Pelosi’s Ill-Advised Taiwan Visit

The Speaker's trip was reckless, needlessly escalating an already tense situation.

NYT (“Welcomed by Taiwan, Pelosi Leaves Rising Tensions With China in Her Wake“):

After weeks of silence ahead of a high-stakes visit to Taiwan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was anything but understated on Wednesday during a day of high-profile meetings in which she offered support for Taiwan and irked China.

Ms. Pelosi met with Taiwanese lawmakers and then with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, offering full-throated assurances of U.S. support for the island democracy that China claims as its own. In the whirlwind day of events, she was welcomed by crowds of supporters waving banners and followed by media and protesters, her closely tracked meetings and movements streamed partially online.

In her wake, she set the stage for new brinkmanship between China and the United States over power and influence in Asia. Taiwan is now bracing for Beijing to begin live-fire military drills on Thursday — an escalation without recent historical precedent — that could encircle the island and drop missiles into seas only 10 miles from its coast.

“Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,” Ms. Pelosi said during a meeting with the Taiwanese president. “America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad.”

The meetings, though light on substance, were widely welcomed in Taiwan as a symbolic victory. Ms. Pelosi’s trip was a rare moment when a major foreign power publicly showed support for the island in the face of vehement opposition from China. Ms. Pelosi made the trip despite discouragement from President Biden, and was the highest-ranking member of the United States government to visit the island in 25 years.

The events presented an affront to China and its leader, Xi Jinping.

Mr. Xi has made unifying Taiwan with China a primary goal of his rule, and his defense minister warned in June that Beijing would not hesitate to fight for the island. The Chinese government filed a formal protest with the U.S. State Department over Ms. Pelosi’s visit.

Ms. Pelosi, who headed to South Korea late Wednesday afternoon, offered praise for Taiwan’s leaders and met with human rights activists. At every moment she was conveying an unmistakable message: Beijing can isolate Taiwan, but it cannot stop American leaders from traveling there.

Reuters (“China fires missiles into waters off Taiwan in largest ever drills“) follows up on the show of force:

China fired multiple missiles around Taiwan on Thursday, launching unprecedented military drills a day after a visit by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the self-ruled island that Beijing regards as its sovereign territory.

The exercises, China’s largest ever in the Taiwan Strait, began as scheduled at midday and included live-firing in the waters to the north, south and east of Taiwan, bringing tensions in the area to their highest in a quarter century.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command said at around 3:30 p.m. (0730 GMT) it had completed multiple firings of conventional missiles in waters off the eastern coast of Taiwan as part of planned exercises in six different zones that Beijing has said will run until noon on Sunday.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said 11 Chinese Dongfeng ballistic missiles had been fired in waters around the island. The last time China fired missiles into waters around Taiwan was in 1996.

The Economist (“Nancy Pelosi has left Taiwan. The real crisis may be just beginning“):

For more than a decade, first as vice-president and now as president, Joe Biden has told the Chinese that the only thing worse than an intended conflict is an unintended one. The accident he feared may now be materialising. A visit by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, to the self-governing island of Taiwan has enraged the rulers of mainland China, who claim it, and wrong-footed the Biden administration. Some are already speaking of the “Fourth Taiwan Strait crisis”, which is liable to be worse than the third confrontation of 1995-96.

The rest, alas, is paywalled and I’m not a subscriber.

So, what was she thinking? She published an op-ed in WaPo (“Nancy Pelosi: Why I’m leading a congressional delegation to Taiwan“) just ahead of her trip.

Some 43 years ago, the United States Congress overwhelmingly passed — and President Jimmy Carter signed into law — the Taiwan Relations Act, one of the most important pillars of U.S. foreign policy in the Asia Pacific.

The Taiwan Relations Act set out America’s commitment to a democratic Taiwan, providing the framework for an economic and diplomatic relationship that would quickly flourish into a key partnership. It fostered a deep friendship rooted in shared interests and values: self-determination and self-government, democracy and freedom, human dignity and human rights.

And it made a solemn vow by the United States to support the defense of Taiwan: “to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means … a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.”

Today, America must remember that vow. We must stand by Taiwan, which is an island of resilience. Taiwan is a leader in governance: currently, in addressing the covid-19 pandemic and championing environmental conservation and climate action. It is a leader in peace, security and economic dynamism: with an entrepreneurial spirit, culture of innovation and technological prowess that are envies of the world.

Yet, disturbingly, this vibrant, robust democracy — named one of the freest in the world by Freedom House and proudly led by a woman, President Tsai Ing-wen — is under threat.

In recent years, Beijing has dramatically intensified tensions with Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has ramped up patrols of bombers, fighter jets and surveillance aircraft near and even over Taiwan’s air defense zone, leading the U.S. Defense Department to conclude that China’s army is “likely preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with the PRC by force.”

So, in principle, I agree with her. But the trip was a needless provocation and, frankly, stupid.

The essence of our relationships with China and Taiwan is a bizarre but necessary legal fiction, the One China policy. We treat Taiwan as an independent country and have pledged to defend it from an attack by China. At the same time, to allow China to save face, we agree to pretend that China and Taiwan, collectively, are “China” and do not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. So, we don’t have an embassy in Taipei; we have an Institute. It’s all a complete sham and everyone knows it. But it allows Beijing to pretend that Taiwan is considered part of their country, which they consider existential. They simply have to go to war if Taiwan declares itself independent.

This has been a decades-long passion project for Pelosi. And, again, she’s not wrong in principle. But the President of the United States, not the Speaker of the House, is our top diplomat. The President, not the Speaker, decides which countries we recognize. It simply can’t be any other way.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Pelosi is far from perfect, but she is tough as nails and right on democracy over autocracy. As such, any commentary that travels in China’s shadow instead of the light of freedom feels like wasteful handwringing in the face of a constant assault on liberty. Showing resolve in support of a government of the people is no mark of shame or stupidity.

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  2. Scott says:

    On the other hand, this allows Biden and company more room to maneuver without Republicans pretending to be tough. Possibly it will also shore up support among the other Indo-Pacific nations. In fact, there is an ASEAN summit going on right now in Cambodia. Reminding those nations that the US is not exactly weak is a plus.

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  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Those in Biden’s FP sphere were correct in attempting to dissuade her, as not provoking Xi was the cautious thing to do. But there is another side of the argument that America needs to show support for democratic nations and those pursuing democracy, which is what her trip represents. A bi-product of this has been a very rare showing of overwhelmingly bipartisan support for her trip.

    Congresses willingness to support Taiwan, strengthens Biden’s hand in the admin’s jousting with China as it shows support for stronger actions and eliminates any thought that Biden lacks backing for his policies. But indeed there is fallout coming.

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  4. Jen says:

    I think this was probably well-orchestrated.

    As soon as Xi basically said “you can’t do this,” we had to do something. He doesn’t get to dictate what we do, and allowing it to appear as though his warning influenced us would make the US look pretty weak.

