Short updating of Taiwan case, late September 2022

The aim of this update is to examine the very latest events, after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in early August, and their impacts and consequences on Taiwan case as well as assess trajectories for the near future, in the context of great power relations.

Events after Pelosi’s visit

US Senate carries on, where Pelosi left off on Taiwan

On September 14, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, a bill to dramatically boost American military support for Taiwan. If /when passed by the full Congress and signed into law by the Biden administration, the landmark act would signal yet another significant shift away from the One China policy that has been US policy and underwritten relations with Beijing for the past half-century. Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 is the latest act that would bring US and China one step closer to a disastrous conflict.

According to the new legislation, “It promotes the security of Taiwan, ensures regional stability, and deters People’s Republic of China (PRC) aggression against Taiwan. It also threatens severe sanctions against the PRC for hostile action against Taiwan. The security of Taiwan is fundamental to United States interests and values.”

In addition to providing Taiwan with US$4.5 billion in security assistance over the next four years, $2 billion in loan guarantees and boosting “war reserve stockpile” funding for Taiwan by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The bill would “establish a comprehensive training program with the Government of Taiwan.” The program would seek to achieve more interoperability between the US and Taiwanese militaries. Joint US-Taiwan contingency tabletop exercises, war games and full-scale military exercises are also proposed in the bill. The text proposes Taiwan to be designated as a “major non-NATO ally” in a US government designation. Besides, the US was considering unveiling a sanctions package against China over its treatment of the self-governing island.

“Current pro-Taiwan advocates are putting the very foundation of US-China relations at grave risk,” said Lyle Goldstein, a visiting professor at the Watson Institute at Brown University. “Nixon and Kissinger correctly built a strong foundation for that relationship based on realism that accepted the One China principle. That realism has enabled peace in the Asia-Pacific for nearly half a century and a relatively stable and pragmatic US-China relationship. If current dangerous trends persist, Washington and Beijing are on a direct collision course and the results will be catastrophic for the entire world,” Goldstein said.

It is unclear whether President Joe Biden would sign the bill if it is passed by Congress. While the White House says it supports some parts of the measure, Biden administration officials said that the bill “may risk upending the US’ carefully calibrated One China policy. But even if the legislation fails to make it to the president’s desk, parts of it could be “smuggled” into other laws regarding coming years’ defense budgets.

Sanctions… over and over again

The Biden administration is now mulling a series of sanctions against China to deter it from invading Taiwan while the European Union is also being asked by Taipei to implement similarly punitive measures.

Washington is already ramping up punitive measures against Beijing as bilateral relations plumb new lows. The US Department of Commerce recently unveiled a series of export bans to prevent China from obtaining high-end semiconductors and chip-making software and equipment.

In mid-September, Biden signed an executive order that urges drug makers to reduce their reliance on foreign labs, namely in China. More specifically, White House officials told the media that the US hoped to reduce its dependence on China for biomedical research.

As many of these sanctions are longer term in nature, the Taiwanese government is calling on the US and EU to implement other measures that will have quicker effects. Taiwan authorities tried to get support from the EU but Brussels would definitely not offer help at this time while facing serious internal and external problems related to the Russia-Ukraine war and those sanctions.

Chinese analysts notice that European countries followed the US to sanction Russia but they then faced a serious energy and economic crisis. The EU’s international status is declining as the euro has fallen sharply compared with the US dollar. Although European countries are troubled by the energy crisis, it is still possible that the EU will follow the US to sanction China incurring more troubles for themselves.

Other military incidents and acts regarding Taiwan

The US appears committed to further acts irritating China. Following Speaker Pelosi’s early August visit to the island, a group of US Congressmembers likewise touched down in Taiwan in mid-August.

On Sunday August 28, the US sent two Ticonderoga-class cruisers to sail through Taiwan Straits, in the first such transit publicized since Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier in August, with the PLA announcing that the entire passage of the US warships has been monitored and everything is under PLA control. The US Navy has conducted similar actions many times in the past with the aim to implement so-called “freedom of navigation” in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea.

