Taiwan FTA Pro: China Threat Contention

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China is committed to a military take-over of Taiwan

Bill Bostock, May 11, 2022, China is building a military capable of taking over Taiwan by 2030, US intel chief says, https://www.businessinsider.com/china-building-military-capable-take-taiwan-by-2030-avril-haines-2022-5

A top US intelligence official said China is set on building a military capable of taking over Taiwan by 2030. “It’s our view that they are working hard to effectively put themselves into a position in which their military is capable of taking Taiwan,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Haines said the threat to Taiwan was “acute” between now and 2030. China has long said that Taiwan, an island nation of 23 million people located 100 miles off China’s east coast, must become part of the mainland. Taiwan has been self-ruling for decades and fiercely maintains its independence. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies on Capitol Hill in April 2021. Avril Haines. Pool/Getty Images Experts and Western officials have kept a close eye on China since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, hoping to glean whether the global backlash and threat of sanctions has deterred Beijing. “What is hard to tell is how, for example, whatever lessons China learns coming out of the Russia-Ukraine crisis might affect that timeline,” Haines said Tuesday. Senior Taiwanese officials fear China is building toward an invasion and the slogan “Today, Ukraine, tomorrow, Taiwan!” spread widely across Taiwanese social media after Russia invaded. Speaking on Saturday, CIA Director Bill Burns said the Ukraine crisis did not appear to have put China off entirely. “I don’t think for a minute it’s eroded Xi’s determination over time to gain control over Taiwan but I think its something that’s affecting their calculation about how and when they go about doing that,” he said, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The warnings from Haines and Burns came just days after Adm. Charles Richard, the head of the US Strategic Command, told US lawmakers that China “will likely use nuclear coercion to their advantage in the future.” “Their intent is to achieve the military capability to reunify Taiwan by 2027,” he said. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, China said it was committed to “resolving the Taiwan question in the new era,” euphemistically refer to China’s plans to bring the island country under its control. The time frame for the “new era” remains unclear. The US has publicly shown its support for Taiwan since Russia invaded Ukraine, with President Joe Biden dispatching a group of former US officials to Taipei in March. In recent weeks, the Biden administration quietly told Taiwan to start ordering US weapons that will maximize its chances should China invade, such as missiles and smaller arms for asymmetric warfare, The New York Times reported. In January, Qin Gang, China’s ambassador to the US, told NPR: “If Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the US, keep going down the road for independence, it most likely will involve China and the US … in a military conflict.” Chinese planes have carried out multiple training exercises near Taiwan’s air space in recent months.

Taiwan War is more likely than ever

Lai 21 – I-Chung, president of the Taiwan-based think tank The Prospect Foundation. “CHINESE WAR ON TAIWAN NOW MORE LIKELY THAN EVER”, ClingenDael Institute, https://spectator.clingendael.org/en/publication/chinese-war-taiwan-now-more-likely-ever, 11-03-2021

In his speech on 9 October 2021, celebrating the 1911 Xinhai Revolution which ended China’s last imperial dynasty, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to reach “peaceful unification” with Taiwan under a “one country, two systems” arrangement.[1]

Still, Xi has also repeatedly warned against “Taiwan independence”, arguing that the current Taiwanese government is the strongest enemy of Chinese unification and the biggest hurdle in the way of a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation”.[2] These kinds of statements reaffirm Xi’s clear understanding that as long as Taiwan remains independent, and unconquered, China’s dream of national greatness can never be realised.

Recent political trends in Taiwan do not bode well for Xi: Taiwanese opinion polls consistently show that only 7.1 per cent of the populace is leaning towards unification with China. This is a marginal group compared to the majority who prefers either the status quo (55.7 per cent), or is leaning towards full-fledged independence for Taiwan (31.5 per cent).[3]

Since support for unification with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is waning, Beijing seems to have concluded that time is not on their side, and that a different strategy vis-à-vis Taiwan may now be required.

A similar trend is clearly visible on the economic front: although exports to China (and Hong Kong) still dominate Taiwan’s overall external trade (43.9 per cent in 2020)[4], the emerging US-China trade war has turned the tables on Beijing and Taipei.

In the past, when China was its biggest export destination, the fear in Taiwan was that its economy could be held hostage by China should things go south. Today, the same figure actually indicates a new phenomenon of ‘reverse dependence’, where China’s economic dependency on Taiwan has grown. Taiwan exports large volumes of microchips and other high-tech semiconductors products to China, which are considered essential to China’s ambition to compete with the US and Europe. At the same time, Taiwan’s outward direct investment to China has decreased for several years in a row.[5]

It hardly needs reminding that for decades, China has considered its economic-financial ties with Taiwan as a key strategic weapon pressuring the Taiwanese people to accept Beijing’s plans for unification. This strategy came close to being successful after the global financial crisis of 2008, when China was considered the last resort by many Taiwanese companies who lost a big chunk of their traditional export market in the US and Europe.

Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou administration (2008-2016) encouraged Chinese tourism as an important source of income that could help sustain Taiwan’s faltering economic engine. These were the times when Chinese tourists and officials engaged in buying sprees in Taiwan, demonstrating their impressive purchasing power. Today, the situation in Taiwan is markedly different, and the admiration for China’s economic system has largely waned.

From a Chinese perspective, all this does not offer a rosy picture. Domestic sentiment in Taiwan is adamantly set against Beijing’s unification goal, which is backed by a resilient domestic economy that is less-and-less dependent upon its trade with the PRC.

Since China can no longer lure (or force) Taiwanese people to accept unification through economic means, Beijing seems to draw the conclusion that it should change tack. It is adopting a strategy of military provocation and coercion, combined with an assertive (and global) diplomatic isolation campaign –all aimed to force the Taiwanese people to give up their resistance.

