Endgame Taiwan? US Plans Further China Eyepoking with Planned Military Transit of the Taiwan Strait

Like a traveler sailing the Archipelago who sees the luminous mists lift toward evening, and little by little makes out the shore, I begin to discern the profile of my death.

– Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian

It may seem far too early to make any calls about how the escalating power struggle between the US and China will resolve itself. But in reality, the end point is certain. The open question is how long and bloody the path there will be.

As we’ll argue, the Chinese threat display of wargames that were technically not a blockade of Taiwan but more than sufficient to show it could be done, and also pointedly breached a polite former acceptance of Taiwan’s claims to air and water ways, were directed most of all to the population of Taiwan. It was already not happy about this level of US provocation:

So China by its so-far narrow barring of Taiwenese goods is in combination with its military show is sending a message that this situation can be resolved the hard way if it has to go that way. One can think of China’s action as an extremely heavy-handed, frontal version of the color revolution/regime game change the US likes to play.

But the US is determined to try to undermine China’s latest gambit. A new story from RT:

US Navy ships and planes will transit the Taiwan Strait in the next two weeks, the White House announced on Thursday. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby condemned Chinese military drills in the area and said the Pentagon had ordered the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and her escorts to remain near Taiwan to “monitor the situation.”

The Reagan and her accompanying ships are based in Japan and were deployed to the East China Sea in recent days, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid a visit to Taipei against Chinese objections. Beijing has responded to Pelosi’s visit by launching extensive drills around Taiwan and firing a dozen missiles across the island.

Amid heightened tensions, US President Joe Biden decided it would be “prudent” to order the US aircraft carrier strike group to stay in the area “for a little bit longer than they were originally planned,” according to Kirby. The spokesman also condemned the Chinese missile tests as “irresponsible” and “at odds with our longstanding goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan strait and in the region.”
READ MORE: US calls off nuclear missile test

“We will not be deterred from operating in the seas and the skies of the Western Pacific, consistent with international law, as we have for decades, supporting Taiwan and defending a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

The UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea does limit territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, while the Taiwan Strait is 86 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point. So even if China asserted its position that Taiwan is part of China, that would in theory enable it to restrict access to only 24 nautical miles of the Strait.

However, the US is not party to the UN Convention of the Laws of the Seas, so it’s pretty cynical for the US then to invoke it when convenient. And why is the US not a party? Per Wikipedia, one reason is “In 1983 President Ronald Reagan, through Proclamation No. 5030, claimed a 200-mile exclusive economic zone.”

China invokes the same notion of a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and further asserts it can limit military activity in that areas. And it does have some company for this view, so it is more an aggressive than an insane position. From the Lowy Institute:

Lastly, China claims 200 nm from the end of the territorial sea as its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where it claims to have the right to regulate military activity. The US insists that freedom of navigation of military vessels is a universally established and accepted practice enshrined in international law – in other words, states do not have the right to limit navigation or exercise any control for security purposes in EEZs. Australia shares this view, but not all countries accept this interpretation. Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman and Vietnam agree with China that warships have no automatic right of innocent passage in their territorial seas. Twenty other developing countries (including Brazil, India, Malaysia and Vietnam) insist that military activities such as close-in surveillance and reconnaissance by a country in another country’s EEZ infringe on coastal states’ security interests and therefore are not protected under freedom of navigation.

An armada making a show of its right to trawl the waters is arguably not “close-in surveillance and reconnaissance” but one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. It will be interesting to see how the press in the Global South, particularly India, reacts.

These developments sadly prove out an observation we made on Gonzalo Lira’s roundtable with Alexander Mercouris and Brian Berletic, that the Pelosi visit was not just a crisis but a watershed event.1

Taiwanese were presumably happy with the status quo ante. But those relatively untroubled days are over.

The US and the secessionist forces in Taiwan will lose. And that should be an obvious call.

It therefore should also be obvious that the US is making Taiwan its victim. It pushed China too far in its tolerance of the ambiguous status of Taiwan and embarrassed Chinese leadership over not having a concrete date or plan for reunification, despite the mantra of its inevitability.

But the even bigger offense from China’s perspective has been the arming of Taiwan, since many of the supposedly defensive weapons the US has been selling to Taiwan also have offensive uses. And China was never going to tolerate an unduly well-equipped Taiwan.

Even though China’s screechiness in the runup to Pelosi’s visit was aimed at the US, it was also a warning to Taiwan. Former colonel Douglas MacGregor explained why a garrisoned Taiwan, which is clearly where the US, in shades of Ukraine, looked to be taking matters, is an existential threat to China:

To put it perhaps another way, Taiwan as a wanna-be country needed to learn the lesson of small countries who via geography or resources are of too much interest to big powers. They need to be skillful is playing one off against another. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen, by contrast, was called out in the South China Morning Post for making Taiwan look like America’s 51st state by not taking any position on Pelosi’s visit, as if the Taiwan government had no say in the matter.

Instead, in yet another parallel to Ukraine, the US has led Taiwan down what professor John Mearsheimer has called the primrose path to catastrophe. From New arms sales send the wrong signal on Taiwan in Defense News, August 2021:

The Biden administration recently approved its first arms sale to Taiwan for $750 million worth of howitzers and high-tech munitions kits. Proponents incorrectly argue that this sale will enhance stability in the region by sending a strong signal to China of America’s commitment to Taiwan’s security and by complicating any Chinese plans for an invasion of the island. In fact, the sale will accomplish nothing of the sort. To avoid enflaming tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. needs to halt sales of weapons to Taiwan.

This sale will not allow Taiwan to better defend itself in any clash with China. It will, however, tell Taiwan that it’s OK to keep passing the buck to the United States for its defense…

Despite inaccurate claims that weapons are helping Taiwan become capable of defending itself, decades of American arms sales and reassurances have convinced Taiwanese leaders that the United States is ultimately responsible for Taiwan’s security. Taiwan’s defense spending has remained stuck at about 2 percent of its gross domestic product for years, a great deal of which it has spent on high-tech American weapons that will be of little value in case of a war.

According to a report published by George Mason University for which the authors interviewed Taiwanese military officials, senior lawmakers, elected leaders, former government officials and defense scholars, the U.S. arms sales let “China know America would intervene on our behalf in a conflict.”

In short, when it buys American weapons, Taiwan is simply making insurance payments to guarantee American intervention in response to a Chinese invasion…

Attempts to deter China with an enhanced U.S. military presence and arms sales to Taiwan are having the opposite effect. China’s defense budget has doubled in the 10 years since Obama announced the pivot….

Taiwan is in an unenviable position, but defending Taiwan at the risk of war with China is a bad gamble for both Taipei and Washington to take, especially as Taiwan would almost certainly be reduced to cinders in the process.

If Global Times is any guide, Chinese officials seem chuffed about their practice blockade of Taiwan, which they’ve decided to extend by another day. It’s sobering the minds of Taiwan citizens by demonstrating that China can bring the island to its knees without an invasion. Keep in mind not only can China obstruct air and sea landings, but it takes to running these exercises often, it will wreak havoc with shipping, causing backlogs at ports and potentially leading insurance rates to skyrocket over perceived hazards. From PLA’s ‘Taiwan lockdown’ drills stun secessionists, external forces as precision strike, area denial capabilities proved:

Surrounding Taiwan island with six large maritime areas and its airspace in its north, northeast, east, south, southwest and northwest from Thursday noon to Sunday noon, the unprecedented drills featured advanced weapons, including long-range rocket artillery, anti-ship ballistic missiles, stealth fighter jets and an aircraft carrier group with a nuclear-powered submarine, as well as realistic tactics that simulated a real reunification-by-force operation, demonstrating and honing the PLA’s capabilities to not only take over the island, but also prevent any external interference including from the US, experts said…

With a range of more than 300 kilometers, long-range rockets can easily cover targets on Taiwan island from the Chinese mainland, Song Zhongping, a Chinese mainland military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.

Long-range rocket strikes could be one of the first moves in a potential reunification-by-force operation, as the low-cost weapons can be launched in mass numbers from the mainland across the Taiwan Straits to destroy hostile military facilities…

Area denial is a concept that describes denying external forces to interfere within a specific area. In this context, it means that the PLA’s conventional missile launches practiced hitting foreign aircraft carriers that could intervene from the Philippine Sea in a possible reunification-by-force operation, experts said.

The missiles, which are more powerful than long-range rockets, can also hit targets on the island, analysts said.

A number of PLA conventional missiles, including the DF-21, DF-26 and the hypersonic DF-17, can hit moving targets at sea, observers said….

“The PLA operations could form a complete blockade around Taiwan island,” Zhang [Junshe, a senior research fellow at the Naval Research Academy of the PLA] said.

Mind you, this “reunification by force” operation did not appear to contemplate a landing. It looks to focus on the destruction of military capabilities along with a blockade.

And the amount of pixels devoted to the reaction of Taiwan citizens suggests they were a major target of this exercise. Again from Global Times:

Media on the island expressed worries not only from a military perspective, but also other fields concerning people’s daily life such as energy supplies and flights on the island, as the PLA’s drills basically form a three-day blockade of the island.

The drills are expected to affect the transportation and replenishment of natural gas vessels that are vital to power generation in the island. According to local media, natural gas vessels at ports in Taichung and Kaohsiung are currently operating normally, but a local petrochemical energy company has been closely observing the situation and drawn up emergency response plans.

Citing an economic affairs authority in the island, media said that the company has enough oil supplies for 40 days. The total oil stocks of authorities and civilian institutions in the island are enough for 100 days’ usage. Fire coal stocks in the island are sufficient for about 30 days, while there are enough natural gas stocks on the island for only 10-11 days.

So energy supplies are the choke point. It would not be long at all before Taiwan would be out of fuel.

Another Global Times article indicates the Chinese authorities believe that Taiwan is getting the message that China can also restrict exports from Taiwan to China, which would be a serious blow. Note that China does not have to use formal sanctions. It can simply strangle Taiwan exporters with new red tape. That would create uncertainty and increase costs and delay. With perishables, that could lead to them being rejected by buyers for having gone bad. Too many hassles would also lead customers to shift their purchases to more reliable vendors.

The current restrictions are small scale, so Global Times is likely exaggerating their practical and psychological impact. But it’s not hard to tighten these screws. From DPP faces backlash following mainland’s import suspensions, slammed for damaging residents’ interests. The first quoted part is explicit that the move is intended to punish pro-independence parties:

Analysts said that for the sake of Taiwan residents, the mainland did not adopt tougher sanctions, but they need to realize that voting for the DPP will not lead to good results. The mainland will still actively promote cross-Straits economic and trade bonds, but at the same time, it will continue to strengthen the crackdown on and punishment of Taiwan secessionists.

Starting on Wednesday, Chinese mainland customs authorities suspended the entry of citrus fruits including grapefruits, lemons and oranges, as well as two types of fish (chilled large head hairtail and frozen horse mackerel) from the island, in accordance with regulations and food safety requirements.

Those goods have been repeatedly found to be harboring pests or contaminated with excessive chemicals…

According to a Thursday poll from udn.com, 70 percent of respondents in Taiwan had no confidence in Pelosi’s “determination to safeguard Taiwan’s democracy.” An earlier poll from udn.com showed 65 percent of respondents would not welcome her visit.

udn is a Taiwan-based outlet, but I am unsure of its political bent. It has some harsh quotes about the impact of the sanctions. Global Times also cited two Yahoo News pols which showed concern about the mainland’s actions, including the not-quite sanctions, but they were online polls and hence not all that reliable.

I reiterate a point made by Brian Berletic: China does not need to invade or even blockade Taiwan. All it has to do is stop trading with Taiwan to kill its economy. But a blockade would accelerate the capitulation.

Finally, if the confrontation winds up in a hot war between the US and China, which is all too possible given the odds of accidents plus US stupidity, readers have debated hotly whether China is able to take on the US. Aside from having a presumed home territory advantage, US military assessments seem to greatly undervalue the importance of layered offensive missiles in favor of airplanes. Our fondness for manned vehicles may prove to be chauvinistic. Another area where most analysts are at risk of ignoring important Chinese capabilities is in space warfare, where there’s good reason to think China could quickly knock out or otherwise neutralize a lot of our satellite capability in very short order. I hope to return to those topics soon.

In the meantime, I am re-embedding the current Defense Intelligence Agency “Worldwide Threat Assessment”. As you can see, it clearly underestimated Russian capabilities. I would be curious to get reader reactions to its take on China.

________

1 Lambert and I remain convinced that this visit was a combination of Pelosi’s ego at work (hostility to China is part of her branding) and securing more funds for the 2022 midterms (recall she is a national figure and all House members, save rebels like The Squad, are required to kick in a substantial amount of their donations to the DCCC). So Pelosi presumably was not currying favor with California anti-mainland Chinese so much for her election but to bolster party coffers generally. But there does seem to have been some double-dealing too. We see conflicting reports, that a lot of senior Administration figures, including Jake Sullivan, tried to talk Pelosi out of going. Biden allegedly didn’t talk to her because he didn’t want to appear soft on China (you cannot make this stuff up). However, NPR reported that Sullivan made very loud anti-China noises after Pelosi’s visit. So did he really make much of an effort to deter her from going?

And let us not forget:

00 Defense Intelligence Agency Threat Assessment
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148 comments

  1. Sardonia

    “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” – Alfred the Butler, advising a perplexed Batman, who can’t figure out the Joker’s motive.

    Reply
    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

      ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

      [Yves Smith and Lambert Strether have used this quote before to good effect.]

      I am a fan of Memoirs of Hadrian, an insightful work.

      Hadrian avoided wars after he participated in and witnessed what happened to Trajan and Trajan’s misadventures with the Persians. (Yes, the Persians.) Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, avoided wars for some twenty years, which made him one of the Good Emperors.

      Prof. Alessandro Orsini (he who gives La Stampa’s editors indigestion) wrote a column in which he points out that since WWII, the US of A likely has been involved in 64 attempted coups d’état, half of which were successful. Ukraine (already a beneficiary of more than one coup d’état) and Taiwan are being used, as mentioned, by being dragged along the primrose path, to overthrow the governments of Russia and China.

      The difficulty is that the geniuses in D.C., who have become increasingly unaccountable, are not just trying to overthrow the government of Haiti, a weak country easily wrecked again and again by the US of A.

