bothered to research them.” As a result, you develop at least some ideas for what options might be possible, and what options aren’t. This happened a lot in the Cold war, and both sides watched each others’ exercises, not as statements of intent, but rather as indications of what they were afraid they might have to deal with, and a way of practising procedures. (An aside: I was in Prague in 1991 as Yugoslavia began the slide towards war, and I remarked to a Czech Colonel that in the 80s it was always a civil war in Yugoslavia, followed by a Soviet invasion that was the pretext for the start of the exercise. Funny, he replied, with us it was exactly the same except it was a NATO invasion). But the two sides were capable of distinguishing exercise scenarios from real planning, which is why it’s a shame that Brecher, for whom I generally have a high regard, has to drag up Able Archer 83: that was not a wise move by NATO, but the archives have discredited the journalistic idea of a “war scare.”

    In the circumstances, if you want to look at options for a military response to crisis with China at some indeterminate time in the future, Taiwan is the obvious scenario to choose. Indeed, it’s hard to think of any other one that would make sense. This doesn’t mean that the US (or Chinese) government thinks that war over Taiwan is probable, or even marginally likely, just that it’s a plausible scenario to practice (I’d be astonished if the Chinese aren’t doing the same). But it’s not the defence planners I’d worry about: it’s the amateur strategists making plans over brunch for “destabilising” China and talking about a war over Taiwan as though it was actually possible. They are a lot more dangerous.

    1. Thuto

      “I was in Prague in 1991 just as Yugoslavia began the slide towards war”

      David, I always find your comments to be quite insightful and thoughtfully delivered, even when our perspectives sometimes diverge. Based on some of the things you’ve mentioned over the last 12-18 months I can only conclude you had a very exciting “past life”, what with you having been in 3 countries just as they were on the cusp of historic national shifts and also having highly placed insider perspective on unfolding events in real time:

      1. Prague 1991 as per your comment above
      2. Johannesburg 1995 as Madiba was starting his term as President
      3. Juba 2011 as South Sudan was gaining independence from Sudan (i think).

      NC is blessed to have someone with your breadth of life experience and informed on-the-ground perspective commenting here. Thanks

        1. Alex Cox

          Absolutely. And the article that David cites as ‘proof’ that Able Archer didn’t almost start a nuclear war contains the memorable words, “Reagan was right” – what more do we need to reassure us?

          By the way, I was present at the gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881 and the invention of beer (5th millenium BC) and must post some assertions about those events some time…

      1. David

        You (and others) are very kind, Thuto. All I can say is that I was lucky enough to have the kind of professional life which took me to all sorts of interesting places, doing all kinds of things, which in most organisations is the alternative to a glittering but narrow career with the status and money attached. It’s a choice that has to be made, and no doubt others here can relate to it in different ways.
        I was fortunate enough to be around Europe at the end of the Cold War, to be in SA and then elsewhere in Africa from 1993 onwards, in East Asia, in the Balkans after the war, in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, and more recently in the Levant and in Sudan and Ethiopia. Those are opportunities I’m very grateful for, and I try in a small way to make use of them for the benefit of others, without, of course, assuming that simply because I know some of these countries I have an unmatched insight into their politics. On the other hand, I usually refrain from commenting on situations in countries I don’t know personally.
        Likewise, I was in government for a long time, and there are cases (like the Able Archer war scare I mentioned) where I was around, if not directly involved, and where I have some insight into how things looked at the time.

    2. pjay

      – “But it’s not the defence planners I’d worry about: it’s the amateur strategists making plans over brunch for “destabilising” China and talking about a war over Taiwan as though it was actually possible. They are a lot more dangerous.”

      To me, Brecher is the ultimate “realist,” clearly describing the current situation with a minimum of moralizing or propaganda. I would *hope* that our “defence planners” would be realists, too. But are they? There do seem to be a lot of “amateur strategists” with some real influence on US policy, starting various pain-in-the-ass fires as Brecher says and feeding the media. And as he points out, there are a lot of people with economic or career interests in keeping these fires going. I agree these people are dangerous. But I worry that too many of them have real power in our National Security Establishment. It seems clear to me that the crazies dominate Russia/E. Europe policy. I’m not sure about China, but I don’t hear much rational discussion on that topic these days either.

      1. David

        I think there are planners and planners. In the US system, because it is so politicised, the scope for crazies to dominate (or at least greatly influence) policy-making is much greater than elsewhere. I’d hope that the career professionals manage to hold the line, however.