    Pelosi going “on her own” (wink, wink) provides Biden enough distance to say he tried to keep her from going so it preserves the relationship with Xi/China, yet provides evidence to the region that Xi doesn’t get to call the shots.

    All in all, I think this was the only play possible given the circumstances.

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  5. Kathy says:

    Perhaps it’s time to rethink policy.

    What was the reason for the “one China” policy? Largely, I think, the need to split the Sino-Soviet alliance and keep it split. you know, Nixon went to China and ping-pong diplomacy and all that.

    Since then, though, the USSR collapsed, China began to flex its muscles as a corrupt world power, and Xi isn’t at all shy to prop up Putin (albeit for a price).

    So, other than catering to China’s overinflated ego, does the US have a real national interest in continuing this policy?

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    @Jen: What Jen said about being well orchestrated. All the analysis I’ve seen completely omits a hugely important piece of data – we were not in a stable mode before this happened. For several years China has been ramping up military maneuvers around Taiwan and ever more belligerently attempting to dictate how other countries are allowed to interact with Taiwan. They appear to be preparing the Chinese people for an attack. So even from the outside it seems a very real possibility that China may make a military play to take the island, especially if they feel we are distracted or stretched thin with Russia. And the administration has a heck of a lot better intel than us armchair observers. So I don’t think it was a “gaffe” at all when Biden said that we would defend Taiwan without offering the usual “provided they don’t needlessly provoke China”. And I don’t think Pelosi simply went rogue and headed over to Taiwan, especially with everything going on in Congress right now. There was a reason this happened now, urgently enough for her to leave DC in the midst of a number of crucial negotiations on domestic issues.

    Whether or not it will turn out to be the right thing to do, or merely spitting into the wind of an inevitable Chinese assault is something the history books can decide. But taking things at face value and accepting the story that Pelosi went over there on a whim in defiance of Joe Biden is hopelessly naïve.

    Remember all those pundits talking about how Biden was needlessly ramping up hostilities with Russia because it was obvious they didn’t intend to invade Ukraine?

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    I agree with @Jen and @MarkedMan.

    First, China cannot invade Taiwan. It doesn’t have the sealift to move a quarter million soldiers 100 miles and keep them supplied. It can seize a couple of uninhabited islands. It can fire missiles into the water. (Hey, go for it.) It can intrude on Taiwan’s air space. It can boycott Taiwanese goods but gosh it’ll be hard to make some hi-tech things without Taiwan’s best toys.

    Wolf Warrior diplomacy and BRI debt traps are already setting back China’s diplomacy. They are already belligerently pushing into the South China Sea. At the same time they’re suffering something of a slow-motion economic collapse, as well as a demographic hollowing, as well as losing their position as a low-cost producer – Mexican workers are more productive. There is also evidence of a serious brain drain, as well as alienating foreign companies and losing foreign investment. They’ve called out tanks to bully demonstrators who just wanted their own money out of corrupt banks.

    China is in trouble. If they want a war, we close the Straits of Malacca, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and they live on a trickle of Russian pipeline gas, which I suppose will be easier with their entire export-oriented industrial base closed down.

    Given that at least in Xi’s mind a war for Taiwan is inevitable, better to have it now than wait ten years til they might manage to be ready. Imagine if in, say, 1936, the much larger French army and the much larger British navy had decided they didn’t like German ambitions. Better to have that fight then than in 1940. If China is determined on war, OK, let’s give them war.

    And no one tells the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives where she can travel.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: By the way, it’s pretty obvious that major companies are being advised that the risk of Chinese invasion is very real. Japanese, US, and European companies are lobbying for huge government investment in building semiconductor fabs outside of Taiwan. The US just past a huge bill to do just that. Sure, they are muttering about pandemic supply chain issues but this effort preceded COVID. Such facilities take years to plan and locate, and a number have already broken ground.

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  9. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:

    What was the reason for the “one China” policy?

    The same reason that most of the world refuses to recognize Taipei on an official basis, and that the UN booted Taiwan and gave the PRC the Security Council seat as “China”: you give considerable deference to the party with a billion people and nuclear weapons when they assert that Taiwan is a renegade province.

    Possibly worth noting that Taiwan would not be eligible for membership in a regional NATO-equivalent that used requirements similar to NATO’s. The ROC constitution still asserts that the mainland belongs to them. NATO requires that new members physically control all the territory they claim.

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  10. Scott says:

    And OBTW, while we are clucking about the One China policy and worrying about how China would respond, perhaps we should asked the Taiwanese about their position. Taiwan’s current government and President believes that Taiwan has their own nation and their own sovereignty regardless of what everyone else thinks.

    Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, has vowed to defend its sovereignty.

    Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, owes her presidency to her pledge to preserve the island’s sovereignty. Her meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, and Beijing’s response to the visit, are highlighting the complexity of that task.

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  11. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Japanese, US, and European companies are lobbying for huge government investment in building semiconductor fabs outside of Taiwan.

    And for the first time, it appears that TSMC is going to build fabs capable of manufacturing their leading edge designs outside of Taiwan. If the PRC wanted to, they could eliminate TSMC’s entire capability for 10nm and smaller designs in a matter of minutes with a few ballistic missiles loaded with conventional explosives fired across the strait.

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  12. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    So, other than catering to China’s overinflated ego, does the US have a real national interest in continuing this policy?

    Yes. At least for the time being. People don’t realize just how dependent the US and EU are on China for manufacturing. It’s not just iPhones and tchotchkes, it’s almost everything. Being there for 6 years really opened my eyes to this. For automobiles alone, I was in factories that made door locks, bumpers, alternators, coolant reservoirs, seatbelts, carpeting, insulation, and virtually every injection-molded part on a car.

    Another aspect is that EU companies (especially German) use China to make the machines that make the machines that are used in the US and EU to build stuff.

    Until that manufacturing can be moved out of China–which will take at least a decade to do “safely”–we’re dependent on them for a vast section of our economic stability and our daily lives.

    Companies are already starting to move operations to Mexico, South America, Vietnam, and other places that are safer. But they can’t just pull up stakes and head out. First of all, it takes years to get proper permissions to set up a business in a new country and actually build the factories. Second, a sudden pullout from China would come with serious losses (not just financially, but in machinery and other capital) for the company, and possible imprisonment of the ex-pat staff.

    “Just leave China” isn’t as simple as some people make it out to be.

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  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Mu Yixiao: I think there’s some substance to what you say.

    And, China should not get to have it both ways. It doesn’t get to violate self-determination and remain a trading partner. We really don’t want to make exceptions for them. You know, “No bullying, except if you’re making us rich!”

    It would hurt us to pull out, for sure. Let’s not forget how much it would hurt them, too.

    Politically, I think this coopts the “ignore Russia, focus on China” crowd, which is mostly R brilliantly.