This explains why today, we witness a noticeable increase in the frequency and scale of military harassment by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) towards Taiwan. For now, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is unlikely to cave under Chinese military pressure, which is growing by the day.

China escalates its military harassment In the first five days of October 2021, the PLA’s Air Force flew no less than 150 sorties with military aircraft, violating Taiwan’s airspace (or air defence identification zone; ADIZ). China started these provocations in 2016, but this was the most flagrant infringement ever.

The much less debated presence of the People’s Republic of China’s vessels drifting within Taiwanese waters also sets a worrying trend.[6] All these aerial and naval skirmishes take place against the backdrop of a looming military conflict between China and Taiwan. President Xi publicly refuses to rule out the use of force to settle the “unification issue” with Taiwan, and public statements from Beijing officials are becoming ever more belligerent.

A war of deliberation, of diversion, or from miscalculation? Chinese experts openly discuss the options for a forceful unification with or without military means.[7] These debates follow three different scenarios: a war of deliberation, a war of diversion, and a war from miscalculation. Each of these scenarios is based on different causes for a war and assumes different political dynamics.

In a war of deliberation, China is expected to launch a direct military campaign on Taiwan to force unification. Since unification (with Taiwan) is such a ‘sacred goal’ for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), failure would not be an option. This scenario requires thorough preparation and the mobilisation of a massive amount of military resources.

In a war of diversion, a completely different logic is followed. This scenario argues that President Xi could decide upon military action towards Taiwan should he feel threatened within his own CCP leadership circle. It is well known that Xi’s primary goal is to continue his political grip on China, but that he has created many domestic enemies due to his relentless anti-corruption campaign against his fellow CCP colleagues. Military action on Taiwan could drive the entire party to rally around Xi, meanwhile distracting the attention of the general public away from the failing domestic policies.

The third scenario suggests a possible war from miscalculation. Given the growing distrust between China and the US (and the West in general), miscommunication and misreading hostile intentions could well result in escalation towards a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Ever since Xi took office in 2013, China has made it clear that it will respond to every perceived hostile action in its strategic vicinity. Over the years, we have already seen numerous skirmishes between China and Taiwan (as well as the US and other countries) that are prone to military escalation.

Timing of a Chinese invasion As the level of Chinese military harassment increases dramatically, Taiwan is now debating the likelihood and timing, as well as the manner in which a possible cross-strait military conflict could be initiated by China. Conventional wisdom suggests that – based on the natural terrain for the landing operation and the known amphibious capability of China’s PLA – a Chinese invasion could not be conducted successfully, with limited costs.

What about the likelihood and the timing of such an invasion? The political calendar of China’s Communist Party would make an invasion unlikely in the next two years.

China hosts the Winter Olympics in Beijing in Spring 2022. Moreover, President Xi really wants to secure his third term as the leader of the CCP, which will be decided at the twentieth CCP Congress to be held before the end of 2022. Ruling for a third consecutive term would break with past practices and thus be deemed controversial. President Xi may therefore be disinclined to embark upon a risky military adventure before his third term is officially confirmed.

All this implies that the likelihood of a cross-Taiwan Strait military conflict could rapidly increase after 2022. In January 2024, presidential elections will be held in Taiwan. The intensification of Chinese military harassment against Taiwan since mid-2016 suggests that Beijing may be disinclined to tolerate the election of another Taiwanese president who is against “unification”. Faced with this option, Beijing may well choose to escalate its military provocations, and even engage in all-out military conflict, to sway the Taiwanese electorate towards “unification”.

US presidential elections are scheduled for November 2024. Within Taiwan, the theory is discussed that Beijing might want to use military coercion vis-à-vis Taiwan during the presidential power transition in the US, when the president is at his weakest and distracted by domestic power struggles. Therefore, timewise, the year 2024 offers itself as one of the more likely, dangerous strategic windows for a cross-Taiwan Strait military conflict initiated by China.

Another likely period of military action by China’s PLA towards Taiwan would be 2027, driven by the political pressures on Chinese rulers during the twenty-first CCP Congress which is scheduled at the end of that year.

It is widely believed that President Xi will have to deliver on his political promises and ambitions and show why he should deserve a (possibly) fourth term in office. It is also believed that the Chinese military advantage over Taiwan could be dwindling after 2027, since the advanced weaponry Taiwan has now purchased(and/or built itself) will be deployable around that year.

Although there are different assessments within the US military establishment regarding the likelihood of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan over the coming six to seven years, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence has already declared that the PLA could successfully launch an amphibious operation on Taiwan as early as 2025.

In conclusion, the strategic consensus in Taiwan is that while the timing and scale of a Chinese military operation against Taiwan remains unclear, a future PLA operation will inevitably escalate into a full-fledged occupation campaign of the island.

How will the United States respond? In their war plans against Taiwan, Chinese military planners are already making provisions for the likely US involvement in this armed conflict. It is generally believed that concerns and respect by the PLA for the US military capabilities in the Western Pacific is the main reason a war has been averted in this region over the past fifty years.

But this American deterrence posture is gradually crumbling. China’s political and military elites estimate that the military ‘power gap’ between China and the US – which has always been to the advantage of Washington – has shrunk quite dramatically since the global financial crisis of 2008.

Since 2008, China’s economy is booming, leaving the West (including the US) economically behind. This has given China the opportunity and self-confidence for more assertive, and even adventurous actions in its direct strategic vicinity and beyond.

