Taiwan Chinas next target DW Analysis

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Preparing for war in Taiwan. Taiwan’s military forces, training for a scenario they hope will never happen: A Chinese invasion from across the sea. Taiwan’s president herself, Tsai Ing-wen, comes to rally the troops. "We want the world to see our determination and efforts to protect our country.” Taiwan has good reason to worry, facing its giant neighbour across a narrow strait of water.. This year, Chinese warplanes have flown close to Taiwan over and over again. Probing, prodding, until Taiwanese fighters intercept. And out at sea, Chinese warships add to the sense of constant threat. Taiwan has lived with that threat for more than 70 years. But now it’s rising to a new level. And the world needs to pay attention. Under President Xi Jinping, China has been flexing its muscles more and more openly. Not just on occasions like its 70th anniversary parade. This year, in one of the most remote places in the world… China’s mountainous border zone with India… Out of the blue, a sudden escalation in tensions between Chinese and Indian troops left dozens of people dead. China’s defence ministry published video of its forces training in Tibet… the message seeming to be: we’re ready for anything. Relations with the United States have soured to the brink of a new Cold War, with Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at loggerheads about a huge range of issues. Within its own borders to the northwest, China has ignored international condemnation of “re-education camps” -- part of a sweeping crackdown on its Uighur minority. And in Hong Kong… Since a wave of protests began last year, China moved more and more aggressively to assert direct control of this former British Colony. And this summer the arrests of prominent regime critics began, after a new “national security law” stripping away many of Hong Kong’s freedoms. This crackdown in Hong Kong is what’s most chilling of all for Taiwan. China sees the self-governing, democratic island off its southeastern coast as a province of its own — a place that must be brought under its control, too. And here’s the thing… China says it reserves the right to take Taiwan by FORCE… In a speech just last year, President Xi Jinping framed the threat like this: “We do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures.” No wonder people in Taiwan are now increasingly worried. “I think China is in the mode of expansion, trying to expand outward.” “The threat is very real and therefore Taiwan's preparation is also very serious.” “What is unfolding in Hong Kong right now, I think, gave us a hard lesson that we really need to do better to safeguard our democracy.” “2020 to 2030 is the most dangerous time in the earth, in my opinion, for a conflict with China over these disputed territories.” And as we’ll see, it’s far from certain that Taiwan would get any help if China DID mount an attack. So in this video we’re going to ask… what COULD actually happen? We’re going to examine three possible scenarios — guided by experts who’ve been studying the risks for years. Ranging from China chipping away at Taiwan’s defences… To a murky annexation of an outlying island, Crimea style… And in the final and most dangerous scenario, an all-out invasion. Something that could not only be a disaster for Taiwan, but bring China and the US to the brink of a war that would change the world. “Everything that happens in this scenario happens under the shadow of a potential nuclear war, because that's what this could lead to. ((It's extremely dangerous and extremely serious.))” Some of what we’re going to see and hear is genuinely frightening. But if this year has taught us anything… it’s that nightmare scenarios can happen. And it’s better to be prepared. “Europeans need to start planning for this contingency. And need to think through what their actions could look like.” Before we get into those scenarios, we’re going to deal with two important questions: WHY does China WANT to take over Taiwan? And first of all, what IS Taiwan? It sounds like a simple question, but this is no ordinary place. There’s nowhere like it, anywhere in the world. The story takes us back to 1949, when the island was known as “Formosa.” “In the heart of the China Sea is Formosa… once the home of Asiatic pirates and headhunters. It is a mountainous, leaf-shaped island about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined…” It was the aftermath of the Second World War, and Mao Zedong’s Communists had won victory in China’s Civil War — a conflict that had dragged on for more than two decades. The defeated Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek found refuge on Taiwan, where they planned to regroup and mount a fightback. “From Formosa, Chiang hopes to launch the attack that will rout the Communists.” Chiang’s side was supported by the United States, but that dream of re-conquering China turned out to be a fantasy. Instead, with the Cold War eventually came a kind of stalemate. All along, both Chiang and Mao insisted that there was only ONE China and that THEY were the rightful ruler of it. Chiang was a fervent anti-Communist but he was no democrat. He ruled Taiwan as a military dictatorship right up until his death in 1975. It was only under this man, Lee Tung-hui, that Taiwan began moving towards democracy. “Lee Teng-hui is being described by the international community and also viewed a lot here in Taiwan as the father of Taiwan's modern day democracy. And why is that? He is the key person who really kicked off a step by step by step democratization