Lawrence Wilkerson: Is Biden Risking War by Pushing Taiwan Independence?

Yves here. Lawrence Wilkerson and Paul Jay have a wide-ranging discussion of America’s military posture, with a focus on China and why Team Dem believes it is advantageous to cop an aggressive ‘tude. Wilkerson is quite clear that the US is willing to launch a nuclear war to protect Taiwan, even though neither the Chinese nor Russians want a confrontation with the US.

One thing continues to puzzle me. I understand and support the soi-disant left’s desire to end our military adventurism. And it’s not hard to independently accept the notion that Taiwan is not a hill that the US should be willing to die on.

However, what I find harder to understand is the hostility among the left, which Jay exhibits, for at least philosophical and measured pragmatic backing of Taiwan. If you are going to support the rights of Palestinians, how can you not also support Taiwan?

By Paul Jay. Originally published at

Paul Jay

Welcome back to This is a continuation of my conversation with Larry Wilkerson. As the year ends, please don’t forget the donation button. If you haven’t and you’re watching, and you want to donate, that’d be great. In the U.S., we are a 501 (c)(3). You can share, subscribe, and all that stuff. We’ll be back in just a few seconds with Larry.

President Biden recently held his democracy conference, or whatever it was called. Something like that. Where he invited a whole bunch of countries that under their definitions, the White House definitions, are democracies. Of course, a lot of questions can be raised about who got invited. But that being said, one of the quote-unquote invitees— I was about to say countries except they’re not, was Taiwan. What business did Taiwan have to be there? Yeah, they have elections and so on. Still, even according to U.S. law and U.S. diplomacy, Taiwan is supposedly part of One-China, so what is it doing at a conference of countries other than to raise the level of tension with China?

Now joining us again to discuss the situation in China and Taiwan is Larry Wilkerson, who’s a retired professor. He used to be Chief of Staff to Colin Powell at the State Department, and he’s a good friend and regular on theAnalysis. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Good to be with you, Paul.

Paul Jay

So, this invitation is not a one-off. They’ve been making other moves in some of the UN [United Nations] agencies. They’re talking about increasing even more arms sales to Taiwan. They’re getting closer and closer to essentially crossing a line that clearly is a line that will be the most provocative thing the United States could do with China, which comes very close to recognizing Taiwan as an independent entity. I mean, in many respects, they actually really do have short of a formal declaration of independence, and it almost seems like they’re heading in that direction. This is [Donald] Trump-esque in its level of provocation. What’s going on with [Joe] Biden?

Lawrence Wilkerson

I would say it’s [George W.] Bush-esque, as in George W., and Richard Cheney-esque, and Donald Rumsfeld-esque. They started it when Chen Shui-bian was the President of Taiwan and wanted to hold a referendum for independence and came very close to doing it with the strong encouragement of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

So, it’s not something new. The newness of it is perhaps the fact that China has progressed, and when I say they’ve progressed, they’re much more powerful today than they were in 2002 or 2003. Powerful in the sense that, for example, what Bill Clinton did by putting a carrier in the Taiwan Strait would never happen today. No North American sailor is going to take a carrier into the Taiwan Strait. It’s too provocative, and it might be provocative to the point where it wound up in Davy Jones’s locker. So, the situation has really changed in that sense, but in the sense of stupidity, crassness, and very poor diplomacy. The United States seems intent on topping the world again, and again, and again. Taiwan is just another example.

Now, I was there for a lot of the early shenanigans, if you will, over Taiwan. I was a Pacific Commander under [William J.] Bill Crowe, then I was under [Ronald] Ron Hayes, and then I was, of course, under Powell when he was Chairman. Yes, every now and then, we have to assert ourselves a bit and do this or do that, and that shows that we’re still hanging around holding Taiwan’s coat. You could say that this invitation to the Democratic Convention, or whatever, the credentials I would question at that convention are America’s.

Paul Jay

Yeah, right.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Incidentally. Some of my colleagues from around the world sent me emails to that effect, too. How dare you even hold a conference on democracy? Looking at the 6th of January, are you? But anyway, you have to do these sorts of things, and China does them from time to time, too, on the other side of the scales in order to let the other side know you’re still alive and you still care. But you don’t do it provocatively. You don’t do it the way Donald Rumsfeld did.

For example, he tried to send himself to Taipei to talk with his counterpart in Taipei. That was on the burner until Powell killed it. So, I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is doing it inexpertly, doing it constantly, and taking it well beyond the art of the deal, which is what we have with China. We have this tacit bargain that China recognizes Taiwan as part of China, and we recognize Taiwan as something if it’s made part of China by force, we’ll fight over. That’s the tacit bargain, it’s worked for so long, and it’s just really stupid to cast it aside without anything to put in its place except bellicosity that’s going to be rewarded with a massive defeat in the first confrontation.

Paul Jay

Defeat for the United States?

Lawrence Wilkerson

The United States.

Paul Jay

Well, the United States can’t accept a defeat over Taiwan.

Lawrence Wilkerson

No, it won’t.

Paul Jay

So then what?

Lawrence Wilkerson

It will go nuclear. It will up the ante and go nuclear.

Paul Jay

Which in 1958— people have seen my interview with [Daniel] Ellsberg about this. Ellsberg has this still-classified document that he’s waving around, challenging someone to come charge him for talking about it publicly. So far, they haven’t. But in it, there’s this conversation, and I believe it’s minutes of a meeting between the Joint Chiefs. The document is from 1964 and was commissioned by [Robert] McNamara. It is about what happened in the crisis in 1958 over Taiwan. One of the Generals, essentially, they say to each other a nuclear war would be better than losing prestige and strategic positioning in Asia.

Lawrence Wilkerson


Paul Jay

And that logic, I guess it’s still their logic.

Lawrence Wilkerson

It was still there with Walt Rostow, McGeorge Bundy, and the group around LBJ [Lyndon B. Johnson]. McGeorge Bundy kept using the word prestige, which Dean Acheson called the shadow of power. I kind of like Dean’s approach to it better than Bundy’s, but Bundy’s idea was, okay, 59,000 Americans dead? That’s all right because we fought for prestige. This is a very dangerous concept.

Paul Jay

Yeah. Curtis LeMay used to say, “Well, to defend our prestige, even 10 or 20 million dead Americans wasn’t too many,” and of course, he was grossly underestimating. The other thing to defend American prestige back in Curtis LeMay’s day, it was okay to wipe out Europe because maybe the Russians or the Soviets couldn’t reach more than 20 million Americans. Still, they could have essentially wiped out the whole of Western Europe. The whole of American prestige is more important than that.

Lawrence Wilkerson

I think it was Bertrand Russell in a sort of Oscar Wilde moment who said, “Prestige doesn’t keep you very warm in the grave.”

Paul Jay

Well, then how much of this artifact, about prestige and all that, has internalized the identity of these cold warriors. I believe it must be a large part of that, but underlying it is these tensions just make so much damn money. We talked about this in our other interview about Ukraine. Still, the military-industrial complex in the United States, and I have to say the military-industrial complex in China, are both doing very well out of all this.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Yes, and that’s one of the scary things about recent developments. I was in China in 2009 for a Petroleum disruption exercise, which was quite a good simulation. We had lots of countries there, and I was amazed at how the Foreign Ministry, which was, you know, there were intel people there too, but it was mostly Foreign Ministry people. I was amazed at how they sort of stood back from the military, not in the sense of all, but in the sense of dullards.