In August, PLA Navy has carried out joint combat-readiness security patrols and combat training exercises involving troops of multiple services and arms in the waters and airspace around the Taiwan Island. PLA Command announced that troops will keep training for combat readiness to resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty and security in the Taiwan Straits. Taiwan’s defense ministry said it detected 23 Chinese aircraft and eight Chinese ships, from which seven crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

In September, despite China’s objections, the State Department announced $1.1 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, thus resuming US military aid packages in current year.

In late September, the US navy destroyer USS Higgins and Canadian navy frigate HMCS Vancouver sailed through the Taiwan Strait. PLA denounced such provocative move in a written statement saying also that the PLA Eastern Theater Command had organized its air and naval forces to track and monitor the US and Canadian warships in the whole course.

Biden again said the US would defend Taiwan

President Biden has once again committed the US military to direct hot war with China in the event of an attack on Taiwan. Asked in a CBS interview, September 18, if US troops would defend the island, President Biden said: “Yes”. The remarks prompted the White House to clarify that the official US policy – which doesn’t commit to military action on Taiwan – had not changed.

This is the third time since October last year that President Biden has gone further than the official stance. In May, speaking in Japan on his first tour of Asia as president, he said “Yes” when asked if the US would defend Taiwan.

Taiwan responded to Biden’s remarks by welcoming the “US government’s rock-solid security commitment to Taiwan”. Taipei said it would continue to deepen its “close security partnership” with Washington. Beijing has previously condemned such comments from Biden promising US military action, as happened now. “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory… The Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affair, no foreign interference allowed,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Is there any Red Line Biden won’t cross?

Recent events in Ukraine and Taiwan have presented President Biden with an opportunity to showcase his statesmanship. Both situations presented Biden with a red line. Both times he crossed it. Giving Biden a red line not to cross does not seem to be a good idea. Russia’s new red line was Ukraine. Red lines seem to challenge Biden to show that no one can tell him what he can and cannot do.

At the beginning of December, 2021, Putin drew a red line, seeking “reliable and long-term security guarantees”, which would exclude any further NATO moves eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten Russia in close vicinity to Russian territory. Biden could have assumed the role of statesman and clearly could have stated that NATO was not expanding to Ukraine and sat down at the diplomatic table to negotiate the implementation of the Minsk agreement as the best solution to a settlement in Ukraine. But he proceeded in other way.

When Nancy Pelosi announced her trip to Taiwan, Biden again had a chance to be a statesman but rejected it in favor of school yard bully. Biden said only that Pelosi’s trip is “not a good idea right now.” China has for decades made it clear that Taiwan is a red line. When Xi Jinping warned Biden on their most recent phone call that “those who play with fire will only get burnt,” and the Chinese government warned that “the Chinese PLA will never sit idly by” – an extreme formulation it has used only once before – Washington repeated the language of not allowing China to dictate what America could do.

Both cases demonstrate to the world again that American agreements are not signed in permanent ink. When Donald Trump illegally pulled out of the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal, Iran and the world suspected that Trump was the anomaly. When Biden continued Trump’s approach to the deal, it began to look like Trump was not an anomaly but that he and Biden were the face of the American new norm. The Biden administration’s clear violation of its agreements with China and Russia reinforces that appearance. Much hyped slogan “rules based international order” by the Biden administration, appears to be hollow without any real meaning.

The US crossed the red lines in both cases consciously and deliberately. The long-term consequences remain to be seen but there is little doubt that the turbulent times are ahead.

Comparing Taiwan – Ukraine cases

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

As was pointed out by many military analysts, US deliberate acts over Taiwan mirror a similar pattern by Washington used to cross Moscow’s “red lines” regarding Ukraine. A similar conflict could potentially stem from ongoing US incidents over Taiwan, which China sees provocations.

Regarding Ukraine case, in hindsight it seems reasonable to believe Washington’s best decision to preserve an advantage over Russia regarding Ukraine would have been to encourage Kiev to uphold the Minsk Agreements. Russian forces would have remained within Russian territory, the Donbass region would have remained under Kiev’s control, and the US would be able to move forward with a pro-Western administration in power in Kiev into the foreseeable future.

Instead, Washington is now watching Russia absorb and divide Ukraine, demilitarize not only the Ukrainian armed forces but also deplete the inventories of Ukraine’s Western sponsors. Western military hardware is blowing away with the smoke on Ukrainian battlefields.