from the early 90s up until 1996, when he held the first Democratic presidential election in Taiwan history. And of course, he won that election by a very comfortable margin. And he went on to further consolidate all the democratic institutions here in Taiwan.” Lee’s reforms were a historic turning point for Taiwan. Ever since, Taiwan has made huge economic strides and flourished into an open — even raucous — democratic society of almost 24 million people. How to deal with China has been one of the major battlegrounds of Taiwanese democratic politics. From 2008 - 2016, former president Ma Ying-jeou pursued a policy of trying to improve relations with China. Economic ties grew stronger. But eventually there was a backlash. Student protests called the “Sunflower movement” sprang up in 2014, accusing Ma of going too far with a major Chinese trade agreement. People feared it would make Taiwan TOO dependent on Beijing. And in the election two years later, Tsai Ing-wen of the opposition DPP party swept to office. She became Taiwan’s first female leader on a platform that was far more critical of China — and confidently asserting Taiwan’s distinct identity. “"Taiwan is a democracy and a free country. This country's great feature is that everyone has the right to be him or herself.” Joseph Wu serves as Foreign Minister in Tsai’s government. He spoke to DW in Taipei. “You understand that Taiwan is not run by China. We elect our own government, our president is democratically elected. Our parliament is also democratically elected. We have a ministry of foreign affairs that engages with the international community. So Taiwan is not run by China. Taiwan is not part of the PRC. And that is the fact.” That doesn’t go down at all well in Beijing… We spoke to expert Wang Huiyao there, who runs a think tank that’s close to the government. They are really seeking more separation from China… There's a lot of a lot of things that the current administration is doing that are really not good for the cross-strait relations.” But public opinion in Taiwan seems to be moving in Tsai’s direction. More and more people are identifying not according to Chinese roots — but as Taiwanese. “In May 2020, the Pew Research Center did a survey among Taiwanese people. And the number and the percentage of Taiwanese people identifying themselves as Taiwanese just again rose to the historic high, while the number of people identifying themselves as Chinese continue to just decline. And I think that, again, just reflects the growing generational difference between the younger generation, which considers the importance of maintaining their Taiwanese identity versus the older generation, which still feels like a big part of their life, has a very deep connection to China.” Meanwhile Taiwan’s successes have continued to add up. Just one example… its high-tech economy is home to TSMC, the world’s most advanced silicon chipmaker, one now driving a huge proportion of the world’s smartphones. In the Coronavirus pandemic, Taiwan’s effective response has become the envy of the world… And its society has opened up in striking ways — even become the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage, in 2019. You would think that for other liberal democracies like here in the West, Taiwan would be a natural friend and ally. Well, think again. Only 15 countries in the WORLD recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state, most of them tiny. The rest long ago switched recognition to China. Even in Europe, home of proud democracies. Britain switched recognition to China way back in 1950. France in 1964. And Germany in 1972. In fact, the only country in Europe that has full diplomatic relations with Taiwan is… The Vatican. Population, 825. “If we think about Taiwan as a place — what kind of a place it is — then it is a vibrant democracy. It is a tech superpower.” Janka Oertel is a China expert at the ECFR think tank in Berlin. “It is a country that is playing a role — could play a role in the global system that could be quite substantial, and very close to where Europe’s at, at the moment. So it’s quite surprising, in a way, that our relations are not as close as they could be.” But any attempts by European countries to strengthen ties with Taipei soon meet with powerful pushback from China. During a recent visit to Taiwan by a group of lawmakers from the Czech Republic, China’s foreign minister threatened that the delegation’s leader would “pay a heavy price”. “That is foreign interference in China’s internal affairs. China must respond appropriately. There is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China’s territory. That’s the consensus in the whole world.” Likewise China’s influence means Taiwan is frozen out of key international bodies including the United Nations. The same goes for the World Health Organisation — which has been especially frustrating for Taiwan during the Coronavirus pandemic. “The Chinese government was able to mobilize its allies in the international organization to block Taiwan's participation, no matter how many, like-minded countries there are in helping Taiwan. We think that, you know, boycotts or exclusion of Taiwan people from participating in these international organizations. It's not fair to the Taiwanese people.” Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation deepened profoundly in 1979. US President Jimmy Carter welcomed Deng Xiaoping to the White House, and switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The US didn’t abandon Taiwan completely — it softened the blow with some reassurances on defence. But crucially, those reassurances are far from watertight. “One is that the United States would provide defensive weapons and services to Taiwan as necessary, and did not define what defensive meant. Bonnie Glaser is an expert on China and Taiwan at the CSIS think tank in Washington. “And then the second obligation is to for the United States itself to maintain the military capability in the West Pacific to prevent intimidation and coercion against Taiwan. Now, notably, that is not a commitment to come to Taiwan's defense in the event that it is attacked.” It means the United States is a sort of half-ally of Taiwan. It’s sold large amounts of weapons to Taipei over the decades… something that’s stepped up a gear under the Trump administration. “What we see is the United States seems to be more serious than ever in their commitment to peace and stability in this region. The United States has been regularizing its arms sales to Taiwan whenever we have an item to request the United States to make available to Taiwan, they review it right away, and normally they would make it available to Taiwan after that review period. So it's been quite regular now and we appreciate that very much.” But in the meantime China has become dramatically more powerful — as proudly displayed on the streets of Beijing. Making it pose a far greater threat to Taiwan. The Taiwanese military is completely dwarfed in comparison. And adding to the challenge, it doesn’t have enough recruits. The armed forces have been producing videos like this to try to drum up enthusiasm among potential young soldiers. But they’ve been struggling to make up for a shortfall left by a phasing out of conscription. So that’s where Taiwan stands, right now in 2020. A striking success story in many ways — and yet incredibly vulnerable to China. So now to our next question -- why DOES Beijing want to take over Taiwan? It’s 2015 and this blurry footage from China’s state media starts to circulate around the world. It shows a military exercise, purportedly happening at a remote desert base. But there’s one thing that seizes attention. This building in the background in various shots… looked very familiar to people in Taiwan. It appeared to be modelled on the Presidential Office in Taipei — THE symbol of Taiwan’s government. Satellite imagery later emerged also showing the similarity. Taiwan made official protests — but Beijing brushed them off, saying the drill was a routine exercise. And yet there’s nothing hidden or new about China’s desire to take control of Taiwan. This goes back all the way to the unfinished business of the Chinese civil war. As we saw earlier, both Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek said there was only ONE China and they were the rightful leader of it. And even today, ONE CHINA remains a sacrosanct principle for Beijing. “They share the same history, language. They share the same culture, the same background. They just have a little different system.” As seen from Beijing, with Hong Kong having returned to China in 1997, Taiwan would be the last piece in the puzzle for China’s restoration as a unified, great nation — overcoming a legacy of historical scars. “China actually, in the past 100, 200 years, China has suffered the foreign powers and has been humiliated by many Western powers in the past. I think that it's important that China maintains a unified country, and particularly when China now has already become more prosperous and more economically developed. And so that, you know, people can really enjoy the benefits of becoming one great greater China to unify with the mainland.” But there’s more to this than nationalism and identity. Taiwan’s position in the so-called “first island chain” skirting China’s southeast makes it HIGHLY important from a strategic point of view. Controlling it could fatally undermine America’s current power in the region. “If Taiwan falls. If Taiwan were to be occupied by the Chinese military… Analyst Ian Easton wrote a book “The Chinese Invasion Threat” working through these strategic questions. “Then it becomes almost impossible to defend our entire network of treaty allies in the Asia-Pacific. How do we defend Japan from a blockade at that point, or how do we defend South Korea? How do we defend the Philippines? Because at any time they could be invaded from Taiwan if China is there.” And conversely, controlling Taiwan would be crucial for China shoring up its OWN position. “China would be quite fearful if another country had forces on Taiwan because then it would have, in a sense, a base place where force could be projected against China. And that is the biggest fear that China has. Now, if the Chinese were able to occupy Taiwan, that would aid them in projecting force and preventing interference by foreign forces and particularly the United States.” In 2005, China made this a matter of national law. The National People’s Congress agreed on an “Anti-Secession Law” that declared “reunifying the motherland” as the “sacred duty of all Chinese people, Taiwanese compatriots included.” It was passed by 2896 votes to zero. “The Chinese government passed a law. They take this very seriously. And there's a strong will of 1.3, 1.4 billion people that are behind this National People's Congress law that, you know, they will not tolerate any secession.” The law held out the prospect of a Hong-Kong-style approach of “one country, two systems.” “China welcomes one country, two system. China would let Taiwan do whatever its economic side and also a free enterprise capitalist, whatever, that it would not be really influenced by China. So as long as the sovereignty is within