We really are the people who run this country. That’s changed now, and it’s reflected in so many things. Even in the writing, the novels that sneak out of China from time to time. The military is triumphant now, and they’ve taken the people along with them. It’s almost like what Powell did with the first Gulf War. He renewed America’s love affair with the military. After Vietnam, the love affair really soured, and I’m not sure it was ever a love affair. It had to be after World War II to a certain extent, and it’s built up now to where it just got all out of hand.

I’m very happy to see recent polling showing that the American people find the military slipping a bit, in their estimation. Still in the 70s, but it was in the 75,78, 79, 80 range. It’s slipping a little bit now. Afghanistan, no doubt, did some damage to it. It should have done a lot of damage to it. Braindead people in Afghanistan for 20 years, but it’s scary with China because the Politburo now has its own deal, its own problem, its own challenge, and you got to satiate these people. You got to give them what they want from time to time. And from time to time, you probably got to give them war. This is scary. This is very scary because as Mao [Zedong] used to say, hey, we got— at that time, almost a billion people. Now they’ve got 1.4, 1.5 billion people. We can take a lot of casualties.

Paul Jay

You get a chance to talk to a lot of members of Congress, present and former military. When you listen to the language coming out of much of the Democratic Party, pretty much all the Republican Party, it’s at the level— I mean, the anti-China language—

Lawrence Wilkerson

Jack Reed scared me to death.

Paul Jay

—it’s at the level when it was worst, during the 1950s Cold War Anti-Soviet stuff. If anything, it’s actually at a higher level. Do they actually believe this stuff? I mean, it’s ridiculous.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Seven hundred and 68 billion dollars, Paul. And Jack Reed was cheering it right along. Seven hundred and 68 billion dollars. That’s about 100 billion dollars of pure pollution. Pure pollution. It gets in their brains and waters them.

Just look at what they’re doing right now with this business of the vaccinations. Now, they’re saying they’re going to force 50,000 plus sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines out for refusing vaccinations. They’re going to force them out, and Congress said in the language of the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] about this now. This year’s budget language says they’ve got to give them honourable discharges. Well, this is because they don’t want them to flock straight away to Trump’s legions. They don’t want a January 6th repeat to be fueled by 50,000 ready soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

Paul Jay

Let’s have a whole other conversation about that because I want to get back to China.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Well, it’s all about China, too, because how are we going to fight China, Paul? This bellicose rhetoric and everything. How is this country going to fight China? There’s only one way… nuclear weapons.

Paul Jay

How do you explain people who are in the Democratic Party, who are relatively progressive on most issues, and have all the virulent anti-China rhetoric as any Republican, do they believe this stuff? Or they’re doing it because they don’t want to be critiqued for being weak on China or—

Lawrence Wilkerson


Paul Jay

What the hell is it?

Lawrence Wilkerson

I think that’s the principal reason. That’s the principal reason. When I had an hour-long conversation with Reed, we started out talking about—

Paul Jay

So, tell people who Reed is.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Jack Reed’s the West Point graduate, long-serving Senator now from Rhode Island. And Jack is a Democrat, and he’s from Rhode Island. Yet I didn’t meet anyone over there who was more adamant about the defence budget and it having to go up rather than down, flat, or whatever. We’re now giving the military more money than we’ve given them in any single year since the peak of World War II. More than Ronald Reagan’s 1980 build-up, the early ’80s build-up. More than the Vietnam War, more than the Korean War, and what have they done lately? Lost, lost, lost, lost. Now part of that is the stupid wars the civilian leadership sent them on, but they went willingly and said, can do, can do, can do. Send me some more troops and some more money, and I can do it even more.

Paul Jay

Yeah, but you’re missing one very important and glorious victory for the American military.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Do you mean the First Gulf War?

Paul Jay


Lawrence Wilkerson

Oh, Grenada. I don’t even top that.

Paul Jay

They were able to actually change the government there. I think that’s the actual one-use of military power that quote-unquote worked.

Lawrence Wilkerson

But it is the use that was studied hard because it was such incompetence, and it produced Goldwater Nichols, the 1985, ’86 DOD [Department of Defense] Reorganization Act because it was so poorly done. It was the feeble enemy that made us victorious, but the first Gulf War was a victory. It was a victory.

Paul Jay

Go back to Reed again.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Well, I think—

Paul Jay

Why does he think China is such a problem? Or does he just, you know, he wants his piece of the military budget.

Lawrence Wilkerson

I think that’s it. I think you’ve got to have your piece of the military budget. You’ve got to show bona fides in national security. It’s not a traditional strong point of the Democrats, which is stupid. Harry Truman was a Democrat, but that’s part of it. And part of it is, I think, and I don’t know if this is true with Jack. I’d have to go back and look at the chart. Bill [William D.] Hartung sent me a chart recently that shows all the money, exactly whom it came from, and to whom it went. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and all those people in the center are represented and getting it on the receiving end. I don’t know if he’s heavy into that, but it’s a combination of all these things. That you don’t think you can get re-elected unless you are strong on defence, you are getting money in your packs from defence contractors, you genuinely feel like America’s losing its way, and China is the reason. All of these things combined. I think for Jack, it’s not just purely the complex, giving him money or whatever. As it is, I think, for some of the more crass members, like the guy from Oklahoma who brought a snowball into the Senate to disprove climate change.

Paul Jay

I was watching an interview, David Frum, the right-wing now pundit or whatever the hell he was, but he actually was one of Bush’s speechwriters. He’s credited with the “Axis of Evil” line. I’m not sure it was his, but he gets credit for it. But certainly, he was a hardcore neo-con. I don’t know exactly what he is now.

Lawrence Wilkerson

David was a member of the group that I belong to called the Transition Integrity Project. He was one of the guys in there that was helping us plan for the worst in the 2020 elections. I think he’s seen a little light since the Bush administration.

Paul Jay

He was interviewing another big neo-con a few months ago, and I should get this guy’s name because I can’t remember, but he’s a very senior—one of the big neo-con brains. He was talking about how terrible the strategy is in terms of dealing with China. Not that he didn’t want a hostile strategy towards China. He just thought the current strategy was pretty bad. He talked about how aircraft carriers are actually totally useless because both the Chinese and the Russians can knock out an aircraft carrier with ease. Yet, they’re building, I think, something like 12 or 13 new Ford-class aircraft carriers at about 14 to 15 billion each.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Which makes no sense.

Paul Jay

Which makes no sense, but everybody in on it is so conscious.

Lawrence Wilkerson

A lot of people get money out of it, yeah.

Paul Jay

And everyone in on it knows it’s bullshit.

Lawrence Wilkerson

If you’re going to hit someone like Syria or you’re going to hit someone like Iran or some country that doesn’t have a really formidable military, [inaudible 00:18:14] you sail right up with that carrier and pound them. But if you’re going to hit Russia, or you’re going to hit China with sometimes double and even triple sea-skimming hyper missiles, high altitude low altitude missiles, 65-centimetre wake homing torpedoes, diesel submarines, nuclear submarines. If you’re going to hit somebody like that, your aircraft carrier is no good at all. In fact, it’s a sailing tomb.