      An unworkable “strategy” (more like an uncontrolled bad habit) meets resistance. Unless the “strategy” is simply to wreck things, as in Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. We see what happened in Syria (just wreck things). What happened in Sri Lanka is not yet clear, but it may even be another failed coup that will leave the country a wreck for years.

      I’d keep an eye on the Brazilian elections, though, given that Victoria Nuland was trolling Brazil recently. What, errrr, fascinates is the rapid and insensate repetition of the same failed non-strategy.

      Reply
    2. Rip Van Winkle

      “What do you get when … ? You get what you f ing deserve!”

      Joker to Mur-ray (De Niro character)

      Seems appropriate.

      Reply
  2. bwilli123

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Announces Countermeasures in Response to Nancy Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan
    2022-08-05 18:10
    In disregard of China’s strong opposition and serious representations, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited China’s Taiwan region. On 5 August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the following countermeasures in response:

    1.Canceling China-U.S. Theater Commanders Talk.

    2.Canceling China-U.S. Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT).

    3.Canceling China-U.S. Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) meetings.

    4.Suspending China-U.S. cooperation on the repatriation of illegal immigrants.

    5.Suspending China-U.S. cooperation on legal assistance in criminal matters.

    6.Suspending China-U.S. cooperation against transnational crimes.

    7.Suspending China-U.S. counternarcotics cooperation.

    8.Suspending China-U.S. talks on climate change.

    https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/202208/t20220805_10735706.html

    Reply
  3. timbers

    A site that might be called a rag that has articles sometimes good and many not and a big 0 in it’s name, has been inserting regular references to Nancy’s husband’s insider trading as possible likely explanations for Nancy’s behavior and how things REALLY work in Washington. One gets the impression he spends his day using Nancy’s insider info to execute stock trades when’s he’s not appearing in court on DUI charges. It’s quite funny at times and one of those things you know is half true and half not true, regardless of the lack of evidence provided in any given instance.

    Well, this is what has become of our nation. Everything in America has become so corrupted and Nancy is an easy and accurate symbol of that. We are similar to being at the same point of the collapsing Roman Empire riddled with corruption and it’s leaders totally divorced from the world the rest of us live in. It’s like a comedy except we all pay the price of their errors.

    Reply
    1. fresno dan

      timbers
      An interesting question about the zero rag would be to compare it to the NYT/WP rags. I would say on provable indisputable facts, they are about equal (seriously, I believe the NYT/WP reports baseball scores and plane crashes accurately). The problem with the NYT/WP is all the stuff (Hunter Biden) that they refuse to acknowledge even exists…

      Reply
    2. YankeeFrank

      Not sure if its accurate but a recent tweet compared Pelosi’s market returns to Warren Buffet’s. The tweet claimed Buffet, “the greatest investor in the world”, has consistently provided 20% average annual returns while Pelosi has managed 69%.

      Insider trading’s great. Everyone should do it.

      Reply
    3. Anthony G Stegman

      Nancy Pelosi and her husband are both 80+ years of age. They have a fortune in excess of $100M. What’s the point of trading stocks at all, never mind while using inside information? How much ice cream can an 80 year old expect to consume over the next 10 years or so? Mental illness runs rampant among a certain class of people.

      Reply
      1. fresno dan

        AGS
        At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history.
        Heller responds,“Yes, but I have something he will never have — ENOUGH.”
        Based on this anecdote, Kurt Vonnegut wrote this obituary/poem for The New Yorker in May of 2005 .
        ================================
        some people like to play games when they know they will win…

        Reply
      2. Librarian Guy

        They have kids. Their arrogant daughter Christine made a movie documentary about how smart and charming W. Bushie Junior is (not kidding!) & regularly opines about how people who aren’t reactionary but don’t support all the Dem failures are swine. She literally posted on Twitter multiple times that anyone who wanted Ginsburg to retire before she passed away were sexist (or self-hating in the case of women) trolls, and then when the Supremes’ 6 overturned Roe, she blamed . . . Jill Stein, Susan Sarandon, & possibly Ralph Nader!! I don’t know about their other family, if any, beyond knowing Nancy is a Good Catholic and has long supported anti-Choice Dems, most recently the deeply corrupt, reactionary Henry Cuellar against a pro-choice woman! . . . I lived in NorCal until last year, and there was an older lady who’d worked in several schools around the Bay Area who would sub at the school I worked at and come in and socialize at the Library office of our library (which I oversaw) because we had a welcome social scene for staff there. This woman always bragged that she had taught Pelosi’s kiddies at the wealthy Catholic school they attended in S.F., & I believe she was telling the truth. This woman was a typical Lib, she bragged that she was a Lefty, her parents took her to see the anti-HUAC demonstrators in SF being blasted with firehouses as a teen, in the 1950s, she claimed. But she loved Bloomberg (!!) & openly hated Bernie, a typical suburban I got mine and I support the status quo unconditionally arrogant and entitled type. Very proud of knowing the Pelosis!! (sad as that is)

        Reply
        1. Ed Miller

          “a typical suburban I got mine”

          Well, well. Last year I finally figured out the perfect acronym for America. Don’t know what took me so long since I’ve got mine (IGM) has been central to US bragging rights for decades.

          Here it is: FUIGM

          Reply
  4. fresno dan

    Find me another example of a critical, fact based examination of US policy contradictions and hypocrisy in the MSM. IF ANY exist, they are completely subsumed by the overwhelming reporting of only the US perspective, and the US perspective of its war mongering elite.
    And I can’t help but note, wasn’t it the US through its policies (join the world trade organization) that allowed China to develop a US challenging military?

    Reply
    1. fresno dan

      So I just watched the Tucker Carlson clip, and I do stand somewhat corrected – a major media site providing some thoughtful and logical critique of US policy vis a vis Taiwan. But is there any other major media outlets doing the same?
      What does it say that Carlson and FOX appear to give a more objective and dispassionate analysis of Taiwan while all the other major media seem to be nothing but water bearers for US propaganda?

      Reply
      1. timbers

        “What does it say that Carlson and FOX appear to give a more objective and dispassionate analysis of Taiwan while all the other major media seem to be nothing but water bearers for US propaganda?”

        FOX’s objective/dispassionate analysis will last, until it doesn’t. When Republicans are in control, will be when it doesn’t.

        But it’s good a thing while it lasts. And McGregor is a treat to watch and that he’s probably a Republican I have no issues with that because he’s sane.

        Reply
        1. fresno dan

          timbers
          its unfortunate that no major media outlet will stay in reality 100% of the time, but will only report reality when it serves to confirm the biases of their customers. But such is our vaunted market based MSM. One can ask why so many people get beliefs before facts, but it does seem to be true of so many people.

          Reply
        2. bdy

          Yes. Speaking truth to power makes political kabuki work. Tucker also made the right call on inflation recently. So what. Setting the stage for another s****y Republican admin. Gaming representative democracy sure looks EZ peasy from 30,000 feet (below).

          Reply
  5. SocalJimObjects

    Why not listen to this classic from Nancy? She visited Taiwan and then tried to quote from Benjamin Franklin with hilarious results.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxNm61ntw1w

    Perhaps the Chinese is trying to burnish her reputation, thereby making sure that she’ll never get dislodged from her perch in the Democratic Party forever and ever.

    Reply
    1. Arakawa

      As the Onion headline put it, “China threatens to retaliate for Pelosi visit by letting her return safely”.

      Reply
      1. fresno dan

        Arakawa
        Only one perpetrator? I’m thinking if Pelosi suffered an unfortunate event, it would be like Agatha Christie’s book The Orient Express, they all did it (China, Taiwan, democrats, republicans, as well as others…)

        Reply
    2. Michael Ismoe

      That speech must have been written by Brandon’s team over at the White House, you know, the successor to “President Franklin”.

      Cocktail hour at the Pelosi’s must look like an out-take of a Johnny Depp-Amber Heard movie.

      Reply
    3. William Verick

      In 1983, when China was still a Marxist Leninist country and almost everyone still dressed in padded monochromatic blue cotton, I rummaged through a bookstore in the main shopping district in Beijing. There, I found a copy of Ben Franklin’s autobiography in Chinese translation. Franklin’s writing was allowed even in post-Cultural Revolution Beijing. I discussed this with my compartment mates on a “hard sleeper” train to Xian. Many of them knew knew about Ben Franklin and most admired him. Go figure.

      Reply
      1. Louis Fyne

        i love anecdotes like this. social history like this that sadly won`t be preserved by academia or by some cuneiform pottery shard.

        wish i appreciated the world pre-homogenized internet media.

        thanks for sharing

        Reply
    4. rob

      HOLY PELOSI BATMAN…. that woman is in functional decline.
      Between biden and pelosi at leadership meetings on the direction of US foreign policy…. now it makes sense…. they really are blithering idiots.
      And the US foreign policy of late seems just about right for these two; once assinine, now decrepit; holdovers from swindles gone bye..,steering the ship of state…… I can hear them now….What rocks?

      Reply
      1. jabalarky

        Recently, a Canadian journalist discussing the housing crisis in Canada used the term “vampiric gerontocracy” to describe boomers who rely on the market value of their house for their wealth.

        I think the term “vampiric gerontocracy” also accurately describes the elite governing class in the US: they are a bunch of senile mummies using their government positions to enrich themselves, execute coups d’etat across the world, and crush any hint of leftist dissent in their ranks.

        Reply
  6. Jim Wilson

    China has proven itself incapable of dealing with Taiwan except through threats.

    Like the guy who tries to get a girl to marry him by threatening to rape her if she doesn’t, every Chinese threat increases the level of Taiwan identity and increases the dislike of China.

    The big CCP meeting this fall is key. Does Xi want to do this before the meeting? Interestingly there is a fair bit of dislike for Xi within the CCP upper ranks – so although his reappointment is still likely, the question is will he try to do something to up his position in advance (and are these exercises designed to do that).

    The US is not going to let Xi take Taiwan. Taiwan is too important to the US tech sector (including military hardware using Taiwan chips). By showing that it would intervene, the US is postponing Chinese aggression. The longer Taiwan can hold out, the more the world will (formally) recognize it as independent and the more Taiwan identity continues to grow.

    Taiwan really is a special place – far from perfect, but with great people and a culture that has evolved very differently from China.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You have this backwards and appear not to have read the post in full, particularly the clip with the remarks of Douglas MacGregor. Commenting without reading a post in its entirety is a violation of our written site Policies.

      I don’t much like the Chinese government, but Taiwan is not our business. It is the US that is threatening China by trying to arm Taiwan, a pointless or more accurately counterproductive exercise as DefenseNews pointed out. A Taiwan as a de facto US garrison is an existential threat to China. By contrast, readers have pointed out that the claim that the US depends on Taiwanese chips is somewhere between an exaggeration and a fabrication.

      Moreover, your praise of what Taiwan has in the way of a culture is overdone. Taiwan’s meaningful settlement dates from the late 1600s. So its culture is derivative of the much older Chinese culture, perhaps with some Japanese influence from its occupation.

      Iran has a culture that would put Taiwan’s deservedly to shame. Start with its so-called Houghton Shahnameh. Does that lead us to cut Iran any breaks?

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yves, the primary reason Taiwan wasn’t ‘meaningfully’ settled before the 16th Century is that the existing residents of several millennia standing did a pretty good job of stopping it. By all accounts, many early Chinese and European settlers appear to have ended up as dinner.

        Taiwan is as Chinese as Brazil is Portuguese or Argentina is Spanish. Arguably less so – pre-WWII few Chinese were mandarin speakers, most were speakers of ‘dialects’ (in reality, different languages) of peoples who were later conquered by the Qin dynasty. Taiwanese are mostly of han ethnicity, but then again, so are most Japanese (and formal written Japanese is made up of something like 40% of words of mandarin derivative). Its about as meaningful as saying that the English and Germans are both white, both speak germanic languages, both were ruled by the same family for centuries, therefore the British should just accept their inevitable destiny and bow to the rule of Berlin. Mind you, this is exactly what the Telegraph think happened.

        And yes, Taiwanese culture isn’t all its cut out to be. But then again, they’ve had their culture suppressed and belittled by Europeans, imperial Chinese and Japanese interlopers, and later post WWII un-asked for Han conquerers, so its a little unsurprising it doesn’t have the depth or richness of Irans. But talk to most Taiwanese, and they are deeply proud of their differentness and their history.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I would appreciate some links. The official Taiwan government history of Taiwan treats the pre-1500 population as indigenous Malayo-Polynesian and appears to regard their role as insignificant. There aren’t many examples (I draw a blank after the Maori) of indigenous people being effective enough warriors to hold off European invaders/colonists. Do you claim the early Dutch colonization (with Chinese labor brought from the mainland) as having lasting impact? Or the waves of political flights from the mainland in the later 1600s?

          The flip side is Canada despite sharing a very long border with the US and the same language has meaningful cultural differences. But I’m not clear that the differences between China and Taiwan are as large as say that of Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico or the US, which is a baseline of sorts. The other comparison is Texas wanting independence when it didn’t have much in the way of cultural differences.

          That is a long-winded way of saying I am not sure culture is a great anchor for arguing for Taiwan independence. The narrow argument, “We’ve had three generations of a different legal and political system and we want to stick with it” seems more solid.

          Reply
          1. SocalJimObjects

            I look at this: https://www.officeholidays.com/countries/taiwan/2022, and I seriously struggle to see how the life of ordinary Taiwanese would dramatically change in terms of festivals celebrated/national holidays if Mainland China were to take over.

            So they’ll most probably have to give up Republic Day, National Day, Peace Memorial Day, Children’s Day, and Father’s Day. The first two are really KMT holidays, and the last three, aren’t indicative of some “unique” Taiwanese culture. Mother’s Day? That’s celebrated in Mainland China too.

            If someone really wants the CCP to collapse, get them to somehow “cancel” Lunar New Year forever.

            Reply
            1. Anthony G Stegman

              I’m not familiar with all the history of Taiwan, but isn’t a significant percent of the Han Chinese living on the island related to the Chinese who fled Mao’s armies in 1949? At some level one can consider Taiwan’s government to be a government in exile (or at least a wanna be government in exile). In my mind, unless one wants to completely undo history and return Taiwan to its original inhabitants, Taiwan IS a part of China. The majority of the people occupying the island are Chinese, originally from the mainland. Having said this, the longer China delays reunifying Taiwan with the mainland the more Taiwan will see itself as a independent and sovereign nation. It behooves China to speed up things.

