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Biden’s Taiwan problem … and it may be nuclear

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.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. frank stetson

    Larry, thanks for the update and the Taiwan history lesson. Probably many places are going through “interesting times” as we change from a nationalistic stance back to a global stance from Trumpism to Biden globalism. We traded standing alone, baying at the moon, for global alliances and a fleet of allies. We traded turning our backs on the Kurds and many others to turning our backs on the democracy-loving Afghans, but not sure how much has really changed there.

    And anyone who doubts our military strength and readiness does so at their own peril.

    Sure, Russia is on a different footing and they are formidable, but beneath it all they have the economy and GDP of Italy. China has been building up it’s military all through the Trump years and before. Last time I checked, they may have even had a larger military than the US. Think they have double the manpower of the US, but they had that all during the Trump years too.

    Larry, I have real difficulties in your statement: “Today, they are challenging America for world military leadership.” I just don’t think you should diss the US military like that. I mean we spend close to 800 billion to maintain and improve our military each year. China has dramatically increase it’s spending to 250 billion —— and you say they are challenging? Have we spent our money that poorly?

    Yes, they have more men. We are first in the air; they are third. And our planes are far better than what they have. They also have more ships, but we are, again, much better. They have lots of small boats, we have lots of high-tech, better boats. They gonna need a bigger boat to match us on the seas. Or even come close. Like 11 nukie aircraft carriers to their 2 oil burning ones Ours carry double the aircraft on each ship. So, one of ours matches their navy, and we have 11.

    They are fourth in nukes. We are first.

    The one concern we should have is their ground-based missiles where global treaties preclude us from matching. Not sure if ANY of these can reach the US; they are called “Guam killers.”

    We also have NATO, they have NOTHING. IOW, we have world support if under attack. China’s alliances would be ad hoc at the time.

    Larry, I think the US is still a military leader when compared to China, not to mention a hell of a lot more experience in these fields of action. Any thinking person would realize we rule the skies, we rule the seas, we can take out your infrastructure overnight and bomb you back to the middle ages. After that, it gets interesting, especially with all those ground troops, but I really don’t think a US invasion would be on the table.

    My point is China, whoever is in the White House has more to fear from us than we from them, according to the military numbers. As to the politics of it all —- come on, if China wants Taiwan, neither Trump nor Biden will deter them differently, and certainly our response will be failry similar.

    Using Afghanistan as your barometer is weird since Trump capitulated, Biden showed the brilliance of our military; at least the logistics side where we are just miraculous at moving men and materials. If China believes Afghanistan is our new model of incompetence, hey, if they are this stupid, I don’t think chest thumping, screaming, empty threats like we did in North Korea will really matter.

    Interesting update on Taiwan, not sure you are reading our military status or China’s response correctly. IMO.

  2. larry Horist

    Frank…. I do respond to you because you have a capacity for rational discussion. Usually wrong … but rational .lol.

    Your response sounds to me like at the of the local Army recruitment office giving a Fourth of July speech. There are two issues that you seem to merge. One is the absolute military power in terms of equipment, personnel, technology and dispersement. The second is the willingness to use it strategically and effectively. You are talking about a mighty military that got whipped by those Taliban fighting on the back of pick-up trucks. If you were to do the same side-by-side assessment of the military capability of the US and the Taliban, should we have lost that war?

    Those on the left have used that dismissive comparison between the Russian economy and ours. So what? They are obviously fighting above their weight class — but they are fighting and succeeding. If the bantam weight is out punching the heavy weight, you going to only consider the comparative sizes?

    China has been on the move internationally for years. I think Trump’s universal withdrawal doctrine was a mistake and encouraged China to get more aggressive in the South China Sea, building those military islands, crushing democratic movement in Hong Kong, suppressing the indigenous people in Western China.

    But, I also believe that Biden’s isolationist policies (which you call “globalism”) and the surrender in Afghanistan were HUGE in crushing the image of the US and our military to the point that China is now upping its world domination plans with full speed. The US is now the proverbial paper tiger. In all the years I have followed China — been there many times — this is the first time that I believe that an invasion of Taiwan is possible. I would not have said that last year — even with Trump’s mishandling of the China thing. In just a few months — thanks to Biden — America has lost all credibility as a world leader … a world power.

    Biden was so eager to cancel all that was Trump, but he took a past bad policy and drove it into the ditch. No matter what Trump did — even that tenuous agreement with the Taliban (a mistake) — Biden could have taken a much more forceful role …. but he did not. In other words, he let what we both agree is the world’s most powerful military get rusty on the sideline.