the one China policy, this system, Taiwan can keep its existing system without changes.” But Hong Kong’s recent experience with “one country, two systems” has left the concept in serious doubt. And under Xi Jinping, the threat of resorting to FORCE against Taiwan is quite open — as we saw earlier. “We do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures.” And the latest National People’s Congress only added to fears the threat was becoming more explicit. “I think sent a signal that, of course, China wants to have a peaceful reunification. But, you know, who knows?” This ambiguity in China’s messaging — and the anti-secession law itself — leaves a LOT open to interpretation. “It's not completely clear what China's red lines are. But the most important of the circumstances, I believe, is the one that is completely open-ended, and that is in the anti secession law. It basically says if over time Taiwan does not agree to unify peacefully, then force can be used to achieve that goal. And that is really the one that is quite worrisome.” And with every passing year, China’s military has been getting stronger. With massive investments in exactly the sorts of weapons that it would need to invade Taiwan — and crucially, to deter or repel any American attempt to stop it. James Fanell was Chief of intelligence for the US Pacific Fleet until 2015. He recalls how he watched the Chinese navy grow since the beginning of his career. “The Chinese navy at that time had a few ships that we followed from the North Sea fleet, but really nothing else that concerned us. And now, 30 years later, the Chinese Navy is larger than the US Navy in terms of total number of ships. And they certainly are outpacing the US Navy in the Western Pacific and the Seventh Fleet where I served.” “And for the last five, five years plus, they've been producing literally five times as many ships per year as the US Navy produces.” Those ships include two aircraft carriers and many of these amphibious warfare ships — the sort of vessel that could bring marines to Taiwan’s coast. And China has the edge in crucial missiles, too. Missiles designed to destroy precisely the kinds of ships that the US might use to defend Taiwan. “China built these missiles and they invested a lot of time and energy to become the world's leaders in anti-ship cruise missile technology. They have these anti ship cruise missiles like the YJ 18, which has a three hundred kilometer range that's longer than anything that the United States has right now. And it's also supersonic and it has these high-G high manoeuvring capabilities that can defeat defensive systems close in weapons systems. And they've built them up by the truckload, essentially.” So take all this together — and China’s dramatic military build-up hasn’t just totally outgunned Taiwan. It’s even made it a serious rival to the United States in the Pacific. “Even five years ago, the ability of the United States to come to Taiwan's defense was greater than it is today.” And with the balance of power shifting in China’s favour — the prospect looms larger that it will decide to act. James Fanell says there is even a kind of historical deadline on the horizon — the 100-year anniversary of Communist China in 2049. “I believe that whoever is the leader of the People's Republic of China on 1 October, 2049 is going to stand up in front of the Forbidden City and give a speech to the people of China, a billion plus people. And that person is going to have to say we have achieved the great rejuvenation of China and we are now completely restored and whole and we erased the shame of the century of humiliation.” Fanell argues that any invasion would need to be conducted in the next decade for the dust to settle in time for that momentous date. “My theory is, is if you could take 20 years is about the time that the world will forget anything, then you back that up from twenty, forty nine. You're basically at 2030. And so I've characterized what we're in right now -- it's just begun -- is the decade of concern. 2020 to 2030 is the most dangerous time in the earth, in my opinion, for a conflict with China over these disputed territories.” So China’s leadership has the motivation — and it increasingly has the means to make a military move against Taiwan. So what might China actually do? Let’s turn to our three scenarios, each one more dangerous than the last. We start by projecting what’s happening right now into the future — with China trying to CHIP AWAY at Taiwan’s defences. And we’re going to ask how far it could go. February 2020. Taiwan’s air force releases this image to the media…. It shows a Taiwanese jet fighter intercepting a Chinese bomber, flying near its airspace. A rare glimpse of the dangerous tension in the skies. The photograph might be rare, but what it shows happens a LOT. Especially this year. Taiwanese military expert Yuan Li-chiang explains a typical flight path the Chinese planes follow. “Make an encirclement — flying out from Miyako Strait, go to the eastern side of Taiwan, then flying down, then return back to China taking the route of the Bashi Channel. Then we will need to respond by sending aircraft fighters — for example the IDF, our indigenous fighters — or F16s, to respond. To make sure.” “We are defending our skies. We are defending our waters. At every moment in the last few decades.” This constant probing, pressuring from the Chinese side is like a stress test on multiple levels. It’s partly aimed at demoralising the Taiwanese public. But it’s also simply wearing down Taiwan’s planes. “Every time Taiwan has to scramble a fighter jet that not only