    3. H. Alexander Ivey

      …there are two military superpowers with force structures and deployments largely historically determined, that have no actual reason to fight each other and nothing really to fight about which could be worth the damage that they would each sustain.

      If one of your superpowers is China, I’m sorry but your statement and hence your tone is incorrect. China has not been a superpower or that much of a regional power for the last 100 years. So, no, they don’t have much, historically, in the way of major defensive or offensive military capacity. And then your second, and far pointing to your bias, point is saying that China has little to fight over. It damn well does. Its borders, its resources, its access to other people’s trade.

      1. David

        Well, the Cold War hadn’t really started a hundred years ago…
        I didn’t say China had nothing to fight over, since it clearly does. What I said was that there was no reason to assume that, just because China and the US are major military powers, they are somehow doomed to fight each other. I find that line of argument destabilising and dangerous, much as I found it in the Cold War. China is a military superpower in its region, and it has nuclear weapons. Any clash with the US would be enormously destructive, if not necessarily the extinction-level event that a NATO-WP conflict would have been. I stand by my view that there is no actual issue currently over which war between China and the US could be regarded as rational, still less unavoidable, any more than there was during the Cold War (when, moreover, two armies were nose to nose in Germany).

  6. Eustachedesaintpierre

    It reminds me of the writings of Martin Jaques whose talk in Australia on youtube, based on his 2012 book When China Rules the World which with other videos of his that I spent a day listening to about a month ago. I think he is a bit of a cheerleader for China but as I don’t really know much about the place I really don’t know. Fascinating stuff anyhow & in relation to how the West has failed to understand China by looking at it only from a Western viewpoint while also only applying Western values, would I think only be surprising if that wasn’t true. Obviously things have moved on since then but judging by his then stats on the attempts or lack of them from Western states to export to China is I think illuminating. He also presents an interesting chart on the fact that due to Australia’s Chinese exports they were able to survive 2008 in a much better shape than other Western states.

  7. Michael Ismoe

    Does anyone else see the irony of this country trying to stir up minorities within China while our own country dry rots through racial and economic dislocation? We know where the problems are, we just don’t want to solve them.

  8. Norm

    The most effective strategy for China and Russia is to encourage America to continue what it’s doing – waste untold trillions it doesn’t have to build weapons it can’t use. The real “war” is the economic one and America is playing the role of dupe to perfection.

    1. Randy

      I used to think this but it looks like, for at least the things it myopically cares about like the military industrial complex, our increasingly dementia-addled empire is practicing some form of MMT and can keep going forever.

  9. Charles 2

    A war between US and China does not occur first in sea or air : it occurs in space, because once a given side observation satellite are all neutered – and considering the lead the US has in rocketry, it will probably China’s and Russia’s – the other side ships are quite safe. Warships are not static while at sea. Pinpoint precision long range hypersonic missile are useless if one doesn’t know where to aim.
    After that, a low-cost way to enforce blockade is to license privateers. They do the job of taking over commercial ships without sinking them, while giving plausible deniability if things go wrong (of course they discretely get targeting information from the US). Ugly and risky, but with the prospect of easy legal laundering of the loot, for instance at deep discount to Merlet prices in India, one can get thousands of disposable volunteers from places like Somalia, Sumatra or Sulawesi.
    All the US navy has to do is to sink the Chinese escort, if they can field one.
    China’s counter strategy would be to control a zone in one piece sufficiently large to provide its raw needs, but sufficiently close to be able to deny access from outside. It means essentially controlling all ASEAN and Australia. Not impossible, but difficult without any access to space.

  10. Susan the other

    Any plan to ruin China’s economy is suicide. Or silly. China can just buy Chinese. How much longer will it take Chinese agriculture to create adequate harvests of soybeans, etc? It might not be too far in the future. China is already technologically self sufficient. And fighting a war against us, with out dinosaur military, by just jamming signals is totally feasible. I’m wondering if we actually have a plan at all. “Plan” meaning we have thought everything through, done deep analysis on the future of the planet; and sufficient self-examination to come to a practicable solution to address the failures of our own western systems with reference to China. I think we might actually be better off at this point in time coming up with a plan to intervene with our own MIC when it inevitably falls into a deep existential crisis. Give those guys something constructive to do.

    1. Mikel

      Whoever falls into civil war first loses…
      More than one? I’m thinking of the future as being more the international govts more or less the same allies, but they will be involved in quelling each other’s civil wars.