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              1. Deak

                I believe the government in exile part of your component is the entire basis of the one china policy – both Taiwan and the PRC agree they’re both part of the same China but disagree over who is the rightful government of China. The CCP say they are after winning the civil war, the government of Taiwan say they are as the successors of the KMT that fled to Taiwan after the civil war. I think this is how Taiwan can be independent in fact but also have both sides officially accept as part of China

                Reply
                1. HotFlash

                  Hmm. Would the Chinese who fled to Taiwan (formerly known as the Republic of China) be in any way similar to the Cubans who fled to the US when Castro came to power, or to the HK Chinese who exited in droves as the lease ran out? If so, they might not be so comfy being amalgamated w/ mainland China as we know it and/or as they remember it. I know only a few Taiwanese here in Canada, but doubt they would be keen on rule from the mainland. I meet them in my business from time to time, but as we do not discuss politics (it would be unprofessional), I can only conjecture.

                  I do remember, though, when the Olympics were held in Canada, that would have been in Montreal in 1976, Pierre Trudeau would not allow the Taiwanese (“our friends the Taiwanese” he said) to compete as the Republic of China. I have found a bit of backstory here and here (sympathetic, more or less) and here (not sympathetic at all).

                  Not quite unrelated: We have a large Tibetan community here in my neighbourhood and I count many of them as friends. Many of them are keen on getting Tibet back from China, the slogan is “Po rangzen”, “Free Tibet”, esp the younger ones — many of whom have never been to Tibet, let alone been born there. I totally sympathize with them, but as an Old Person (they call me Ama-la), I cannot encourage that as a plan. Yes, I think the Chinese should release the Panchin Lama, yes, I think the Chinese have the most specious legal claim to Tibet, yes, I think the Tibertans have a right to self-determination. However, I am also a cyclist. I may have the legal right-of-way, but cars are bigger and faster. If I disagree about who has the right-of-way, I get dead and they have to get a carwash. The Dalai Lama seems not only resigned to a government in exile, but is encouraging/constructing a territory-less Tibet, there are elections and the whole bit. Apparently the next Dalai Lama will be elected, as the Chinese government abducted the Panchen Lama in 1995.

                  Also, I keep catching a whiff of eau de CIA.

                  Reply
          2. Sea Sched

            I am really struggling here with how someone could see such vast differences between U.S. and Canadian culture and yet somehow the idea that Taiwan and China would have different cultures is too difficult to understand- does Switzerland and Germany are essentially the same? If England decided to re-colonize the U.S., would you say, well both countries have the same culture. If anything, the U.S. at least speaks the exact same language as they do in England just with a different accent. What PlutoniumKen points out is correct–until the cultural revolution which was less than a generation ago, very few people in Taiwan spoke Mandarin Chinese. They all spoke Taiwanese or thanks to the Japanese occupation, Japanese. So a country that spoke a language which you can not understand at all if you speak Mandarin (vs the Spanish in Spain vs Mexico) somehow wouldn’t have a different culture?
            Language is a huge part of culture. Oh and by the way, there are differences in the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan vs in China as well- even GPS has a language setting to diferentiate that, not to mention how Taiwan never switched to simplified Chinese with writing characters.
            Anyway, yes it is infuriating that a war wongering insider trading selfish “public servant” went on a pointless visit and endangered the lives and livelihoods of millions…
            and it hurts to think of how many other people will callously say Taiwan is the same as China as an excuse not to get involved. On the other hand, U.S. intervention in any part of the world has always basically made things worse, and mostly catastrophically so.

            Reply
            1. KD

              The US said Taiwan was part of China c. 1979. We have never recognized Taiwan as an independent nation. Further, to do so would be to invite a war, which we might not win. Its not an academic question, it is a political question.

              Reply
            2. SocalJimObjects

              “, very few people in Taiwan spoke Mandarin Chinese. They all spoke Taiwanese or thanks to the Japanese occupation, Japanese. ”

              BS. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Taiwan. 83.5% of Taiwanese speak Mandarin. I’ve been to Taipei 3 times, and I haven’t had any difficulties communicating with local people using Mandarin. Some people in the service sector do speak Japanese, but those people can only be found in the bigger cities. Oh some older people do speak Japanese as well, but that’s it.

              Click that link on Taiwanese Hokkien, it’s not even that unique.

              Reply
              1. Sea Sched

                Were you ever in Taiwan pre-1949, pre-KMT? Because back then most people spoke Taiwanese or Japanese.
                So Wikipedia says 83.5% of Taiwanese speak Mandarin- that is as of now or at least based on the last decade, not pre-1940s.
                Of course people in Taipei, a major metropolitan area, a city of commerce, speak Mandarin. Taiwanese is much more common outside of Taipei. But if you don’t speak Taiwanese you won’t notice because everyone will default to the language they assume you understand which typically based on age will be Mandarin. There are clear generational lines when it comes to languages in Taiwan. Seniors/the very elderly speak Taiwanese and Japanese. Boomers speak Taiwanese and Mandarin (it was a common policy to beat school children for speaking Taiwanese instead of Mandarin for that generation). The Gen X equivalent, millenials, and younger all mostly speak Mandarin and learn a bit of Taiwanese to speak to their elders. There is of course a new wave of young people trying to learn Taiwanese. Back in the 1980s, if you were young and spoke Taiwanese in Taipei, cab drivers would assume you were an aborigine or from the mountains. In the 2000s, if you spoke Taiwanese in Taipei, you would get an odd look or even a dirty look if they assumed you were taking a political stand. You could even get yelled at by an angry entitled pro-China shopkeeper during the era of Ma Ying Jeou’s reign- he was very China friendly and opened the floodgates of tourism from China to Taiwan. Before that, I have been told, you could not even mail a piece of mail or fly directly between Taiwan and China, it had to be re-routed through another country such as Japan.
                So by unique, you mean different? When one understands one language and can not understand the other, doesn’t that qualify as a different language? Taiwanese has 8 different tones, Mandarin 4…a language with 8 different tones qualifies as unique in my opinion. If you know Mandarin, you can not understand Taiwanese and vice versa.
                Or did you mean unique to Taiwan- yes a small region of China speaks Hokkien, as does a segment of the population in Singapore, and the Phillipines- so this means what? Taiwanese is not a unique language because it is spoken elsewhere?
                All this to say, to keep insisting Taiwan has always been a part of China is nationalistic, black and white, agenda-driven thinking.
                A huge influx of population from mainland China moved/fled to Taiwan in 1949…and due to martial law, the locals were forced (sometimes violently so) to speak Mandarin. That doesn’t mean all of sudden Taiwan is the same as China and always has been. (Forgive me for using Taiwanese as a substitute for Hokkien…there are of course aborigine languages and other dialects such as Hakka that exist in Taiwan as well).

                Reply
                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  This discussion of ethnicity is not relevant to the geopolitical and power dynamics here, save as enabling the US in turning Taiwan into its pawn. The Quebecois and Basque people have distinct languages and cultures too. Even with the Basques being very fierce and determined fighters, they weren’t able to win independence. We mentioned the Kurds earlier, who have also gotten nowhere.

                  The problem with your reasoning, aside from the sad “it doesn’t matter, geography is destiny” problem which makes Taiwan independence impossible when China decides to end it, is that the “one China and it’s us” position resulted from the big influx of KMT separatists in the later 1940s. You can’t minimize them as a force when they drove Taiwan to its current political path.

                  Reply
                2. SocalJimObjects

                  And were you in Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty, when no Japanese was spoken whatsoever?

                  The Taiwanese did not invent Hokkien. It came from China’s Fujian province, and is also still widely spoken there, just like Cantonese is still widely spoken in Guangdong and Hong Kong, Shanghainese in Shanghai, etc. Fujian is around 3.4 times the size of Taiwan (according to Google), and has more people, so it’s not “small”. If that’s small, then Taiwan might as well be tiny.

                  Most of the people in South East Asia speaking Hokkien did not come from Taiwan. They came from Southern Fujian proper, and yet these people have no problems communicating with the Taiwanese. That further weakens the argument that Hokkien is somehow unique to the island.

                  Reply
              2. steve2241

                He said “a generation ago”, not today! When you visited Taipei those three times, was it a generation ago?

                Reply
            3. William Verick

              It’s inaccurate to think that China has one culture. China is continental in scope and for thousands of years, transportation was difficult because China is so mountainous.

              This set up bred cultural diversity. The Chinese spoken in Beijing is more different from the Chinese spoken in Guangzhou than English is from German. Most regions of China have their own spoken dialects, operas and operatic traditions. And that’s high culture. Folk culture was even more diverse.

              When I lived in Taiwan in the early Eighties, the opera shown on TV was the same as that performed in Fujian province on the mainland, just across the Taiwan Strait. The non-Mandarin dialect spoken by virtually all of the “native” Taiwanese was called “Minnan Hua,” which means the tongue spoken south of the Min River in Fujian. The local culture in Taiwan was very similar in most respects to that of Fujian Province, which meant it was vastly different from the local cultures in Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu or Xian. And each of those was vastly different from any other.

              This cultural diversity is being slowly but steadily obliterated by television and the internet.

              Reply
              1. lambert strether

                > It’s inaccurate to think that China has one culture. China is continental in scope and for thousands of years, transportation was difficult because China is so mountainous. This set up bred cultural diversity.

                Hence the semantic characteristics of Chinese script

                Reply
          3. jim Wilson

            Yves,

            Let me say this. I have spend a lot of time in Taiwan and have Taiwanese relatives. I have also visited China many times, as early as the early 1980s.

            Taiwan is in part two “ways of thinking”. Under the KMT, they pushed a we are all Chinese mantra and tried to push the eventual retaking of China. But this was about 20% of the population ruling under martial law. The youth and non mainlander descendants have a different view, hence the ever strengthening Taiwanese identity.

            In 1987 martial law ended and a Taiwanese identity began to realty take hold after being suppressed for many years. Funnily enough one of the major impetuses was allowing Taiwanese to visit the mainland. Almost all came back with the idea – “we are not like them”. This extends to more recent comments of Taiwanese regarding mainland visitors (when they were allowed) to Taiwan (the comments are quite derogatory.)

            There is still a remnant of the KMT thinking in Taipei, but especially outside of there the Taiwanese identity is quite strong and grows stronger with every Chinese threat.

            So … the two cultures are really quite different. As PlutoniumKun rightly says, China/Taiwan cultures are as disparate as Spain Argentina. And I would say more disparate than Canada and the USA. Also there is still quite a strong Japan Taiwan connection. Abe was a strong Taiwan supporter and Taiwan’s Vice president was invited to Japan for his funeral – not as a foreign dignitary, but as a guest of the family – the link was so strong. And we know China-Japan interactions are not wonderful, to say the least.

            President Xi is not a friendly dictator. Giving him more power is NOT a good thing. So yes it is all of our business.

            Taiwan is 23 million people (ranking about 55th in the world ranking by size). It is incumbent of the world (not just the USA) to support Taiwan (by the way Europe has been well ahead on this diplomatically).

            Then there is this: https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/8/4/why-china-is-not-sanctioning-taiwans-crucial-tech-industry

            Reply
            1. Yves Smith Post author

              You are operating under many false premises. The first is that the US government has any genuine interest in democracy or self-determination. It doesn’t. We regularly scheme to overthrow democratically-elected governments if they are not pro-multinational enough for our liking. We have allies like Saudi Arabia who are authoritarian. We also have “allies” like the Kurds who have claims for independence and made concrete sacrifices for us but we use like tissue paper.

              The second is that the Pelosi stunt is being done for the benefit of the people of Taiwan. It isn’t and they recognize it, witness the widespread unhappiness shown in the poll cited by the Guardian. Taiwan is being used as a tool to try to check China, just as Ukraine is being used as a tool in a failing attempt to destabilize Russia.

              Third, you assume Taiwan could have had a happy ending. That is false. It was going to have to face some form of greater integration with China. China’a proximity, growing military prowess, and desire assures that outcome. Taiwan’s options were to negotiate the best deal it could or fight and suffer devastating losses if and when China decided to force the matter.

              The US has accelerated the date when China rumored to want integration by ~20 years. China was believed to be targeting integration by 2049. That means if it wasn’t happening enough due to rising mainland wealth making China look more tolerable to Taiwanese by say 2040, only then would China have started thinking in military terms.

              So the US has made it inevitable that things will end badly, and soon, for Taiwan, when the course of events otherwise was for integration to happen much later and perhaps not be so strong form.

              Reply
          4. PlutoniumKun

            Apologies for the lack of links, but I find that nearly all online sources on Taiwan have been heavily polluted these days by both sides of the argument. My historic and cultural information on Taiwan is a little out of date – I did most of my historic reading on it 10-15 years ago, books like Island in the Stream by Lin and Keating and Rubinsteins 1997 book on the History of Taiwan, plus various general Asian/Pacific histories (my main interest is more ancient history and archaeology). It has to be acknowledged of course that pretty much every source I’ve read has had an ‘angle’, mostly pro-Taiwan if its in English, and my mandarin was never good enough for primary sources. Even archaeology is heavily politicized in much of Asia, especially in China.

            While the descendants of the original inhabitants of Taiwan amount to maybe 2% or so of the population, and separatists tend to exaggerate their role, it also needs to be pointed out that the ‘han-ness’ of Taiwan its itself a construct of the KMT, which aggressively suppressed non-mandarin and non-Han culture for more than 3 decades. If you look at pre-war photos of Taipei you would be forgiven for thinking you were looking at Japanese streetscapes. The architecture of old Taipei (including many Dutch and Portuguese buildings) was systematically destroyed by the KMT.

            But if you take the wider perspective, Taiwan is one of a chain of islands that have long been argued over culturally and politically by bigger neighbours – many Japanese ‘citizens’ of the southern chain deeply resent being called Japanese, and even argue that their ‘dialect’ of Japanese is not really Japanese (they have a point).

            You can argue pretty much anything by throwing around figures on DNA or obscure linguistic points. When it comes down to it, nearly all Asian advanced culture is ultimately Chinese, or specifically Beijing Chinese – much as the Koreans, Vietnamese and Japanese will argue otherwise. Classical mandarin is as deeply embedded in most literate Asian languages as Latin and Greek is in European languages. The most recent DNA studies show (much to the horror of Japanese) that they are essentially Han, overlaying two earlier population influxes, which in my view makes the term ‘han’ about as useful as ‘white’ or ‘European’ or ‘brown’ when discussing ethnicity. And as for language, as the old saying goes – the difference between a dialect and a language is that the latter has the possession of an army.