Ukraine means US nuclear weapons won’t deter China from attacking Taiwan

DAVID SACKS is a Research Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, May 16, 2022, Foreign Affairs, What Is China Learning From Russia’s War in Ukraine?, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2022-05-16/what-china-learning-russias-war-ukraine

Potentially the most important lesson China has learned from war in Ukraine is that the United States will not contemplate direct military intervention against a nuclear-armed opponent. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States took direct military intervention off the table, with Biden warning that “direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War III.” Chinese analysts and policymakers have likely concluded that Russia’s nuclear arsenal deterred the United States from intervening and that nuclear weapons create more room for conventional operations. Chinese strategists likely believe that this validates the country’s decision to invest heavily in increasing its nuclear arsenal, which the U.S. Department of Defense recently estimated will reach at least 1,000 warheads within the decade. Moreover, having witnessed Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling, China may conclude that it could deter U.S. intervention on Taiwan’s behalf by raising its nuclear alert level or conducting nuclear tests at the outset of a conflict.

Taiwan war goes nuclear

Ayson 21 – Robert, Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. “NUCLEAR ESCALATION IN A TAIWAN STRAIT CRISIS?”, Nautilus Institute, https://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-special-reports/nuclear-escalation-in-a-taiwan-strait-crisis/, 05-19-2021

The Nuclear Dimension A military conflict in the Taiwan Strait will have a nuclear dimension regardless of whether the United States is directly involved. Both Taiwan and China know that the latter is nuclear armed and could, at least in theory – but in violation of its No First Use policy – use nuclear weapons against Taiwan.[39] The nuclear dimension is intensified if the United States is factored in, because it means that two nuclear-armed great powers are on opposing sides of an armed conflict. It is intensified further if we make the plausible assumption that one of the reasons that Taiwan is interested in protection from the United States is that the latter has nuclear weapons. America’s arsenal constitutes one of the main appeals of extended deterrence. But it also means that the United States needs to factor in China’s nuclear prowess when it considers the assistance it offers to Taiwan in an armed conflict and the actions it is willing to take against China’s forces.[40] There are more deliberate and less deliberate ways in which the threshold could be crossed from a Taiwan Strait conventional armed conflict to one involving nuclear weapons. In terms of the deliberate side of the equation, it cannot be exaggerated how big such a decision – by China, by the United States, and/or by both – would be for course of the war and the course of history. Why then might either of them be willing to violate the nuclear taboo that has been in place since 1945? Under what circumstances would such a step make any sense at all as a deliberate policy choice? We can take some solace that there is no obvious answer to these questions. But there are still some more detailed issues that need to be considered. For example, even if China has been emboldened by its dominant cross-Strait military position to intensify its conventional attacks on Taiwan as the crisis moves into war, it would end up encountering a different balance of military power to the extent that the United States becomes involved. Of course the latter comes with much greater immediate risks than it once did. American analysts may be increasingly aware of the costs and risks of intervening militarily in a Taiwan Strait crisis. They may wonder how quickly the US could reposition its forces for a more protracted conflict with China. Hence Washington probably has less scope to repeat its 1996 playbook. It is arguably harder for the United States to deter a PLA attack on Taiwan today than it was a quarter of a century ago. And it is certainly much harder for the United States to deter China from coercing Taiwan. Yet if Taiwanese and American deterrence of China has failed, and China is at war with Taiwan, Washington may very well decide to commit to a limited conventional war against China. (Strategic ambiguity raises questions about the time, place, nature and probability of an American response. But these questions don’t allow us to conclude that if China attacks Taiwan, the US won’t get involved in a fighting war). Notwithstanding China’s ability to put American forces at risk, American attacks on PLA force elements could have a devastating effect on China’s military options as the crisis escalates. Some of these measures could be undertaken from a distance: the United States could hold PLA mainland targets at risk even if China had a momentary advantage around Taiwan. And if China initially held the upper hand, Washington might have extra reasons to put mainland PLA targets at risk. If the United States pursued some of the conventional military steps implied earlier and degraded China’s military by attacking PLA forces situated on the mainland, (including through attacks on missile bases and command systems), then China would face a deteriorating correlation of forces. China’s sense of vulnerability will be much greater than America’s. There is more than a passing possibility that Beijing would feel its time for making choices that mattered was closing in. Perhaps in anticipation of these American measures, the Communist Party leadership may have already decided that it is time to use “all options are on the table” language, hinting at nuclear possibilities. Hinting is about as far as things might go. Writing over a decade ago, admittedly when the distribution of military power was more strongly in America’s favour, Baohui Zhang suggested that “the possibility of China threatening first use of nuclear weapons should not be ruled out when a real crisis in the Taiwan Strait makes U.S. military intervention seemingly unavoidable,”[41] which also reminds us that there is a difference between issuing a threat and carrying it out. But once those American precision attacks have begun (and China’s conventional and nuclear deterrence has failed to prevent such an intervention) the situation changes. If China’s options to manage and escalate the conventional conflict seem to be getting scarcer because of the effects of American strikes – actual as well as anticipated – what remaining choices will Beijing have aside from crossing the nuclear threshold and putting an end once and for all to its no first use declaratory policy? This runs against the assessment that “there is no evidence that China envisages using nuclear weapons first to gain a military advantage by destroying U.S. conventional forces or to gain a coercive advantage by demonstrating its greater resolve in a conflict with the United States.”[42] But this envisaging has not been occurring when China is losing a conventional war against the United States. And surely the possible targets for a nuclear attack by China would not be confined to the Strait, unraveling any remaining sense of a tacit agreement to limit the geographical confines of the conflict. Would Beijing consider nuclear attacks on US territories in the wider region – including Guam – if it really wanted to exercise some measure of intra-war deterrence (to make the costs of continuing too great for Washington to handle?) Would it want to hold hostage cities and other targets in the Pacific coast of the US mainland? The hostage-taking scenario may seem farfetched. But if China judged that America’s conventional attacks were sufficiently damaging to warrant the use of nuclear weapons, it would then be obliged to think ahead to what sort of American retaliation would ensue. Any such thinking would be bound to focus minds on the very significant asymmetry between China’s and America’s nuclear forces, and the absence of nuclear options on Beijing’s part that might communicate intentions of fighting a limited nuclear war[43] (however preposterous that notion sounds). But should escalation dominance in such a situation be judged by capability and doctrine (which would favour the United States) or by desperation (which might favour China)? At this point there is also an obligation to consider whether the United States might be the first of the two nuclear-armed states in this crisis to use nuclear weapons. There is the decades-old precedent of US nuclear threats against China in a Taiwan Strait crisis (which occurred several years before China itself had a nuclear arsenal). But the mid-1950s were the era of massive retaliation strategies, and America’s nuclear weapons were not used. And more than half a century later, United States decision-makers would also have some confidence that many of their military objectives – including knocking out PLA systems on the mainland – could be achieved by using advanced conventional systems (eg conventionally armed cruise missiles launched from offshore). Moreover, while some US attacking options would be vulnerable to China’s pressure (including forces based in regional bases) the United States would retain long-range options (including bombers) that would be very hard for the PLA to reach. But we need to ask whether the United States would use nuclear weapons first in a Taiwan Strait conflict if the conventional phase of that war was heading strongly in China’s favour? In other words, if it looked like China had a good prospect of turning military outcomes in the Strait into a political victory: unification by force. Taiwan’s future could head in almost any direction, including forceful absorption into China, without any obvious direct threat to America’s own survival. Yet Taiwan’s absorption would imply that Washington had been defeated by China in East Asia. America’s reputation amongst regional allies which depend on it (eg Japan and Korea) would have been seriously affected. Japan’s own security, including against fears of being trapped alongside a triumphant China, would be imperiled by the PLA’s ongoing presence in a Beijing-controlled Taiwan. The temptation for nuclear proliferation in East Asia after America’s failure to protect the interests of its allies would be strong. America’s national security policymakers might argue that despite the enormous costs of using nuclear weapons, (and the moral opprobrium that would follow) at stake in choosing not to use them was the future of the East Asian equilibrium on which many United States vital interests depend. What then of the less deliberate side of the nuclear ledger? Here I do not have in mind an entirely accidental nuclear war – one in which no obvious decision to proceed with hostile acts was involved. Instead there are risks in any close military-technical and doctrinal interdependence between the conventional and nuclear forces of participants in what begins as a limited war in the Taiwan Strait. The question here is a simple one about a complex situation: can either of the two sides (and especially the United States) put at risk the conventional forces of the other side (and especially China’s) without also endangering the target country’s nuclear forces? Endangering nuclear forces is not necessarily restricted to attacks on delivery systems and warheads – eg the nuclear armed variants of the PLA rocket forces. Also crucial are the command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaisance systems for these nuclear forces, without which their delivery to target may be compromised or prevented. At stake here is China’s confidence that it retains nuclear options in the event of a significant American conventional attack and America’s confidence that it can attack China’s conventional capabilities without unintentionally putting at risk China’s nuclear forces, creating more use them or lose them choices for the adversary. This problem is not confined to considerations of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. The late Desmond Ball and I argued a few years ago that any colocation of the PLA’s conventional and nuclear systems could create significant escalatory hazards in a conventional war between China and Japan which brought in the United States as Japan’s security guarantor.[44] Similar risks would be in play should some of the same mainland missile bases that China would use in conducting attacks against Taiwan allow for nuclear as well as conventional options. David Logan argues that while some of these comingling problems have been overstated and others remedied by China’s military reforms, still more may be emerging.[45] P.W. Singer and Ma Xiu have noted that while it was assumed that “the PLA was at least separating its nuclear and conventional forces into distinct and geographically discrete brigades” the deployment of the intermediate range DF26 missile with both conventional and nuclear payloads portends a new and worrying point of instability.[46] If the very same missile offers nuclear as well as conventional options to China, the inadvertent escalation problem raises its dangerous head. In a thoughtful exploration, Talmadge suggests that in the event the United States attacked the capabilities that China was most likely to use in a missile bombardment across the Strait, China’s leaders would still retain some of their most significant nuclear options (and the command and control systems that would permit their use).[47] What matters less, she argues, are the technical interconnections. What matters more is whether China’s leaders believe (wrongly or rightly) that the United States had decided on a counterforce mission, (conventional or nuclear) designed to disarm China. And this version of the nuclear temptation will grow for China’s leaders, “as more and more of their conventional and nuclear or nuclear-relevant assets come under threat during a conventional war.”[48] It needs hardly to be said that putting assets under threat is part of the modern American military philosophy. This would extend to targeting China’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, vital to PLA missile systems (and so reducing the threat to US forces) but also crucial to China’s ability to know what was going on.