  11. Pat

    I am a huge fan of the War Nerd and I know he has often been to the places that he discuses. He probably should visit Taiwan if he wants to get a few more insights. In this particular piece he’s ignored the Taiwan perspective almost entirely. Its as if he’s imagining a war over Taiwan that doesn’t involve Taiwan. And while I agree with almost everything he wrote about the US perspectives, I think his insights into Chinese perspectives, Taiwanese perspectives and other regional actors are quite limited. The broader assumption is the US would be actively involved but that, to me, seems very unlikely. The United States gains a lot of advantages from appearing to be a guarantor of Taiwanese security but little would be gained by any of the local actors if the US were an active combatant. The US would obviously lose and in losing it would lose face all over Asia. That would spell the end of Pax Americana. All that said, the war drums are beating here in Taiwan. Miscalculations and deliberate provocations are likely. Taiwan has just announce live fire exercises and that it will shoot down drones making incursions. Some kind of armed conflict seems possible. Its a phoney war scare for the moment though. Nobody here in Taipei believes that escalation is likely soon. Property prices remain stratospheric and the stock market is at its highest ever levels.

    1. Sara K.

      Yes, this.

      I used to live in Taiwan, and I was struck that the War Nerd made no reference whatsoever to Taiwanese perspectives. It’s as if he believes nobody lives in Taiwan, or that the people in Taiwan don’t have any opinions or agency.

      Also, the framework that the United States would start a China/Taiwan war… how would the United States do that? By acknowledging that the Taiwanese govern themselves?

      What seems to be unsaid is that the War Nerd thinks it’s okay for China to invade Taiwan, and that if the United States interfered with it in any way, then the United States is the one who ‘started’ the war. I can’t find any other logic in this. If China doesn’t want a war with Taiwan, they can simply not invade Taiwan.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Thanks for this input. Taiwan has long moved on from being a plaything for various empires (if you want to look at historic claims, the Dutch, Portuguese and Japanese have just as much a claim to Taiwan as China or the US). Its a very admirable progressive multi-ethnic democracy, and it doesn’t take much time in the country to realise that its culture is not Chinese, or anything else, its very distinctly Taiwanese. The days of the Han dominated KMT are long gone, they are just one more mix in the rich culture of the island. Repeated polling and elections have shown that the Taiwanese want to be a free and independent country. You can respect that, or you can be a pro-imperialist. Its a simple choice.

  12. Mikel

    I’m thinking of the future as being more the international govts more or less the same allies, but they will be involved in quelling each other’s civil wars.

  13. JohnB

    The notable thing about Taiwan is that polls show the people there do not want reunification with China – and if China were to invade, this would be a War of Aggression – internationally recognized as one of the worst crimes there is (which of course the US is guilty of many times over – with Iraq being the modern archetypal example).

    I don’t agree with the ratcheting up of tensions by the US/West, this makes all of the bad outcomes more likely. Separate to this, the likelihood of China invading Taiwan does not seem to be Zero, though – and if that does happen it has worrying implications for the rest of SE Asia, given that China can manufacture historical claims to a lot of territory which is a part of other countries.

    Wars of Aggression, coupled with wider territorial claims and expansionist ambitions – from a nuclear armed nation – would be an extremely dangerous situation for the world. It would seem the choice would be to not intervene (which risks bolder expansionism), or to risk nuclear conflict (because there’s no chance of it staying at the level of conventional warfare).

    We need the US/West to stop ratcheting up tensions – but we also need China to stay the hell out of Taiwan, so they’re not putting the rest of SE Asia in fear of invasion – which is exactly the type of situation that could destabilize into a larger (potentially nuclear) war.

  14. PeePee

    Strange article blaming the US for most of this conflict. Nope. If the US military complex needed funds, they didn’t have to bother inventing China as a bogeyman. Xi Jinping has led his country down this path.

    He says, “we need China to stay the hell out of Taiwan.” Yet today was the largest Chinese breach of Taiwan airspace in a year.

    Taiwanese surely saw what is going on in Hong Kong. They are right to be worried.