    Xi has told Taiwan that they cannot expect help for the US. His propaganda outlet has boldly warned the US that if we interfere between Beijing and Taiwan, it will be America’s “death knell.” I doubt they would have used that threat last year. Thanks to Biden, that threat has meaning.

    I know the partisan fight points fingers at Trump by the left and Biden from the right. I see it this way. Trump may have laid out a plan to rob a bank, but it is Biden you did it. That is why I put the blame on the guy in charge — and who executed that God-awful surrender.

    I think denying that China is on the track of being numero uno in the world and that America is currently embracing a step-aside policy is dangerously naïve.

  3. Joseph S. Bruder

    Yes, Biden pulled out of Afghanistan, a completely unwinnable situation, made more complicated by Trump’s unconditional surrender. And it’s interesting that you call out several other wars that Trump exacerbated – Syria, the Kurds, and allowing the Russians to take part of Ukraine. And let’s not forget him putting Russia and North Korea on the world stage, and antagonizing China with a trade war.

    Trump was a nationalist and an isolationist, but I wouldn’t put Biden into that camp. Trump would sell his checkers to the highest bidder, but Biden is moving pieces around on multi-dimensional chess set – first order of business was to repair relations with our European allies. There’s still some bumpiness there, we’re getting snubs because Trump destroyed the leadership roles we had, but he’s working on it. He’s building coalitions on environment and other issues. He’s starting to challenge China about human rights again, something that Trump completely obliterated (since he himself didn’t mind abusing human rights). Biden is also challenging China in a low key way in the south China Sea, setting up strategic alliances with Europe and Australia.

    China may be sensing an advantage now, but they’re not interested in a nuclear war either. The Chinese government maintains power by convincing the population that they’re a beneficial dictatorship only interested in the best interests of the Chinese people. One nuclear weapon could take out 50 or 100 million of their people – a relatively small percentage, but still a shit load of death and destruction guaranteed to throw the Chinese people into turmoil. If it came from Taiwan, it would do China no good to turn the island into a smoking radioactive cinder. It might shore up the Communist government’s claim to legitimacy by completely obliterating the “other” Chinese government, but at a cost of proving that they’re no longer interested in the well-being of the people.

    If a nuclear strike came from the US or allies, it would be because of a nuclear attack by China – a country heavily dependent on the world markets for food, and whose supply of currency and buying power comes from marketing all kinds of products to the West. All that would stop, and they would find themselves completely embargoed – even with just the threat of a war and not even an actual missile fired, and Chinese people would be starving in a matter of weeks.

    Something else that China is probably considering – world alliances are still in disarray because of Trump. However, if China starts a war, or becomes an active aggressor (unlike the passive-aggressive behavior so far) the entire world will shake off it’s Trumpian ambivalence and again look to the US as a leader. I don’t think China wants to go there. China has already pushed world opinion pretty far with its political crack-downs in Hong Kong and its persecution of the Muslim minority. And now they have an unruly Afghanistan on their border too. China can’t risk a full-scale pullback of its partners around the globe.

    So, your solution is to elect a Republican to President? Reagan was corrupt and senile and purely an actor being herded around by a bunch of warmongers. “Mr. Gobachev, take down that wall!” made good TV, but the Soviet Union collapsed from its own weight and the desire of most of its constituent parts wanting freedom. Are these the same Republicans shaking in their boots every time Trump farts? The ones who “bravely” came out against Trump’s attempted coup for about, ummm, maybe 2 days, before going 90% lockstep back to “it didn’t happen” and “Biden didn’t really win” and “there had to be cheating because Trump lost”? The Republicans that are pushing anti-vax conspiracy theories that are killing 10’s and 100’s of thousands of people who didn’t have to die?

    I ask you, where is leadership in your Party? I find the “normal” right-wing extremist Republican policies of Romney and Cheney to be repulsive, but at least they’ve stood up to the Orange Menace. Despite (or because of) their show of bravery and independence, they have ZERO support among Republicans, and Democrats or Independents wouldn’t touch them either. You’re going to have a hard time pulling a legitimate leader out from the likes of child-rapist Gaetz, or the conspiracy nutcases Boebert and Green, or two-faced Lady G, or the rest of the Republican Trumpists.

    Biden is doing his job. It’s hard to say “it’s under control”, not something anyone would say about world affairs, but Biden has strong advisors and is working all the angles he can. He has real negotiators and diplomats and professionals working for him, not the friends and donors and felons that Trump hired and fired regularly. Credible threats can be getting our alliances in shape and having them also speak out against China’s aggressions. They’re Chinese customers too. Biden will challenge China where he can, and throw some carrots over the wall if that helps too. At least he has a plan, not something you could accuse Trump of.