            Reply
            1. hk

              I guess the question, ultimately, is whether most Taiwanese are willing to actually fight for “independence.” It is clear that being under Beijing’s rule (or, I suppose, even Nanjing’s rule if things ever get there) would not popular. BUT my impression is that most Taiwanese want to have it both ways: benefit from continued interactions with China, in all realms, while remaining free from political influence from the mainland, eve through informal means. My information, too, is out of date by at least a decade, but, the last time I was in close contact with Taiwan contacts, what they really feared was Chinese soft power, especially actors affiliated with PRC govt taking over Taiwanese sociocultural institutions (like publishing houses, media outlets, etc). One might define “affiliated with PRC govt” a bit loosely, I imagine, to include any mainlander seeking unification, ie anyone who is anyone in China. But how common is this view among the masses, businesses, or whatever other serious interests there are in Taiwan? Will they (most of them, anyways) prefer “independence” if the cost involves cutting off all such linkages with the mainland?

              Reply
        2. Jams O'Donnell

          Culture aside, the political situation is that China did have ownership of Taiwan during the Ching Dynasty, (and arguably even before). Further, Taiwan was released from Japanese occupation back to the Nationalist Chinese government after the defeat of Japan. Even further, the Chinese Nationalist forces which retreated to Taiwan after being defeated by the CCP forces on the mainland vigorously maintained that they were the legitimate rulers of the whole of China – and that China included Taiwan, Outer Mongolia and Tibet, etc. The CCP agrees. (apart from Outer Mongolia). Even the US agrees that Taiwan is part of China – only their actions are out of step.

          So there has been a continuous history of Taiwan being part of China for at least 2/300 years, and even Japan and the US acknowledge that.

          Reply
          1. William Verick

            United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 dealt with this issue in detail during the process by which China’s permanent seat on the Security Council was transferred from the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China in 1971.

            As part if the process of denying Taiwan its own rump seat in the UN General Assembly, Resolution 2758 specifically held that Taiwan — as a part of China — was being represented in both the Security Council and the General Assembly by the People’s Republic of China.

            Reply
      2. Synoia

        Personally’ it appears to me that this is both China Bating, and protection for the US by keeping TSS in the US sphere of control. TSS is apparently the only semiconductor fab Company that can supply current high end to bleeding edge semi conductors, because Intel hired some typical US senior management who saw no advantage in funding leading edge Semi-Conductor production.

        Devices essential for both US Military weapons, and the leading edge US Internet companies.

        Reply
        1. nippersdad

          IIRC, it was reported here early on that the best Taiwanese chips were printed onto Russian farmed silica. I have heard nothing about Russia curtailing the trade in silica chips to Taiwan, but I wonder if, with the increasing bellicosity of the US driving Russia and China together, this might not be something to watch for.

          Cutting off the high end chips at the source might well be an option that open warfare, either military or economic, could not achieve as cleanly.

          Reply
          1. PlutoniumKun

            Strictly speaking, Taiwan is 4 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland (everyone seems to forget about Kinmen, although I suspect that it will be the first to be hit by an invasion).

            The US bases in Korea are significantly closer to the Chinese political/industrial heartland (the Shanghai-Beijing axis) than Taiwan.

            Reply
            1. Anthony G Stegman

              Launching an invasion of China from the Korean peninsula will prove far more challenging than launching one from Taiwan.

              Reply
              1. Phenix

                The US will never invade China. No one will invade China. China will blockade Taiwan and the US will blockade China. Taiwan can last 100 days. How long can China last?

                I assume at this point that Taiwan has enoigh Harpoon missile systems to sink the Chinese fleet. I also assume that they have derivative weapons that are able to do the same. China would have to flatten Taiwan.

                Ritter has mentioned that the US will use nuclear weapons if China sinks a US carrier. If this is true then the US can support Taiwan from afar and make the Taiwan strait a free fire death trap for the Chinese.

                No one can or will try to invade a peer nation.

                Russia destroyed/is still in the process of destroying Ukraine’s Army but it is not NATO. Ukraine made multiple strategic mistakes especially recreating a Maginot line around the Donbass.

                The Russians were very clear about US weapons entering the Ukrainian theater. 2 batteries of HIMARS are a dangerous escalation. Poland has ordered 500 HIMARs for 80 batteries. No one will win if they actually fight. We are all dead.

                Reply
                1. Deak

                  i wonder whether there is the manufacturing capacity that would be able to meet an order of 509 HIMARS anytime soon. i havent been able to find definitive numbers built so far but most sources seem to suggest 540, so this polans order alone would represent a doubling of total stocks. if poland ended up with 500 HIMARS that would represent a doubling of total stocks. will be interesting to see if USA manufacturing capacity for military goods increases following Ukraine

                  Reply
            2. Louis Fyne

              South Korea (both the left and right establishment, and Korean populace) would never allow Korean bases used against China—barrinv a true WW3 in which an open PRC-North Korea alliance is at war with South Korea.

              Too much riding on China-Korea trade.

              South Korea isn’t pro-CCP, per se, just that Korea having to navigate diplomacy as a smaller nation amongst giants is not new in Korean history

              Reply
          2. ChrisRUEcon

            Exactly this. As John Mearsheimer asserted in his 2015 video that resurfaced recently, if the threat of Russia moving missiles to Cuba was enough to bring the US to the brink of war, how in the family blog do US foreign policy makers justify doing the same to another super-power, China? Doug McGregor gives the answer in the video above: the US administration is repeating the same failed process it followed with Russia by treating everything China is saying with contempt. And the US will reap the same “reward”.

            Reply
    2. KD

      The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.

      Taiwan can’t defend itself, and the US can no longer defend (successfully) Taiwan. Yes, its too bad that the US pissed away its relative power and decided that the military was an institution for conducting woke social experiments instead of a fighting force, but too late now.

      History ended in the West, Nations disappeared, and the beautiful global era began. . . except that none of that happened outside the West. Armies were viewed as anachronisms, patriotism was backwards, and international relations scholars rejected the truth of geopolitical realism for pretty stories. . . in the West. Well, forty years of hopium and its time for reality to kick people in the ass.

      Taiwan has choice: they either marry the brute that they hate, or their homeland is reduced to a cinder and they die. Most people prefer to live except maybe young men in their 20’s.

      The US’s only option to prevent Taiwan unification is to start a nuclear war, which means the extinction of the human race. Chinese reunification is the best option for the world, and whatever gestures the US makes militarily, the less it does, the less humiliating the defeat will be, and the lower the political consequences long-term.

      If they go all-in and get their asses handed to them, don’t be surprised if the US collapses politically (like Russia 1917), and they will lose all credibility Internationally. . . assuming it doesn’t go nuclear and we all die.

      Reply
      1. Xquacy

        Many in Taiwan might consider it a viable strategy to rely on US madness and risk a global nuclear war than to negotiate a merger with China or see their homes “turn to cinder” for noncooperation.

        I have often seen the exact same attitude quoted here with sympathy when it comes from Russia (Putin; “for us there is no world without Russia) but its a no go when it comes to Taiwan?

        In the current standoff there are two nuclear powers acting like petulant children (whatever other details of political sensitivity and historical context they might bring to affirm their stances). When China threatnes a nuclear war over an Island nation, it is no more legitimate than when US does. Or does realism imply that smaller nations must quietly allow bigger powers to stomp them?

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The poll the Guardian cited does not support the idea that “many” are on board with escalation. A clear majority is upset with the Pelosi visit, and that was before China started its plausibly-deniable few day blockade.

          But those that want to risk nuclear war are likely in influential political positions.

          As for the Putin remark, it’s wildly distorted, as was the context.

          As Scott Ritter explained, NATO implemented a measure, technical and therefore not well understood, that was a big threat increase versus Russia. Ritter was a NATO guy and cited the particular provision, so I trust him. It was in a video and therefore impossible to find in any reasonable amount of time. He regarded Putin’s heightened nuclear preparedness footing as a proportional response.

          I have searched on the Kremlin site, which has translations of all of Putin’s speeches and press conferences, and it does not have such a remark. Please provide a link to a Putin speech and not a Western retelling. Putin is the most dovish senior member of his government, and I have seen other accounts of that discussion (again frustratingly not linking to the original speech/Q&A) which depict it as meaning the opposite of what you say. The other accounts also have Putin elaborating (as Ritter did) on Russia’s nuclear doctrine, and it is defensive. Even Congressional Research Service concedes that, albeit in a weasel-wordy manner:

          However, when Russia updated its military doctrine in 2010, it did not specifically provide for the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. Instead, the doctrine stated that Russia “reserves the right to utilize nuclear weapons in response to the utilization of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, and also in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation involving the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is under threat.”…The language on nuclear weapons in Russia’s most current 2014 military doctrine is similar to that in the 2010 doctrine.

          https://sgp.fas.org/crs/nuke/R45861.pdf

          Note the report is April 2022, as in after the war started.

          Reply
          1. nippersdad

            “As Scott Ritter explained, NATO implemented a measure, technical and therefore not well understood, that was a big threat increase versus Russia.”

            NATO put its’ nuclear capabilities on high alert (about the time of the Munich Security Conference in February, the one where Zelensky was going around talking about Ukraine getting the bomb), and the Russians have a policy of doing so as well in response to such measures. This Russian policy was well known to NATO at the time they updated the status of their nuclear measures, so it was overtly designed to be a direct provocation to get a predicted Russian response to be used as a focus for the Western media in the PR wars.

            Reply
          2. Xquacy

            I stand corrected about the Taiwanese public opinion. Nevertheless, my reply was directed against the conflation of moral judgments with the calculus of realpolitik.

            As to the Putin quote, I can swear I had heard a similar formulation in the Oliver Stone documentary, but cannot find where I think I lost it. However, the oft quoted statement comes from a 2018 interview which apparently appeared in the film titled “The World Order 2018” as reported on this link (In Russian);

            https://www-svoboda-org.translate.goog/a/29086249.html?_x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en-US&_x_tr_pto=wapp

            The link actual clip where he says it (against in Russian) is here;

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmMGqZo7sig

            Putin is explicit that Russian nuclear doctrine is retaliatory. However, he quite clearly says that “as a citizen of Russia and as head of the Russian state, I want to ask myself, why do we need such a world with no Russia?”

            Reply
        2. KD

          Or does realism imply that smaller nations must quietly allow bigger powers to stomp them?

          That is actually a very interesting strategic question, but I think the goal would be to avoid getting stomped. There has been a decent status quo for Taiwan for decades now, they should make nice in an effort to preserve it, and not let the US drag them into becoming ground zero of a war with China. Probably, tell the US to toss off, and open some kind of dialogue with China for some kind of favorable economic integration and maybe even security cooperation, without giving up control of the armed forces or political control. If the Chinese know that Taiwan isn’t about to become a US Naval Base, it would defuse tension. Repudiate the possibility of an alliance with the US, thanks for the arms sales, but. . .

          Reply
          1. Anthony G Stegman

            One can say the same thing regarding the Korean peninsula. Many South Koreans support rapprochement with North Korea. Again, as with Taiwan and Ukraine, it is meddling by the US that mucks things up. Most people, and countries, prefer to get along with their neighbors. The US seems to be the exception. Unfortunately, the US has great influence around the world, so its meddling has serious consequences.

            Reply
        3. BenLA

          I didn’t realize that taiwan had 6000+ nuclear weapons.
          Hard to compare Taiwan to Russia. Unfortunately, fair has nothing to do with it until there is a chance of military non-superiority

          Reply
      2. spud

        everything bill clinton did is blowing back on us and the world. should we be surprised that china is now a economic and military super power? no country has every been so thorougly stripped of its wealth and technology, and turned from a first world power, to a third world power in such a short time because of the policies of bill clinton.

        https://www.yahoo.com/news/last-time-taiwan-crisis-china-083000722.html

        The last time there was a Taiwan crisis, China’s military was outmatched by U.S. forces. Not now.

        “The last time tensions soared between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan, the U.S. Navy sent warships through the Taiwan Strait and there was nothing China could do about it.

        Those days are gone.

        China’s military has undergone a transformation since the mid-1990s when a crisis erupted over Taiwan’s president visiting the U.S., prompting an angry reaction from Beijing.”

        https://thediplomat.com/2014/12/aircraft-carriers-in-the-taiwan-strait/

        “Memories from 1996 – when Chinese missile tests in the strait prompted U.S. President Bill Clinton to order two fully armed carrier battle groups to pass through the Taiwan Strait – have shaped the strategic operational codes of the Chinese military and the Central Politburo.”

        there is no confusion about this period. the people who came to power in 1993 are not imperialists, imperialism through out history there has always been some give and take, many losers, but not always blowouts of other countries.

        the people who came to power in 1993 are not imperialists, they are fascists. under fascism whats mine is mine, whats yours is mine, and there will be no discussions period. they are the hammer, everything else is a nail.

        when you understand this, then you can see why there was NAFTA and letting china into the W.T.O.and above all, white supremacy. that is why they thought it was safe to let china in, but they are to stupid to understand what they did, it ended their reign of terror.

        china and russia are not sub human as the free traders thought they were.

        https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-bill-clinton-legacy_b_106089

        “Free trade, democracy promotion, and the use of force to uphold global norms comprised the core of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy – and they remain the central ideas of today’s Democratic foreign policy establishment.”when bill clinton signed nafta, destroyed GATT and replaced it with the W.T.O., then let china in, was the equivalent of hitlers operation Barbarossa.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Barbarossa

        hitler never attempted peace with the soviet union when it became apparent he would lose, because he viewed them as sub humans, and what was theirs, was really his. once you understand this, then you can understand what appears to be irrational.

        i cannot think of one thing the bill clinton democrats have done since 1993, that is not blowing back on us.

        Reply
      3. Scylla

        Sorry, but I am calling this out every single time I see it. The US military does not suck because of “wokeism” or gay sissies being in the ranks. That is just scapegoating nonsense for people that are unwilling to admit that the US military sucks because of corruption and grift that is the natural course of capitalism- that is why the equipment is all nothing but expensive scrap metal. The imperialist wars that have been going on for going on a third generation now are the other problem. People are not refusing to enlist because of the gays, they are refusing to enlist because they know they are being told to die for corporate and oligarchic greed, and they see all of the alcoholic, suicidal, and homeless veterans among them. None of this was a “decision”- it is inherent in the system that has been forced upon us.
        And by the way, patriotism is not supporting a government, come hell or high water. Patriotism is standing up for freedom and liberty, and against tyranny, ESPECIALLY if that government is your own.