  15. Victor Sciamarelli

    The only way to understand Taiwan is by understanding the Chinese civil war. Unlike the American civil war, the civil war in China never formally ended.
    Taiwan has been part of China for millennia. During the period of colonization by the European empires, in which, for example, the British took Hong Kong in 1841in the Opium War, the result of the first Sino-Japanese war in 1895 was that the Japanese empire took Taiwan and maintained control until removed in 1945.
    The Versailles Treaty of world war one awarded the German possessions in China to Japan. This sparked outrage in China and served as a crucial motive that created the Communist Party in 1921 and which opposed the Nationalist Party. By 1927 the two were fighting each other in a civil war until the Communist victory in 1949.
    At the end of world war two Taiwan was returned to China. However, when the Communists were victorious, Nationalist leader Chiang Kai Shek, his family, friends, carpet baggers, and two million members of his military and corrupt bureaucracy moved to Taiwan. Eight months later the Korean War began and the US military blocked the Taiwan Straight in order to contain the war in Korea alone. The subsequent Cold War prevented the Chinese civil war from reaching a conclusion.
    Taiwan is a large island one hundred miles off the coast of China. It’s strategic location can’t be over-estimated. If an island of this size was located one hundred miles off the East coast of the US and dominated by a super power like Britain, the US might never have achieved independence or become a industrial power.
    When the Japanese empire attacked Pearl Harbor they simultaneously attacked the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, and the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong with ships that were launched from its bases in Taiwan.
    Taiwan is part of China and China will defend its sovereignty at all costs. And it will never allow foreign troops on its soil again; and that includes Taiwan. There are hundreds of flights between Taiwan and the mainland each month, they do business with each other, marry and start families. The Taiwanese are capable of negotiating an arrangement with Beijing. There is no longer a reason the US needs to pay for the defense of Taiwan.

    1. Sara K.

      “Taiwan has been part of China for millennia.”

      BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Care to city any historical sources for that? When did Taiwan first fall under Chinese rule? When did Chinese speaking people first live in Taiwan?

      Doesn’t Naked Capitalism have a moderator rule about blatantly misrepresenting facts (I forget the moderation policy, sorry).

      Chinese speakers only started living in Taiwan (excluding Penghu) in the late Ming dynasty, and IIRC Chinese speakers/ethnic Han people only became a majority in Taiwan in the late-Qing dynasty/19th century. The indigenous Austronesian peoples are the ones who have been living in Taiwan for thousands of years, and they still live there today.

      If you want a printed book as a source, how about this: and there are many more sources in Chinese.

      Also, the vast majority of Taiwanese people don’t want to be ruled by the PRC and will fight back even if the U.S. gets involved. I think by ‘negotiating an agreement’ you mean ‘Beijing will use lots of violence and kill many Taiwanese people to force them into submission’.

    2. Oscar Alx

      The current separation between Taiwan and PRC is solely the outcome of the US alliance with Chiang Kai-Shek, which again was nothing else but a meddling of the US with Chinese internal affairs. In the 17th century when the Ming Dynasty fell, and the Manchu or Ching Dynasty came in, Taiwan was for about 40 years under a pretender Ming government. There were 11 invasion attempts by the Manchus or the Ching against Taiwan. The first 10 failed, cost about a half million troops. The last, the 11th, succeeded. China is not going to give up on this. I suppose China is fully in its rights to remedy the results of the US intervention.

      I don’t think, China would accept it lightly, if in case of a military conflict the US would actively take sides. It would be seen as a totally unacceptable direct assault on China proper and its internal affairs. Whatever you see in it from a US, or “western” viewpoint, does not really amount to much in the context. This is simply an area where the USA have no business, in as much as China has no business in the affairs between Puerto Rico and the US. Cineasts may wish to revisit On the Beach, with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        That is a gross misreading history of the region. You seem to have forgotten the small matter of America’s alliance with Chiang Kai-Shek being rooted in their support for the Nationalist government in their fight against Japanese aggression and attempted conquest. It wasn’t without self interest of course, but the fact that the US supported the losing side in the subsequent civil war (and supported Chiang Kai-Shek in his brutal suppression of the native Taiwanese people) does not give China some sort of right to just walk over the island. The days of the KMT are long gone, Taiwan has not been part of China for centuries and the Taiwanese people want independence.

        1. Oscar Alx

          The people of Catalonia and the Baques also want independence. Probably, the Chinese don’t want to have an unsinkable aircraft carrier next door. On a more formal note I refer to the Joint US-China Communiqué from 17 August 1982. In a more personal way, I could imagine that the American people would be better served if their government would take more care for their own people, for their own infrastructure etc. But it is like with families, when the husband is out all the time getting drunk, little is left for home and children. The ongoing decay of the American cities, the roads, the nowadays highly visible poverty, one percent of the population jailed … – I doubt that the right answer to all this is to increase military spending and waging more wars. Haven’t the Americans done enough damage in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc. ? One or two trillion were spent on the destruction of Iraq alone. What could have been done with all this money alternatively!