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  14. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    The Chinas switch at the UN is related to the Sino-Soviet split. Nixon had been laying the groundwork diplomatically since his dirt term. he announced a visit to Red China on July 1971, the PRC was admitted to the UN in October 1971, and Nixon visited in February 1972.

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  15. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    First, China cannot invade Taiwan. It doesn’t have the sealift to move a quarter million soldiers 100 miles and keep them supplied.

    Perhaps you’ve heard of the ports of Shanghai and Hong Kong–with approximately 2,500 cargo ships docked at any one time, as well as several cruise liners.

    The PLA wouldn’t hesitate to commandeer those, fill them with troops and supplies, and head across the straight.

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  16. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Cain:

    If the PRC wanted to, they could eliminate TSMC’s entire capability for 10nm and smaller designs in a matter of minutes with a few ballistic missiles loaded with conventional explosives fired across the strait.

    This is true, but I suspect one of the reasons they are considering invasion is to get this technology. It may be more likely that the last thing Taiwan does before they are overrun is blow up the plants themselves

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  17. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    We absolutely need to pull out (at least significantly, if not entirely). And we need to call China on their behavior. It’s just not going to happen quickly.

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  18. JohnSF says:

    …which they consider existential. They simply have to go to war if Taiwan declares itself independent.

    Do they really have to?
    They might decide to, or want to, but there’s no additional law of gravity that says they must fall off that cliff.
    Would the Communist Party regime be overthrown by an outraged nationalist people?

    For the key element, the nationalists within the Party, its not that they have to; it’s that they want to, and decide to.
    Germany did not have go to war in the 1930’s for the Austria, Sudetenland, Danzig or wherever, despite their claims to “legitimate national sovereignty”.
    The National Socialist government wanted to obtain them (and more).

    If Xi, and other more realistic elements in the Chinese leadership, had any sense, they’d have started soft-pedalling the whole issue decades ago.
    Instead of playing up getting cheap cheers from a popular audience who’s views, for the most part, are irrelevant to the rulership of the state.

    What might happen is that Xi could face being toppled by rivals within the Party, and perhaps the PLA.
    But if Xi is so dependent on the ultra-nationalists for his survival, and they are so powerful within the Party State, that he would risk the annihilation of China to avoid loss of face, then China is becoming so existentially dangerous that confrontation now rather than later might make sense.

    There is always a strand of thought that advocates avoiding “destabilising confrontation” now in the hope that things will get better.
    Unfortunately, it does not always work that way.

    Russia was repeatedly offered “normalisation” it various points, from before the rise of Putin, to the Chechen War, after the invasion of Georgia in 2008, and even the Ukraine War of 2014.
    It achieved nothing.

    Similarly, China was offered full participation in the Western constructed international system, and full economic association, despite repeated trangressions re. intellectual property theft, South China Seas territory etc etc.
    Much good has it done in encouraging moderation of ambition.

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  19. Stormy Dragon says:

    The US Navy routinely sails ship through the Taiwan Strait. Is this a provocative act? Certainly, in that the ships are usually going out of their way to do it with no other goal than to poke a finger in Beijing’s eye.

    Why do we do it? Because the only alternative is a de facto acceptance of Beijing’s claim that it gets to decide who is allowed in the strait.

    So the question here, Dr. Joyner, is do you believe that it should be US policy that Beijing has a veto on who is allowed to travel to Taiwan? If so, that’s actually a major shift in US policy on Taiwan and a major concession to Beijing. If not, then it is necessary to regularly send provocative delegations to demonstrate that Beijing doesn’t have this power.

    PS – I don’t recall anyone denouncing the recklessness of the Republican senate delegation that visited Taiwan in April. Strange.

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  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    Picture the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Now picture the armies coming ashore on ferries. Ferries need docks. You can run people from ferries ashore on light boats, but that brings us back to capacity, not to mention training.

    China is much weaker than they like to pretend. We are much stronger. Overlord would never have been possible had the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine been at all functional. The USAF and the US Navy are quite functional. If we opposed a Chinese invasion it would drown in the straits before getting halfway to Taiwan. China would have to bet that we’d stay out of it, and if they bet wrong, the PLA Navy would cease to exist.

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  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s useful to recall that China has not fought a war since 1979 when Vietnam stopped them dead in their tracks. They have no combat experienced generals, admirals, officers or NCOs. None.

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  22. Kathy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    that0s fair, but China is hardly in an unassailable position (not that I’m saying you’re claiming it is). After all, what else can they do with all those manufactured goods, eat them?

    Sure, they could do a lot of damage by merely reducing output in some crucial goods, Hell, part of the global inflationary trend has to do with China’s lockdown containment strategy for COVID. So, sure, caution is warranted, but only up to a point. Not to the extent of letting them take Taiwan by force, say (which I don’t believe they can do).

    @JohnSF:

    As I recall, pre-Xi China was far more mellow and more focused on economic issues, than on nationalistic aggrandizement. There was even a rapprochement with Taiwan. Also a lot of talk and speculation that in a few decades Taiwan might rejoin China along the same basis as Jong Kong. This died when China began repressing Hong Kong hard.

    In other words, the best way for China to reclaim Taiwan is to give them something they want or can use, not to threaten them.

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  23. de stijl says:

    Weakness to a bully is the chump move. Ya gotta show some spine.

    Witness Chamberlin and Alsace Lorainne.

    Witness Ukraine.

    Do not roll over to a bully. Ever.

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  24. DK says:

    But the President of the United States, not the Speaker of the House, is our top diplomat. The President, not the Speaker, decides which countries we recognize. It simply can’t be any other way.

    Congress is co-equal branch of goverment. In a functioning American democracy, it would be the most powerful branch.

    That said, this was all good cop, bad cop kabuki theater. Zero chance Pelosi planned this trip without White House, Pentagon, and State Department in the loop and signing-off at every step. Very likely the White House secretly asked her to go. And perhaps because of intel indicating China is already preparing to attack Taiwan.

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  25. Mu Yixiao says:

    @JohnSF:

    Do they really have to?
    Would the Communist Party regime be overthrown by an outraged nationalist people?

    Yes and yes.

    It’s very difficult to stress just how much “face” drives the Chinese people and their politics. It’s utterly unthinkable for Xi to acknowledge that Taiwan is its own country. And if he did, it’s very likely that the entirety of the nation would rise up in revolt. I was there during the riots that followed a Japanese fishing boat getting too close to a barren rock that China and Japan have been fighting over since the Big Bang. China sent a destroyer to fire at the fishing boats over a couple rocks with some grass on them.

    An acknowledgement of an independent Taiwan is worse than spitting in their mother’s face.

    I’m not saying it’s a good attitude to have (it’s absolutely not), but that’s the reality of it.

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  26. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    The most depressing thing about the situation as far as I can tell is that Xi rather obviously learned nothing from cracking down on Hong Kong. Even a cursory examination shows that absolutely killed growing momentum IN TAIWAN to rejoin the mainland. Their heavy handed approach has backfired in terms of their own goals…yet they continue.