Paul Jay

And if you do want to sail it right up to the border of a country that doesn’t have the ability to knock out your aircraft carrier, you don’t need a 14-billion-dollar Ford-class carrier. What you got is plenty. You don’t need anything new.

Lawrence Wilkerson

You could put a marine amphibious ready group on the shore, push it in a little bit, build an airfield, and fly off the airfield.

Paul Jay

Such a scam. I just hope we can get workers and others who are buying this defence of American freedom— it’s all national security, how much they’re being scammed by all of this.

Lawrence Wilkerson

It’s a terrible scam on the American people because they think they’re getting security, and they’re not. Just look around you and see what’s tearing you up. Covid-19. Just look around you and see what really bled you dry for the last 20 years. Stupid wars in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a whole bunch of other places I can’t mention. That’s what’s tearing you up. What is an aircraft carrier going to do to Covid-19?

Paul Jay

Spread it.

Lawrence Wilkerson


Paul Jay

Talk about super-spreading events. They probably aren’t letting us know just how bad it may be on some of these subs and aircraft carriers.

Lawrence Wilkerson

We had a little brouhaha there for a while, but it seems to have subsided now. I’m assuming that with respect to the Navy, I’m assuming that they’re really pushing the vaccinated troops hard, really hard in order to try and keep from breaking out again.

Paul Jay

Right. So, we look ahead to 2021. Biden is so weak. If he ever had any intention of a better foreign policy, the Democrats, and I don’t know that he actually does or did but let’s say there are some people in the Democratic Party that would like a saner foreign policy. We’re looking now at a likelihood that the Republicans might be in charge of the Senate, the House. So, it’s like a perfect storm, and I don’t, you know, talking about a perfect storm for the Democrats. It’s a perfect storm for the world.

Lawrence Wilkerson

It is.

Paul Jay

We’re both on the military side, and you get climate deniers controlling. All they need is one House. Never mind both. Two if they had the presidency. Jesus, it’s a bloody scary situation.

Lawrence Wilkerson

And you have there— because I’m relatively familiar with the way the Chinese think, having been in the Central party school. And in that Petroleum simulation, we actually had the person who was really running the school at that time. It had been Hu Jintao, and he’d been elevated to be President— at dinner a number of times and talking with them.

So, I think I know a little bit about how they think about matters like this. And the Russians, I think I’ve got some insight into it. Not like Jack Matlock, but I do have some, and I’ve got to tell you, they’re not stupid, and they have superb intelligence. So, they’re sitting back. We’re going to kill ourselves, Paul. They don’t want a war with us. Neither China nor Russia wants a war with us. We’re killing ourselves. We’re destroying our own democracy. We’re doing it the exact way [Abraham] Lincoln predicted we’d do it. If we ever did it, we’re killing ourselves. If I were Beijing or Moscow, I wouldn’t want to— I’ve exacerbated as much as I could like they are doing, but I wouldn’t want to open the door because that might revive us.

Paul Jay

Well, it’s pretty stupid on their part to exacerbate it as well because—

Lawrence Wilkerson

I agree.

Paul Jay

—it’s going to be chaos for everybody, mostly on the climate side.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Yes, and there you put your finger on the big issue. If we don’t cooperate, at least minimally cooperate, in order to meet this train wreck— it’s not a train wreck. It’s a colossal disaster threatening the existence of the human race, not the planet. The planet will get older and go right on. Develop some new form of sentient life, maybe, but it will get rid of us. If we don’t do something together to do something imperative about that. Not just adaptive. Don’t just build sea walls and retreat to the inner parts of our countries and so forth but do something that ameliorates the situation. That is, stop burning fossil fuels, primarily. We’re toast anyway. People have got to get that through their heads. They watch these 200 tornadoes rip through Kentucky and Tennessee, and it’s like, the news goes out and says, whoa, let’s interview these people and everything. You see these heartrending stories on the television, and that’s good for the media to do that, especially local media, but who’s out there saying, wow, I wonder if this has anything to do with the changing climate? Yes, and guess what? It’s going to get a lot worse.

Paul Jay

All right. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on Please don’t forget that if you can donate by the end of the year, that’d be great. You get a tax receipt in the United States. Subscribe, share, and push what we’re doing out there. As I’ve mentioned before, YouTube seems to be doing everything they can to suppress what we’re doing, but you can go to the website at and let people know about it. Thanks again.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Steve H.

    Gen. Qiao Liang, from 2015:

    In this joint concept of operations by air and sea, Americans believe that there will be no war between the two countries within the next ten years. After recent American studies on China’s military development, they believe the US’s existing capacity is not sufficient to offset some advantages the Chinese military has established, such as the ability to destroy space systems or attack aircraft carriers. The United States must then come up with ten years of development and a more advanced combat system to offset China’s advantages. This means that Americans may schedule a war for ten years later. While war may still not happen in a decade, we must be prepared for it. If Chinese do not want a war in the next ten years, we need to put all of our affairs in order, including the preparation of the military and war.

    (His speech hones in on monetary warfare in ways above my head. His comments on timing may be approaching the end of their usefulness, the situation has developed (Afghanistan, etc). My guess is all China has to do is shut off trade, and watch America implode when the shelves are empty. The U.S. seems intent on setting up tripwires like more carriers; our advanced combat systems are ‘blame cannons’.)

  2. Peter Beattie

    Guess it depends on what one means by “support” – if it means John Quincy Adams’ to “commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example,” then I’m all for “supporting” Taiwan. If it means “enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence,” I’d say no, because then “she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.”

    Justice for Palestine would only require the US gov to stop its extraordinary support for the Israeli gov. Justice in the Chinese civil war? I don’t know, but the countenance of America’s voice urging a peaceful reunification with a great deal of local autonomy has got to be better than whatever the Blob is thinking.

  3. witters

    It may just be me (covid struck) , but I don’t see the equivalence:

    “If you are going to support the rights of Palestinians, how can you not also support Taiwan.”

    The latter is Gaza and the West Bank?

      1. skippy

        Past failures of anglophones should not be projected onto the geographical outcomes of its past, especially considering the track record and its instability grounded inequality.

      2. Joe Well

        If the richest Americans lost a civil war and then departed to Martha’s Vineyard with a chunk of the country’s treasure and many skilled and essential members of the PMC…

        declared themselves the real USA…

        invited foreign enemies to diplomatically isolate the “mainland”…

        and now the average American needed a visa to visit because MV is still richer per capita…

        (It would of course be a disaster if Beijing invaded, the FalklandsX1000 and possibly WWIII, just saying how many people might view this.)

      3. KD

        I’ll take the bait.

        Because Taiwan is Chinese, and Taiwan territorially is part of China, and the U.S. and the rest of the world have acknowledged in diplomatic agreements there is only one China, and Taiwan is part of it. This is why they do not have a seat on the United Nations. Further, “Taiwanese” speak Chinese, maintain Chinese cultural traditions, et. al., and are not a separate or distinct nationality in contrast to Tibetans or Uighurs, who have a much better argument for a separate state.