Even absent a military invasion or nuclear escalation, China’s control of Taiwan collapses US leadership and global democracy

Chris Horton, 5-7, 22, The Atlantic, The Lessons Taiwan Is Learning From Ukraine, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2022/05/defend-taiwan-democracy-china-threat/629782/

To either side of the Atlantic, the repercussions of a successful Russian invasion of Ukraine are obvious: Countries once under Soviet sway would face a greater threat from Putin, who might continue his adventurism to shore up support as the Russian economy suffers from sanctions. Citizens in Western democracies are less aware, however, of the importance of Taiwan’s continued sovereignty to the current security order in Asia, and beyond. Geographically, China would control key sea lanes through the South and East China Seas, significantly increasing its ability to exert military pressure across the Western Pacific and political influence around the globe. Technologically, Beijing’s jurisdiction over the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facilities would put China in a commanding position to establish dominant military advantages, expand global economic dependencies, and set the standards for humankind’s technological future. Politically, “the loss of Taiwan would validate and propel Beijing’s narratives of the inevitability of American decline and the superiority of China’s ruthlessly efficient autocratic system over the incoherence and disunity of Western-style liberal democracy,” says Ivan Kanapathy, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments who previously served as the National Security Council’s deputy senior director for Asia and as a U.S. military attaché in Taipei. It would, he told me, “represent an epochal strategic shift of global power and influence.” As in Ukraine, the most important factor in Taiwan’s survival is the willingness of its people to defend its hard-earned democracy. Wang, the surgeon, told me that she’s already shifted from wanting to avoid getting involved in politics to feeling a sense of responsibility for do ing so, and hopes that other Taiwanese do too. “I want to be more brave, and am more willing to speak up about my feelings for my country,” she said. “No matter what happens, I will choose to stand up for Taiwan.”