        Reply
        1. Jams O'Donnell

          Good thinking. Anyone who uses ‘woke’ as a reason for ‘decline’ in an argument should automatically be declared to have lost the argument.

          Reply
        2. KD

          Really? Lowering all your physical fitness standards so that you still have a politically acceptable quota of females doesn’t hurt your combat effectiveness? Look at that joke they made of the ACFT. Kicking out quarter of million soldiers because they won’t get vaxxed? No problem. Sorry, its not about taking showers with gays, its about gutting training standards, promotions based on political box checking, and kicking people out because they won’t take a vaccine that doesn’t prevent the spread of a virus that isn’t much worse than a flu in the service age population.

          Sorry, the U.S. Armed Services are no longer a serious institution, at least serious about fighting wars and winning, and its the whole woke garbage at the core. . . which doesn’t mean that its not corrupt from top to bottom as well with the revolving door and contractor scams. Both/And here.

          As far as patriotism/national identity, the question is whether people are willing to sacrifice their lives on behalf of their country. If the answer is no, then that country cannot project force to defend itself or mess around anywhere else. Obviously, if you are not serious about the armed services, it shouldn’t bother you that your people aren’t willing to defend your country either. This is a practical point–obviously, the Afghan Provisional Forces lacked it, the Taliban had it which is why the Taliban ended up on top. It doesn’t make the Taliban better in some kind of metaphysical sense.

          I think if the US wanted to challenge China, the question is how patriotic are Americans relative to the Chinese? What does it look like in terms of enlistment and morale? Further, I think the Chinese think a lot about these questions, and take them seriously, and the West has not, its sort of joke unless you live in Taipei.

          I threw down the Mao quote yesterday: the primary institution of the state is the military, and strong military is the basis of a strong state. Mao was correct.

          Reply
          1. Scylla

            Got news for you. Training standards were not lowered for lgbt people or females- they have always been there, and they can be just as fit and able to handle a weapon as anyone else.
            Training standards were lowered because of the inability to attract recruits for the reasons I mentioned (people are tired of fighting imperialist wars for the oligarchy- this is driven by imperialism/capitalism).
            The vaccine mandate is a valid argument, too bad you didn’t bring that one up the first time, eh? Maybe because it is yet another item that invalidates your original attempt at scapegoating.

            Reply
            1. KD

              And Ukraine is winning.

              Here are some links:

              https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2022/03/23/army-combat-fitness-test-debuts-with-major-changes-to-scoring-april-1/

              https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5392363/Army-wont-require-recruits-throw-grenade-far-enough.html#ixzz57Jgz4e1S

              What we know isn’t true is that there are two sexes that have significant biological dimorphism particularly with respect to upper body strength and also lower body strength (probably because one sex is set up to conceive and incubate offspring for 9 months). Because this isn’t true, its not an issue when someone has to carry a 200 lb. wounded soldier in full kit, and it does not impact combat effectiveness–that kind of thing never happens in a war.

              Look, you can’t win this argument because rhetoric does not beat empirical facts in the real world, only on twitter. And this is part of what is wrong with the left, they run around with a bunch of slogans and beat people on the head like Christian Fundamentalists.

              [Then there is the former service member who anecdotally retired from the Marines because they were pressuring him to misrepresent the rates of sexual assault–upwards–so they could get more HR funding. Nothing politically correct here, move along.]

              Reply
    3. c_heale

      The second paragraph is a completely bizarre analogy. If you think about the first part of the statement, it appears to make no sense at all.

      Reply
    4. Tet Vet

      “Taiwan is too important to the US tech sector (including military hardware using Taiwan chips)”

      Open your mind a little Jim. We could also return to making those chips ourselves instead of going to war – and I I’m pretty sure none of our military personnel would have to die. Unbelievable…I’ll just leave it at that.

      Reply
      1. Phenix

        New fabs take years to build.

        The US and China are intertwined. The Chinese can destroy the US economy by refusing to send us goods but the US can choke the Chinese economy by refusing to protect the sea lanes/blockade China.

        Reply
        1. Polar Socialist

          If US tried to blockade China on the sea routes, it would lose what little support it has in Southeast Asia pretty fast. Besides China being the huge economic motor there, it’s also a pretty big trade partner with a lot of other countries than USA.
          USA is “only” 16-17% of Chinese trade, so whoever would not be importing/exporting that 83% would not be pleased. Maybe annoyed enough to work with Iran to find an alternative route trough Central-Asia. Or Russia. Or even North-Korea.

          Reply
      2. Jams O'Donnell

        The (mainland) Chinese are already producing 7nm chips, and they will do it cheaper than anyone else once mass production gets under way. Chip production in the US (if it ever returns), will be just another price gouging tool for the MIC.

        Reply
    5. lambert strether

      > A special place

      So was the island of Melos, no doubt, but “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

      If you have issues with this, please take them up with the people who moved our undustrial base to China. Many of them are still alive!

      Reply
  7. KD

    Here is my guess: the ships aren’t going away. The US can vote to give them all the weapons in the world, they aren’t coming into port. Taiwan either seriously discusses reintegration or they get invaded. If the US doesn’t like it, and decides to start a war with China, the world will get a good demonstration of China’s missile technology and why the blue water navy is obsolete. Further, US doctrine is focused on attaining air supremacy and using air forces, and China is going to deny access for planes, by-by Guam, by-by Okinawa.

    The US will not have any blue water naval force standing within 1000 km of China, they will not be able to operate air forces, they won’t be able to bring in ground forces, the best they can do is plink at the Chinese from thousands of kilometers away, after they explain to the American people why trillions of dollars in weapons platforms are sitting on the bottom of the sea, and explain all the casualties.

    Its not that hard: focus on the Western Hemisphere, focus on international trade and business opportunities, and don’t get in a war between Great Powers in Eurasia except to tip the scales. China has a lot of problems, and if the US could mend fences domestically, re-industrialize and get its military system reformed, it would be in a position to contend long-term.

    Reply
    1. Louis Fyne

      would be interesting if China escalated to a soft maritime blockade only….letting fuel and food through but no container ships.

      There are not enough airplanes in the world to fly the cargo needed to support 20 million people at a first-world level.

      but a maritime blockade does not generate clickbait and media indignation like an actual shooting war. the West would lose attention

      Reply
  8. Alan Roxdale

    Our elites are really, really desperate for a foreign war/conflict/cold war.

    Amazingly, the current Russian escalation over Ukraine has not satiated this need and now an even more direct friction or even conflict with the People’s Republic of China is being chased with reckless abandon.

    I don’t think this is some kind of elite death wish. I think it is driven by an intrinsic terror at the tectonic rumblings and inevitable blowout coming from their own populations, enraged over the chronic economic mismanagement of their societies. All Princes in trouble at home seek a glorious war abroad, and the aristocrats in Washington are no different.

    If China does not take the bait, or more likely the public gets bored of this next distraction, don’t be surprised to the see the White House fire missiles at Iran or arrest the Pope or anything at all to stoke the foreign belligerence the beltway needs to save itself from domestic reaction.

    Reply
    1. Tony Wright

      “All princes at home….” This line of thought could equally be applied to Xi:
      He is seeking to be confirmed as “leader for life” at the rubber stamp congress later this year,
      China is suffering economically as a consequence of strict Covid 19 lockdowns,
      Several large Chinese property developers are in serious financial difficulty, resulting in,
      Escalating public protests and non payment of mortgages due to properties paid for not being built or finished.
      This is a time worn strategy executed skilfully and with resounding success by the Iron Lady in the Falklands in 1982.
      As for firing missiles at Iran, the Israelis seem to be heading in that direction given the latest news from the West Bank.

      Reply
  9. PlutoniumKun

    I don’t agree that Pelosi’s visit was the key issue in disturbing the status quo ante. The status quo had been fundamentally changed by events in HK. For at least 2 decades, the status quo was that China had embarked on a long term wooing of Taiwan, with the ‘One Nation, Two Systems’ approach to HK being the carrot, military build up the stick. Most Taiwanese appeared to be quite content with this, keeping an open mind on the future. China’s opportunistic stomping on HK fundamentally changed the balance – it definitively pushed Taiwanese public opinion into a harder stance, and has been openly discussing changing its defence strategy. Since then, Taiwan has been openly courting more active involvement by both the US and Japan and has been pushing for quicker outputs from its domestic missile industry. Whether it was wise or not for Taiwan to have allowed Pelosi to visit (I think it was incredibly stupid – I’m surprised at Wen who has usually showed a deft political touch), the existing balance had been irrevocably changed by the events of 2019-20.

    And I don’t agree that US arms sales policy has changed fundamentally. Taiwanese military spending for decades has almost always focused on a mix of domestic weaponry and lower grade US weapons, for a mix of political, economic and pragmatic reasons. There has been no fundamental change – none of the recently approved sales are for game changing weaponry – mostly its just replacements for Taiwans already very out of date ground forces (although older lighter tanks and armour are actually quite suitable for Taiwans terrain). It was the US that nixed Taiwans nuclear program in the 1980’s, presumably because a somewhat dependent Taiwan was always in its interests.

    And the idea that the Taiwanese would be surprised by China’s use of ballistic missiles will be a surprise to the Taiwanese, given that they’ve been intensively investing in domestic anti-ballistic missiles for several decades. Nobody knows if they will work or not, but virtually all Taiwanese defence spending has been focused around surviving a ballistic missile first strike. This is why the tests have provoked little more than a yawn from the Taiwanese themselves. They are perfectly aware of China’s growing capabilities and always have been.

    The Global Times story is classic narrative engineering. Chinese social media is full of outrage against what they see as the government failing to back up its threats. Beijing has clearly talked itself into a position where it is difficult to climb down. There is a very obvious attempt by Chinese ‘official’ media to defend Xi’s stance by declaring that the Taiwanese are now duly subdued and submissive. The Chinese have talked their way into a corner they will now find almost impossible to retreat from – but they have made the military option far harder by giving away the advantage of surprise. Whatever happens now will be far messier than would have been if China had kept a cooler head and waited for its moment, rather than allow it to be pushed into an over-reaction. The Chinese are supposedly famed for always taking the long view, but there are plenty of examples of foreign policy over reach or over-reactions, and I think we’ve clearly seen this at work in the last few years, not least in how they dealt with HK.

    As for the Global Souths reaction to the US steaming through the straits. I suspect it will be a lot more pro-US than many might think. There is not a single country in the world that wants China to have absolute control in its near sea – far too many countries depend on it for trade. An awkward balance between the US, China, and the many other countries with claims to those waters is clearly beneficial for everyone with trade using those waters, which is pretty much everyone. And India has its own experience with China and territorial claims, it will prefer to watch with interest rather than cheer on one side or another. Most of the Global South hate US arrogance, but they very much appreciate the US taxpayer investing to keep the seas relatively open for trade. I suspect that if you asked most people in the Global South who they hope would win in a conflict, most would answer ‘none of the above’. I also suspect that most smaller countries have an instinctive sympathy for Taiwan – something that neither Americans nor Chinese will ever understand. Most small countries have had plenty of historic experience of larger neighbours declaring themselves to be close cousins on the basis of spurious ethnic claims and inviting themselves in for dinner.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I am surprised you are misrepresenting the post in multiple and major respects.

      First, nowhere does it say anything remotely like your contention that Taiwan was surprised by the use of ballistic missiles. I instead say that the US undervalued missiles generally (conventional and hypersonic) in its assessment of Russia and also appears to over-estimate the value of aircraft relative to missiles. I then asked readers to opine if they saw the same bias in the Defense Intelligence report on China. I’m gobsmacked that you distorted what I wrote to this degree.

      Second, I was quite clear in depicting the Global Times spin as showing what thought/hoped it was achieving, as in apparent aims. That does not mean it is succeeding.

      Yes, the show of force is meant for a Chinese audience. But I still think it is primarily intended to cow Taiwan. Recall how the supposedly failed initial Russian assault in Ukraine brought Ukraine quickly to the negotiating table in Istanbul and got them to make important concessions which the UK and then the US made Ukraine abandon. Being on the receiving end of an actual war, or a more serious threat of one, tends to focus the mind, particularly now that we have some information on how little Taiwan has in energy storage.

      Third, I made clear the Chinese view on its territorial waters/degree of legitimate authority to bar the passage of military ships was quite a stretch….but some countries, particularly India, looked to take similar grandiose positions. And despite China being abrasive in foreign affairs, I’m not sure how happy the rest of the world is about the US navy (witness AUKUS, where India is already in a snit with the US). I raised this as a question, not as settled fact, and we’ll see soon how this shakes out.

      Fourth, the polling reported by the Guardian, a clearly US/Taiwan friendly outlet, raises questions on the public support for secession. Yes, the antipathy for unification has risen as reflected in the marked drop in popularity of mainland-sympathetic parties. But not liking the mainland is not the same as being willing to go to war to stay independent. The support for independence is widespread but may not be deeply enough held to support enduring a blockade.

      Fifth, US arms sales to Taiwan seem to be more a function of Presidential hostility to China than Taiwan having much agency. See the great balloon under Trump v. the level under Biden:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_US_arms_sales_to_Taiwan

      So despite the Biden Administration increasing the eyepoking of China (as we’ve been recounting) it has dialed down arms sales and at least was planning to roll back tariffs. Some media outlets claimed the reason Biden didn’t want to stop Pelosi’s trip was that he didn’t want to look soft on China. So the Biden administration could simply have been inept and working at cross purposes, which is entirely plausible. Or it could have been dialing up secondary annoyances while trying to lower pressure on big issues.

      I still believe that Pelosi’s trip was a watershed. Despite Taiwan becoming much more leery of integration, China was not taking more concrete steps. It had mere aspirational statements, no dates, no specific measures. Its position was that this was destiny and Taiwan would eventually yield to the inevitable. I posited that as China became richer and the wage gap between Taiwan and the mainland fell or even reversed, resistance to integration would also fall. That could happen in as little as ten years. China’s posture has changed and they are now moving towards integration. It may still take ten years but there was no impetus to making it happen pre-Pelosi.