weakens the airframe because every fighter jet that's made has a limited number of hours that it can fly. And so by having them constantly on strip alert. With their wings fully loaded with heavy munitions and with external fuel tanks, that weakens the wings as well, and it also takes the pilots away from other activities that would improve their readiness.” And perhaps most importantly — all this probing generates hugely valuable insights for the Chinese military. James Fanell, who led US naval intelligence in the Pacific, explains. “You have to know your adversary’s defensive structure and its network, its air defense radar system. Where are the weaknesses? Where are the strengths? How long does it take a fighter, F-16 fighter in Taiwan to get off the ground to respond to a JH7 coming from this air base or a J11 coming from that base or a KJ2000 coming from this base — an early warning aircraft. So they're testing all of these little nuance things … Down to minute detail of minutes, seconds of how long things take to respond, who doesn't respond, which base comes first, telephone calls, text messages between different government leaders and defense officials. They're mapping all of that out.” In the cyber realm, too, China continues to probe and chip away. Yuan Li-chiang explains. “Just very re cently, Taiwan has found that 10 of the government agencies had been attacked by Chinese hackers… That has been happening very frequently in Taiwan.” This unassuming building in Shanghai reportedly houses the military hacking unit 61398 that Taiwan suspects of launching many attacks. But Bonnie Glaser adds, the sources of the attacks may be broader based — and the objectives are varied. “It's unclear whether they are all tied to the Chinese military or party… to try and insert themselves into websites in Taiwan to extract information. Some of it is espionage related. Others are are aimed at demonstrating to Taiwan the cyber capability that China has that could be used in a crisis.” All this belongs to what’s called the grey zone -- hostile activities that stop short of outright military action. “They're constantly hitting Taiwan with cyber attacks, with disinformation, misinformation, attacks and, of course, espionage. If they're constantly working through propaganda channels and other channels to weaken and demoralize the Taiwanese military and isolate the Taiwanese government.” And with its open society, Taiwan is highly vulnerable to disinformation campaigns — says expert Chiaoning Su. “These efforts, I think they are getting more and more sophisticated. They are aiming to interfere with Taiwan's internal social and political lives.” In one notorious case, a Taiwanese official was allegedly driven to suicide over unsubstantiated stories on Chinese social media outlets that he had failed in his duties. “I think the ultimate purpose most of the time is to create confusion in a society, to create distrust in the government, to create division among peoples. And when there is confusion, when there is distrust in democracy, then there is an opportunity for the idea of authoritarianism being accepted.”+++ It adds up to a multi-faceted information war. “China has long pursued a united front policy and tactics against Taiwan and so tried to build support within Taiwan for unification…. And that includes buying media in Taiwan and buying off some people in Taiwan, maybe even trying to buy votes and inserting people in Taiwan and trying to shape the narrative.” So could this scenario of chipping away that’s happening RIGHT NOW — eventually SUCCEED? “The hope, I think, in Beijing is that the Taiwanese will eventually just crumble, that the society can crumble, and that ultimately over the next five to 10 years, they can subvert Taiwan's government and its democracy from within.” But if Taiwan DOESN’T crumble -- it could push back, becoming MORE determined to stand alone. And that is something that could ultimately trigger a crisis. Perhaps one like our next scenario. Cast your mind back to early 2014. You might remember scenes like this. Seemingly out of nowhere, heavily armed troops began showing up at key installations…. in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Adding to the sense of confusion — the troops bore no insignia. They wouldn’t say who they were — or who had sent them. People started calling them “little green men.” But it soon became clear what was going on. The little green men belonged to Russia. And their mission was stunningly audacious: nothing less than annexing Crimea. In hindsight, Russia’s motivations for taking control of the Crimean peninsula seem quite obvious. It housed a strategically vital Russian naval base, which Moscow leased from Ukraine. After weeks of unrest in the capital Kyiv that culminated in the fall of the central Ukrainian government, Russia made its move. But this wasn’t just about securing a naval base. This was also about Russian national pride. It staged a referendum in Crimea to make the case that locals wanted to join the motherland. The vote was dismissed as a sham by the West, but for Vladimir Putin, it served as a domestic political triumph. Western powers were aghast at what Putin had done. But they were helpless. They imposed sanctions — but six years later, nothing has changed. So: could this serve as a blueprint for a similar Chinese move against part of Taiwan? Let’s take a look at the map. Taiwan has a large number of outlying islands that could be vulnerable to being plucked away like Crimea. From the tiny reefs of Ito Aba and Pratas down in the South China Sea — through the Penghu Islands just off