        Second, the balance of power in the region suggests that the CCP has a better claim to Taiwan than the Taiwanese.

        In reality, the U.S. is in a dilemma, because Taiwan is essentially a giant aircraft carrier in the middle of the South China Sea by which China could project power and threaten all its neighbors. On the other hand, it is unclear that the US would be willing and able to defend it successfully through conventional means, and it is certainly not worth going nuclear over (which is not to say that will not happen, a declining world power that gets its teeth kicked in might decide to start nuking ships which could escalate). Further, the Chinese crack down in Hong Kong essentially took one nation-two systems off the table.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Huh? I made it clear that Taiwan isn’t worth fighting over. We already have Japan as a military protectorate and bases in the Philippines. The Seventh Fleet controls the Pacific. Despite getting stroopy over the South China Sea, China’s main strategy is to build land routes to secure access to raw materials and markets.

          And as for your unsubstantiated assertions re Taiwan, I suggest you bone up on its history:

          The oft-repeated dictum about Taiwan’s territorial status was not widely held within China in 1895, the year that the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan, which it had annexed in 1684, to Japanese colonization. When Qing officials received Japan’s territorial demands in the wake of the First Sino-Japanese War, they ardently defended the Liaodong Peninsula, in Manchuria, as essential imperial territory, but viewed Taiwan as a shield that could be surrendered….

          Taiwan’s relative standing reflected the fact that knowledge within the Qing government of Taiwan’s geography was so limited that it was not until the 1870s that serious efforts began to govern the majority of the terrain…

          These opinions and depictions do not suggest that Taiwan and its environs rose to the level of integral territory for Qing-era Chinese. Historians have shown that popular and official discussion of Taiwan as a part of China, and formal efforts to gain control of Taiwan by the government of the Republic of China (ROC) and its ruling Nationalist Party, originated in the 1930s and 1940s, within the context of anti-Japanese sentiment and war.

          Within Taiwan itself, officials and elites expressed strong opposition to the act of incorporation into Japan’s empire and launched a number of rhetorical, diplomatic, and military endeavors to prevent this colonial occupation. However, some attempted to avoid colonization only by Japan and were amenable to annexation by Britain or France instead. More significantly, at the end of a two-year period in which, as stipulated by the Treaty of Shimonoseki that ended the war, all Qing subjects residing in Taiwan had the opportunity to decide if they would stay there or live in China, less than 10,000 out of roughly 2.5 million inhabitants had crossed over the Taiwan Strait. Thereafter, although both violent and non-violent resistance to the Japanese colonial regime remained a recurring feature of Taiwan’s history, it was couched in terms of preventing either encroachment into indigenous lands or the eradication of social and religious practices, and rarely if ever in the language of reunification with China. Taiwanese remained interested in China, of course, but as a source of inspiration for local cultural and political movements, an ancestral homeland to be visited, or a site for lucrative business activities. However, as the Taiwanese author, Wu Zhuoliu, highlighted with the main character in his novel, “Orphan of Asia,” many of the Taiwanese who went to China felt unwelcome there and disconnected from it.

          In more historical terms, a number of scholars, including myself, have demonstrated the creation of distinctive Taiwanese identities during the years of Japanese rule. Far from following the intentions of Japanese assimilation policies, residents of Taiwan drew upon their cultural heritage, new professional and labor associations, globally circulating ideas of self-determination and participatory politics, and modern cosmopolitanism to forge new identities. They displayed their new consciousness in calls for independence from Japan, drives for voting rights and an autonomous legislature for Taiwan within the Japanese Empire, and a wide range of social and cultural behaviors, from local politics to social work to religious festivals….

          That they had not remained Chinese – at least not as people and the government in China defined that term during the early 20th century – became very clear to everyone on the scene soon after the end of World War II. Although the rhetoric of the ROC government stressed reunion and recovery, and used the term “retrocession” (guangfu) to describe Taiwan’s incorporation into its territory, government officials looked upon the Taiwanese as people who had been tainted by Japanese influence and needed to be remade as Chinese citizens.

          1. Anonymous

            Taiwan’s relative standing reflected the fact that knowledge within the Qing government of Taiwan’s geography was so limited that it was not until the 1870s that serious efforts began to govern the majority of the terrain…

            This section of the article seems to be doing a hell of a lot of heavy lifting…”seriously governed” or not, it was part of China under the Qing from 1683 to 1895, 212 years, with millions of Han Chinese settling on the island. On top of that prior to Qing rule, Taiwan was governed from 1661 to 1683 by a Han Chinese breakaway state which kind of similar to the GMD saw as its raison d’etre eventually winning back the mainland of China from the Manchurian Qing.

            Although the rhetoric of the ROC government stressed reunion and recovery, and used the term “retrocession” (guangfu) to describe Taiwan’s incorporation into its territory, government officials looked upon the Taiwanese as people who had been tainted by Japanese influence and needed to be remade as Chinese citizens.

            This is also a little bit suspect- did the conquering GMD see the majority of Taiwanese as having formed their own distinct Taiwanese identity in the meantime or did they see them as needing to be “remade as Chinese citizens” because of Japanese influence? In other words, in the eyes of the GMD did they need to be de-Taiwanified or de-Japanified? It seems like the author wants us to belief it is the former, but it sounds more like it was the latter.

            The historical evidence on this question is a lot more ambiguous than you seem to be making out.

      4. Skip

        Though I don’t want to be incinerated any more than the next guy, I admit to having queasy feelings regarding Taiwan, particularly after the downhearted messages I regularly get from friends in Hong Kong. Years ago I traveled all over Taiwan scribbling a travel piece. I concluded Taiwan belongs in China, right next to Montana. As in America, it’s a democracy with unique flaws. And a troubled history including decades of tough political suppression and martial law by the Kuomintang. But it has evolved and is a democracy nonetheless. I wish there was something tangible, (and somehow safe), we could do to shore it up, some sort of deal to cut that reliably protects its autonomy, though I’ve no clue as to what it might be. China appears to have no problem killing the golden goose in Hong Kong and so certainly would have none in Taiwan. Best luck to them.

        1. Kouros

          Hong Kong was also the way to syphon money out of China.

          Is a libertarian oligarch wet dream, this is why there is so much despair there in the younger generations. Has nothing to do with China.

      5. ISL

        The logical end state is the end of the nation state as the world is filled with ethnicities that would like self determination. However, currently the global power balance is between corporations, nation states, and (a very weakened and often corrupted) labor. The end of the nation state would leave only one leg, and of course the nation that didn’t fragment would enjoy a massive military advantage.

        So where do I stand? There should be a high bar to self determination (Pending a Star Trek-ian future), with the bar dropped if one the peoples are having their culture destroyed, are being starved, obstructed from health care, and equal access to opportunity.
        >None of these are true for Taiwan – I see a lot of trade and wealth.
        >Very true for native peoples in the US and Canada and elsewhere.

        Could Turks immigrants in Germany demand independence on German lands and set up a neo-Erdoganish government? Why not?