Beyond Taiwan, China is an aggressive power that seeks do dominate Asia

Michael Beckley, March/April 2022, How Fear of China Is Forging a New World Order

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2021-02-14/china-new-world-order-enemies-my-enemy, MICHAEL BECKLEY is is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower.

Until now. Through a surge of repression and aggression, China has frightened countries near and far. It is acting belligerently in East Asia, trying to carve out exclusive economic zones in the global economy, and exporting digital systems that make authoritarianism more effective than ever. For the first time since the Cold War, a critical mass of countries face serious threats to their security, welfare, and ways of life—all emanating from a single source.

This moment of clarity has triggered a flurry of responses. China’s neighbors are arming themselves and aligning with outside powers to secure their territory and sea-lanes. Many of the world’s largest economies are collectively developing new trade, investment, and technology standards that implicitly discriminate against China. Democracies are gathering to devise strategies for combating authoritarianism at home and abroad, and new international organizations are popping up to coordinate the battle. Seen in real time, these efforts look scattershot. Step back from the day-to-day commotion, however, and a fuller picture emerges: for better or worse, competition with China is forging a new international order.



There has never been any doubt about what China wants, because Chinese leaders have declared the same objectives for decades: to keep the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in power, reabsorb Taiwan, control the East China and South China Seas, and return China to its rightful place as the dominant power in Asia and the most powerful country in the world. For most of the past four decades, the country took a relatively patient and peaceful approach to achieving these aims. Focused on economic growth and fearful of being shunned by the international community, China adopted a “peaceful rise” strategy, relying primarily on economic clout to advance its interests and generally following a maxim of the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping: “Hide your strength, bide your time.”

In recent years, however, China has expanded aggressively on multiple fronts. “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy has replaced friendship diplomacy. Perceived slights from foreigners, no matter how small, are met with North Korean–style condemnation. A combative attitude has seeped into every part of China’s foreign policy, and it is confronting many countries with their gravest threat in generations.

This threat is most apparent in maritime East Asia, where China is moving aggressively to cement its vast territorial claims. Beijing is churning out warships faster than any country has since World War II, and it has flooded Asian sea-lanes with Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels. It has strung military outposts across the South China Sea and dramatically increased its use of ship ramming and aerial interceptions to shove neighbors out of disputed areas. In the Taiwan Strait, Chinese military patrols, some involving a dozen warships and more than 50 combat aircraft, prowl the sea almost daily and simulate attacks on Taiwanese and U.S. targets. Chinese officials have told Western analysts that calls for an invasion of Taiwan are proliferating within the CCP. Pentagon officials worry that such an assault could be imminent.

China has gone on the economic offensive, too. Its latest five-year plan calls for dominating what Chinese officials call “chokepoints”—goods and services that other countries can’t live without—and then using that dominance, plus the lure of China’s domestic market, to browbeat countries into concessions. Toward that end, China has become the dominant dispenser of overseas loans, loading up more than 150 countries with over $1 trillion of debt. It has massively subsidized strategic industries to gain a monopoly on hundreds of vital products, and it has installed the hardware for digital networks in dozens of countries. Armed with economic leverage, it has used coercion against more than a dozen countries over the last few years. In many cases, the punishment has been disproportionate to the supposed crime—for example, slapping tariffs on many of Australia’s exports after that country requested an international investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

China has also become a potent antidemocratic force, selling advanced tools of tyranny around the world. By combining surveillance cameras with social media monitoring, artificial intelligence, biometrics, and speech and facial recognition technologies, the Chinese government has pioneered a system that allows dictators to watch citizens constantly and punish them instantly by blocking their access to finance, education, employment, telecommunications, or travel. The apparatus is a despot’s dream, and Chinese companies are already selling and operating aspects of it in more than 80 countries.

Dominance of Asia by China threatens the US and risks nuclear conflict

Brands 20 [HAL BRANDS is Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. “Don’t Let Great Powers Carve Up the World Spheres of Influence Are Unnecessary and Dangerous”, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2020-04-20/dont-let-great-powers-carve-world]

Opposition to spheres of influence, in other words, is a part of U.S. diplomatic DNA. The reason for this, Charles Edel and I argued in 2018, is that spheres of influence clash with fundamental tenets of U.S. foreign policy. Among them is the United States’ approach to security, which holds that safeguarding the country’s vital interests and physical well-being requires preventing rival powers from establishing a foothold in the Western Hemisphere or dominating strategically important regions overseas. Likewise, the United States’ emphasis on promoting liberty and free trade translates to a concern that spheres of influence—particularly those dominated by authoritarian powers—would impede the spread of U.S. values and allow hostile powers to block American trade and investment. Finally, spheres of influence do not mesh well with American exceptionalism—the notion that the United States should transcend the old, corrupt ways of balance-of-power diplomacy and establish a more humane, democratic system of international relations.

Of course, that intellectual tradition did not stop the United States from building its own sphere of influence in Latin America from the early nineteenth century onward, nor did it prevent it from drawing large chunks of Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East into a global sphere of influence after World War II. Yet the same tradition has led the United States to run its sphere of influence far more progressively than past great powers, which is why far more countries have sought to join that sphere than to leave it. And since hypocrisy is another venerable tradition in global affairs, it is not surprising that Americans would establish their own, relatively enlightened sphere of influence while denying the legitimacy of everyone else’s.