Regarding Taiwan case, a very similar process is about to take place over Taiwan and the US appears incapable of stopping it let alone reversing yet another self-destructive strategy aimed at provoking near-peer or peer military powers – a strategy that was most likely conceived long ago, when the US enjoyed much greater military superiority over its adversaries.

As Beijing pursues its strategy, establishing a new normal on its own terms around and over Taiwan, the West is openly preparing more provocations to give Beijing precisely what it needs, continued justification to do so. Canada now announced it will join the US in provoking China over Taiwan. China warns Canada over planned Taiwan visit by parliamentarians. It doesn’t require much imagination to foresee Beijing will use this upcoming provocation as yet another justification to expand ongoing military operations.

The US-backed administration in Taipei is also fueling this crisis. For an administration that attempts to pose as “independent” of Beijing, Taiwan’s economy is heavily dependent on the rest of China, providing Beijing with the ability to easily enhance its military superiority over and operations against separatist elements in Taipei through economic measures.

Gradual reunification between Taiwan and the rest of China has already been taking place for many years, primarily through economic integration. Trade, tourism, and investment from the rest of China keeps Taiwan’s economy afloat. When the flow of any of these factors is cut it creates major disruptions.

Danger of two-front war is looming. The position of the Biden administration has strained US relations with two main competitors, Russia and China, in the way former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stressed in an August interview with The Wall Street Journal. As a member of the old conservative school, Kissinger warns “We are at the edge of war with Russia and China on issues, which we partly created, without any concept of how this is going to end or what it’s supposed to lead to.”

For the past couple of years, the American establishment has become quite open about its plans to “contain” Russia and China. Specifically, the plan was to first unleash a conflict with Russia at the hands of the US proxies in Ukraine and then finish Moscow off with sanctions, in the hope that it would quickly lose and bow down to Washington. In the next phase of the confrontation with Moscow and Beijing, the White House intended to pit their proxies in Taiwan against China, expecting to defeat the Chinese adversary as well.

Suddenly, however, these plans were thwarted and the anti-Russian sanctions backfired leading Europe to an energy crisis and nearly all of NATO weapons redeployed by Washington to Ukraine not brought about a quick victory over Moscow. But this has depleted the EU & NATO arms and munition stockpiles to ensure its own security and multi billion dollars aid commitments by the US & NATO to Ukraine have accomplished a significant deficiency in Europe’s own security balance.

Despite these setbacks, Washington nevertheless appears unleash an armed confrontation with Moscow and Beijing in the Pacific theater. In particular, by exacerbating the situation in the Taiwan Strait and pumping more and more weapons into Taiwan, following the Ukraine model, and by switching to a confrontation with Russia in the Far East. A concrete confirmation of these plans was the large article by US military analyst Seth Cropsey, posted on the Hong Kong-based online media Asia Times.

It appears that the White House is oblivious to the fact that Russia and China are now in the best relationship they have ever had and not only in the sphere of trade and political interaction, but also in the military sphere including nuclear weapons.

Biden administration seems not to hear warnings about the obvious inadvisability of waging a two-front war from some prominent experts like Henry Kissinger and John Mearsheimer or from the independent US media.

In particular, The National Interest has shown quite objectively and justifiably that America cannot simultaneously confront China and Russia in a war, because with the current budget deficit America’s military capabilities are insufficient and in these circumstances American “strategists” need to accept the reality of a US defeat in the event of such a military conflict. 

Assessments of political-military situation, Taiwan case

Beijing is attempting to extend control over Taiwan militarily without waging war, incrementally expanding military activities around Taiwan with each provocation provided to it from the US and its allies. Beijing is also fully prepared for a military confrontation either with armed forces in Taiwan or against an attempted intervention by foreign powers like the United States. The idea of Washington intervening to “defend” Taiwan is highly unrealistic.

US representatives and the Western media began discussing a “new normal” being incrementally established by Beijing. China is attempting to establish a “new normal” across the Taiwan Strait, eroding self-ruled Taiwan’s territorial control and increasing the threat of a strike with each military sortie. Chinese military exercises also included firing missiles over Taiwan. Vice Admiral Thomas of US Navy has said that “US must contest Chinese missiles over Taiwan.”