      6. Susan the other

        A good analogy is Crimea and the Russians. Taiwan is like a barrier island both protecting China from easy invasion and serving as China’s own outpost. Whereas Crimea was critical for Russia as its only warm water port, Taiwan is also critical to China for self defense. I don’t know the long history of Taiwan, when it first became part of greater China, I assume it was before 1900 as it was in dispute before WW2 and invaded by the Japanese (and I think the Germans too) just as mainland China was besieged by them. Then in 1949, after Mao defeated Chiang Taiwan became the refuge for the Chinese Nationalists. So it seems to me it was always “Chinese,” but disputed by various political parties. And blablablah. But more importantly now, for China, my guess is that Taiwan has become very important as a barrier against the West’s efforts to isolate China and block China’s easy access to the rest of the world. As far as Taiwan being a US protectorate of sorts, it is because we backed the Nationalists. We then invested in Taiwan’s economy and included Taiwan in our long term plans. So how do we parse this out now? Wilkerson is right. We just all keep our cool. And keep on getting along. Because, duh, even after the inevitable nuclear war with China we’ll have to get along again. If anyone survives.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Huh? Japan is a military protectorate of the US. The US also has bases in the Philippines. The Seventh Fleet controls the Pacific. Tell me how Taiwan has distinctive value given the US has plenty of places from which to launch air strikes.

          1. Susan the other

            I think our affinity for Taiwan is because we were so blindsided by the victory of the Communists in 1949. We had plans for China that turned to dust. And by keeping Taiwan in our sphere until the late 90s (I think) we were doing what we always do which is carefully play both sides. China is paranoid and complains about our aircraft carriers cruising down the Taiwan Strait. I see it all as a containment strategy. And not even containment, but just maintaining a presence to remind China we are still there.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Its a misconception to believe that Taiwan has any particular strategic military value – if anything, it would be a headache for any country to establish it as a military base.

          It was more or less ignored in the Pacific War for this reason. There are numerous atolls and islands in the region with far more value for this. Many of them are already military bases used by the various powers.

      7. Kouros

        One country two systems could work very well as long as demands for independence and distinct foreign policy are not on the table.

        1. Susan the other

          Just thinking about “one country two systems” is pretty intriguing. It’s like one country isolates the systems so they don’t interfere or harm each other. Why don’t we hear more about how that is put into practice? About all we hear is that two diametrically opposed systems cannot coexist because they each prevent the other from thriving. Like commies and cappies – never looking at all the things we actually have in common. Clearly not the Third Way stuff – the environment can’t survive all that human prosperity – we know how that ended in our current neoliberal disaster. But maybe, as we begin to surface from the mess we are in we should look to China’s idea to see how to maintain some balance.

      8. Soredemos

        I have as much sympathy for the Kuomintang remnants in Taiwan as I do for the Cuban refugees in Miami.

        As in none at all.

          1. Thomas P

            Taiwan is still somewhat ambiguous as to whether it see itself a the rightful ruler of mainland China, part of mainland China or an independent nation. The way Taiwan held China’s chair in the UN for a long time hardly helps relations.

            Imagine if the US civil war had ended with a large group of survivors from the South invading Puerto Rico and establishing a state there, which was for a long time recognized as the true representative of USA by most of the world. Might have led to some tense relations…

            Palestine is occupied by Israel while Taiwan has de facto independence. If you want to draw an analogy between Taiwan and Palestine it would have to be that Chiang Kai Cheks forces invaded Taiwan and occupied it, killing the local elite and taking over power. I doubt that’s the intendet analogy, though.

            1. vlade

              Most Taiwanese I know see themselves as separate entity from China.

              There are some (generally older generation) who still would like to get together. Don’t know what part of population those are, but would not be surprised if it was a minority.

            2. PlutoniumKun

              There is no ambiguity over Taiwans claim over China, this has been repeatedly repudiated by successive Taiwan governments going back to at least 1991. The ‘ambiguity’ lies in PROC refusing to allow acknowledgement of Taiwans independent existence internationally, with the result that the Civil War was never formally ended. The ‘ambiguity’ was created by Beijing, not Taipei.

              1. Soredemos

                I would imagine that from Beijing’s perspective an ‘independent’ Taiwan is an ever present potential danger and staging ground for foreign interference. Its existence as a modern polity is also the last remnant of national traitors.

          2. Mike vP

            Among many North American Miamians, the city is known as the IRM – the Independent Republic of Miami. So reactionary that many if not most demanded that Elián Gonzalez immediately be made an American citizen, giving no thought that this precedent would then give a Muammar al-Gaddafi type the ability, for example, to hijack an American plane to his country, make them all citizens, and claim they all wanted to stay there.

          3. Soredemos

            No, it isn’t a matter of sympathy. It’s a matter of power. And Taiwan lacks sufficient power to remain independent in the long-term. It’s entire defense strategy revolves around fending off an assault just long enough for the US Seventh Fleet to arrive. The only leverage Taiwan has of its own is the chip factories, and that won’t last more than another decade before China builds up its own capacity and shifts away from dependence on Taiwan.

            Taiwan’s future independence entirely hinges on the continued support of the US. Even if the US weren’t in decline and its days as a shield numbered, the only way for Taiwan to continue its parasite existence would be for there to be an ever present potential flashpoint for armageddon, which I would think isn’t desirable for anyone.

            If Beijing wants Taiwan, it’s going to get Taiwan, sooner or later. The only way it doesn’t is if we’re willing to burn the entire world to protect it.

              1. Northsider

                That seems a bit of a false equivalence. Both Afghanistan and Vietnam are far from the US, geographically, culturally etc.
                The Taiwan strait is what, 100 miles across? And culturally it is similar to the US, Canada, Europe?
                How would your suggestion of “political not operational” support play out if China makes a move to annex or otherwise control Taiwan? if not operational support what would the distant powers have to offer?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          The Kuomintang have not been in power in Taiwan for many decades. The current KMT political party is not in power and is in any event a conventional Asian centre right party and has long ago cast off its past (it had to, otherwise it would have been unelectable).

          The current Taiwan government is, along with ROK, the only centre-left democratically elected government in the region.

  4. skippy

    America since its inception has always taken advantage of over seas strife … it knows nothing other …

  5. The Rev Kev

    In a flight of fantasy, I sometimes think that if China wanted to put a splash of the cold water of reality on some of the warmongering going on in the US, that they should announce that some of their nuclear missiles are now targeting and locked on the following places-

    Bethesda, Maryland; Waltham, Massachusetts; Seattle, Washington; West Falls Church, Virginia and Reston, Virginia.

    Why those unlucky cities? Because they are the corporate headquarters of the five biggest military contractors in the US, namely, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics. If you know where you work has its own nuke allocated to it, it might serve to dampen the ardor somewhat so that you are not pushing for confrontation to sell your wares.

    Anyway, Taiwan is safe from attack for years to come. China needs the trade with them too badly, especially microchips. In an invasion, the disruption to those microchips would last years if not a decade or two. The Chinese are ambitions but they are not that stupid.

    1. Northsider

      They’d need to re-aim those directed at Seattle to Chicago, unless their target is the US version of Alibaba.

  6. voteforno6

    So, the real question is, how should the U.S. respond to a China that’s becoming increasingly aggressive? Can the U.S. afford the Chinese takeover of Taiwan? In the ’50s it may have been just a matter of “prestige,” but now there would be real economic repercussions.