the Taiwanese Coast — right up to Matsu well to the north. But we’re going to focus in here… on the “Jinman” islands, spelled Kinmen. They are just two kilometres from the Chinese mainland port of Xiamen. You could swim it. These islands have history. Back in the 1950s they were the focus of two major post-war crises between Taiwan and China. Neither side has forgotten. Despite that history — today Kinmen has close ties to the Chinese city of Xiamen just across the harbour. It now pipes in much of its drinking water from the mainland. Beyond that, it has important intelligence and strategic value, according to expert Ian Easton. “Kinmen controls the mouth of Xiamen Bay. Xiamen is the largest port facility by far in southeastern China. Kinmen is a granite fortress. It is honeycombed with tunnels. There are tanks there. There are rocket systems there. There's artillery, heavy artillery and there's mortar systems. There's also a lot of Marines there and special forces troops there which could theoretically conduct sabotage missions. And of course, it's a major focal point for intelligence collection.” So how might a Crimea-style scenario play out in Kinmen? Well, there could be political trigger — a Taiwanese statement, for example, that China could interpret as breaking its anti-secession law. Ian Easton explains how things might then begin. “Well, the most likely course of action, I think, for them would be to conduct a massive sabotage operation against everything from cyber attack to electronic jamming to having commandos and intelligence agents and assets on the ground start potentially assassinating military commanders, blowing things up, knocking the power out.” China’s maritime militia could be brought into play here… You could compare them to Russia’s little green men. They’ve been involved in international confrontations over fishing rights in the South China Sea — something Taiwan has been watching closely. “While Russia used little green men — people could call it little blue men. In the South China Sea, it’s very likely that China mobilised those maritime militia to harass those fishing boats from surrounding countries.” “You're going to see Kinmen then surrounded by and flooded with maritime militia. So these are ostensibly members of the PLA, but they looks like civilian fishermen oftentimes. And so it creates a very serious dilemma for the Marines and the Army troops that are on Kinmen, the garrison there, of do they shoot or not? And when do they shoot and at what point should they start shooting? Is it when they're closing in? So when they've already landed and now they're swarming the island and taking over facilities and of course, they would be mixed in with undercover special forces from the PLA as well.” The aim would likely be to move fast — creating facts on the ground as quickly as possible like Russia did in Crimea. And it would pose a major dilemma for the government back in Taipei. “Taipei is not necessarily going to know how to react, but there's not necessarily going to be a consensus in Taipei on the value of Kinmen and the value of escalating to a potentially an all out war with the PRC over Kinmen. There are going to be some in Taiwan that would say, well, Kinmen historically was part of F.ujian province. It's not actually part of Taiwan. It's not it's kind of foreign territory that we occupied at the end of the Chinese civil war. And it's not worth escalating over.” In Washington, it would also present a dilemma — but it seems likely there would be little American appetite to intervene militarily. “It's very difficult to judge how the United States would react to a limited use of force against Taiwan. It would likely come with very little warning and it might be over very quickly. “I think that the United States reaction would primarily be one of responding and it would be rhetorical and it would be mobilizing the international community against China. There might be an effort to put sanctions on China, but I doubt that there would be a use of force by the United States to punish China for what it had done.” So could this be a relatively painless scenario for China… something with diplomatic costs it could accept, like Vladimir Putin’s experience with Crimea? Well… it’s not necessarily so clear-cut. It would most likely trigger anti-China protests in Taiwan, much more intense than the sunflower movement we heard about earlier. Rallying public opinion against closer ties with China — and potentially making it harder to achieve Beijing’s overarching goal of taking over Taiwan completely. And even if the US decided not to intervene — the takeover could prompt Washington to increase its commitment to defending Taiwan proper. For China, even this relatively limited pushback might not be worth it. “I think it's the risk there is it upsets the overall strategic aim of the great rejuvenation, the great restoration. My opinion is once China pulls the lanyard and says we're going after Taiwan, they're going to go after Taiwan. If they're going to go with the military, they're going to go all the way and they're not going to go halfway.” So let’s now turn to our final and most dangerous scenario… China going all the way and invading Taiwan. It’s a decade or so in the future. Beneath the surface in the Chinese Communist Party, there are growing signs of dissent. China’s economy has been underperforming for years, held back by a sharp fall in global trade that lingered after the coronavirus pandemic. Tensions with the US have turned into a chronic cold war. Beijing has kept pouring money into its military, but debt is soaring…. and