That endeavor reached its zenith in the post–Cold War era, when the collapse of the Soviet bloc made it possible to envision a world in which Washington’s sphere of influence—also known as theliberal international orderwas the only game in town. The United States maintained a world-beating military that could intervene around the globe; preserved and expanded a global alliance structure as a check on aggression; and sought to integrate potential challengers, namely Beijing and Moscow, into a U.S.-led system. It was a remarkably ambitious project, as Allison rightly notes, but it was the culmination of, rather than a departure from, a diplomatic tradition reaching back two centuries.


The post–Cold War moment is over, and the prospect of a divided world has returned. Russia is projecting power in the Middle East and staking a claim to dominance in its “near abroad.” China is seeking primacy in the western Pacific and Southeast Asia and using its diplomatic and economic influence to draw countries around the world more tightly into its orbit. Both have developed the tools needed to coerce their neighbors and keep U.S. forces at bay.

Allison is one of several analysts who have recently advanced the argument that the United States should make a virtue of necessity—that it should accept Russian and Chinese spheres of influence, encompassing some portion of eastern Europe and the western Pacific, as the price of stability and peace. The logic is twofold: first, to create a cleaner separation between contending parties by clearly marking where one’s influence ends and the other’s begins; and second, to reduce the chances of conflict by giving rising or resurgent powers a safe zone along their borders. In theory, this seems like a reasonable way of preventing competition from turning into outright conflict, especially given that countries such as Taiwan and the Baltic states lie thousands of miles from the United States but on the doorsteps of its rivals. Yet in reality, a spheres-of-influence world would bring more peril than safety.

Russia’s and China’s spheres of influence would inevitably be domains of coercion and authoritarianism. Both countries are run by illiberal, autocratic regimes; their leaders see democratic values as profoundly threatening to their political survival. If Moscow and Beijing dominated their respective neighborhoods, they would naturally seek to undermine democratic governments that resist their control—as China is already doing in Taiwan and as Russia is doing in Ukraine—or that challenge, through their very existence, the legitimacy of authoritarian rule. The practical consequence of acceding to authoritarian spheres of influence would be to intensify the crisis of democracy that afflicts the world today.

The United States would suffer economically, too. China, in particular, is a mercantilist power already working to turn Asian economies toward Beijing and could one day put the United States at a severe disadvantage on the world’s most economically dynamic continent. Washington should not concede a Chinese sphere of influence unless it is also willing to compromise the “Open Door” principles that have animated its statecraft for over a century.

Such costs might be acceptable in exchange for peace and security. But spheres of influence during the Cold War did not prevent the Soviets from repeatedly testing American redlines in Berlin, causing high-stakes crises in which nuclear war was a real possibility. Nor did those spheres prevent the two sides from competing sharply, and sometimes violently, throughout the “Third World.Throughout history, spheres-of-influence settlements, from the Thirty Years’ Peace between Athens and Sparta to the Peace of Amiens between the United Kingdom and Napoleonic France have often ended, sooner or later, in war.

An FTA with Taiwan will prevent this conflict with China in 3 ways.

First, Taiwan FTA sends a clear an unambiguous signal to China that is needed to prevent conflict


KARLA JONES/OCTOBER 15, 2021, American Legislative Exchange Council, A US-Taiwan Bilateral Trade Agreement Is a State Priority, https://alec.org/article/a-us-taiwan-bilateral-trade-agreement-is-a-state-priority/

Tangible reminders of America’s steadfast and unwavering support for Taiwan sends an unequivocal message to China that the United States places a high value on the US-Taiwan relationship. A bilateral trade agreement would benefit both nations and would underscore to the world that America views Taiwan’s sovereignty as inviolable and will honor its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances. These strategic frameworks are supported by ALEC model policy which can be accessed here. Recently, China has dramatically escalated military threats against Taiwan prompting Secretary of State Blinken to declare that the US is “… very concerned. …[T]he PRC’s provocative military activity near Taiwan … is destabilizing, … risks miscalculation, and … has the potential to undermine regional peace and stability.” Clear and unambiguous signals and communication are a surer way to prevent military conflict than strategic ambiguity.

Eliminating strategic ambiguity through an FTA and demonstrating a US commitment reduces the risk of China’s aggression and avoids a miscalculated war

Wang, June 2021, Robert S. Wang, a retired Foreign Service officer, is a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. During a 32-year career with the Department of State, Mr. Wang served overseas in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Taiwan and Beijing, where he was deputy chief of mission from 2011 to 2013. His last Foreign Service assignment before retiring in 2016 was as the U.S. senior official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (2013-2015). He was a senior adviser at Covington & Burling LLP (2016-2018) and a visiting fellow with the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS (2009-2010), Foreign Service Journal, Why a firm stand against Beijing’s intimidation and coercion of Taiwan is both timely and important right now, https://afsa.org/countering-chinas-intimidation-taiwan

Why a firm stand against Beijing’s intimidation and coercion of Taiwan is both timely and important right now.

On the first weekend following President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported back-to-back incursions by two large fleets of Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s self-declared southwestern air defense identification zone. On Jan. 23, the fleet comprised eight nuclear weapon–capable Chinese H-6K bomber planes, four J-16 fighter jets and one anti-submarine aircraft. This was followed the next day by another fleet of 12 fighters, two anti-submarine aircraft and a reconnaissance plane. Beijing repeated these exercises several times in the subsequent months.

Since the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, Beijing has markedly stepped up military pressure on Taipei. According to Taiwan, Beijing sent warplanes into the same area on at least 100 days in 2020. In January 2021, Chinese military planes flew into that zone 26 out of the first 30 days. Previously, such flights were usually conducted by one to three reconnaissance or anti-submarine warfare aircraft. According to Bernard Cole, a professor at the National War College, the latest incursions “demonstrate the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s ability to put together a multiplane strike, which we would likely see in the event of a hot war against Taiwan.” Additionally, Taiwan’s defense minister informed its legislature last October that nearly 50 Chinese aircraft had crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait in the first nine months of 2020.