    Authoritarian bullies wrapped in a bubble unaware of what is really happening…wonder where else I’ve read about that recently. And this is coming from someone who thinks we absolutely bungled our handling of Russia in the 90’s and aughts (which doesn’t excuse Russia’s own failures, it should go without saying but probably needs to be).

    I’m too young for this shit–need the world to hold together for a couple more decades at least. But increasingly pessimistic it will.

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  27. JohnSF says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    I defer your superior knowledge of China.
    It’s just that generally a police state has a lot of means for survival, and for altering perceptions.

    If Taiwan were to proclaim it’s separation from China, and the Chinese government were to block all such news, declare it had not happened, and imprison anyone who had the audacity to say it had happened, would that generate a popular revolt?

    In any case, the point is Xi and the current ruling elements in the Party/State have been provoking nationalist sentiment as a PR technique, intra-Party political mechanism, and diplomatic tool.
    I don’t recall this level of performative rage during Newt Gingrich’s visit when Speaker.
    Xi has and is deliberately dialled up jingoism; he might consider that dialling it down might be a better course.

    A problem is that both in Moscow and Beijing, some circles of the ruling elites have become fixated upon a narrative of Western decadence and inevitable decline.
    Along it might be added, by various Western chin-stroking, overly-pleased with their insightful insights-type commentators decrying or lamenting Western “failings”.

    When the West fails to oblige by rolling over and/or collapsing, they have a major cognitive propblem, and an even more serious one of having talked themselves into a nasty strategic dead-end.

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  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    Xi has ginned up nationalist fervor, he can lower the temperature on that if he chooses. Face? Well, if the choice is between accepting Taiwan’s semi, undeclared independence and keeping all those one-child boys alive on the one hand, and watching his navy go glug glug glug, sunk by a nation he seems to think is inferior, and suffering the economic disaster that would ensue, which is more harmful to ‘face?’

    Face was important to Japan, too, but like China, they were neither energy nor food self-sufficient. China would be taking on the world’s only superpower, the United States, with the most powerful and experienced military on earth, as well as being a country that is both energy and food self-sufficient, and unlike China has friends all around the world.

    China is not ready for this fight. They would lose and lose badly. They would also be in an economic hole from Day One. Is Xi ready for his economy to utterly collapse? China would lose on all fronts. The humiliation they would suffer by taking on the US would be orders of magnitude more harmful to face than simply letting things go as they are going now.

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  29. MarkedMan says:

    @JohnSF: Well put. I’m would add that it’s taken me by surprise at just how bad the PRC is at this international relations thing, and I think it is taking a while for this to sink in for the pundit class. The amateurish handling of Pelosi’s visit is an example of needlessly putting their prestige on the line, of bluster and irrationality, and escalation beyond all reason. But this isn’t new. 15 years ago they were on the rise and many East Asian countries were looking for an alternative to US influence. They would have been able to assume the role with a modicum of diplomacy and respect. Instead, they came in with, “We are the Pacific Power now! We control the agenda and terms!”, and “All your bases are belong to us!”, and “You are our bitch because we say you are our bitch!” They are now repeating the same type of “diplomacy” in Africa and the ‘Stans. 10 years ago it was all about how the Chinese are endlessly patient and think in terms of decades and centuries, while today they appear to be acting out like an angry 12 year old.

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  30. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:

    What was the reason for the “one China” policy?

    A massive own-goal by the United States, due to the Republican right (mainly) having a massive strop over the Communist victory in China demolishing a lot of hopes for the post-War world order.

    See “who lost China?”, McCarthy’s allegations, Korean War, MacArthur affair, “unleash Chiang Kai-Shek”, Quemoy/Matsu,

    After which, the sensible policy of recognising Taiwan aka Formosa as independent, and the Communists as ruling in China, on the basis that they actually, in point of fact, damned well did rule in China, was rejected as too liable to cause political problems in the US.
    Especially for Eisenhower’s control of the Republican Party.
    So the US had a massive diplomatic sulk, making itself (in private) the subject of massive eyerolling by almost every other country on Earth (bar Taiwan itself and South Korea, probably)

    Until President Nixon decided that there were much better options.
    At that point, shifting to “Two China” or Taiwanese separation might of skewered the Sino-American understanding, so it was just booted into the long grass and hoped it somehow all just go away. Eventually.

    Oops.

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  31. dazedandconfused says:

    It’s the wrong time to tickle the Dragon. They might respond by helping Russia a bit more with supplies for Ukraine right now. Unwise, period. Could have been put off.

    Aside from potentially catastrophic effects on an economy so heavily dependent on imports, China is not configured for a major war with the US as they are currently about 80% dependent on ME oil. and their navy has little or no chance of busting a US blockade on that. If they ever get serious about invading Taiwan look to a major effort to address that strategic vulnerability as a key indicator.

    We should perhaps stop over-reacting to Chinese noise. All rising powers get full of themselves from time to time. Mostly, it should be ignored.

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  32. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Michael Reynolds: As one of my friends (a fast-attack sub skipper) reminded me, there are two types of warships: submarines and targets. If Xi tries to send an invasion force across the strait, he may learn that principle.

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  33. Mu Yixiao says:

    @JohnSF:

    I don’t recall this level of performative rage during Newt Gingrich’s visit when Speaker.

    That’s because he went during the time of Jiang Zemin, who ushered in the “Three Represents” period shortly after (it was obviously in development before then, and follows on the ideas of Deng Xiaoping).

    The Three Represents defines the role of the CCP; it stresses that the party must always represent the requirements for developing China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation of China’s advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.

    Hu Jintao and Bo Xilai continued on with this general philosophy, extending it into scientific development. Xi has wiped that all away and gone back to hard-core Maoist approaches.*

    Xi has and is deliberately dialed up jingoism; he might consider that dialing it down might be a better course.

    A) Yes he has. Just like Putin, Johnson, Orban, Trump, etc. No argument there.

    B) Dialing it down isn’t an option for him. It literally won’t enter his mind. I absolutely hate what he’s doing to China, I disagree with every single bit of it, but I understand the motivations behind it (which just makes me hate it all the more).

    @Michael Reynolds:

    China is not ready for this fight. They would lose and lose badly.

    Which is absolutely utterly irrelevant to the conversation. Xi can not say he’s wrong. Physically can not do it. So any talk about “what’s the smart move” is pointless. Xi’s gotta Xi.

    Look at Putin. He’s barely holding his own (and often getting his ass handed to him) against geeks with DJI drones and ATVs. If they were high schoolers, it would be a real-life remake of Red Dawn.

    Xi is far craftier, far more cruel, and far more prideful than Putin. Faced with defeat, he’d nuke Taiwan so nobody else could have it.