China’s population is beginning to shrink… The party chairman is under growing pressure to break out of this sense of national decline…. or face being forced out of office by party rivals. This makes Taiwan look like an increasingly tempting target. Its economy is strong but its military disadvantage is deeper than ever. And its people — appalled by what happened to Hong Kong — look even less likely to join China voluntarily. Meanwhile in the United States, recounts are underway in key swing states after a bitter election ended with razor-tight results. Both sides are claiming victory — and accusing the other of having help from foreign powers. As the legal challenges fly back and forth, the U.S. faces months of political uncertainty… A power vacuum in the United States… A push for national pride in a stagnating China. And Taiwan, as exposed as it has ever been. These are the sort of circumstances that could tempt China to make a move. So… IF it came to that… how might an invasion play out? “So you'd have first, initially, a joint fire strike campaign, which would launch in all these missiles. It wouldn't just be one missile per one installation in Taiwan. They would use four or five, maybe 10 to one to make sure that every defensive position in Taiwan had been attacked, every airfield had been cratered, every naval port disabled. And then they would then come in and put their air force over the top and establish air superiority so that if any Taiwan aircraft tried to get off the ground, it would be decimated. And while all that's going on in simultaneity, the amphibious forces would be coming across and those helos would come off first and launch and land forces into key points that they wanted to clear for amphibious landings. And once those were established, then you come in with much larger craft that would be in their civilian fleet, that would have literally scores and scores, thousands and thousands of PLA soldiers embarked. That could just walk right off the pier.” Now of course Taiwan would be trying to defend itself. Yuan Li-chiang explains how it would have to be smart about using its much smaller military. “All the assets, including land forces, the tanks, ships, boats, subs, aircraft — have to be used quite effectively. That could be divided into three phases. The first phase is to protect the force itself. The use of deception, camouflage, concealment — those kinds of tactical measures will need to be conducted. So that we will still keep our capability to respond. Then the second phase is to fight in the littoral area — which means away from the coast, the Taiwan coast. That means that the island, the country, the people will be away — the casualties can be minimised. Then the third phase is to annihilate the landing forces … That means attack helicopters, land based missiles … to attack the Chinese PLA navy ships.” But ultimately the best that Taiwan could do is buy time… hoping that the United States would intervene. That would present Washington with some very difficult decisions. “The first dilemma that it's going to be on the table, which is what to do to protect the American citizens in Taiwan, because on any given day there are about seventy nine thousand American citizens in Taiwan. So how to protect them, how to evacuate them, or at least as many as possible” Beyond that, there would be intense pressure to decide whether to follow through with a full-scale effort to defend Taiwan. James Fanell explains the assets the US could mobilise in the Pacific: “The US Navy and the US Seventh Fleet has resources that could disrupt the invasion. So our submarine forces - Commander Task Force 74 - has control of the submarines in the Western Pacific. They would be used to try to disrupt the Chinese invasion, the ships that would come across it. Naval and US air forces that are operating from Japanese bases and our aircraft carrier that's forward deployed to the region would be utilized to help destroy an invasion fleet.” So the U.S. would have options. But intervention would still be a momentous decision. American forces would immediately become Chinese targets, with its Pacific bases LIKE Okinawa in Japan and the tiny island of Guam -- open to attack. And so — even if the US managed to protect Taiwan, its intervention could set off a terrifying chain of escalation — between two superpowers. “That may just be the first battle in what becomes a series of battles that that go on over a number of years in a protracted, great power war. And of course, all of that is assuming that nuclear deterrence holds that that neither government, neither Washington or Beijing, miscalculates and panics and loses its nerve and does anything with nuclear weapons. If they do, then we're talking about a potential nuclear war. And that would be truly horrific. And so there's also everything that happens in this scenario happens under the shadow of a potential nuclear war, because that's what this could lead to. It's extremely dangerous and extremely serious.” Now of course we’ve been talking about this happening perhaps a decade in the future. But some of these conditions could emerge much sooner than that. “If you look at the internal situation in China at this moment, the economy has been affected by covid-19 and also affected by the very serious floods recently and therefore the whole economic production in China has suffered. And under these kinds of circumstances, maybe the Chinese people will blame their leaders for the wrongdoings or economic slowdown in China. And under these kinds of circumstances, the Chinese leaders, the authoritarian leaders may find Taiwan