Thomas did not suggest any measures the US could use to “contest” Chinese military activity and in actuality, there is little the US could do. Instead, the US appears committed to further provocations, from China’s point of view.

Arming of Taiwan by the US

The United States has always sold arms to Taiwan but the US’s arms supply to Taiwan has increased dramatically during the recent years, with more than $20 billion worth of contracts signed over the past few years. The US pays special attention to supplying the island with anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense equipment, artillery and light weapons.

In late August, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said that China demanded the US should stop selling arms to Taipei and end military contacts with the island in order to avoid further growth of tension in the region. According to the Chinese official, such actions encourage pro-Taiwan separatist forces and lead to an escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait. A day earlier, it was reported that the Biden administration intended to ask Congress to approve a $1.1 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including anti-ship missiles.

China is preparing to go to war

The People’s Republic of China is preparing to go to war and it is not trying to hide its efforts. Amendments to the National Defense Law, effective the first day of last year, transfer powers from civilian to military officials. In general, the amendments reduce the role of the central government’s State Council by shifting power to the CMC, the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission. Specifically, the State Council will no longer supervise the mobilization of the PLA.

Last month, Chinese entrepreneurs making medical equipment for consumers said that local officials had demanded converting production lines so that they could turn out items for the military. Moreover, Chinese academics privately say the ongoing expulsion of foreign colleagues from China’s universities appears to be a preparation for hostilities.

In late September, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged China’s military to focus attention on gearing up for military action. He addressed the conference attended by high-ranking representatives of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC), the People’s Armed Police Force and military academies. “It is imperative to conscientiously summarize and apply successful experience in reforms, to master new situations and understand the requirements of the tasks, to focus on preparing for wars and to have the courage to explore and innovate,” Xi said.

China’s military budgets have been the second biggest in the world during the last decennium. Even Western analysts and military experts admit that China’s military capabilities have grown to world-class level.

China’s modern missile forces are the largest and most capable in the world according to Western analysts. Through a combination of long, medium, intermediate, and short-range missiles as well as a variety of cruise missiles, China has the ability to hit targets in full range cover.

The US government and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) through its “China Power” project wrote a paper titled, “How Are China’s Land-based Conventional Missile Forces Evolving?,” which admitted: “As part of sweeping efforts to modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China has developed one of the most powerful land-based conventional missile arsenals in the world.”

China’s missile forces have been built up specifically to keep the United States and its allies from building up military forces along its periphery and thus threaten Chinese territorial integrity. Together with Chinese air defenses and anti-ship systems, China has assembled formidable anti-access, area denial (A2AD) capabilities that would prevent US military forces from even reaching Chinese targets let alone engaging them.

The PLA’s Airforce employs hundreds of modern warplanes including 5th generation fighter jets. As with Chinese air defenses, Chinese airpower has been heavily influenced by Russian military aviation. The PLA’s Navy has been growing as the largest in the world surpassing the US Navy in number of surface warships.

CSIS scenario planning

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has recently conducted scenario planning looking toward war in the Taiwan Strait. CSIS assumed a war will break out in the Taiwan Strait in 2026. It assumed that the attack would consist of six to eight rounds, each of them lasting three to four days. In total, it would last for three to four weeks.

The scenario planning indicated that in most (but not all) scenarios, the Taiwan military would not fall completely but Taiwan’s economy and infrastructure would be basically destroyed. It said the US military in the Western Pacific would pay a heavy price while the PLA would control one-third to half of Taiwan Island. Then the PLA would not be able to maintain its supply but the US military’s supply would continue. The scenario planning will run until September, with a final report scheduled for December. So far, 18 of the 22 rounds of possible attacks have been carried out.

Other assessments

As Graham Allison states in his recent article “The fastest track to bloody war between China and the United States runs through Taiwan.” However, the American and Chinese governments know that a hot war would be a disaster for both. No serious person in either government wants war. Unfortunately, history offers many examples in which rivals whose leaders did not want war nonetheless found themselves forced to make fateful choices. The past 500 years have seen sixteen cases of such event, which Allison calls “Thucydides Trap”. Twelve resulted in war. When assessing, is the war over Taiwan inevitable between China and the US, the historical record suggests war is more likely than not.