      The Defense News article takes a more aggressive position: that continuing arms sales to Taiwan creates misleading expectations (as with Ukraine) as to how far we’ll go in supporting them. So far, even the US planning to sail through the Taiwan Strait is also a threat display, but a less concerted one than China’s short-term, de facto blockade.

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        My apologies if my response is not coherent, I didn’t have time for a point by point response, but I find the premise of the article to be misguided. I disagree that there is any objective basis for arguing that somehow the Pelosi visit came out of the blue and is now the game changer. The mood music from Taipei changed utterly following 2019 and is entirely due to Taipei’s perception of what happened in Hong Kong, it was only a question of time before some spark set off Beijing. I’m not a close Taiwan follower, but I regularly dip into the English language media there and I’m pretty regularly updated on social media by a few Taiwan friends and that was very obvious to anyone at the time that things had changed irrevocably once the crack downs in HK took hold. If it wasn’t Pelosi’s ego, it would be something else. I’ve no idea why Wen decided on allowing Pelosi to visit now – she has been a very careful and cautious leader so far – but it may be that they decided that there was no good time to do this, so they might as well get it over with. There may have been domestic factors I don’t know about involved.

        And on that point, I think any discussion of the issue which gives little or no agency to the Taiwanese people themselves, or their elected representatives, is likely to be both inaccurate and very unfair to the people of the island, whatever their views.

        As for Taiwanese public opinion – the election pattern there is as unambiguous as you can get. Pro-unification parties and candidates have been losing ground over the years and all the indications I’ve seen is that this has been accelerating. An apparent mis-match between some polls and election realities is a common feature for anyone following Irish or Spanish or any other politics where secessionism is a feature. I tend to believe what people vote for rather than what a pollster reports, but obviously there is a lot of space to argue with in between, peoples views are rarely black and white. My personal belief is that most Taiwanese would have accepted a ‘soft’ unification with guarantees a few years ago, but what they’ve seen happen in HK has significantly hardened their views. The Taiwanese are very proud of their hard won democracy and their health system and relatively strong economy – they have no desire to see that changed. We talk a lot about the US being ‘not agreement capable’, but so far as most Taiwanese think, the same applies to Beijing.

        Reply
        1. KD

          I understand your moral concern about the will of the people, but Great Powers don’t behave that way. No one asked the Poles what they thought about Yalta, and no one is going to ask the Taiwanese what they want, except to use it for propaganda. Nobody in the West cares about the plight of Russian ethnics in Donbas, or whether they wanted to be part of Ukraine or not. Look at what the US has done with the Kurds. They’re all pawns on the chess board.

          Reply
        2. Jams O'Donnell

          If “Beijing has clearly talked itself into a position where it is difficult to climb down”, then the probable reality is that it won’t back down. China is very very aware still of the ‘humiliations’ imposed on it by the western powers in the 19th and 20th centuries. So, climbing down is probably not a realistic option, and further, as US war gaming in the China sea invariably leads to a US defeat, there is no actual need for China to climb down either.

          Reply
          1. KD

            If it goes nuclear, everyone loses. Further, war is risky and outcomes are uncertain. But I agree with you: Massive blockade, and now China is not returning calls from the US DoD and renouncing cooperation with the US on various issues like Climate Change.

            Reply
    2. Kouros

      “China’s opportunistic stomping on HK”.

      There was nothing opportunistic in the events that happened in HK in 2019/2020.

      Since before the reunification in 1997, the Basic Law stipulated that HK will have to pass security legislation that would integrate HK security with China’s. As in “one country” (i.e. how federal RCMP or military or CSIS in Canada – and associated legislation – deal with problems pertaining with borders, crime, etc…).

      HK has avoided passing such legislation and when a crime committed in Taiwan by a HK resident sparked some push for legislative amendments on crime and exchange of criminals, as many other countries have, that created a backlash in HK with fears that China will get its legal paws in HK, all the while forgetting the issue of “One Country” side of the coin.

      And of course, USUKAU were happy to support openly and covertly the popular moves lead by the youth population, which also has many economical problems which are in fact caused by the HK ultracapitalist administration.

      After all that Beijing passed on behalf of HK a National Security Law to formalize the “One Country” part of the formula. The “two systems” part of the formula is still going on, with the local administration doing its own thing, as in Shanghai or any other major Chinese administrative unit.

      Given the biased view you present in a very clear and simple matter of HK, what can one think about the rest of your comment concerning Taiwan and the freedom of navigation in south Pacific and China’s presumed threat.

      As far as I have read (in War on the Rocks, which speaks for the US military), the US Navy’s main role is not to ensure freedom of navigation, but to impose blockades on enemy countries)… That is from the horse’s mouth (a US admiral).

      Reply
    3. KD

      I disagree. The factor that matters here is the relative balance of forces between the US and China which has markedly tipped in favor of China. China would never have gone for a military option when the US had overwhelming superiority, like they did in 1996.

      In terms of hard power, China has population advantage and equivalent economic might to the US. If we believe how screwed up the procurement process is, worse than our health care system, then we will not be able to compete with them–if they spend 10% GDP on defense, and it costs us $20 to match $1 of combat power for them, we are toast. In terms of nuclear, China is a lot more willing to risk Armageddon for an island off their coast then we are.

      If we go to war with China, it will be like the Buffet quote, when the tide goes out, you know whose swimming naked.

      We should be avoiding any provocation with China, and making nice, and even doing ineffectual promises with vague terms about re-unification to keep the situation status quo, and to make China feel like we take them seriously.

      What this has nothing to do with is what the people of Taiwan want. The people don’t want reunification because they like the status quo, they live in a prosperous, orderly and well managed society. The elites don’t want reunification because they don’t want to lose power. However, they do not matter: if they wanted re-unification, the US would coup or create domestic instability to prevent it. We don’t care what they think, nor do the Chinese. China will take Taiwan if they can get it on the cheap, without blood shed, and not wrecked, and the US’s goal is to guarantee that if they do get it, it is wrecked and they pay a high cost in blood. The rest of it is all posturing and b.s. for manipulating public opinion.

      It appears China has made a decision to call the US’s bluff and accept the consequences from a military confrontation to seize Taiwan. Neo-Cons love to talk about “crediblity” but nothing loses credibility like losing a war with a peer competitor.

      Reply
    4. Thuto

      Re: the global south being pro-US as per the opening two sentences of your last paragraph.

      I don’t agree with this, we’ve seen how during the current crisis in Ukraine most of the global south has found its voice and resisted the typical US demands to fall in line with “isolating” rivals America disagrees with. Even esteemed pro-establishment publications like Bloomberg admit that attempts to isolate Russia have been a dismal failure, and this is in part due to the global south holding the line on neutrality and resisting attempts at coercion by the US. This is also seen as an important step in the elevation of the collective global south to a peer level participant around the geopolitical table, both in perception and in reality. While I agree that no country wants any one naval power having total control over waters crucial to global trade, I very much doubt the global south would be keen to muffle the collective voice it has found by falling back into the US fold at the first sign of trouble between America and another great power, especially since we know that US actions in Taiwan aren’t motivated by maintaining a fair international order beneficial to all, but are last ditch attempts to maintain its hegemony.

      Reply
    5. hk

      I think we might all be getting a bit carried away with trying to decide who is to “blame.”. A few observations:

      The Taiwanese view, on the whole, is ambiguous. For most part, they do not care to be ruled by China, but they are happy to engage in economic, social, and cultural exchanges with China.

      The Taiwanese military situation is ambiguous. The topography of the island makes invasion difficult, but the Green camp, in particular, is not trusting of the military and don’t care to spend much resources on it (doubtlessly for other reasons, on top of the political orientation, but ROC military had always been KMT dominated and I would not be too surprised if it’s officer corps remains far more “Chinese” than “Taiwanese.” I’ve come across observations that the Taiwanese are (recently) spending the resources on the wrong type of military gear: tanks and warplanes are less useful than missiles and other “ambush” weapons given the likely nature of potential conflict with China: they would want to deny PLA naval and air forces waters and airspace around the island, and, if I understand correctly, these were the focus of Taiwanese military expenditures in the past. The showy military gear looks more “political” than military, to draw in US, not too unlike what Saudi Arabia had done.

      At minimum, most Taiwanese do not appear to be eager to fight. Yes, they say they don’t like Beijing. But they also want to keep dealing with Beijing normally as long as political questions questions are kept off table, for most part, at least as things seem to me. This is something that should work to Beijing’s advantage in the long run: it allows Chinese soft power–after all, Taiwanese are cultural Chinese increasingly drawn into Chinese economic orbit, eh?–to dominate Taiwan in the long run even if Taiwanese may not care for Beijing’s rulers.

      If I were US, Japan, or pro-“Independence” activist in Taiwan, what would I want to do? Subvert socio-cultural as well as economic ties, I suppose. This has a strange parallel to Ukraine: Ukrainians, after all, were for most part uninterested in being ruled from Moscow, but most of them also saw themselves as part of East Slavic Orthodox cultural sphere and kin to Russians. So the ultranationalists hamhandedly sought to suppress these ties by force…which apparently precipitated the current crisis. For now, Taiwanese independence activists are nowhere close (at least not overtly) to this attitude…yet (although there have been hints that at least some of them would rather be cultural Japanese than Chinese, which invokes more WW2 era berserk buttons, analogous to what “Nazis” do vis-a-vis Russians). Indeed, PRC has been much more bombastic, fwiw, although I’m not sure if that really matters too much.

      I don’t know which side is “moral” and I don’t think we, on the outside, are really qualified to judge. I do think what most Taiwanese seem to want, continued de facto “political independence” coupled with economic, social, and cultural integration with China is unsustainable in the long run. I also don’t think it’s to US’ advantage to “force” the Taiwanese to make a choice just so that we can pick a fight with PRC.

      Reply
      1. SocalJimObjects

        The government has gradually reduced its military service requirement from two years to four months since the 1990s. It’s obvious the Taiwanese expect the US to do most of the fighting, and who can blame them?

        Reply
    6. Anthony G Stegman

      When I look at a map of the world I see that Hong Kong is as much a part of China as Nantucket is a part of Massachusetts. China was invaded by the British, with Hong Kong being made a British colony. That didn’t mean that Hong Kong forever remains detached from China. The fact that China allowed Hong Kong to have a separate system for as long as they did is a reflection of Chinese generosity, but by no means was it an obligation of China. So all this talk of China’s heavy handed approach to Hong Kong is nonsense in my view. China absorbed into itself what is rightly theirs. The people in Hong Kong should accept this, or they can leave. More or less, the same applies to Taiwan.

      Reply
      1. Daniil Adamov

        Some might say that a promise is a promise. The people in Hong Kong surely had the moral right to insist on a promise being kept. If it goes back on the promise, the Chinese government is no better than the American government.

        This is silly and naive, of course. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

        Reply
        1. Kouros

          What promise?! The promise that HK formalizes the idea of “One Country” with a National Security Law that integrates it with China from a security/criminal perspective? Promise enshrined in the Basic Law and that was not fulfilled for about 23 years, until Beijing passed said legislation for HK?

          Reply
  10. The Rev Kev

    I was thinking of what could really escalate the situation between China and Taiwan and I have one. It would be if the US sells HIMARS systems to Taiwan equipped with rockets that have a 300 kilometer range. Why so? Because the narrowest width of the Taiwan Strait is only about 100 miles (160 km). So that would mean that Taiwan could have HIMARS system sitting in Taiwan itself and accurately target places in China and several score miles inland as well. China could never accept such a clear and present danger and just the announcement of Taiwan getting them could lead to a blockade of that island.

    Reply
    1. Greg

      Seems like they’ve already got several options on that front – the “Hsiung Feng IIE” is listed at 600km range, and the “Wan Chien” is 240km range https://missilethreat.csis.org/country/taiwan/

      Then there’s this from April this year https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-details-new-advanced-missile-drone-attack-capabilities-2022-04-22 which states explicitly of the proposed new 1,000km range missile the “Hsiung Sheng”:

      Chieh Chung, a researcher at Taipei-based National Policy Foundation, said the Hsiung Sheng could reach most bases under the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, including those near Shanghai and the province of Zhejiang.

      Reply
  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    Call me a cynic, but my guess is that Paul Pelosi made some very remunerative stock trades in response to price swings trigger by the Nancy Pelosi visit.

    Tommy D’Alesandro’s kid knows how this works.

    Reply
  12. HH

    There is a simple fact about U.S. naval weaponry that will be crucial to the outcome of any armed hostilities between the U.S. and China in the Pacific. The VLS missile launchers on the U.S. surface combatants cannot be reloaded at sea. Once those missiles are exhausted, the ship that launched them becomes largely useless. The Chinese can simply overwhelm these ships with drones and missiles, causing them to exhaust their defensive missiles. Each U.S. frigate has only about 100 missiles, some of which are not air defense types. Standard procedure is to launch two missiles at every airborne target. The arithmetic does not favor the U.S. fleet.

    Reply
    1. amechania

      Launch from where? I dont know the numbers but space force has no range. once. Then its in God’s hands.

      Reply
    2. Michaelmas

      HH: The VLS missile launchers on the U.S. surface combatants cannot be reloaded at sea.

      You are correct, with a minor qualification. The Lockheed Martin Mk-41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) is the item you refer to.

      https://www.seaforces.org/wpnsys/SURFACE/Mk-41-missile-launcher.htm

      ‘The missiles are pre-loaded into “canisters”, which are then loaded into the individual “cells” of the launcher … Launcher cells are fitted to ships in 8 cell modules (2 rows of 4) that share a common uptake hatch (exhaust system) sited between the two rows …

      ‘Ticonderoga cruisers and Arleigh Burke destroyers up to DDG-78 have a Strikedown module fore and aft, which consists of five cells and a collapsible crane for assisting with replenishment at sea. *As replenishment of large missiles at sea was later seen as impractical and dangerous, Strikedown modules fell out of use on newer ships*

      Heh. Here’s Lockheed Martin’s own promotional material —

      https://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed-martin/rms/documents/naval-launchers-and-munitions/MK41-VLS-product-card.pdf

      ‘The MK 41 VLS has been deployed by 13 navies on more than 26 ship classes on more than 180 ships. It is truly the worldwide launcher of choice.’