Analysts have concluded that the latest intrusions are specifically intended to pose a direct challenge to the Biden administration regarding its future policy toward Taiwan and the region. On Jan. 23, for example, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office asserted that these exercises are designed as warnings to “separatists” in Taiwan and “external forces” who intend to interfere in China’s affairs. Following the exercises, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters: “The United States frequently sends aircraft and vessels into the South China Sea to flex its muscles. This is not conducive to peace and stability in the region.”

In response to the exercises, the State Department issued a press release: “The United States notes with concern the pattern of ongoing PRC attempts to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan.” State added: “The United States will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan” and “to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability.” It concluded: “Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.”

Just How Solid Is the Commitment?

Despite such official statements, Richard Haass and David Sacks at the Council on Foreign Relations note in a September 2020 Foreign Affairs article that the U.S. government has maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over the past four decades that “resisted answering the question of whether the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China mounted an armed attack.” They note that the Taiwan Relations Act only calls on the United States to “provide Taiwan arms of a defensive character” and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”

Does the United States view the step-up of Chinese military exercises against Taiwan as justifiable or as a “form of coercion”?

While acknowledging that this policy has maintained cross-strait stability thus far, Haass and Sacks argue that ambiguity is “unlikely to deter an increasingly assertive China with growing military capabilities.” They recommend that the U.S. government “introduce a policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United States would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan” while clearly stating its adherence to the one-China policy. They warn that the failure of the United States to respond to such a Chinese use of force would undermine U.S. credibility among its allies, such as Japan and South Korea, across the region.

Following publication of this article, other foreign policy analysts raised alarms about the proposed change in the U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity.” Some contend that a change was unnecessary because China, despite its provocative military exercises, is still unlikely to attack Taiwan. Others argue that Beijing’s increasing pressure on Taiwan could be seen as a reaction to provocative U.S. and Taiwanese policies. Some are concerned that such a commitment would demand a much larger defense budget than the United States could afford. Above all, these analysts express concerns that a policy of “strategic clarity” with respect to Taiwan could actually provoke Beijing into launching an attack on Taiwan.

Putting aside the merits of these arguments for the moment, this open debate has highlighted questions about the credibility of U.S. commitments to Taipei. Does the United States view the step-up of Chinese military exercises against Taiwan as justifiable or as a “form of coercion”? If the former, would the United States intervene to help defend Taiwan? If the latter, does the U.S. government currently have the political will or capacity to help defend Taiwan? In a recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, while a majority of American opinion leaders favored the use of U.S. troops to support Taiwan in a Chinese invasion, only about 40 percent of the general public favored such action. It thus appears that there is still significant uncertainty among Americans as to whether the United States should or will actually defend Taiwan against an increasingly powerful Chinese military.

A Moment for Clarity

President Biden has underscored repeatedly that he considers the promotion of democracy and human rights values abroad as one of his highest foreign policy priorities. He indicated that in his first year in office, the United States will host a global Summit for Democracy to, as he put it in an article in the March/April 2020 Foreign Affairs, “renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world” and “bring together the world’s democracies to strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront nations that are backsliding, and forge a common agenda to fight corruption, defend against authoritarianism and advance human rights.” With reference to Taiwan, Biden wrote in an Oct. 22, 2020, opinion piece in the World Journal (a Taiwanese Chinese-language newspaper published in America) that the United States will “stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security and values in the Asia-Pacific region. That includes deepening our ties with Taiwan, a leading democracy, major economy, technology powerhouse—and a shining example of how an open society can effectively contain COVID-19.”

President Biden has also made clear that he sees China as currently posing the top foreign policy challenge for this administration. In his first media interview in February, Biden said that, while needing to avoid conflict, he expected “extreme competition” with China. According to a White House readout of his phone conversation with China’s President Xi Jinping, “President Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan.”

President Biden has made clear that he sees China as currently posing the top foreign policy challenge for this administration.

In his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken labeled China’s internment of an estimated 1 million minority Uyghurs as “genocide,” and said in a subsequent interview that the United States will be “building stronger alliances, standing up for our values, investing in our people, and making sure our military is properly postured.” Similarly, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in an event hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace that the United States will “speak with clarity and consistency in regard to China and other foreign policy issues.” Specifically, he said this includes “being prepared to act as well as to impose costs for what China is doing in Xinjiang, what it’s doing in Hong Kong, and for the bellicosity and threats that it is projecting towards Taiwan.”

Given the above, it seems this is a critical moment as well as an opportunity for President Biden to underscore his foreign policy priorities by increasing the clarity of U.S. commitment not only to defend Taiwan but, more pointedly, to defend its democracy against China’s blatant resort to military and other forms of coercion “to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means.” In their recent public statements, President Biden and his team have called out Beijing for its coercive actions, emphasizing that any cross-strait agreement must be “consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan.” In mid-April, former Senator Chris Dodd, accompanied by former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and Jim Steinberg, traveled to Taiwan and met with President Tsai Ing-wen to deliver a personal message from President Biden reaffirming U.S. support for Taiwan on the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act. The recent deployment of U.S. aircraft carrier groups to the region and transits through the Taiwan Strait have further underscored U.S. commitment.

With or without an explicit security guarantee, it is thus essential that the United States continue to affirm and demonstrate U.S. political will and capacity to counter Chinese military pressure against Taiwan. Congress should pass the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act to demonstrate bipartisan support and provide authorization to use military force, if necessary. The United States also needs to move quickly to expand bilateral trade, social and cultural ties (e.g., inviting Taiwan to the Summit for Democracy) and negotiating a trade agreement, to strengthen the relationship. This will help build more support among Americans for the need to defend Taiwan and underscore to Taiwan and our allies, as well as such strategic competitors as China and Russia, that the United States is committed to the principles of democracy and human rights, and intends to impose costs and undertake risks to defend democracies and advance the values of the rules-based liberal international order.