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            No, you keep misrepresenting. The Republic of Taiwan is now independent. Unlike Catalonia and the Basques, it raises its own taxes, has an independent judiciary, sets its own election laws.

            1. Oscar Alx

              Your opinion about Taiwan as an independent national entity is only shared by about 15 of the world’s 200 or so countries which recognize it as such. Taiwan is not member of the United Nations. They recognized the People’s Republic “as the only legitimate representatives of China”, kicking Taiwan out (UN Resolution 2758 – 25 Oct.1971). They did not entertain the idea of two concurring separate independent states. In a rules based world order it is paramount what the UN says in such matters. And then, there is also the question of what Taiwan’s constitution says in this matter.

  16. Jessica

    It is not true that Taiwan has been part of China for millennia.
    Chinese first settled there in large numbers during the transition from Ming to Qing (1600s). The Ming diehards retreated to Taiwan (where they had to throw out the Dutch) and held out for decades. Until then the population was Austronesian. The Qing (who were Manchu not Chinese) held Taiwan until 1895, then Japan held it until 1945. The Guomindang (KMT) government retreated to Taiwan in 1948, killing tens of thousands of Taiwanese in the White Terror, which is still commemorated on February 28 each year.
    China has the same historical claim on Taiwan that Ireland does on Bangladesh (both having been conquered by the same empire).
    History aside, nations evolve. If China had succeeded in taking Taiwan in 1949, by now Taiwan would probably be fully assimilated to China, much like Okinawa has been fully assimilated to Japan. But it didn’t. Regardless of past history, since 1948 and particularly since Taiwan became a democracy, it has evolved into a separate nation. Even in Taipei, which historically had a larger percentage of the 1948 wave of Chinese, the people I met over a few years there considered themselves Taiwanese and did not want to be taken over by China. I can’t imagine that the events last year in Hong Kong would have made them more eager.
    In fact, many people mentioned their resentment at what they saw the Taiwanese elites selling out Taiwan for access to cheap labor and the huge market on the mainland.
    One nearly universal feature of nations is that they create a narrative about the nation being more inevitable and enduring than it actually is. In fact, many nations are more contingent. America belief in Manifest Destiny, it was not inevitable that North America wind up comprising Canada, the USA, and Mexico. It could have been more or fewer or a different set of nations. (Without the Haitian Revolution, the US might have remained bottled up on the east coast.) Austria could have wound up part of Germany, either in 1870 or in 1918. Ireland could still be part of the UK and soon Scotland may not be. China is in the process of assimilating Tibet and Xinjiang, just as the US assimilated a continent and Russia assimilated Siberia. So perhaps they will be able to take Taiwan. But if they do – and it not worth nuclear war to prevent it – it will be a tragedy for the people of Taiwan.

    1. Victor Sciamarelli

      The crucial issue is that both the Communists and the Nationalists agreed on one China in which Taiwan was a part of China. The US also agreed except that before Nixon it claimed Taipei was the capital and Chang Kai Shek’s Nationalists were the legitimate government and after Nixon the US recognized Beijing and the Communists.
      The idea that Taiwan is a separate country and should be independent from China is new and a dangerous provocation made particularly forcefully by Mike Pompeo. And it seems Biden is keeping with this view.
      It is also a dangerous gamble for the Taiwanese to insist on autonomy thinking the US will back them up. The chance of autonomy is less than the American South wishing to be independent from the North. Nonetheless, it could provoke a war and I don’t see how this is in America’s interest.
      Former ambassador and diplomat Chas Freeman said, “As long as the people of Taiwan continue to believe they have a blank check from the US that they can fill out in American blood they will feel free to temporize.”

      1. Sara K.

        Have you talked to any Taiwanese people about this?

        On the contrary, I believe the Taiwanese do have a real chance at autonomy. If the PRC threw all its resources at invading Taiwan, yes, the PRC could conquer Taiwan, but it would also destroy itself economically/politically and possibly cause the PRC government to collapse. Taiwan just has to make a war too expensive for the PRC to engage in. And it’s a mountain island where typhoons often appear at certain times of year (i.e. highly defendable geography).

    2. Sara K.

      I didn’t see that you had already responded to the bogus claim about ‘Taiwan being a part of China for millenia’. You said it better than I did.