      Reply
  13. David

    If we take a step back for a moment, we realise that Taiwan’s situation (without getting into detailed arguments about history) is actually typical of a small state with a very much larger neighbour. That small state, realising that ultimately it would lose in a conflict with its neighbour, enlists an outside power, not as a simple protector, but as a complicating factor in the eyes of its adversary. (We’ve discussed Saudi Arabia several times, as an analogous case). The Taiwanese hope is that the Chinese, if contemplating offensive action for some reason, or as now, just ratcheting up tension, will decide that possible US reactions just complicate the issue to the point where those courses of action become unattractive. The balancing element is that the small state itself keeps its head down.

    The problem is that such a situation can become unbalanced quite quickly. A good historical example is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, where they hesitated for some time, worrying about the US reaction. But eventually, the Politburo decided that relations were already so bad that they had nothing further to lose, and pushed the button. I worry that actions here by all sides may dramatise and destabilise a situation which, left to itself, can remain stable for some time. The more people talk of US “‘support” and actually start to hypothesis scenarios of conflict, the more dangerous the position becomes.

    Reply
    1. hk

      The sociocultural and economic dimensions compound the situation. The Taiwanese are, after all, cultural Chinese and this opens numerous paths for PRC interests to penetrate Taiwan through peaceful means: even if Taiwanese might, abstractly, desire “independence,” the degree of interdependence would not allow it. The disparity in size would make PRC dominant in these relationships, allowing for greater political control (even if more informal than formal for some time–even for decades). So not just a small state in orbit of a big state problem, but of a small state that is intimately linked to the big state through social, cultural, and economic ties.

      Reply
    2. PlutoniumKun

      In my entirely anecdotal experience, the Taiwanese don’t really pay too much attention to the US angle on a day to day basis. Their focus is far more on their near neighbours, especially Japan and South Korea. I’ve never done a comparison count, but its always seemed to me that Taiwanese media pays more attention to goings on in Tokyo than in the US. Its noticeable I think that the Taiwanese diaspora is less noisy in the US than the Korean or other Asian-Americans.

      As so often, the idea that every country hangs onto every word emitting from Washington is as much an illusion of American left wingers as the right. Countries are always far more concerned with their relatively larger physical neighbor. Geography always trumps politics if you are a small country. All small countries survive by playing off larger nations against each other, and if that means playing the harmless simp, so be it. Better to lose some dignity than your country. If you succeed in this, you thrive, if you get your calculations wrong, you end up as Paraguay or Ukraine or any number of now extinct nations.

      Reply
      1. hk

        Who, in US or elsewhere outside Asia, for that matter, are actual “Taiwanese” diaspora? Most ppl in US from Taiwan identify as “Chinese,” and not just in cultural sense. I’ve always had the hunch that “mainlanders” are far more likely to migrate out if Taiwan than “Taiwanese.”. I’m curious if anyone has taken a closer look at this.

        Reply
        1. HotFlash

          A pattern I have seen is that there is a decided class component. The most vocal of the relocated I would categorize as exiles, those who had done very well under the Old Regime but lost out when the New Regime nationalized their industries, lands, or (in the case of Cuba, for instance) their casinos. Members of the former aristocracy may long for the olden days when they were rich and powerful, members of the 40 or 400 Families or whatever number there were in their Old Country, and this sense of grievance can be passed through the generations, eg V Nuland, C Freeland, Z Brezinski, etc.)

          I am always fascinated by Colonel Smithers’ illumination of the family trees of European movers and shakers.

          Reply
        2. Anthony G Stegman

          In the Bay Area where I live Taiwanese and mainland Chinese rarely socialize together. They dress differently, and often eat different foods. Anecdotally speaking, though Taiwanese and mainland Chinese both speak Mandarin, how they speak differs as well. Most Taiwanese prefer not to be mistaken for mainland Chinese.

          Reply
          1. hk

            Not nearly as segregated in my experience, although with interesting twists. My now-based-in-Taiwan-permanently friend and I frequently went for “real” Chinese food at a restaurant run by a Taiwanese owner with a mainlander cook when we were in graduate school. My friend, being the white guy who understands both Mandarin and (good bit of) Southern Min could overhear their conversations between them and he found them hilariously funny. I forget what the details were, but there were very weird differences in their ways if thinking beyond just politics, as far as I remember.

            Reply
  14. Steven

    A little history…
    China may avenge Pelosi’s visit – just not how we might think

    That’s why the 1992 line by the ROC recognized itself – not the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – as the legitimate government of the whole of China. It saw itself as a government in exile. However, this line was still admissible by the mainland, e.g., the PRC, because it recognized that there is one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.

    It wasn’t until 2019 that current Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), completely rejected the established 1992 Consensus. That was when things changed and when Beijing started to refer to the Taiwan government under the DPP as “Taiwan independence forces.” It was at this point that an independent “Taiwanese” identity started to emerge.

    So, Gingrich’s visit was not seen as a recognition of separatist forces – because the ruling KMT saw itself as de jure rulers of China – and Pelosi’s is seen as an attack on China’s national sovereignty. China also sees the behavior of the administration as tacit approval of this attack on its sovereignty.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This is very helpful. The Hong Kong protests started in March 2019. Did Tsai Wen-Ing’s policy change happen after that, as one assumes?

      Also, and perhaps I am too removed, but I don’t recall (pre Pelosi) China doing anything more re Taiwan than watching and harrumphing more. Did they engage in more Taiwan-threatening military drills that I missed?

      And per above, despite Taiwan’s harder-line position, US weapons sales rose in 2019 under Trump but were not sustained. They were higher in nominal terms in the last year of the Obama administration than under the Biden administration thus far.

      Reply
      1. steven

        So was this…

        Lambert and I remain convinced that this visit was a combination of Pelosi’s ego at work (hostility to China is part of her branding) and securing more funds for the 2022 midterms (recall she is a national figure and all House members, save rebels like The Squad, are required to kick in a substantial amount of their donations to the DCCC).

        Any way to put the word out to untainted Congressional candidates to establish their own fundraising mechanisms completely independent of the Democratic Party? I’ve had more than enough of Pelosi and Biden.

        Reply
  15. Irrational

    Thank you, Yves, for an interesting article. I guess the 3 million might point to a reason why President Tsai received Pelosi, who is not a head of state.
    As an aside I find it disturbing that she is advised not to go by the administration and then they shell out for a fighter escort and position a carrier or two – that was not cheap, so someone thought it was worth it.
    Here’s hoping that we do not have another hot war coming.

    Reply
  16. Boomheist

    The 21st Century is becoming the era of autarky. Those Great Powers that are most self-sufficient as regards energy, land for food, minerals, an educated population, and an industrial base will thrive the most. Russia in my opinion leads the list, and their power grows every day as Europe’s desperate need for Russian gas grows, and as Russia’s industrial war-material making capacity is revealed during this war, which they are winning despite the heavily contrived Western narrative. China? They have a huge industrial base, created by the Western markets, essentially, a growing educated population, some raw materials, and coal, and lots of land. But China has little oil or gas, their agricultural land is plagued by floods, and they have over a billion mouths to feed. As a 21st Century Great Power, their position is secured, but they, like Europe, face the same energy deficit Europe does. As for the United States and Canada, we also have energy, land for food, an educated population, and a reduced but rebuildable industrial base. What we also have, unfortunately, is an infrastructure of roads and rail a century and more old (the rail system anyway) and we are competing with a European infrastructure entirely rebuilt after WW2, and hence newer than ours, and a 21st century infrastructure still being built by China within the last generation.

    It is frightening to see the U.S. foreign policy establishment repeating the same mistakes with China just made with Ukraine and Russia – provocation, bluster, empty threats, and threats from a long distance away without the real logistical or maritime vessel means to deliver and maintain supplies. As this thread’s article explained so well, the simple facts of geography are too often overlooked. In the case of Ukraine, that nation is adjacent to Russia, on its border for God’s sake. In the case of Taiwan, the island is 100 miles from the Chinese mainland – not on the border, but close. And yet the U.S. thinks it can somehow confront the Chinese Navy and win a battle fought thousands of miles from its home? Maybe the U.S. Navy knows something the rest of us do not, maybe there is the awareness that in a conflict the U.S. can neutralize the entire Chinese navy at the outset, using stealth submarines for example. But, absent this, what will happen? Vessels will be lost, American sailors killed, and Taiwan will be isolated, unable to trade, blocked off from energy supplies, and still fall to China.

    What we should be doing, and may be starting to do with some of the recent legislation emerging from Congress, is take care of our own house first, now, directly and fast. Build what we can within our borders, build 21st century rail systems suited to the current time (ie upgrade rail lines to handle super fast trains), become as self sufficient as possible with food and other raw materials we have, and most of all learn to thrive using our own energy supplies, of which we have abundant supplies still.

    If we face an autarkic future, we need to move fast, but in order to get there I think in the immediate near term we are going to face some stark changes in standard of living for many, first because of the blowback from the Russian sanctions (and who knows, maybe upcoming Chinese sanctions as well?) and second because the type of life style we have built based on global trade and a throwaway economy will have to change.

    When WW2 broke out the U.S. government essentially nationalized all industry to support the war effort. The population lived with rationing, mandatory recycling, and of course war casualties. Now, 80 years later, the military industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about in 1960 has run amock, and what seems to be needed is somehow coming to the view we need to retool from a war economy to a “build a sustainable self sufficient economy” before it is too late. Every day that passes while we posture and bloviate about Ukraine and Taiwan is a day lost as regards dealing with the very basic and simple needs here at home that have so enraged most of our population – decent prices, available goods, decent work, health care, living within our means, gerting our own house in order.

    Reply
    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Boomheist: Great essay. I completely concur on your point about taking care of our house first.

      I do differ from you on a few points, and I’d like to hear your reaction. Allow me start with a few concepts to set context:

      Design leapfrog. Skate to where the puck’s gonna be, not where it is now.

      Most efficient way to do work is to _not have to do it_ in the first place.

      Autarky. It’s not just for nations.

      ========

      Design Leap-frog. How can the U.S. do it?

      Let’s start with transportation. The most efficient way to move goods is to get rid of the need to move goods, and then don’t move them. If everything you need is locally – or at worst regionally – obtainable, why source it from far away?

      Over a hundred years ago, we designed our production and transportation systems around two big concepts that aren’t nearly so valid today:

      a. Production must be centralized because that’s where the capital-intensive production equipment is. Think “steel mills” or “automobile factories”. How much “new steel” .vs. recycled steel are we going to need in the future? How much of our future economy is going to be based upon heavy industry (high degree of investment in production equipment)?

      b. You must have scale. No scale, no low price, no capture market share. What if scale is only relevant at the point of production, but all the rest of the product life cycle costs are _higher_ using centralized production .vs. distributed (regional or local) production? What if scale isn’t nearly so important as we thought it was? What if “total life cycle cost” is way more important?

      We built our cities (settlement patterns) and our transportation systems around these two concepts which are increasingly _less_ true than 100 years ago. Do we really need centralized production? Do we really need to keep digging up new resources? Can we think of a way to re-use what’s already been dug up? Can we shift our thinking from “its got to be cheap to _buy_” toward “I want the best full-life-cycle _value_ “.

      (price is what I pay; value is what I pay, compared to what I get)

      If we’re looking for ways to leap-frog China, maybe it’s time to do some radical re-thinking about functional design (what gets done where, and why). Do we need as much mining? Transport? Scale? Do we need more labor revenue .vs. rent extractions?

      Now let’s talk autarky. We’re all agog with Russia because they escaped from under the thumb of their oppressors by … here it is now … learning to make stuff for themselves.

      And yet, somehow, we Americans still believe that the only way to obtain anything is to go out and buy it. This is a generalization, but it’s mostly true: We don’t invent, we don’t experiment, we don’t build, we just consume.

      The other day I saw Lambert of Corrente* say – I’m paraphrasing – “a nation’s only as strong as what they can make for themselves”.

      Autarky is now cool. Been a long time coming, but it seems like autarky has arrived.

      Remember, autarky used to be a stupid idea, right? Comparative advantage, scale advantage…all that econ theory declared autarky to be Primitive Thinking. Autarky was what cave-people did before Trade happened.

      But now, all of a sudden, it’s cool, but only if it’s a nation doing the autarky. If households and villages practice autarky, well, it’s probably because they’re intellectual kin to Fred Flintstone.

      Besides the fact that our (U.S. American) households aren’t _currently_ good at making stuff, can you please explain to me why it would be a bad idea if we shifted production (mostly) away from “centralized” and toward small towns, villages and households?

      Is it really such an intellectual stretch to imagine standing up a few small factories, using local labor, recycled materials, open-source designs, small fabrication plants with the latest CAD/CAM-driven machines….

      === Be different than Neo-Con Rent Extractor Future-Destroying Stupid

      Think how cool, helpful, interesting, fulfilling and exciting it would be to live in a world where we did smart stuff every day. Think how joyful your life would be if you didn’t have to worry about nukes going off at next week’s picnic.

      And how much easier you’d sleep at night, knowing their future wasn’t being frittered away with eye-poking Russia, China? And all that blow-back we’d avoid that’s going to come at us from all those countries once they wriggle free from the Vampire Squid Anvil that’s on their chest?

      And how proud you’ll be to tell your kids and grand-kids: “we saw what was happening, we decided to change it, and we let nothing get in our way. That’s why you’re here: we did what needed doing. Here’s the baton, now it’s your turn”.

      Dreams stay dreams until that magic moment when the first steps get taken. That’s when the page gets turned, and a new chapter starts.


      * Not just any Lambert, but Lambert of Corrente

      Reply
      1. Boomheist

        I am reminded of the ancient days when I was a graduate student in wildlife biology, fall 1969, and this thing came out called The Whole Earth Catalogue. Back then they were called hippies or back to the landers, but their message was an ancient one – use what you have, don’t mess your own nest, keep it simple, and then make it simpler. Yes, a technical leapfrog makes intellectual sense, but absent a war to destroy and flatten what we have (and this happened in WW2 for Europe and Russia) we will end up stuck with systems that grow old, and creaky. Old water pipes, old sewer systems, failing bridges, the list is very very long. It is expensive to tear all that stuff out and replace it, and this only done in desperation. I think a practical, though some may call it small-minded, point of view is to start making changes where we can, as we best can, but do it in the realm of national policy. We have had an unspoken national policy since the late 1960s of promoting manufacturing overseas, and now we are, a half century later, here. If we change this to a national policy to use what we have where we have it, locally, in another half century the world will be a far different place.