    1. tegnost

      so since we’ve off shored all production in order to please wall st., now we have to have a war to protect wall st,, who will also profit (yay!) from the war, in order to save the only life that matters, the economy?
      And this is the mainstream democrat position?
      Who was it that said the dems are right wing and the goppers are insane?
      I think they got it right

  7. PlutoniumKun

    What I find quite revealing in this interview, and in so many like it, is that it never seems to occur to many on the left or right (specifically, I should say, from the US left or right) that the Taiwanese people might actually want a say in all this.

    The other missing element is the many other powers in the region, of which at least three (South Korea, Japan and Vietnam) are arming up like crazy. And several other powers (including Russia) are well aware that China’s claims of sovereignty beyond its existing borders extend to to more than just Taiwan.

    1. David

      Indeed, and I think that’s because Taiwan is, in the end, only a symbol. Back in the 1970s the US government of the day stayed in Vietnam as much as anything because it was frightened that if it didn’t display “resolve” then the Soviet Union and China would regard that as a licence to threaten its interests elsewhere in the world. I think we’re in much the same situation now. The more thoughtful US leaders (including military ones) have probably concluded that China is determined to take Taiwan back, and that the US cannot ultimately do anything about that, short of threatening to blow up the world, which rather defeats the object. If the Chinese do take Taiwan back, or simply impose an interim solution that the US would normally find unacceptable, then whole structures of international power and influence around the world could start to unravel, with consequences that no-one can foresee. But of course it’s better not to put yourself in the situation i the first place.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Re: Taiwan as a symbol

        Biden dispatched Blinken to find a foreign policy win. One problem is the low hanging fruit is off the board, and Biden ticked off Iran and Cuba. Even rolling back Trump simply won’t happen at this point.

        At this point, wins will require Biden working hard and pushing back on special interests. A disarmament treaty would tick off everyone who would make a buck on Obama’s nuclear weapon fetish. Biden won’t put in that kind of work. He wants an easy win, but it’s not the 90’s. Perhaps Biden thinks he can make the status quo official, but US behavior won’t make that tolerable.

      2. KD

        The real question is not whether China takes back Taiwan, but how long that process can be delayed.

        Taiwan is basically a giant aircraft carrier in the China Sea, and the CCP would be in air strike range for Japan, Korea and the Philippines, plus they would control the majority of the supply chain in microchips.

        Economic de-coupling is a joke given the size and wake of China’s economy, and people over-estimate the benefit of economic sanctions on a nationalistic authoritarian state, especially when those sanctions are likely to be more painful to the “democratic” state controlled by concentrated economic powers who care more about the bottom line than geopolitics.

        If the U.S. could manage to hold things off for 40 years, it would be a real coup.

        1. jrkrideau

          Taiwan is basically a giant aircraft carrier in the China Sea, and the CCP would be in air strike range for Japan, Korea and the Philippines
          Have you looked at a map recently?

          Taiwan is close, relatively, to the Philippines but Hainan is as close or closer. Shanghai is a lot closer to Japan or S. Korea. Heck. Beijing is closer to S. Korea. Qingdao is a lot closer.

          Taiwan makes a great holiday camp, not much of an aircraft carrier.

    2. KD

      Unfortunately, Taiwan is looking like the 21st Century version of Poland, caught between two monsters. If it went to a vote, they would probably choose to relocate Taiwan 2000 miles East of Hawaii.

  8. Dave in Austin

    A few comments:

    The “We must be ready” quote from the Chinese military guy is routine. The military is always focused on preparing for war. So just like the fire departments and welfare workers, they want a bigger budget to defend against the danger they think about every day.

    Tiawan claims that the South China Sea is part of China based on the same 16th century map that the Mainland does. A bit of an inconvenient fact.

    Mainland China’s red line is a Tiawan move for total independence, even though the supposed right to selfdetermination says otherwise and, surprisingly, so did the Potsdam Agreements, which called for a plebicite in the Japanese colonies. But that is as dead a letter as the right of a US state to suceed; both failed to survive the reality of overwhelming military force.

    At this moment, no major American political figure has called for Tiawan independence. Ditto for the US government. Sometimes frozen conflicts are a good result. Let’s keep them frozen. Chinese economic and military growth pose a real threat to this status quo and to the independence of the rest of East Asia, which is now almost 60% of world GNP. The East Asian countries understand this. So far everyone involved is being very, very careful.

  9. Donald

    A general observation about Taiwan and the left— I will get to Taiwan in a roundabout way. People in general can’t do nuance or at least Americans can’t. I see this most strongly with Syria, where the left split into two pieces. One side goes along with the mainstream and talks as though Assad is 100 percent responsible for all the deaths and specifically says he killed half a million people when a great many of those dead were actually people fighting for Assad. I actually don’t know where you get trustworthy figures for civilian dead but in the early years the numbers I saw were split into three roughly equal pieces— civilians, pro Assad fighters both military and militia, and anti- Assad fighters. It was clearly a war and not just a one sided massacre with Assad’s forces massacring civilians and badly outgunned heroic moderate rebels. You don’t get such high losses among the military if that was the whole story. There were plenty of atrocities by Assad’s side but there were also people fighting for him because they feared genocide if the rebels won. And the US and the Saudis and others supported the rebels while the mainstream pundits talked as though we weren’t intervening.

    But on the other side some lefties who were rightly outraged by our very real intervention talked as though Syria was a democracy and tended to say little or nothing about Assad’s brutality. And I think this is what is going on with Taiwan and China. Anti- interventionists are worried ( rightly so) that when you start talking about the evil behavior of the Official Enemy ( Chomsky’s phrase) you give support for interventionist policies whether you want to or not.

    My own stance is that we should try to be honest about the real crimes of Official Enemies but be very very clear about our own crimes and about the evils of America’s intervention whether by invasion, bombing, proxy wars, or murderous sanctions. We have a gift for taking bad situations and making them worse, sometimes much worse. But it is difficult to be nuanced. I don’t know if this is just America, but political discussions are rarely nuanced.

    1. Soredemos

      To be honest, I think the supposed ‘lack of nuance’ vis a vis Syria and Assad is mostly a strawman, in the same way that anyone opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a ‘Saddam lover’. I have zero love for Assad. But explain to me how turning the country into rubble has improved the lives of Syrians.

      There are a few people around in regards to Syria that I would say are effectively Assad defenders, like Vanessa Beeley (who I’m pretty confident is on the Syrian payroll in some fashion) or Max Blumenthal (who is basically a useful idiot, and not just of Syria).

  10. Susan the other

    I loved it when Wilkerson said that the MIC’s annual budget (this one at 768bn$) is “pure pollution.” Indeed.

  11. CostcoPizza

    Taiwan’s prompt, transparent, and competent handling of Covid is reason alone to let them have independence.

    Oh and their night markets too.