      Yes, 2/28 and the White Terror have a lot to do with why the Taiwanese are so deeply opposed to ‘unification’ with China. The War Nerd really should read Formosa Betrayed before writing any more article about Taiwan.

  17. Sara K.

    “People who mouth off about China never seem to imagine that anyone in China might hear, because as we are told over and over again, China-is-an-authoritarian-state.”

    While the War Nerd was mouthing off about Taiwan, did he imagine that anyone in Taiwan might read what he’s writing?

    To think that I sometimes read his essays while I was living in Taiwan.

    1. Victor Sciamarelli

      To Sara K: According to a BBC report, ‘What’s behind the China-Taiwan divide?’ from January 29, “The first known settlers in Taiwan are Austronesian tribal people thought to have come from modern day southern China. The island first appears in Chinese records in AD239, when China sent an expeditionary force to explore—a fact Beijing uses to back its territorial claim. After a brief spell as a Dutch colony (1624-1661) Taiwan was administered by China’s Qing dynasty from 1683 to 1895.”
      Whether you or anybody accepts this is irrelevant. The PRC is a powerful country which asserts Taiwan is part China; your decisions must keep this in mind. If you think the US stands for democracy and international law, then ask the Palestinians how US policy and support for Israel is working for them.
      There will not be a war and Taiwan will not be independent. Which countries do you think will formally recognize Taiwan if it declares independence from China? As a sample, GM sells more cars in China than it does in the US and thousands of corporations from many dozens of countries do business in China; they will not recognize Taiwan and risk being tossed out of the China market. Even Taiwan businesses are integrated into the mainland.
      The US support for Taiwan and Taiwanese claims of autonomy are dangerous provocations which will only end badly if not checked soon enough. The Taiwan government needs to figure out a diplomatic accommodation with the PRC and stop imagining the US military will protect them.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Whether or not your points are valid, your use of language and your imperious tone reek of PRC propaganda, and therefore your post does not appear to be organic but the result of trolling, whether official or self appointed.

        And contrary to your claims, Taiwan is independent and has been since World War II.

        1. Oscar Alx

          Yves: I suggest, it would be polite to renounce personal attacks and leave judgments with regards to trolling to the hosts. Imho, the words of Mr Sciamarelli are well reasoned. This aside, your opinion about Taiwan as an independent national entity is only shared by about 15 of the world’s 200 or so countries which recognize it as such. Taiwan is not member of the United Nations. They recognized the People’s Republic “as the only legitimate representatives of China”, kicking Taiwan out (UN Resolution 2758 – 25 Oct.1971). They did not entertain the idea of two concurring separate independent states. In a rules based world order it is paramount what the UN says in such matters. And then, there is also the question of what Taiwan’s constitution says in this matter.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            This is what we call a reader assisted suicide note. This is my site, for starters, so trying to call rank on me was a big time misfire.

            In addition, my assessment of Victor was an accurate depiction of his writing style and thrust of argument. And having reviewed over 1.5 million comments in this history of this site, I have a finely tuned antenna for trolls and other flavors of non-organic comments. Victor’s tone, word choice and parroting of CCP talking points weren’t subtle.

            Finally, you engaged in yet another violation of our written site Policies with another instance of bad faith argumentation, which is to continue denying that Taiwan is independent and bears no resemblance to the Basque or Catalonia. It has its own currency, banking system, and central bank. It has its own (small) military. It elects its own government. It has its own judiciary which is not subject to rulings of higher courts. Etc. Your discussion of lack of UN recognition is not germane to that issue.

        2. Victor Sciamarelli

          I feel I’ve just been smacked down in the apple sauce. It was never my intention to be imperious but to remain unemotional and avoid personalizing an issue even at the risk of appearing dull or aloof. Nevertheless, your criticism is instructive and something I take seriously.
          Lastly, with all due respect, I don’t think the question of Taiwan’s independence is crucial. If the entire world, and even the American people, agree Cuba is a legitimate and lawful nation but the US government labels Cuba a terrorist state and imposes sanctions, then it’s a big problem. If we all agree Taiwan is independent but China says it’s part of China, it is also a big problem. And neither Cuba nor Taiwan can be solved with military threats.
          Supporting Taiwan’s independence at this point in time plays into the hands of US war hawks and it could end badly; far worse than Iraq. We should encourage Taiwan, a rich and stable democracy, to tone down the independence talk and engage with regional powers like Japan and South Korea and work towards a diplomatic accommodation with China.

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