  4. Frank stEtson

    You gotta ask yourself; if you had a nuclear bomb as a threat deterrent, wouldn’t you tell someone? Where’s the deterrent if nobody knows for sure?

    • Joseph S. Bruder

      That would be a “bluff”…

    • larry Horist

      You assume that deterrence is the only consideration in have a nuclear arsenal. And you seem to belief that the BIG bombs are the only nuclear weapons. There is an entire range of tactical and short range nuclear weapons. And there are a variety of reasons why a nation may wish to conceal them — at least initially. There is always concern about offensive use of nuclear weapons.

      • Joseph S. Bruder

        The entire Cold War with the Soviets was based on Mutually Assured Destruction (aptly named MAD). I sincerely hope that deterrence is the only valid reason to have nuclear weapons. Any country who actually uses them without provocation would be severely criticized and shunned on the world stage, even the US.

        Terrorists, either individual or on a state level, may hide evidence of nukes, with the hope of a surprise attack and confusion about where the attack came from. But then again, it’s usually extremists who are willing to die (and take innocent people with them). Or at least, that’s what they’re like in every James Bond film… Otherwise, a nuke is useful only if people think or know you have it.

  5. Frank stetson

    A bluff would be saying you have it when you don’t.

    I think Larry said they could have it, but no one knows. That’s a rumor.

    • Joseph S. Bruder

      No, a bluff is doing things that make others think you might have it. If you have the US in your corner, they think it’s in the realm of possibility. If you buy enough materials that have dual usage, then they start to wonder. If you have a bunch of engineers and “secret” facilities, they get suspicious. If you test delivery systems, build missle silos or start moving around vehicle based launchers, they think it’s probable instead of possible. If you actually test a nuclear weapon, all doubt is removed. The point is to get to the middle of that list to prevent an attack by creating doubt.

      Saying you have it when you don’t is just a lie, and lies are usually easily disproven.

      • Frank stetson

        Got it, but it’s such a stretch that it’s a possible, not a probable. As much as I love the name F-CK1 missile, not sure they have either bomb or delivery system; certainly neither tested.

        • Joseph S. Bruder

          I agree (and I love the missile name!), but if you’re China and only one missile has to get through to obliterate 30 million people, then it’s still somewhat of a deterrent. There will always be someone in Xi’s cabinet that says, “but what if they do have a nuke? Proceed with caution”. Shanghai with about 30 million people is inconveniently located a mere 500 miles from Taiwan. And Shenzhen/HongKong/Guangzhou are also 30 million people about the same distance the other direction. Even a 10% risk, if you’re an adding-the-probability-numbers type of guy, is maybe 6 million people. Is Xi ready to risk a couple of population 30 million cities if he’s not 100% sure?

          With the US, it’s a different calculation – a half-hour flight time for a missile from China to the US, lots of time for countermeasures, our biggest cities have 5-10 million (and maybe double that if you count metro areas) and are spread out. We have lots of well hardened missiles, ready to fire on a moment’s notice. The Chinese know, for sure, 100%, even if we get surprised with a first strike, we can and will respond. And we won’t stop with one city, they’ll ALL be targeted at once. And there are likely US (and maybe British/Australian) nuke submarines within 100 miles of China’s coast. Think Xi is ready to poke that bear? Even if he had a nuclear arsenal the size of the US, would he want to try that risk? I doubt it, and I hope the US isn’t ready to play that game either.

  6. frank stetson

    “Usually wrong … but rational .lol.” No need gilding the lily…. :>) Glad you enjoy the discussion. I do. Why some, who seem to have cogent thoughts, have to be so snarky is a mystery, lack of fiber? I can disagree with your opinions, correct perhaps just a few facts rarely, but think it’s great you have them. Otherwise we would just have taxing, spending and there would be no need for State Government. On with my story: I hear ya, but face it, we chose to leave Afghanistan, we didn’t get beat, we just couldn’t change the hearts and minds of these people to the point where they would die for democracy. And so we left, on our own schedule. I’m sorry we didn’t leave post Laden, would have been a decade’s better solution.

    Larry, I think we learned in Vietnam, and perhaps even before in the Asian theatre that there are places in the world that are very hard to take and if, in those places, the people don’t like our like our culture, willing to fight, and are willing to live medieval-style, we will need genocide, a lot of casualties, and a long time. Or a huge police force, forever. Genocide not quite our style, there’s only so much international policing we will put up with.