  12. Sea Sched

    I’ve never understood why there was always so much widespread support for Tibet but not for Taiwan…is it because Taiwan didn’t have Richard Gere, wandering its beaches in monk robes? A lot of tourism too is focused on the rest of Asia but rarely do I hear people visiting Taiwan for fun the way they visit Thailand, Vietnam, or even China…
    Taiwan has a completely different government, language, and currency from China so how is it people still get confused and think it is part of China? It’s been intriguing to see the Lithuanian support for Taiwan and I was curious as to why and then I came across something on Lithuania and state controlled media/communism and realized Lithuania absolutely understands Taiwan’s position with China due to their relationship with Russia…
    Taiwan has also changed dramatically since the 80’s…it has universal healthcare, green initiatives, high speed rail, an extensive subway system and arguably is even more of a democracy than the U.S…people who have not been to Taiwan since the 80’s have a very outdated incorrect impression of what it is like there…
    There are a lot of people who claim to be Taiwanese but immigrated to Taiwan from China during the Cultural Revolution, don’t speak Taiwanese at home and therefore think Taiwan is part of China. Taiwanese people make a distinction between the groups of people who moved to Taiwan during that time period- they are not considered truly Taiwanese…the large group of people who moved to Taiwan from the Hakka region 200 or so years ago also are not considered truly Taiwanese either as they also speak their own dialect…and of course sadly, aborigines are also not considered Taiwanese and have their separate culture and dying languages. If you ask someone who only speaks Mandarin, whose parents only speak Mandarin, there is much higher chance they will think Taiwan is a part of China as they most likely started living in Taiwan after the Cultural Revolution. It would be incredibly rare for anyone who speaks Taiwanese (and possibly Japanese thanks to the Japanese occupation) to think Taiwan is a part of China. None of this nuance of course gets reflected in the media.

    1. Kouros

      Mandarin Chinese has been the official language of Taiwan since 1945, and is the most spoken language in the country.

      Compared with Thailand and Vietnam, Taiwan is much more expensive for the low budget people.

      I would really like to know more about the “Taiwanese” language you speak of here so warmly.

      1. Sea Sched

        When people in Taiwan refer to “taiwanese” language, they mean Hokkien, which has been the native language in Taiwan for 800 years or so (not including aboriginal languages). During the Japanese occupation, people were beaten for speaking Taiwanese and forced to learn Japanese. Many people who grew up in that generation do not even speak Mandarin. After the Cultural Revolution, people were beaten for speaking Taiwanese and forced to speak Mandarin. And now younger generations all speak Mandarin, it is the language of commerce, most commonly spoken in Taipei, the capital. If you leave Taipei, most people speak Taiwanese. Almost everyone in Taiwan can speak both Mandarin and Taiwanese, older generations are more comfortable with Taiwanese, younger generations with Mandarin- and many young people only use Taiwanese to speak to their elders/grandparents. Taiwanese has 8 different tones, Mandarin 4…if you can speak one but not the other, you can not understand the other whatsoever. Depending on the presidential candidate and where you are in Taiwan, speaking Taiwanese can be seen as an act of political rebellion- while Ma Ying Jeou was president (who was born in Hong Kong and only learned Taiwanese for the election), if you spoke Taiwanese in Taipei it was considered an anti-China political move. Nowadays, younger generations are moving back towards learning/speaking Taiwanese as they want to identify more as “Taiwanese” vs Chinese. Also shopping/food can be wildly cheap in Taiwan but there are also insanely expensive options as well…it is possible to travel there for cheap…my feeling is there is not as much American tourism there due to politics…

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Mandarin is not the ‘official language’ of Taiwan, it has three official languages – Mandarin, Hokkian ad Hakka. 70% of Taiwanese speak Hokkien, which is a distinct language by any reasonable definition – it split from mainland Hokkian several centuries ago – it is mutually intelligible with the Hokkian group of languages of southern China, SE Asian and the Philippines, but not with mandarin. Taiwanese mandarin is the language of school teaching, so its spoken by nearly all Taiwanese.

        When Taiwan people say ‘Taiwanese language’ in English, in my experience they mean Hokkien as that is the most widely spoken ‘native’ dialect in the country. Most Taiwanese pride themselves on being able to read and write a more ‘traditional’ form of mandarin than what they see as the bastardised form of Beijing dialect that forms ‘official’ mandarin in China.

        1. Soredemos

          ‘Traditional’ here means more complicated and worse. Hanzi suck; every society that has ever used them has tried to at least lessen the burden of how much they suck, or fled from them altogether.

          I laugh hard that the dominate keyboard interfaces for Japanese and all varieties of Chinese are to just write the word phonetically in Latin script and select the character from a dropdown menu. Technological advancement itself is telling you that this writing system is ludicrously cumbersome and stupid.

    2. jrkrideau

      Taiwan has also changed dramatically since the 80’s…it has universal healthcare, green initiatives, high speed rail, an extensive subway system and arguably is even more of a democracy than the U.S…

      Sounds a lot like the PRC though the democracy is disputable. Both ‘entities’ have made huge advances.

      @ Kouros
      I would really like to know more about the “Taiwanese” language
      Native indigenous language I believe. IIRC most studied second language in Taiwan. No idea what that means in terms of use.

      1. Sea Sched

        Yes both have made advances sure…Taiwan is probably more similar to South Korea than China in that respect. Gambling and prostitution are legal in Taiwan, there is no censorship and of course gay marriage was recently made legal as well…I have never been to China but my impression is they are not similar in the least aside from some language and certain foods perhaps…
        Taiwan is a true democracy…the president is elected by popular vote every 4 yrs- similar to the U.S. there are 2 main parties- green (which is more pro-Taiwan) and blue (which is more pro-China). Due to paranoia re: any influence by China on elections, votes are counted by hand, tallied on a white board, on camera while live streamed. Taiwan ranks even higher then the US as far as civic freedoms go.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Taiwan is culturally a very different place to China, except insofar as most Asian big modern cities have a horribly same-y feel to them. The Japanese influence in Taiwan is surprisingly strong, you see it everywhere, from food to fashion and a lot of Japanese move to Taiwan for what they see as a calmer and cheaper lifestyle. You’ll find a lot of Japanese retirees in the south of the island and a lot of younger Japanese people see it as a kind of cool and welcoming place to visit. Its a while since I’ve been there, but I would guess that like much of Asia South Korean soft power has been making inroads too.

          To an extent its quite deliberate – for a long time there has been a conscious effort in Taiwan to differentiate themselves culturally and align themselves with Japan/ROK and Vietnam. Its also a very conservative place in many ways, which makes those Betel Nut girls really stand out (I’m not sure if they are still a thing, I think a few years ago there was an attempt to stamp them out).

  13. Tom Pfotzer

    May I ask you to direct your attention to this portion of the dialog:

    Wilkerson: [Attacking China over Taiwan is ] …going to be rewarded with a massive defeat in the first confrontation.

    Jay: Defeat for the United States?

    Wilkerson: The United States.

    Jay: Well, the United States can’t accept a defeat over Taiwan.

    Wilkerson: No, it won’t.

    Jay: So then what?

    Wilkerson: It will go nuclear. It will up the ante and go nuclear.


    My paraphrase: We cannot accept defeat over Taiwan. We will go nuclear.

    OK. Let’s review a little history.

    Back a few decades, the U.S. rich people thought they could make a lot of money by “accommodating China”. Remember that? Bush Senior led the charge, and part of the deal was throwing Taiwan under the bus. We “accepted the One China policy”.