    =====
    * It should be noted that Xi Jinping is both President and Chairman. This puts him in charge of both the party and the military–something that hasn’t happened since Mao, and wasn’t supposed to be allowed. When he instructed the military leaders to address him as “Chairman Xi” rather than “President”, he was saying “This entire country is mine to do with as I will”.

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  34. @Mu Yixiao: US-China is the very definition of interdependence.

    They can’t afford a war, and nor can we (but they really, really can’t).

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  35. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    There’s an arguable case for being “playing a dead bat” (refers to cricket tactics, not covid 🙂 ) and not responding to China re. Taiwan.

    But Ukraine as a motivator is not that big a consideration.
    There’s not much China can supply that can offset Russian incompetence in the short term.
    In the longer term, they might assist in replacing European sources of technology and capital goods.

    But at the risk of themselves being hit by sanctions.
    It is an unshouted aspect of recent global economic relations that China imports massive values of capital good, machinery, production plant integration, custom high-spec components et etc from Europe, especially Germany.

    These are not easily replaced.
    Despite all reporting and proclamations to the contrary, China has nowhere near the level of technical skills in complex capital plant and systems integration possessed by Europe or America or Japan.
    The loss of such imports would be highly damaging for China in itself.

    That’s beside the implications for potential secondary sanctions on finance, international trading, etc.

    One economic vulnerability China has little chance of getting round, in the short to medium term.
    It relies upon hydrocarbons for production of nitrogen based fertilisers.
    The requirements are so heavy, absence of imported hydrocarbons, in bulk far beyond any current or likely pipeline capacity from Russia to make up, entails a choice between shutting down vast swathes of “non-essential” industry; or mass famine, due to impact of lack of fertilizer reducing food yields.

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  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Which is absolutely utterly irrelevant to the conversation. Xi can not say he’s wrong. Physically can not do it. So any talk about “what’s the smart move” is pointless. Xi’s gotta Xi.

    Then I guess there are two things Xi cannot do: let Taiwan go, and win a war with the United States. What can he do? Dial back the nationalist propaganda and go back to status quo ante Xi. This crisis is entirely of his own making. He is quite capable of resolving it peacefully. If he wants a disastrous war because the Speaker visits Taipei then we are dealing with a war that cannot be avoided and is better fought now.

    @SC_Birdflyte:
    Had the Kriegsmarine had a dozen capable subs in 1944, D-Day might never have happened. A few Virginia class attack subs would massacre a Chinese invasion fleet. Amphibious invasions are very hard to pull off, and China has never done it.

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  37. JohnSF says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Faced with defeat he’d nuke Taiwan…

    One nuke would not suffice to destroy Taiwan.
    It would take a nuclear bombardment of at least a dozen nuclear warheads in the megaton range.

    Given the rather high probability of that provoking a nuclear response, would Xi rather see China annihilated than accept the defeat of an invasion attempt or blockade?

    As it is almost certain that an invasion or a blockade would be defeated, then if that is Xi’s rationale, then nuclear war becomes inevitable at the point he launches an overt assault.

    Chairman Xi might as well cut out the middleman, order the PLA to fire the missiles on a straight up, straight down trajectory.
    He might also consider that if he is committed to nuclear use from the outset in event of failure, and if failure is probable, and if nuclear exchange follows that, it creates a massive incentive for the US to pre-empt.
    And for Taiwan to re-start its nuclear weapons programme.

    Perhaps the outcome is “Xi gotta Xi; world gotta burn.”

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  38. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Had the Kriegsmarine had a dozen capable subs in 1944, D-Day might never have happened.

    IIRC KM had in June 1944 over 100 U-boats, and attempted repeatedly to attack the landings.
    But they were completely outmatched by the Allied anti-submarine capability; actually one of the great unsung victories of the Royal Navy and RAF Coastal Command: twenty U-boats sunk, in exchange for only eight Allied ships.
    Plus the RAF and USAAF were bombing hell out of the U-boat pens, making running operations very difficult.

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  39. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    Cutting edge tech isn’t the whole ball game, war is a whole-system business. The Chinese have been selective in their sanctions game.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/06/27/ukraine-russia-economy-trade/

    They could well decide to be significantly less selective. “One war at a time people!” (said Hitler not).

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  40. Mu Yixiao says:

    @JohnSF:

    Given the rather high probability of that provoking a nuclear response, would Xi rather see China annihilated than accept the defeat of an invasion attempt or blockade?

    From what I’ve seen? Quite possibly–since they’d be pretty much destroyed at that point anyway.

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  41. MarkedMan says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    It’s very difficult to stress just how much “face” drives the Chinese people and their politics

    Absolutely true, and it’s perilous to ignore that. But the Chinese are not naive about this either, and they either a) ineptly set themselves up to lose an unnecessary amount of face, or b) are planning a move and Pelosi’s visit was a handy justification. Remember, a congressional delegation was there a few months ago with the normal and pro-forma saber rattling. The Chinese themselves raised the stakes here, as they are the ones that made this into a big deal. They could just as easily disparaged the importance.

    As for the rocks and warships, any “face” is incidental. The Chinese are basically making a claim to vast swathes of the Pacific as lying in their territorial waters and are doing so by discovering and resurrecting their claims over a whole bunch of piles of rocks in the ocean. This is territorial aggression and Japan understands that. Where there are no convenient piles of rocks, they are building them.

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  42. JohnSF says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    I meant, the defeat of a Chinese blockade of Taiwan, rather than the impact of a US blockade of China.
    The former would not necessarily cause the collapse of China; the second would.

    Ultimately I have a bit of difficulty comprehending that a man who can assert he was saying “This entire country is mine to do with as I will” also trembles at the thought of popular revolt should he modify his course.

    If it turned out that “Xi gotta Jiang”, he really could not sell that to the people who count, the Party/State elite, if he said, in private, that the alternative to reining back propaganda is the annihilation of China?

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  43. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If he wants a disastrous war because the Speaker visits Taipei then we are dealing with a war that cannot be avoided and is better fought now.

    You misunderstand. He won’t go to war because of Pelosi. He’ll use economic power if he wants to take action on this fiasco.

    He’ll invade Taiwan because Taiwan belongs to China. And it won’t happen until he’s built up his forces–which is being done. Just look at Hong Kong. That was supposed to remain “One country, two systems”–and doing so would have kept the money flowing in from the vibrant financial sector. It was in the best interest of China to let Hong Kong continue on as it was, and reap the benefits of it. They didn’t. They marched in and ground HK under.

    The UK had the good graces to welcome over 200,000 refugees from HK (The US? Not so much). Think about that for a moment: refugees from one of the richest cities in the world.

    According to Forbes, Hong Kong […] was ranked the number 3 in its list of Best Countries for Business in 2018. The country’s stock market was ranked the 5th largest in the world as at the end of 2020.

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  44. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Yes, true that China has done little to materially assist Russia, beyond buying oil at a discount and selling knock-off smartphones at a premium.
    Also true that they could change that to aid the Russians a good deal more.

