Biden’s Taiwan problem … and it may be nuclear
Prior to the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping, it was believed that there was the possibility of a peaceful reunification between Mainland China and Taiwan. But first, a little background may be useful since many Americans are not familiar with the facts surrounding Taiwan.
Taiwan today is the result of the Communist revolution in China. When Mao Zedung conquered the mainland in 1949, the forces of Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island of Taiwan – taking the island in a brutal mini-civil war with the indigenous population. To some extent, that cultural animosity remains today.
First, Taiwan is not an independent nation. No other nation recognizes the Island as a nation. That is why their participation in the World Olympics is not as an independent country. They were admitted only as the delegation from Chinese Taipei. The Republic of China (Taiwan) was once a member of the United Nations, but they were booted out and replaced by the Peoples Republic of China in 1971. Conversely, Taiwan has never declared its independence from China.
The world recognizes a “One China Policy” – amended as a “One China Principle” in the 1990s. That means that the island of Taiwan and the mainland China are considered to be under one sovereignty. That has been the official United States policy since 1971. There is general agreement among the nations that reunification is possible – albeit an issue to be settled peacefully between Beijing and Taipei.
Prior to Xi, it appeared that such a reunification could take place. There was a cooling of the tensions as China re-entered the world of civilized nations and opened up to capitalist development. Commercial air travel was established between the island and the mainland. Taiwan became the number one investor in China. Many Taiwanese were eager to visit their ancestral homes and their forebearers gravesites on the mainland.
Xi, however, established himself as the ruler over China ad infinitum. He is also eager to suppress dissent and division. He extended a tighter grip of the Muslim and Buddhist factions in west China, and more recently suppressed the democratic movement in Hong Kong. He has emphatically stated his intention to bring Taiwan back into the fold – intimating the use of force, if necessary.
One of the obstacles to Xi’s ambitions is the United States. America has had a longstanding defense agreement with Taiwan. We have sold them sophisticated weaponry to defend against a possible invasion from the mainland. We also have military advisors stationed on the island.
The question is: What would the United States actually do if Xi sent his military to invade and seize Taiwan? Taiwan would be the first time America has militarily confronted the Peoples Republican Army since the Korean War. Would any conflict be limited to Taiwan as a shadow war between the two great powers? Would it escalate in to a direct war with the Middle Kingdom. Or more importantly, would the United States stand down and allow the takeover?
While America has demonstrated military impotence since World War II, Biden’s surrender in Afghanistan has been a tipping-point – a game changer. Xi’s language has become more aggressive. He and the Chinese leadership believe that the United States has neither the will nor the ability to defend Taiwan. Xi has said as much – and he has warned the Taiwan government that it would be a mistake to count on the backing of the United States. His rhetoric is not empty words. When that defense agreement was originally signed, China was a minor military force. Today, they are challenging America for world military leadership.
Richard Haass, of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the Biden administration must make it clear to Xi that the United States will defend Taiwan – and to prove the point, Biden should send a large contingent of troops to the island. Haass concedes that if China moves to take over Taiwan militarily, we will be at war with China.
Haass, however, may not be taking his thinking to the next logical step. Should we come in conflict with China, what will North Korea do? What will the Russians do regarding Ukraine? What will Iran and its Middle Eastern terrorist allies do? And what will NATO nations do? What will the UN do? World War III is not out of the question. This is how global conflicts roll out.
And then there is this. There are reports that Taiwan has “the bomb” – nuclear weaponry. That would put them in the same category as Israel – which officially is not a nuclear nation, but is widely believed to have nuclear weapons.
If Taiwan does possess even nuclear capability that makes a complex problem exponentially complicated – the One China Principle would have those weapons belonging to Beijing as the sovereign and yet potentially used against Beijing. If Taiwan does have nuclear arms – albeit it not mounted on ICBs – Xi might have to think twice about invading the Island. But a lot more needs to be learned on that issue.
Haass believes that the best outcome is to somehow maintain the status quo. But, it may no longer be possible to kick the Taiwan can down the road. Xi’s growing frustration over Taiwan will not allow status quo as a permanent solution.
Haass’ recommendation relies on giving Xi a CREDIBLE warning – and that is the problem. How can Biden make any warning credible after America stood down in every conflict since World War II? It is not only the breaking of our commitments to the people of Afghanistan. We walked out on the anti-government forces in Syria after encouraging them to revolt against Bashar al Asaad. Then we walk out on the Kurds. After agreeing to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for their surrendering the nation’s nuclear capability, we allowed Russia to seize the Crimean Peninsula. The Russian bear is camped out on the Ukraine border waiting for an opportunity to occupy the entire country.
In many ways, Afghanistan was the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. In short, Biden has no credibility. Xi is probably correct in believing that the United States will stand down if and when he decides it is time to take over Taiwan.
The best option for Taiwan, the United States and the world is to elect a President in 2024 who has President Reagan’s strong foreign policy based on credibility. The Soviet Union collapsed because the Kremlin feared Reagan. That is not an endorsement for Trump. His military isolationism was a step in the wrong direction. Even if a Reaganesque President is only a possibility, it is enough to have Xi move on Taiwan sooner rather than later – and that puts the problem squarely on Biden’s shoulders..
The question is: Is it even possible for the United States to pull out of the tailspin that will end America’s status as the world leader? I am dubious – and Taiwan is one of the reasons. Biden is another.
So, there ‘tis.