    A few decades later, the plan to capture the Chinese via credit cards and commercials has dismally failed. Now comes Plan B: Trump leads the charge with a Trade War.

    Didn’t work.

    Bob Dole – remember him? The decorated war hero, one time presidential candidate. Bob says “Use Taiwan as lever”. This was in 2019 or so.

    Now we’ve got Plan C. All of a sudden Taiwan is important enough to us to start a nuclear war, whereas just a few years ago – a very few years – it was perfectly fine to throw them under the bus for a few dollahs in the right hands.

    I know Wilkerson tends to shoot off his mouth, and say things just to cause a stir. He likes to be controversial. And I truly doubt that China or Russia takes him seriously at all.

    I object to this sort of irresponsible grandstanding. Do you see Russian or Chinese officials – in office or out – saying reckless things like this? They don’t. They’d get slapped down rapidly and unceremoniously, and they know it.

    This sort of behavior is what makes the rest of the world very uneasy: they think we’ll do something childish, or erratic, or egotistical in order to avoid the inevitable loss of standing that is implicit in China’s rise.

    Still fresh and cringe-worthy in people’s minds is former President Trump, twittering up a Foreign Policy while backstage at the Miss America pageant.

    This is how the world sees us now. It’s surreal.

  14. Roland

    Isn’t nuclear proliferation the correct answer? If Taiwan had some credible nuclear retaliatory capability, the disparity of conventional strength between them and PRC wouldn’t matter as much.

    That way, it would be up to Chinese, mainlander or islander, to decide how much they want to risk on either a one or a two state solution.

    The question should not particularly concern the USA. Taiwanese independence is a sham if it can only exist as a protectorate.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Taiwan was developing a nuclear warhead in the 1980’s. They stopped (at least officially) after US pressure. They could almost certainly develop one very quickly if they chose to.

    2. KD

      My prediction is that if Taiwan were on the verge of developing a nuclear capability, it would trigger an immediate invasion (which is why the US shut down the previous efforts).

      We can debate the strategic importance of Taiwan, but its pretty clear that the CCP (as did General MacArthur) see Taiwan as having the highest strategic importance to China, and the primary mission of the PLA is to invade and secure Taiwan. That is the mission they are training for. In addition, Xi has publicly promised to take Taiwan before he leaves the leadership.

      The US was able to quiet things down in 2005/2006 by deploying air craft carriers, but now, China has highly accurate satellite targeting systems and hypersonic missiles that the US Navy has basically no defense against, so if there is a confrontation, China is likely to just blow up our carriers with no casualties, and the US losing billions of dollars in equipment and thousands of lives. You could imagine what that would do the Biden’s approval ratings. [The Navy is solving the problem of aircraft carriers being obsolete by building bigger carriers.] The US is in trouble unless we can neutralize China’s satellite capability and defend against hypersonic weapons, which we cannot do at this time (although this is probably part of why we have a space force).

      The US is never going to have the will to fight a protracted conventional war in Taiwan, it would just be a replay of Vietnam. Our surface blue water Navy is basically a liability at this time, and while the US has bigger forces, much of it is logistics and support, and we have a commitment to being able to fight on two fronts, so the actual number of competent trained combat troops is much lower than people imagine. In addition, logistics would be a nightmare for the US trying to engage in conventional warfare in Taiwan. If we went nuclear, which we might, it would be suicide, but you are dealing with megalomaniacs with a bunker mentality discovering their impotence.

      China can take Taiwan right now, its just a question of whether they want to pay the extreme diplomatic and economic costs of doing so, plus having to put down an insurgency with means that will not get them awards from Amnesty International. It would probably result in the destruction of most of the world’s chip production, among other effects. However, I suspect that a nationalist authoritarian state can weather a global economic depression/disruption better than a capitalist regime composed of a compact in which your sell your soul for the promise of economic prosperity, as it only works if there is prosperity (at least at the top).

      1. KD

        Due to the foresight our foreign policy establishment in pushing Russia into the arms of China, if there is some action, I wouldn’t be surprised if Russia flexs in Ukraine in a significant way, the US concentrates resources and attention into Europe, and then China invades Taiwan.

      2. Thomas P

        It’s very unlikely that China could mount a successful invasion of Taiwan. It’s the kind of amphibious landing nightmares are made of. Long stretch of open ocean against a prepared enemy, and even if they manage to get a beachhead they have to keep supplying those troops. Submarines and anti-shipping missiles could cause catastrophic losses before the troops even saw Taiwan.

        China keeps the idea of “Mandate of Heaven”. Leaders are safe as long as they provide prosperity, whether China or its regime can weather a large downturn from a war on Taiwan is an open question.

        1. KD

          Lyle Goldstein has some useful analysis:

          The war gaming is not so good.

          The case for why China won’t attack Taiwan is the following:

          1. It could go nuclear.
          2. War is uncertain, and they could lose despite war-gaming. Also, Taiwan has tunnels, expect insurgency with US/Japan hammering logistic re-supply to Formosa.
          3. It would destroy most of world microchip production, putting the world in a depression.
          4. It would result in sanctions.
          5. SE Asia would hop into the arms of the USA in an anti-balancing coalition, and more heat on Burma and N. Korea.
          6. South Korea and Japan would have no option other than to develop a nuclear deterrent. E.g. China less secure than when they started.
          7. It ends up being a high risk proposition which even if successful could lead to the end of CCP rule.

  15. Anon

    Responding to Yves’ question, from a perceived perspective of Paul Jay:

    1) Taiwan wasn’t established by international mandate.

    2) China is not trying to exterminate the Taiwanese (to my knowledge).

    3) One is essentially a long-standing civil war, the other, is settler colonialism.

    4) One is unlikely to result in nuclear war, the other, is a firecracker.

    I try not to pick sides, but thems the facts. As underdogs go, the Taiwanese, representing descendants of the regime which facilitated mass narcotic addiction of its population by foreigners, have two legs to stand on: microchips, and Western bloodlust.

  16. ChrisRUEcon


    > I understand and support the soi-disant left’s desire to end our military adventurism.

    Ohhhh Yves … LOL

    A new prefix for my bag of left-descriptors! Hahahaha!

    :: throws it in there with alt-, dirtbag-, hipster-, post-, podcast- and quasi- ::

    I’m thin on the topic, but this post made me remember something that popped up on Carl Zha’s #Twitter feed back in November: How Taiwan became Chinese (via Based on Carl Zha’s tweet and reading the abstract of the book, if I had to describe the difference in sympathies, I think it would be this: Palestine v Israel can be viewed in the context of two peoples claiming aboriginal rights to a territory, in which one party (Israel) has far superior might and mighty friends. China v Taiwan is an inter-colonialist struggle – the original aborigines of Taiwan long neutered – where an external imperialist (US) stands to make serious gain against its only real rival in global hierarchy. I’m going to read the book. Between the advent of Han Chinese migrant men under the Dutch and the eventual conquest of Taiwan by a Chinese warlord named Zheng Chenggong, I suspect there is a lot to be gleaned about why the Chinese feel they have such a claim, and why many have sympathy for said claim.

Comments are closed.