    My point was, they might not like the response of secondary or extended sanctions.
    Including items and services that are highly significant to maintaining and expanding the Chinese industrial base, and the markets for the products of that industry.

    Russia has been rather surprised to find that Europe is serious about Ukraine.
    China might find the same.

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  45. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:
    ‘Capable’ does include the capacity to approach a target, something that’s hard to do with enemy destroyers and aircraft guarding a narrow sea. Effective might have been a better word.

    Out of curiosity (and because I don’t feel like working) I looked at depths of the two bodies of water. They’re about equal in terms of average depth, ~60 meters. Not ideal for subs then or now. But German subs were not able to launch weapons from miles away. On the one hand the Germans had a whole lot of experience, OTOH they lost a lot of experienced commanders. I hope we are sending Taiwan anti-ship missiles, and HIMARS too.

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  46. Kathy says:

    Meaning no offense, at least no major offense, if Benito the Cheeto were smarter and a country, he’d be Xi’s China.

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  47. Mu Yixiao says:

    @JohnSF:

    If it turned out that “Xi gotta Jiang”, he really could not sell that to the people who count, the Party/State elite, if he said, in private, that the alternative to reining back propaganda is the annihilation of China?

    Rein it back? Not likely. Redirect it? Yes.

    I was reading an essay a while back that put a lot of what I’ve seen (and lived through) into context, and it makes sense. China has been pushed around for a few hundred years. British colonialism, German manipulation, Japanese invasion, etc. Despite their size, they’re the “little dog that’s been kicked all its life”. Now they’re starting to realize that if they eat a lot, they can be a big dog and take back their pride.

    That’s what we’re dealing with: The abused dog that’s learned how to bear its teeth and is learning how to bite. And… it’s so used to being kicked, it willing to take a little more if it means it grab on tight with those new teeth.

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  48. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    I’ve repeatedly said that Xi is what Trump wishes he could be.

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  49. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Think about that for a moment: refugees from one of the richest cities in the world.

    Preaching to the choir. I was ranting about this at the time. Talk about human capital.

    As to Xi being ready at some point to invade, he’s tipped his hand too early. We can pack a whole lot of missiles onto Taiwan. He’s got the far bigger lift, an amphibious landing in the age of satellite surveillance is a hell of a thing to pull off, especially with an inexperienced military. Neither the Germans in Normandy, or the Italians and Germans at several locations, or the Japanese on Okinawa (et al) had real-time surveillance. They didn’t know what was happening til shells started landing. We will know months in advance of an invasion, we’ll know its exact strength down to the precise location of every single surface ship. A minute after they leave harbor we and Taiwan and all our allies will know it.

    I believe I’m correct in saying that the last time the Chinese tried to pull off an amphibious landing it was actually the Mongols aiming for Japan about 750 years ago. Didn’t go well. We’ve been pulling off amphibious landings since Winfield Scott landed in Mexico. It’s between the Vikings and the Americans as to who more successfully invaded foreign lands by sea. The PLA reads books about amphibious landings, we write those books.

    China’s moment has passed. So long as don’t self-destruct, China will not catch us this century.

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  50. MarkedMan says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    That’s what we’re dealing with: The abused dog that’s learned how to bear its teeth and is learning how to bite. And… it’s so used to being kicked, it willing to take a little more if it means it grab on tight with those new teeth.

    Perhaps that plays into it, but I think you are anthropomorphizing the behavior of a nation too much. There are other relevant nation-state models to what China is doing – it’s just that they haven’t existed for a century or more.

    The twentieth century was all about rival superpowers (including, at the JV level, China) trying to bring other countries into their fold. A significant piece of that was demonstrating the superior benefits of voluntarily joining one side or another. China is no longer playing that game. They are not trying to convince anyone of the inherent superiority of their system of governance. We have to go back to the 19th century to get the proper model: Colonialism. The Chinese feel they are the biggest power in Southeast Asia and therefore have the right to subjugate the other countries in the area. This is what the “rocks in the sea” is about – laying claim to the entire South China Sea and exerting their dominion over it.

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  51. JohnSF says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    I’m familiar with the interpretation; and it may well be true.
    But if so, all the more case for President Bien stepping up to the mic and saying:
    “We have come to the conclusion that what China needs is a good session with a psychotherapist. So I hereby announce a programme for purchasing one billion couches, a good Chinese translation of Freud, and a massive megaphone…”

    India, for one, has much more cause for historical grievance, and has refrained from acting out against Sri Lanka or Bangladesh (Pakistani paranoia notwithstanding).

    Plenty of other countries also have their own reasons for a historical sulk; most tend to get over it, one way or another.

    For one that set itself on course for “the other” the classic example is Germany, which nursed a massive grievance about being the preferred punching bag of the French for centuries prior to 1870.
    And then doubled down on it after 1918.
    Did not end well.

    A stroppy phase for a moody goth teenager can be evoke empathy, annoyance, or mild amusement, by turns.
    But in a Great Power it’s both ridiculous and alarming.

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  52. Mu Yixiao says:

    @MarkedMan:

    This is what the “rocks in the sea” is about – laying claim to the entire South China Sea and exerting their dominion over it.

    I’m quite aware of this (see “Nine Dotted Line”), and China’s not the only ones doing it–they’re just bolder about it. The Paracel and Spratly Islands, the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and others are all variously being claimed by China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, and The Philippines. It’s not all about claiming the territory for resources and right-of-way, however. There’s some serious pride and racism involved.

    But yeah. A lot of it is about things like fishing rights.

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  53. MarkedMan says:

    @JohnSF:

    But in a Great Power it’s both ridiculous and alarming.

    Hear, hear.

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  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I’m not saying it’s a good attitude to have (it’s absolutely not), but that’s the reality of it.

    On the other hand, saying and doing virtually nothing has worked well for 70 or so years. It’s a workable retreat, and Xi has plenty on his plate already.

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  55. Mu Yixiao says:

    @JohnSF:

    No disagreement on any of that. Though… I might throw in some (fake) rhino horn and herbal tea–just to get the traditionalists. 🙂

    My time in China was… eye-opening. I have a lot of friends there (including many from NA/EU/Africa) and I hate seeing what’s happening to the country under Xi.

    My point in all of this is to say: In order to respond appropriately, we have to understand where this is coming from, and how our actions will be reacted to.

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  56. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I hope we are sending Taiwan anti-ship missiles, and HIMARS too.

    We have sold both to them. Or at least agreed to sell them. Lots of older anti-ship and anti-submarine stuff has been delivered. Reportedly Taiwan is getting impatient about delivery of newer artillery, but have been told that the production lines are full handling the effects of the Ukraine fighting.

    I read somewhere (here?) that the Pentagon has now admitted that the US can’t fight two major wars simultaneously. I’m beginning to doubt we can fight one major war unless we win very, very quickly because we’re not geared to produce contemporary weapons platforms and smart munitions at the rate both would get used up.