    Yes, the Russians outfox us, Putin is extremely shrewd and experienced. As far as I am concerned, he danced around Obama, a smart fellow, but outmatched by shrewd. He made Trump bow to his “power” where Trump could say he pushed Russia harder than anyone, but Russia did whatever it wanted, including a rampant disinformation campaign that continues today, hacking our elections, and hack-blackmailing our utility and industrial infrastructures. Heck, during these hacks and attacks, Trump was even shilling for Putin to join the G7 — if what fuckin world did that make any logical sense. With their very small Russian national budget, they spend it all on arms, hacking and low-tech disinformation operations and spend none of it on the people, and this is what they get. Even little NK played Trump, perhaps even worse, and for less money. China — they got a bit more balance, a lot less crazy than NK, a lot more resources, could be dangerous. But they have little experience at either making war materials or war. We on the other hand, are inventing next gen, real-world testing, training and practicing on a daily basis.
    Actively learning from real life experiences.

    We may miss an initial attack, we may lose a battle, but very little chance we will lose a war. The South, Berlin, Tokyo, and others throughout history lost not so much on strategy and tactics as they did on lack of men, materials, and fuel. Even our plucky patriots were up against the wall until the French stepped in with their resources. Remember the final scene, when the British lost that Xmas, they marched though our troops on their way out: on one side were the Americans, and on the other were the French. Pluck, skill, and passion win against superior force once in a blue moon. And often, geography represents part of your force, Afghanistan and the Russian Winter are probably the best examples of this across the entire globe.

    That said, you noted Reagan. IMO, he played a most dangerous game of chicken and, luckily, won. In the end, follow the money and that’s the real reason Regan’s bluff worked, they went broke. We spent em into the dirt. Gotta admire Ron, but what a freakin gamble IF it didn’t go right. I think even Ron was surprised that they collapsed.

    Biden, isolationist, in what universe? You’re opinion on this is wrong, based on facts. Being pro-Union, he may not be one-world, but he is in no way an isolationist. Nuff said. Xi can say anything he wants. Trump does. Paper never refuses ink and airwaves never refuse sound. Words count, but actions matter. And we will see. FYI, that’s why Trump sucks: his words are lies, lies so bad, that even his good actions are watered down by his lying rhetoric.

    What all of these authoritarians have in common is understanding US boundary conditions. We respect life and cultures a certain way. Mostly humane, mostly on the high moral ground. They leverage this. You’re right, Trump is different. For one thing, he has no boundaries, he has no moral compass, he doesn’t care about the life of others. He has zero consistency, no one has a clue what’s next. Putin played him, Kim completely abused him, I can go on, but he’s not exactly globally known as a Hawk, an American warrior, a person surrounded by talent, or even a deal maker — much less a great one. Mostly remembered as Captain Bones Spur, the leader of the sliver spoon deferment generation. At least based on his history, private and public.

    So I hear ya; China making noise about Taiwan. Yes, like oil, we really need those chips, Taiwan is integral to our industrial value chain, and I just don’t see Biden taking a pass on any incursions there.

    Think your view is valid enough. My major point was your seemingly feeling we are not militarily strong and that is just wrong. As to using it effectively given the guidance from the top political folks —- that’s a it depends and you are right, the withdrawal from Afghanistan does not leave a good taste in the mouth as to our performance. But if anyone equates Democrat with Dove, they need only to look at history.

    • Joseph S. Bruder

      I guess I hurt Larry’s little feelings. Or he’s afraid to engage me… He encourages snark when he insults his readers instead of actually trying to argue his points, or when he repeats his tired old Trumpian/Conservative/Republican tropes with no proof. How many times has he started his columns with a straw-man argument “Democrats (or Liberals, or Progressives) think blah-blah-blah” and then gone on from there with a rant about how Democrats (and/or Biden) will screw up blah-blah-blah and 3 other unrelated things? I guarantee you, every time he does that, I will call him out. And I’m prone to sarcasm, unless he actually has a well thought out and realistic argument.

      On the issue of China and Taiwan, we’re probably not that far apart… It started as a reasonably thoughtful article until Larry took the opinion of one guy, Haass, and used it as a bludgeon to bash Biden. This is a variation of the “All Democrats think…” column, but instead it’s “this guy is on an important committee, so it must be true”. It seems like Larry often uses Trump’s probable response to predict how Biden would respond. Sorry, but if all he wants to do is spend every argument bashing Biden, he’s going to get pushback, irreverent or not. He can carry hod for Trump Republicans all he wants, but he will (and should) get challenged.