This article appeared on October 21, 2020 in my column at The Washington Times.
Taiwan is about to be attacked by China. America’s enduring policy of strategic ambiguity about the Sino-Taiwan dispute has failed. The bitter fruits of that failed program are about to be harvested by China — all at a time when America is paralyzed by domestic strife. Beijing has watched the chaos consuming the United States with great satisfaction. The distractions that Americans are experiencing present a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Beijing’s leaders to achieve their grandest geopolitical objective: conquering Taiwan.
As the United States dithers, its forces are out of position to rebuff any concerted Chinese offensive on Taiwan. Victory in modern warfare is contingent on two interrelated factors: speedy decision-making augmented by reliable, actionable intelligence on the enemy’s capabilities and intentions. With the U.S. military dispersed around the globe and the national command authority increasingly divided on matters of policy, such as whether or not to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, speedy decision-making during a crisis becomes impossible.
Meanwhile, just as with Russia, China has made significant investments in its disinformation capabilities in order to better sow chaos in the United States. Recently, the State Department closed down the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, for having been an epicenter of espionage activity in the United States, and Chinese agents were spotted among BLM and Antifa riots. Similarly, the federal government suspects the Chinese consulate in New York of being a hotbed of spying in the United States.
Disinformation, political provocation and espionage are all attempts on the part of China to cloud American perceptions of the geopolitical situation in Asia. By exacerbating America’s political divide to the point that there is likely to be a succession crisis in the United States that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to mediate, China will have a free hand to alter the geopolitical conditions in the Indo-Pacific in their favor.
Once America resolves its political crisis and finally pulls itself from the doldrums of the economic downturn instigated by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus from Wuhan, China, it will once again be able to act decisively in world affairs. When that time comes, though, China hopes it will have fully ensconced itself in Taiwan and made any attempt by the United States to wrest Taiwan from China far too costly of an endeavor.
For China, conquering Taiwan and sweeping away the democratic regime there is essential. Taiwan was the last refuge for the Chinese Nationalist forces that had unsuccessfully opposed the Chinese Communist takeover of the mainland. Its continued existence as a separate entity is an affront to the prestige of the Chinese Communist Party today.
What’s more, Taiwan’s strategic partnership with the United States gives the U.S. military and its allies unprecedented power projection capabilities into Chinese territory (Gen. Douglas MacArthur once referred to Taiwan as “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier”). Should China manage to absorb Taiwan, though, the Chinese would not only score major prestige points, but they would also manage to push the Americans well beyond their territory.
China’s conquest of Taiwan would afford Beijing the ability to directly threaten their longtime Japanese foes and force them to kowtow to Beijing’s wishes. Beyond that, China would eventually be able to project its power beyond the Indo-Pacific into the Western Hemisphere — directly impinging on the national security of the United States in ways similar to how Beijing present American actions in the Pacific threatening Chinese national security.
China’s leader, President-for-life Xi Jinping, rose to power on the promise that he alone would bring about the “China Dream.” This is the current Chinese strategy for displacing the United States as the world’s hegemonic power by the 100th year anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s victory over the Chinese Nationalists in 1949. Mr. Xi is focused on achieving this ambition at all costs.
Rudyard Kipling, the master wordsmith of Britain’s long-dead empire, once admonished his readers that “gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” Mr. Xi understands that which every empire builder throughout history has known: Human agency can reshape the destiny of the world, no matter how dismal the odds may seem. All one must do is have the gumption take necessary action in pursuit of subordinating all others to one’s growing empire.
To counteract Mr. Xi’s great Taiwan temptation, the Trump administration must sell Taiwan the F-35 warplanes they’ve desired while moving sizable numbers of U.S. forces onto Taiwan itself. Failure to do this now will only invite Chinese attack later. Washington should also move strategic weapons that would threaten China itself, should it attempt to attack Taiwan.
Time is not on America’s — or Taiwan’s — side. China is going to strike. The United States will have lost this critical engagement with China over Taiwan if it simply waits to respond to a full-throated Chinese attack on the besieged island — especially if America is mired in another election crisis. By placing American forces directly in the path of China’s military, though, it might dissuade China from taking military action long enough to allow for the United States to get its house in order and focus its attention on containing China.
• Brandon J. Weichert is the author of “Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower” (Republic Book Publishers) is available now on Amazon and other book retailers. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.