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  57. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “That’s what we’re dealing with: The abused dog that’s learned how to bear its teeth and is learning how to bite. ”

    Yes. the fundamental emotion at the heart of Chinese foreign policy is self-pity. Just like American “conservatives.” No wonder Trump claimed to like Xi.

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  58. wr says:

    @JohnSF: “India, for one, has much more cause for historical grievance, and has refrained from acting out against Sri Lanka or Bangladesh”

    To be fair, they are spending a lot of their time and energy acting out against their own non-Hindu citizens. And women. That takes work!

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  59. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Cain:
    Sophisticated weapons and fast production, WW2 style, apparently doesn’t work. We can only produce 9000 HIMARS missiles per year. I wonder if these things can be sped up under the Defense Production Act, or if it just is what it is and we’re stuck with it. We and our allies have a combined GDP three times China’s, we should be able to win a production race.

    @MarkedMan:

    We have to go back to the 19th century to get the proper model: Colonialism.

    That is a very clarifying observation.

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  60. dazedandconfused says:

    @MarkedMan:

    If I were in charge of the Chinese military, knowing the USes vastly superior naval strength, I would seek to extend a defensive line off-shore. I would also view Taiwan as potentially an unsinkable missile platform. If hostilities were to break out there would be an imperative need to neutralize it, and efforts would be made to discourage other nations from planning to use Taiwan as such. Damn sure we would if we were in their shoes, see Cuban Missile Crisis. The moves offshore may also be about fishing rights. China has epic historical food-insecurity issues.

    There are other explanations. Just sayin’.

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  61. JohnSF says:

    @MarkedMan:
    @Michael Reynolds:
    Both Russia and China have a curated a rather schizophrenic attitude to Empire for many decades.

    Empire overland (eg Tibet, Xinjiang, Ukraine, Caucasia) = just fine and dandy.
    Empire overseas = boo, hiss!

    And this is something a lot of the global south and thus the modern left have tended to let slide.
    (And 19th century American popular anti-imperialism, for that matter)
    Because the imperialism the “South” remembers and resents came across oceans.
    (One reason why central and eastern Europeans tend to have a different perspective from both “South” and “Old West”)

    Though someone might ask Beijing, at precisely what distance does overseas become “bad” given you can’t easily walk from Shanghai to Taipei?
    Or is it something about ethnic and/or linguistic essentiallism that makes it an exception?
    Which may surprise some other similarly linked but definitely distinct nations.

    Come China, the psychiatrist’s couch awaits…

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  62. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Problem: the only effective way to really make Taiwan untenable in event of a general war is nuclear bombardment.

    Though conventional missiles could cause damage to fixed, non-hardened sites.

    And for precisely those reason the US will always have a preference for keeping the bulk of its striking power in platforms that are concealed (deepwater subs), rapidly movable (carrier groups), and mores distant and heavily defended in depth (Guam, Japan etc. etc. all the way back to intercontinental bombers in Con.US)

    The Soviets only really liked Cuba as a platform because, at that time, it provided much greater potential for accurate strikes on the US than their submarines or bombers, assuming they could even survive American countermeasures.

    The same simply does not apply to the US military today.

    Controlling Taiwan gains China a lot; just denying its use, not so much.
    The operational situations are not mirror images, because China lacks that magnitude of long range naval/air capability, or a reliable capability to neutralise those assets.
    Yet.

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  63. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Sophisticated weapons and fast production, WW2 style, apparently doesn’t work. We can only produce 9000 HIMARS missiles per year.

    To put this in perspective, the 6 M270s and 16 M142s currently in Ukraine could exhaust the entire annual supply of 9000 GMLRS rockets in about five hours if they were firing continuously.

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  64. Mu Yixiao says:

    Before I go to sleep I want to point out a few things.

    1) China has 1.5 billion citizens. They are equal opportunity when it comes to military service. And they are far more willing to die for their country than we are for ours.

    They can sacrifice more people than the entire US population and still have over a billion citizens.

    2) The Chinese are far more willing to endure hardship than we are. The Great Leap Forward was around 1960 (when our greatest threat was hippies) and The Cultural Revolution didn’t end until Carter was in the White House. It’s been almost a century since the US has faced any serious economic hardships.

    30 million people died from the effects of the Cultural Revolution. That’s almost 10% of the US population. There are millions of Chinese still alive who remember that–and accept it.

    My mother is 90. She barely remembers the Great Depression. Half of China remembers mass starvation that killed tens of millions–and accepts it. Americans are bitching because gas is $4 a gallon and they can’t get high-end gaming computers or exotic veg.

    In an economic standoff between the US and China, China will win. Hands down.

    Not because they’re better, not because they have superior policies… but because they’re willing to endure things that US citizens can’t even imagine.

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  65. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    In an economic standoff between the US and China, China will win. Hands down.

    Not because they’re better, not because they have superior policies… but because they’re willing to endure things that US citizens can’t even imagine.

    War doesn’t work that way anymore. Suffering does not lead to victory. Literally everyone in WW2 suffered more than we did. Who walked away with the money and the power? We did. As Patton said, no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. Wars are about technology, money and geography. Our tech is still more advanced than theirs. We’re richer. And we are uniquely blessed geographically, China is not.

    End of day, balls to the wall, we can feed ourselves and keep the lights on without imports. Without imports China starves.

    When is the last time a continental power beat a sea power?

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  66. MarkedMan says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    And they are far more willing to die for their country than we are for ours.

    Interesting. I came away from my stint there with the exact opposite impression.

    The Chinese are far more willing to endure hardship than we are.

    Again, my impression was that people would turn on the government very, very quickly if the growth went away. Not to say the government wouldn’t strike down with an iron hammer, but many people I know viewed the government as acceptable only as long as the good times rolled.

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  67. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: And I think it’s worth adding that modern China was founded on revolution and that is portrayed as heroic. Worth thinking about for any government. There is a reason that the PRC places such high importance on the elimination of the very memory of the Tianmen Square massacre. And don’t underestimate the simmering resentment of the displacement of ethnic minorities with Han Chinese officials in, what, 30-40% of the country? Not just Tibet and Xinjiang, but Hong Kong, Macau, Yunan, well, the list is long. The PRC should be aware that it wouldn’t take much to get these minorities marching just like Mao’s peasant rebellion did all those years ago.

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  68. Ken_L says:

    So many people are fixated on the prospect of a war triggered by a Chinese invasion. I suspect America might instead face the kind of strategy that it has used so often against smaller nations it decided needed to have their regimes changed. Will the US launch an attack on China if it imposes sanctions on Taiwan? If China uses its economic muscle to stop other countries trading with Taiwan? If it declares a blockade, reserving to itself the right to decide which ships and planes will be allowed into Taiwanese territory? I think not.