as a convenient scapegoat and therefore Taiwan needs to be doubly concerned about the Chinese possible use of force against us.” The world might not have 10 years to think about these risks. So what can it do to minimise them? As we’ve just seen… A conflict over Taiwan has the potential to spark a war between superpowers. Even the most benign scenario we just examined is fraught with risk. So what should the world be doing about it? Let’s start with the United States. Some of the experts we’ve heard from believe the US has to make a much clearer commitment to Taiwan’s defence. “Either we're going to stand up to a totalitarian regime and the Chinese Communist Party, or we're going to watch them take Taiwan by hook or crook. And it's not going to be a world that I think many of us want to live in.” “Right now our policy towards Taiwan — it doesn't make a lot of sense. There's so much strategic ambiguity that has built into this that it's ripe for miscalculation. By not providing credible guarantees to Taiwan's security and messaging to Beijing that the United States is serious about Taiwan security — that increases risk by a significant degree. We would never do this with South Korea. With Japan. Strategic ambiguity doesn’t work. We know it’s destabilising. And yet -- we’re doing that with Taiwan.” A new bill in Congress aims to make big changes — committing future presidents to defending Taiwan in the event of attack. Its author, Congressman Ted Yoho — a Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — explains. “The Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act does several things. One, it delineates if there were an attack on Taiwan by China that it would authorize an AUMF of the United States Congress to allow the president to go in and defend Taiwan militarily.” An AUMF — that’s an authorisation for use of military force. “And I think the biggest thing it does is it gets rid of the strategic or political or diplomatic ambiguity that's lasted since the 70s … It's been just a lot of ambiguity of where Taiwan stands.” But critics say this could backfire -- either by provoking China, or encouraging risky behaviour by Taiwan’s leaders. “If the United States has a position that says it will come to Taiwan's defense if attacked by China under all circumstances, then that could, the argument goes, give a blank check to a Taiwan president to engage in more dangerous and destabilizing behaviors. So U.S. policy currently is to oppose any changes in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait made by either side.” But our American analysts do agree on one thing: the US needs at least to be ABLE to defend Taiwan. And right now, that is not certain. “I think the United States has been a bit complacent in recent years. And my hope is that the U.S. will follow through on some of the plans that it currently has to modernize and update U.S. forces with an eye to being able to intervene on Taiwan's behalf.” China’s message to the US is pretty simple though: back off. “I think the US being a country that has stated in the past that they're going to interfere in Chinese affairs, probably should maybe, you know, keep a little distance on that. I mean, let China solve the problem itself.” So what about attitudes here in Europe? As the Czech Republic has found out -- when Europeans express solidarity with Taiwan, China responds with threats. But that may make Europeans MORE determined to take a stand. At least that was hinted at by Germany’s foreign minister at a meeting with his Chinese counterpart. “We’re going to stand up for our values outside the EU’s borders as well as within them. And we will no longer accept threats against this commitment.” But experts say Europe still hasn’t figured out how to back up that commitment. “What we lack is a European conversation about what kind of player Europe in the future would like to be in these kinds of scenarios... And whether we would like to stay at the sidelines of this or whether this is sufficiently important for Europe to not only defend its economic interests, but also its interests in safeguarding vital democracies in a region that is of crucial importance for the future of our economic prosperity.” And finally let’s turn to Taiwan itself. Foreign minister Joseph Wu says there’s one thing he’d like democracies to do NOW to support Taiwan — back its bid to become more integrated in the international community. “The Taiwanese people should not be excluded from the international organizations. It's not fair to the Taiwanese people. And it's also stopping Taiwan from making contributions to the international community. So I would ask the international community, I would ask the members of the international organizations to look at Taiwan's role as a positive one and to include Taiwan.” Even that would provoke a furious pushback from China -- and democracies know it. But Wu insists that the whole world has a stake in Taiwan’s future. “If you look at China's expansionism in the last several years, I think it's not only about China's expansion, They are trying to export the authoritarian international order while the democracies are following the rule-based international order. And if China succeeds in taking Taiwan over -- I think the rest of the world, especially for democracies, is going to feel the heat. China is expanding outward. Taiwan happens to be on the front line.” For those of us watching from the outside — we owe it to the people of the region to sit up and pay attention. To a flashpoint that could blow up into a devastating conflict.

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