China’s newly published white paper titled “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era”, which outlines China’s plan for post-reunification governance over the island and shown China’s confidence in promoting and implementing “one country, two systems” in the island after reunification.

The assessment of the Author is based on Chinese long-term thinking and performance. Their “normal” response is not sudden or hot-headed but surprisingly widely is based on thoughts and wisdom of Sun Tzu. Therefore, it seems likely that re-unification process is now accelerated by Pelosi’s visit and Russia’s experiences from Ukraine crisis. In this context, Russia’s role or the significance of Ukraine crisis cannot be underestimated.

China is exercising the forced re-unification by blockade. It will take place, when time is favourable, from the viewpoint of China’s leadership. The process will be intensifying in next 2-4 years period so, that every time China is exercising the maneuver, stakes are higher and stronger, until the exercise maneuver turns out to a real military invasion.

Patrushev’s express visit to China after SCO summit

Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, spent two days in China (September 18.-19.), where he met with Chinese colleagues. Obviously, the meetings were held as part of the implementation of the decisions reached as a result of the bilateral meeting between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at the SCO summit in Uzbekistan. The Putin-Xi meeting ended on September 15, and Patrushev’s visit followed immediately afterwards. This speaks to the importance of the visit.

The parties agreed to “expand the exchange of information on countering extremism and foreign attempts to undermine the constitutional order of both countries in order to undermine the independent policy of Russia and China in the service of their national interests. “The parties said that the United States was escalating tension in the Asia-Pacific region and confirmed to continue military cooperation. Russia is ready to provide military assistance to China in the event of US aggression in the Asia-Pacific region.

This seems to be something bigger than just cooperation. This begins to look like “a pre-party before full-fledged cooperation” in the event of hostilities in Southeast Asia. The speed by which the meeting was organized, suggests a sharp escalation of the global military-political situation and corresponds to requests from the Chinese side.

Deliberation and assessment of Taiwan case, in light of latest events

Western media and politicians were once again quite totally at sea, when examining the SCO summit and its results as well as analyzing Putin-Xi meeting.

China did not rebuke Russia – it endorsed the allies’ current modus operandi and left room for even greater expansion. In fact, Xi’s statements and actions indicate tacit acceptance of Russia’s war. The Sino-Russian entente flourished, even more so than in February. The failure of Western analysts to see the reality is confused by wishful thinking.

The meeting and the readout signaled that Xi and Putin have unity of purpose.  China will balance its various considerations but still support Russia diplomatically, while leaving the door open for expanded strategic support. Russia accepts the situation and agrees to diplomatic support for China’s political-territorial claims. Both still seek in concert to create a “fairer” multipolar system that respects and accommodates their particular interests.

The longer this Ukraine crisis continues and the more terrain Russia can hold, the closer it comes to China’s invasion of Taiwan.  China and Russia stand together, although this war will continue indefinitely. 

The timing of these two meetings (Xi-Putin meeting/SCO summit and Patrushev’s express visit in Beijing) is interesting, because the prime season for a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan is fast approaching (October is the best month for naval movements to avoid typhoons). China would not necessarily need to commit to a ground invasion, either. They organize a naval blockade, by simply cut off all import/export trade from any source other than China and starve Taiwan until they accept re-unification.

Russia and China may even be making a deal of mutual support: China takes Taiwan while Russia divides Ukraine and takes best parts of it and they each support the other economically, when NATO counties try to impose more sanctions on China and Russia.

Reader should be noticed that just a couple of days after the SCO summit, Russia announced a partial mobilization and the referendums, which are definitely the game-changers in Ukraine crisis.

China’s ruling Communist Party will hold its five-yearly congress beginning on October 16, with Xi Jinping poised to secure a historic third leadership term and cement his place as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Before that congress, no major foreign political decisions / operations will be made in China but what happens after the congress… that is the real question.

China’s vast holdings of US dollars and Treasury Bonds could be used as a weapon to damage or destroy the dollar’s world reserve status. If China invades Taiwan within a year, China may start with the massive selling of US Treasury Bonds, which will collapse the value of bonds and skyrocket the interest rate in the US, by this operation destroying the US economy and at the same time making “the Great Reset” worldwide.