    China’s preference is not invasion, war and prolonged occupation of a hostile province. It’s to demoralise the Taiwanese people so they elect governments that will pay homage to Beijing, followed by negotiations to make Taiwan a Hong Kong-style semi-autonomous region that recognises Chinese sovereignty. America and Japan will continue to do everything they can think of to sabotage this strategy, but the bottom line is they have no military measures to defeat it. All will hinge on the willingness of the Taiwanese people to endure increasing hardship and peril to preserve their independence.

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  69. Lost in Quebec says:

    @de stijl:

    Witness Chamberlin and Alsace Lorainne.

    It was 1936 when Germany took back the Rhineland. The British PM at the time was Stanley Baldwin.

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  70. JohnSF says:

    @Ken_L:
    I disagree: if China imposes a blockade, the US will almost certainly break it using escorted convoys with orders to return fire if fired upon.
    The US also has the option of imposing a counter-blockade.

    If China imposes sanctions on Taiwan, the US can impose countervailing sanctions on China; and have a fair chance of a large number of countries following its lead.
    China has done itself no favours in it’s relations with Europe in particular.
    Canada, Australia, Japan, and other south and east Asian countries likely to follow, India perhaps.

    If China uses economic power to stop other countries trading with Taiwan, the US can use economic power to at least stop other countries acceding to Chinese demands, at most to press them to stop trading with China.
    There are quite a few countries who would be quite happy to see their debts, and mineral and port concessions, to China vanish in a puff of legal smoke.

    Not to mention that, at base, just as the dominant maritime and financial Power has always has a reserve capacity, if it chooses to use it.
    Ultimately, the rest of the world trades at its pleasure.
    See British policy on blockade and trade denial ever 1714 to 1945.

    This will all have been staffed out: from the US point of view, the conquest of Taiwan by indirect military means is as much a challenge as one of direct invasion.
    It surrenders a US protectorate to an adversary, and damages the US naval dominance in the north-west pacific.

    If the US is not prepared to support Taiwan in such cases, it might as well abandon it’s cause now, and advise Taipei to make the best terms it can get.
    And to realise, that will not be the end of the matter.

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  71. Ken_L says:

    @JohnSF: Well it’s all speculation, of course. But NATO has shown no inclination to break the blockade on Ukraine by escorting convoys through the Black Sea. It’s not apparent why the US would be more motivated to ensure Taiwan could continue to trade electronic goods with other Asian countries than to get Ukrainian grain shipments to the Middle East and Africa.

    Your final paragraph simply doesn’t reflect the way democratic nations manage foreign policy. They invariably defer difficult decisions in the hope some future development will make them unnecessary. America (and Taiwan) have been kicking their dilemma down the road for 70 years now. Sooner or later, China will decide it’s had enough.

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  72. Matt says:

    @Ken_L: Ukraine has grain which is fairly irrelevant to us. Taiwan has TSMC and other manufacturers who are HUGELY important for military hardware and basically everything electronic you use from your phone to your car.

    TSMC has some of the best silicon chip production technology in existence. Their 5nm production is the best available. They have consistently been a leader at die shrinkage and efficiency.

    China is currently struggling to develop domestic chip production. Giving China TSMC would be catastrophic for the world. TSMC is aware of this and that is why they are working on building fabs in other countries such as Japan and the USA.

    The only other chip producer doing actual 3nm chips is Samsung and those fabs are located in South Korea just south of Seoul… WHich you might remember as North Korea is a puppet state of China….

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  73. Matt says:

    @Matt: The third largest producer of silicon wafers is a company called “GlobalWafers”. Want to guess where they are located? Yup Taiwan.. They are planning to build a $5 billion plant in Texas but I’ll believe it when they actually build it.

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  74. Matt says:

    I just checked 45% of global chip production occurs in Taiwan and it’s expected rise past 58% by 2025.

    There’s no comparison between Taiwan and Ukraine from a production viewpoint. Let alone a strategic viewpoint considering their locations.

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  75. Ken_L says:

    @Matt: Congress just passed a bill appropriating more than $50 billion to end America’s reliance on foreign chips. It’s a complex and fluid situation, which too many people tend to reduce to simplistic binary alternatives.

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  76. Matt says:

    @Ken_L: Said bill will be eventually signed by Biden. The bill will not make fab plants magically appear nor will it instantly reduce Taiwan’s dominance of the silicon market. It takes years to even get through the planning stages for a fab plant. Takes more years to build and setup the fab plant. Takes even more time to work out the production kinks and to get it working 100%.

    My point still stands.

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  77. JohnSF says:

    @Ken_L:
    Politics and geopolitics.
    Ukraine is not a long standing US protectorate.
    Ukraine does not constitute part of the east Asian inner island chain.
    Ukraine does not host the chip fabs Taiwan does.

    Arguably the loss of Taiwan would be a greater blow to US vital interests than a stalemate in Ukraine.
    (European vital interests are another matter entirely.)

    It’s not apparent why the US would be more motivated to ensure Taiwan could continue to trade electronic goods with other Asian countries than to get Ukrainian grain shipments to the Middle East and Africa.

    The chip fabs are of strategic value to the US and to China.
    The Ukraine grain supply is important, but indirectly.
    But when it gets down to vital interests, Powers can be damn cold when it comes to ultima ratio regis
    The UK was in WW2 prepared to see secondary famine due to the Japanese occupation of south east Asia and the the need for shipping for economic and operational essentials elsewhere, rather than compromise on core war strategy.
    Or, in WW1, to see the Netherlands go hungry, in order to starve Germany by blockade.

    “(this)…doesn’t reflect the way democratic nations manage foreign policy. They invariably defer difficult decisions…”

    Certainly this is the undoubted preference of democracies.
    Most of the time.
    Not always.
    For instance, it was a deliberate decision of the UK, and France, to declare war upon Germany in 1939, rather than write off Poland, as they had Czechoslovakia and Austria.
    It was a deliberate decision of Britain and France to assault Egypt in 1956.

    True, the US has been markedly reluctant to initiate formal hostilities, in the past.
    Maybe American are more moral, more hesitant, or more stuck in a mire of political tussling.
    Maybe.
    But if another party initiates such, and a Chinese blockade of Taiwan would be be an act of hostile force, there’s your cassus.

    “NATO has shown no inclination to break the blockade on Ukraine by escorting convoys through the Black Sea”

    Several reasons for this:
    – once again, grain for the “global South” is not, in hard truth, a good enough reason to risk a direct NATO/Russia engagement.
    – such exports are important to the Ukrainian economy, but can be substituted by increased direct financial assistance.
    – Turkey is the veto wielder, re. the Straits Convention, and it is, as ever, playing its own game, for its own ends.

    Sooner or later, China will decide it’s had enough.

    It may.
    But then, unless it is in a lot more favourable military and strategic economic position than it is now, China will soon regret that it did not decide otherwise.

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