Geopolitics

Strait Talk: China Invading Taiwan Is Mostly Just A Matter Of Time

Though Beijing is not likely to launch any overt operation right away, experts predict it's most likely to try to force Taiwan's reunification between 2025 and 2030. This would almost certainly prompt a U.S. response.

A tank deployed during the National Army Lunar New Year's Military Drill, in Taiwan.
Deng Yuwen

-Analysis-

TAIPEI — There has been no shortage of recent warnings about China trying to take over Taiwan by force. The May 1 cover story of The Economist called Taiwan: "The most dangerous place on earth."

Against the backdrop of rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait is an intensified Sino-U.S. confrontation. Washington's frequent use of the Taiwan card to contain China has sparked military intimidation from Beijing in the past two years. The tensions are a reminder that there is no longer anything like the "1992 Consensus' that had established a diplomatic challenge across the Strait, ever since Tsai Ing-Wen became Taiwan's president.

And yet an even more fundamental cause of the rising conflict is that China's growing might is shifting the structure of the entire Asia-Pacific region. Xi Jinping has set national rejuvenation as one of his goals since he came to power. No matter how great his achievement may be, unless Taiwan is joined to the mainland his stated ambitions would be ultimately judged as empty talk by history.

And to boldly predict this, the ultimate deadline for fulfilling this goal is likely to be set for 2050 when China will have achieved the so-called Socialist Modernization, and when it is also the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party"s establishment of the People's Republic of China.

However, considering the age of China's leaders and the schedule of the handover of power within the party, it is possible that China will attempt to advance the timing for taking over Taiwan to around 2030. Certain experts in the U.S. also agree that this is the likely timetable.

In other words, Beijing is most likely to try to force Taiwan's reunification between 2025 and 2030. Admiral Philip S. Davidson, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander, testified before Congress in March saying he fears that Beijing could try to take control of Taiwan as early as 2027.

The likelihood of a peaceful reunification is quite low.

The problem for Chinese authorities are the costs of reunification. The way Xi Jinping has handled Hong Kong in the past two years has led to weaker and weaker support in Taiwan for the idea that "There is only one China, but the two political entities can differ on its definition" touted by Nationalists, let alone the principle of "One country, Two systems' supposedly applied in Hong Kong and which could be followed by Taiwan.

In other words, the likelihood of a peaceful reunification is quite low — despite China becoming the world's No. 1 economic power, or has even democratized. For most Taiwanese people, particularly the younger generations, Taiwan is Taiwan, China is China. Why should Taiwan be ruled by China?

Thus, the logic follows, that leaves the only option of invasion. And this of course has its own costs. Not just because there's a risk this can fail, but also because it is very troublesome to manage a place after a war, particularly one strongly opposed by the international community.

Apart from Xi's ambition, whether China will attack Taiwan in the next decade depends mainly on whether the cost of a Sino-U.S. or Sino-West confrontation is as great as the cost of occupying Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Xichuan County, May 13, 2021 — Photo: Ju Peng

If Beijing judges that the two costs are equal, a war is almost certain to occur. This is because even if the U.S. interferes, China may have the military capabilities to succeed. Beijing has always envisaged cross-Strait warfare with the hypothesis of US participation. Its vigorous efforts in modernizing its military is squarely aimed at Washington.

In the conflict simulations conducted by the Pentagon, if the U.S. sends troops when a Taiwan conflict breaks out, they are increasingly likely to be defeated. It's unpredictable to what extent Sino-U.S. antagonism will grow in the next ten years. Consequently, it's hard to say whether the new Cold War will evolve into confrontation between China and the entire West, thus almost driving Beijing to the point of fighting a war.

Nonetheless, in my personal view, the possibility that China attacks Taiwan in the next five years can be excluded. China's primary tasks right now are to build the durability of its economic system and to make up for technological shortcomings. For Taiwan, Beijing has rather opted for the idea of an "integrated development" while containing "Taiwan independence" at the same time. Unless Tsai Ing-wen's government openly declares Taiwan's independence a cross-Strait war can be ruled out for the moment.

Nevertheless, it's a lot harder to predict the situation beyond five years' time. If Beijing's technology strategy fails and its semiconductor industry, especially the chip sector is still subject to the U.S. ban, then Taiwan's advanced semiconductor industry may be deemed worthy of a risky use of force by Beijing.

Rarely do we hear the role that Taiwan can play mentioned.

In the hypothesis where America's political division and partisan struggles continue to deepen under President Joe Biden's administration, and that his major infrastructure plan does not achieve the expected success, Donald Trump (or another similar leader) is likely to make a comeback. This could turn the country's current China policy even more confrontational. In this case, Beijing may again turn its anger against Taiwan.

In almost all scenarios of China's possible aggression towards Taiwan, rarely do we hear the role that Taiwan can play mentioned. This is not because experts deliberately ignore Taiwan, but because Taiwan, in comparison with China, is too small in size and unable to guard against China's force just by itself. Still, Taiwan shouldn't just wait to be captured. Even if it cannot ultimately protect itself, Taiwan can probably postpone the arrival of a possible invasion.

The Taiwanese government is unlikely to make excuses or justifications to encourage Beijing to attack the country. Yet, Taiwan should also not get caught up in stoking hatred toward China. This is a test of wisdom and patience for Taiwan's ruling administration and for the Taiwanese people.

The United States and the West will clearly continue to oppose Beijing's use of force in taking Taiwan. Even if this doesn't necessarily deter Beijing, such a clear statement should be a moral responsibility.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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