October 28, 2021

XI’S GOTTA HAVE IT: Yes, China Could Invade Taiwan.

“This really is the grimmest time I’ve seen in my more than 40 years working in the military,” Taiwan Minister of Defense Chiu Kuo-Cheng recently said. He went on to predict that, though an invasion now would exact a high—and presumably unacceptable—price from Beijing, the time will come when China’s military modernization drive will produce a capability that will lower that cost to a level Chinese leadership will judge acceptable.

Other experts have concluded that China’s military power has already reached the point that a conquest of Taiwan is not only conceivable but even tempting to Beijing. They also note that, as much as the Taiwanese people may be resistant to unification with China, U.S. military dominance in the area, and its ability to protect the island, is steadily eroding.

China, the U.S., and Taiwan are now caught in a “vicious spiral,” according to Jia Qingguo, a professor of international relations at Peking University who advises the Chinese government. “The process of vicious interactions between Taipei, Beijing, and Washington resembles the forming of a perfect storm.”

Presiding over what is undoubtedly China’s most powerful military in history, President Xi is setting the stage for a third term, beginning in 2022 He is worried about the political impacts of significant debt and other economic problems and could feel compelled to conquer Taiwan as the crowning achievement of his era of power.

Xi is tough to read. Sometimes he seems to be playing the long game, other times he seems like he’s in a mad rush. The thing he needs to be reminded of — assuming there’s anyone in Beijing who can still say “no” and make him really hear it — is that wars are easy to start, difficult to end, and nearly impossible to predict how they’ll go.

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