        Maybe another way to frame all this goes like this: we went from ravaging our immediate neighborhood to develop to moving overseas to do the same thing, and so long as you could keep moving on, to a new fertile ground, you could grow and believe growth be infinite. The limits so feared a half century ago have not yet really hit us, as we are inventive and creative and good at wringing more from every barren stone. But we do not do that unless we have to. Somehow we need to refashion a theory and method that justifies and values sustained operation, re-use of everything, as opposed to constant expansion and growth. Autarky is a small step in that direction, on a national level, but the same concept can be used for regions, communities, even back yards. This is a huge, an enormous mental shift, making this change.

        What is also clear is that our computers and digital technology enable us to create ever more complex systems, systems of movement and data transfer and product manufacture and delivery, but lost in this wonderful technology is that every additional net increase in efficiency with complex systems comes at a higher and higher price, until it is not worth it. We may well be there right now with such systems as the aviation industry, supply chains, the medical health care field. Things are breaking down. Yves Smith talks of the “crapification” of things, and this is exactly what is happening. Too much complexity, too many layers, too many unforseen impacts. You are only as good as your control over the materials you need to prosper, and you have most control over those substances within your area of control. Right now those areas of control are nations. There do seem to be a lot of people, very smart people, set on somehow building a global system, with global controls, just as an argument can be made that we may be entering an era of Great Corporations running things, or, even, Great Families.

        But, in all cases, I would argue that whichever nation right now, today, in today’s very imperfect and chaotic world, is most capable of providing for its citizens from largely within its own borders or immediate sphere of influence is a nation destined for the most success in this new century. We seem to be going to a bloc-based system, with Great Power blocs, and of these, it is Russia and US-Canada best positioned to prosper. Yet one of these blocs, US-Canada, has been trying to escape autarky for decades, and the route back will be painful and take a drop in the standard of living. Russia on the other hand has a populace that remembers sacrifice and suffering – the 1990s and the still vivid memories of WW2.

        Of course, the one thing we cannot predict is a White Swam emerging from our creativity, something that drastically shifts our history, something as profound as, say, the development of agriculture or writing or the printing press. Low cost hydrogen fuel cells, for example, making energy scarcity a thing of the past.

        Two other points worth considering. There is this theory, or thesis, now coming forth arguing that as nations industrialize and become “modern,” whatever that means, and this is true for all natikons so far, they end up with an ageing population and shrinking birth rate such that they are not producing enough young people to fill their work forces, armies, or service economies. This is happening, right now, in ALL the Great Powers today – United States, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and will start happening soon enough in India, Brazil, and other nations. If this thesis is valid, then that Great Power today most able and willing to bring in young immigrants from other areas, for workers, soldiers, citizens, bureaucrats, will survive the best. The United States has been a paragon of how to do this during the period 1850-2000, I would argue, though not so much any more. China can probably afford to simply let their population shrink for generations and they will still have enough people to keep going – but not the oil. Russia, again, if they figure this out, and are willing, can welcome people from everywhere into an enormous undeveloped land mass. As I have been saying for some time now, I believe Russia stands to be the largest and most successsful Great Power in this century, and I don’t think the chattering classes have realized this yet.

        I think people are healthiest, and happiest, and most mentally fit when they are engaged together on a Great Joint Enterprise, something each individual can relate to, be a part of, and take satisfaction from. Of course a war is the most obvious event that builds such a mission, by necessity. I think FDR managed to approach the Depression challenge as a mission and he was highly successful. Eye-poking other nations, or building 17 carrier task forces, or producing the most billionaires are not such missions. I think the climate change movement has been an effort to mobilize everyone on a shared goal, and mission, but a damn lot of people all around the world refuse to climb on board. Maybe this autarky event, occurring by necessity, can become the vehicle whereby we all, each of us, finally burns into our souls the need to take care of your own house before loudly trying to fix others’ houses. It require an enormous shift. Enormous.

        And here is the other, final, point, which will surely enrage some of the few readers who get this far. This is the Black Swan event looming over all, not perhaps as deadly as a nuclear war, nor as immediate, but, based on what we know of geologic history, soon to be upon us, and that is this – despite the recent small rise in average earth temperature, and the decades of nearly hysterical alarm, we stand at the end of at least the 20th inetglacial warm period during the last 2 million years. These have lasted 5,000 to about 15,000 years, on average, between much longer and colder periods of great ice and lowered sea levels. We are over 10,000 years into the current interglacial. It could last another 5,000 years, or it could end tomorrow. How will it end? The interglacials are warm, melting the ice caps, taking thousands of years. This has happened many times. The record is clear. The last interglacial before this one, which we call the Holocene, was the Eemian, about 110,000 to 120,000 years ago, and it was warmer than ours today by a few degrees, and sea levels higher than today. These warmiong periods melt ice, and the melted cold fresh water flows into the oceans and if enough flows in then ocean currents can be slowed and stopped, like the Gulf Stream, and once that happens, then Eurasia is no longer warmed, and one year the snows don’t all melt, and not the next year, or the year after that, and after a century you have a glacier. You have a new ice age. More importantly, the year the snows don;t melt you will have instant worldwide food shortages, famine, revolution.

        In which case Great Powers, and autarky, and poking Russia and China, and nearly everything else pales into insignificance.

        But we, some of us, will survive, as we have before, in fact as we have done throughout the 2 million period of human development. In fact I would argue that we humans are products of climate change, glaciations, huge shifts in sea levels and land use, for we have evolved and developed in response to the mysterious 100,000 year cycle, now repeated over 20 times, which offers a few years of wonderful warmth between much longer periods of great cold.

        Reply
        1. Tom Pfotzer

          Boomheist: That was just wonderful. Really enjoyed that essay, and I affirm all of it.

          Naturally, just by virtue of my disposition, I have some modifiers, and some points of addn’l emphasis.

          You said: “Autarky is a small step in that direction, on a national level, but the same concept can be used for regions, communities, even back yards. This is a huge, an enormous mental shift, making this change.”

          It is huge. The lovely thing about it is that it’s incremental, it’s decentralized, it’s personal. The change – here in the U.S.- assuredly will not be a top-down program.

          But this bottom-up autarky notion is actually one of very few options we citizens / aware people have to actually do something effective to climb out of the downward spiral we seem to be in.

          You said: “Of course, the one thing we cannot predict is a White Swam emerging from our creativity, something that drastically shifts our history, something as profound as, say, the development of agriculture or writing or the printing press. Low cost hydrogen fuel cells, for example, making energy scarcity a thing of the past.”

          The “white swan” will likely be a change in what humans know how to do. Technology. Not computer-boards and blinkin’ lights, but ideas, skills, habits, tools. That’s technology, too.

          What if we re-learn how to collaborate in decentralized, autonomous groups, at human (e.g. village) scale?

          Maybe you’d dismiss this quaint. Allow me to observe: 70% of our economic activity – GDP – occurs as direct result of household purchase decisions. Consumption. That’s a hell of a lever.

          Most all the rest of the economy – most of industry – is geared toward meeting that consumption. Take out defense and FIRE sector, and you get the real economy, whose function is to provide for the household.

          And the household is the final, decisive arbiter of what gets sold, therefore what gets produced, and by _whom_. Dear reader, please keep that reality firmly in mind as this topic is discussed.

          On the subject of White Swans walking silently on cat’s-paws. Note that during the 80s, nobody shopped at farmers’ markets. Did you? Lately, it’s become the socially-hip thing to do. It’s quite common, although the share of national GDP is probably still too small to be measured.

          Think about that shift for a second. Just about every town in the U.S. with arable land and population over 5000 has a farmers’ market. All in the past 20 years of so, maybe 30 at most. Local people producing for local consumers. The one-on-one commercial connection. No global supply chain needed.

          What if what’s just “cool” today, becomes useful, maybe even necessary, or economically vital tomorrow? What if the global supply chain really doesn’t need labor all that much anymore? Now what?

          Maybe we make the next incremental step beyond tomatoes and lettuce, and produce other things that households need. Tiny, small, incremental steps, a little here and there. Electric scooters.(it’s a bike with a battery and a little motor, for pete’s sake!). Fuel cells (relax, they’re simple). Thermal solar panels ( capture heat, not electricity). Dishes. Furniture. Clothes. Buy the parts from the global supply chain, and integrate, sell, support locally.

          As the learning curve is climbed, gradually substitute a locally produced component for its counterpart from the global supply chain.

          While it seems huge if one expects it to happen fast, the huge is a roll-up of the tiny. Households and villages are the “tiny”.

          This stuff is already happening. We just need to become more aware of it, and ask ourselves “how can we build on this?”

          Reply
          1. Boomheist

            Tom I wrote a note and lost it, so here goes again.I hope you are right. You are hopeful, optimistic, and I want to think correct. Years ago there was a “small is beautiful” movement, and you seem to be speaking to that….all we can do is hope and do our own small part,….

            Reply
      2. Mikel

        Except now, there would be double duty.
        There has to be a clean-up at the same time as a build-up. Too much won’t be able to be recycled. What’s the plan?
        Even tons of space junk is falling from the sky.

        Reply
        1. Tom Pfotzer

          MIkel:

          Yes, a great deal of the existing infrastructure isn’t recoverable, or at least not now.

          The thing to do now is, as you said, to “get a plan”.

          Step 1: Discuss some goals. What do you want the economy to be and do in 20 years?

          Step 2: For those that happen to agree with your objectives, pick a place to start that will make a modest, yet useful step toward those goals.

          No need to over-think it, or to get massive buy-in. Top-down buy-in is impossible, and lateral buy-in is only avail if you pick the ready-willing-and-ables, and ask them “how can I help you reach these goals we’ve set for ourselves”.

          Then do what they ask of you, and their job is to help you overcome whatever obstacles you face along the way.

          Get the first job done, have a party. Repeat.

          Reply
    1. tegnost

      Center for Military Modernization

      …gee I wonder what they think about this boondoggle…oops, I mean the f 35

      Reply
      1. Greg

        “As many as 13 F35’s” the author gushes, of the wing strength on the small carriers apparently being called “Big Decks” (I couldn’t comment on whose big deck it is and how much they swing to and fro at sea).
        That whole article is a bunch of squeeing miltech fan nonsense that completely ignores the reality of a small number of fancy fighters vs a large number of missiles and less fancy fighters.
        “Stop an invasion of Taiwan” just by flying a handful of F35s in, with movie-level ordinance quantities presumably, instead of the tiny amount packed into real world “stealth” aircraft. Hilarious.

        Reply
  17. Young

    Pro-independence sources always mention the terrain as a defensive factor to utilize insurgency against invasion.

    But, isn’t it safe to assume that PLA embedded assets (sleeper cells) on the island for decades which will be activated when the day of reckoning arrives, since neither language nor appearance is a barrier to such activity?

    Donbass redux?

    Reply
  18. Hepativore

    Far be it from me to claim to be any sort of expert on US/China relations, but how does the US plan on coming out on top with any sort of conflict with China when the US has exported 90% of its industrial base to China, particularly the manufacturing of many electronic components? That is also where most of our rare Earth metals are mined which are heavily used in many high-tech industries. Even most of our military hardware contains components made in China or has software made by Chinese programmers. A serious attempt at reshoring all of these industries would take decades, and China could easily cut off its export of all of these electronic goods or resources to the US without firing a single missile.

    If all of this if for US elites to assert their dominance over China from a military standpoint, it seems that China already has its boot on the throat of the US when so much of our economy is dependent on Chinese production overseas.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I fear that the faction of the u.s. ‘Power Elite’ driving foreign policy has gone completely insane — a coterie of mind clones based on the Roman Emperor Caligula, although even the horse he made a Senator was probably wiser, better spoken, and better behaved than many of the u.s. senators and congressmen, especially the incomparable speaker of the house. This post and all the discussion about Taiwan recalled one of Matt Stoller’s posts from Feb 21, 2020:
      “Now all the CCP has to do is gain control over a sole source producer. China makes a host of key inputs for DoD missiles, satellites, and other defense manufacturing programs. Our ability to fight a war with China in some ways hinges on whether Chinese companies are willing to keep selling us ammunition. The same is true in medicine. Our hospitals are critically under-sourced for things like respirators and masks, as well as chemical inputs for drugs, most of which are made in China.” [“National Champs or National Chumps: US Big Business vs China”, https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/national-champs-or-national-chumps%5D
      I also recalled reading several reports to the Senate Arms Services Committee from a little over a decade ago bemoaning the extent that procurements for many defense items come from single sources from across the oceans, and from the adversary the DoD was defending against. Back that decade ago I could almost hope with Boomheist in the long comment above that something might be done to mitigate the growing u.s. weaknesses in DoD procurements, the gross malstructuring of the u.s. economy, and the multi-decadal decays of u.s. infrastructures. Obama and the u.s. regimes since have smothered that hope

      Reply
      1. digi_owl

        It is funny how during WW1, Maxim was “selling” machineguns to all sides. But really he was paid royalties for each gun made in the various nations.

        It is like we have all retarded over the decades, trying to achieve some platonic ideal Ricardian world economy.

        Reply
  19. Glen

    What a stupid stunt. She had over twenty years to do something serious regarding America/China, but this was it?

    Reply
  20. Tom Bradford

    Having clearly demonstrated that the US is quite prepared to take on Russia down to the last Ukranian, I do wonder why the last Taiwanese would be happy to help the US take on China.

    Reply
    1. Louis Fyne

      IMO the Taiwanese (like the EU) have bought the propanganda that the USA has an arsenal of wunderwaffe that will fight off those “others” at minimal cost.

      Bruh, have you seen the two “Top Gun” movies? USA! I am going to be Curtis LeMay for Halloween!

      Reply
      1. SocalJimObjects

        The Taiwanese think that US forces will just teleport to the island. If the US does have that capability then they should show it now, so that the Chinese will back off.

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    2. Tom Pfotzer

      You can be absolutely sure the Taiwanese are asking themselves this very question. I don’t think the propaganda’s going to be powerful enough to whitewash this one.

      The Ukraine gambit has really trashed the Empire’s external persona. And awful big pile of chips was bet on that gambit, and it’s coming apart spectacularly.

      The whole non-Western world is watching this with a combination of glee and terror.

      Reply

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