Relax … China will not invade Taiwan
Of the many legitimate concerns we might have regarding China, an invasion of Taiwan is not one of them. I have expressed that opinion in several earlier commentaries. Apparently, the big guys are agreeing.
This time the opinion was expressed by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a podcast discussion with Britain’s former M16 head Sir Richard Dearlove and international reporter Julia Macfarlane.
According to the report of the discussion in The Hill, Gates said the possibility of an invasion is “very low.” I put it close to zero. Although Gates and I proffered different reasons, they go to the same conclusion. Gates noted that “The Chinese have never undertaken an amphibious operation. It would look something like D-Day, and it would have to be huge, and it would require a lot of softening up.”
The report in The Hill contained a grievous error that leads to a lot of misunderstanding of the China/Taiwan relationship. It stated that “Taiwan says it is an independent country, while Beijing insists the island is part of China.” Actually, the island has never declared itself as an independent nation. Furthermore, no nations treat it as an independent nation – with less than half a dozen maintaining a formal embassy on the island.
Yes, the United States provides defensive weapons to Taiwan – and maintains a critical trade relationship – but does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. The United States maintains a “One China” policy, meaning that Taiwan is basically a break-away province of the Peoples’ Republic of China. That is why Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations – and why it participates in many international competitive events under the Mainland Chinese banner.
According to Gates, China has a full range of options short of an invasion to “bring Taiwan to its knees.” He mentioned “enormous” cyber and economic pressures as a couple of options. He said these would “create huge incentives for Taiwan to have a very different attitude toward China.”
As a top military strategist, Gates bases his opinion on raw power, but I see important cultural reasons why Xi Jinping will not be a Vladimir Putin.
From the last days of the Qing Dynasty to a modern communist state, China has not been a conquering nation in the tradition of Russia. Outside of a few border disputes, China seems content to compete economically and diplomatically within its borders. That is not to say they are not adversarial to the interests of the United States – or do not engage in unfair and illegal practices – but just not into invading and subjugating.
Also, the relations between Mainland China and Taiwan became congenial after China took down the so-called Bamboo Curtain. Tourism and trade began to flourish between Beijing and Taipei – with Taiwan becoming the number one investor in Mainland China.
Many of the descendants of those who fled the Communist Revolution have ancestors buried on the Mainland. They still feel a connection. It would be a mistake to fail to realize that there is a sizeable minority in Taiwan who would like to see reunification with the Mainland – although some of Xi’s more autocratic policies may be chilling those thoughts.
One has to keep in mind that Chiang Kai Shek did not escape to Taiwan. He invaded it. There remains a schism between the ancestor of Chiang and the indigenous Taiwanese. Even after more than 70 years, many of the original Taiwanese would like to see the invaders go home.
Conversely, there is virtually no sentiment among the Mainland Chinese people for an invasion of Taiwan. Many view them as family. As long as they can visit back and forth – and do business – the idea of a bloody war is repugnant to both sides.
The official U.S. policy is to promote a peaceful reunification of the Island and the Mainland. In many ways that was moving along rather smoothly until Xi started acting like a brutal autocrat. The most unsettling matter has been his crushing of the democracy movement in Hong Kong and the Orwellian-style social control. While the Taiwanese may envision reunification with Beijing, they do not want to be subjugated to the oppressive policies they see in Hong Kong or on the Mainland.
That means that for the time being, Taiwan will function as a quasi-independent entity. Xi’s policies may have put off reunification to a more distant future, but the Chinese on both sides are very patient. There is nothing to precipitate an invasion.
And Xi well understands that an invasion would be difficult, bloody, and require a prolonged period of Marshal Law and violent resistance. It would make Putin’s invasion of Ukraine look like a cakewalk.
More concerning issues between China and the United States are corrupt trade policies and control of the South China Sea and the Straits of Taiwan. We engage the former with sanctions and tariffs and the latter with what was once called “gun boat diplomacy.” But those are issues for later commentaries.
So, there ‘tis.