…Strategic Ambiguity and Its Risks

There are risks to maintaining the strategy of ambiguity as Chinese military power builds up in the coming years. First, this strategy will not reduce Beijing’s increasing assertiveness toward Taiwan and the region. From my own involvement in many years of negotiations with Chinese officials, it is my view that Beijing will see a U.S. effort to hang on to this strategy simply as a sign of weakness and fear, not clever diplomacy, and will seek to exploit this weakness by increasing the pressure and pushing for concessions from both Taiwan and the United States. I believe we are seeing this play out today. In time, the lack of a clear U.S. commitment will allow Beijing to succeed in sowing doubts about U.S. credibility—not only among the people of Taiwan, but in the region and the world as a whole.

Beijing will continue to escalate its military pressure as it senses uncertainty and weakness on the part of the United States.

Second, as the people of Taiwan sense a relatively weakened U.S. commitment, many more will succumb to Chinese pressures and seek a cross-strait compromise that does not reflect their own values and interests, but their fears. For others, especially in the pro-independence camp, this could result in greater frustration and even desperation that could lead to an open push for Taiwan independence to force the hands of both Beijing and the United States. This would create a serious dilemma for the United States either to defend Taiwan or simply accept a Beijing-imposed reunification solution along the lines of Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems.” The former could lead to an armed conflict, while the latter would essentially destroy Taiwan’s democracy and U.S. international credibility for the foreseeable future.

Finally, a strategy of ambiguity raises the probability of miscalculation because Beijing will continue to escalate its military pressure as it senses uncertainty and weakness on the part of the United States. This could create situations in which the two militaries misinterpret each other’s intentions in particular cases that result in an accidental military conflict. To avoid this, as National Security Adviser Sullivan has said, the United States must “speak with clarity and consistency in regard to China and other foreign policy issues.”

Can the United States Deliver?

Addressing the Munich Security Conference in mid-February, President Biden announced to the world that “America is back.” On China, he said: “We must prepare together for long-term strategic competition with China. How the United States, Europe and Asia work together to secure the peace and defend our shared values and advance our prosperity across the Pacific will be among the most consequential efforts we undertake. Competition with China is going to be stiff. That’s what I expect, and that’s what I welcome, because I believe in the global system Europe and the United States, together with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, worked so hard to build over the last 70 years.”

It seems to me that how the United States confronts Beijing’s increasing military threats and coercion against Taiwan and its democracy will be the key test as to whether the United States can deliver on its global commitment.

Second, an FTA would strengthen defense investment and increase deterrence

Doug Bandow, CATO Institute, March 23, 2020, The U.S. Should Offer Taiwan a Free‐​Trade Agreement, https://www.cato.org/commentary/us-should-offer-taiwan-free-trade-agreement

A trade agreement would also improve Taipei’s ability to deter the PRC militarily through increased defense investment, buttressed by continued U.S. weapons sales, despite Beijing’s very loud displeasure. A Taiwan made more prosperous through a trade deal would be better able to protect itself. Taipei doesn’t have to defeat the PRC. It only needs to make the price of a Beijing victory unacceptably high.

Third, an FTA protects US access to Taiwan’s knowledge of overcoming China’s A2/AD

Blumenthal & Maza, 2019, Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and Sino-American relations. Mr. Blumenthal has both served in and advised the U.S. government on China issues for over a decade. From 2001 to 2004, he served as senior director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia at the Department of Defense. Additionally, he served as a commissioner on the congressionally-mandated U.S.- China Economic and Security Review Commission since 2006-2012, and held the position of vice chairman in 2007. He has also served on the Academic Advisory Board of the congressional U.S.-China Working Group. Mr. Blumenthal is the co-author of “An Awkward Embrace: The United States and China in the 21st Century” (AEI Press, November 2012). Michael Mazza is a visiting fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he analyzes U.S. defense policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Chinese military modernization, cross–Taiwan Strait relations, Korean Peninsula security, and U.S. strategy in Southeast Asia. Mr. Mazza has contributed to numerous AEI studies on Asian security issues. He was recognized as a 2010-2011 Foreign Policy Initiative Future Leader, A Golden Opportunity for a. U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement, https://project2049.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/US_TW_Trade_Blumenthal_Mazza_P2049_021419.pdf

One of the greatest challenges to the U.S. military’s ability to operate in the Western Pacific is China’s employment of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. These capabilities threaten ships at sea, planes in the air, and even satellites in space in order to contest American access to waters and skies it has long dominated. In the event of a conflict, besides sinking warships and downing combat aircraft, Chinese forces will seek to essentially “blind” and “deafen” U.S. forces by degrading their ability to conduct reconnaissance and to communicate with each other and with allied units. For understandable reasons, China’s developing A2/AD capabilities have caused much consternation in the United States. As American planners focus on countering these capabilities, it is easy to forget that Asian partners like Taiwan live within China’s A2/AD envelope—24 hours a day, seven days a week. That experience, and Taiwan’s urgent need to manage the threat, should provide impetus for cooperation between American and Taiwan defense industries. Taiwan’s location, moreover, makes it an optimal testing ground for innovative approaches to countering or negating A2/AD threats. Such cooperation would be predicated on Taiwan passing very strong security clearance and assurance laws, and significantly expanding counter-espionage efforts; Taiwan should be a very dangerous place for Chinese intelligence operatives to work. The “Five Eyes” standards can be a template. To be sure, this is ancillary to an FTA but the passage of comprehensive secrecy laws can be appendices to the main agreement.