In recent months, the Western media, in particular of the United States, have advanced the narrative that China will soon employ the People’s Liberation Army against the “renegade Chinese province” of Taiwan to unify the country. Some experts weigh the possibilities of this scenario. The Joe Biden administration officials talk of it. Observers note that tension over the Taiwan Straits is approaching unprecedented levels and may lead to a US-China war.
Further, the PLA wraps itself with a patriotic flag and is increasing air reconnaissance and other operations in the sea as Taiwan’s obstreperous ruling party inches on the pro-independence path. Indeed, there are strong nationalist feelings swirling in the Chinese mainland, as they say China must finally end the period of humiliation by the West by unifying the country with the renegade province of Taiwan, a core element of that “sacred” task.
Still another consideration is the fact the US cannot, for financial reasons, sustain its role of bolstering the Western world order. Its national debt is exploding, meaning taxes will have to increase exponentially and GDP growth will be negatively impacted. In fact, America’s current defense budget shows an increase in military spending below the rate of inflation, while China’s is proportionately much higher.
It is even reported the Biden administration is under pressure to “engage China in a war” before its military advantage dissipates in the next five or so years. Meanwhile, President Biden’s popularity falling at an almost unprecedented speed suggests he “needs a war” for a welcome distraction.
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However, there is strong evidence that these factors alone are not critical enough to push China into attacking the island of Taiwan.
China has not been engaged in what most might call a war for more than 40 years, while America has been at war someplace most of the time
First off, neither the Chinese mainland nor Taiwan is preparing for an invasion although both are upgrading their militaries. In Beijing’s case, that is because it has the money to do so and its global responsibilities are growing fast and it must exhibit strength befitting its status as a major power. Taiwan, meanwhile, is signaling that it would not be a pushover in a fight. It is also trying to convince the United States that it is doing its share and will abet America’s effort to deal with Beijing if needed.
Anyway, polls in Taiwan indicate many residents will leave Taiwan if an invasion is imminent or is perceived likely. Yet now, people in Taiwan are not fleeing.
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Chinese leaders plan to reunify the country with Taiwan in actual governance; but they keep stressing peace means for the sake of the nation and the people. Alas, Taiwan is dependent on the mainland for its economic vitality and that reliance is growing. Cross-Straits trade is increasing. Beijing on occasion stops buying Taiwan-produced fruits or displays its commercial influence as a signal of what it might do; but it is just a signal. The mainland is obviously pulling its punches.
Adding to this reality, Chinese leaders believe time is on their side, and they are obviously right. The Chinese mainland’s economy is growing considerably faster than Taiwan’s or America’s. Think tanks and even US government agencies say the Chinese mainland will soon eclipse the US in economic size. Economic forecasters say Chinese mainland’s GDP by 2050 will be double America’s and its military budget will be bigger by a considerable margin.
Beijing’s stated plan is to bring Taiwan back into the fold before 2049—the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. That deadline is so far away that it is not very meaningful to predict what a final resolution may look like.
But it is reassuring to note that both the Trump and Biden administrations have held fast to Washington’s one-China policy, which is a non-negotiable condition of Beijing to keep the peace.
Anyway, if Beijing succeeds, Taiwan will want close ties with the Chinese mainland. Taking military action against Taiwan now will accomplish no useful purpose other than antagonizing the Taiwanese permanently regardless of their current political views. The estrangement of Taiwan from the Chinese mainland is one of those historical issues which are best resolved by time itself.
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Moreover, in the English language reporting on tension across the Taiwan Straits, much is made of the “fact” that PLA warplanes have been blatantly encroaching on Taiwan’s air space. This is misinformation.
PLA aircraft have entered Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ, not Taiwan’s airspace, much less overflying Taiwan. Taiwan’s ADIZ extends far beyond the latter and entering it should not be seen as so provocative as it is claimed. Anyway, doing so is not a violation of international law.
In summation, the Western media are vilifying China for almost anything, including labeling China an aggressive power. But China has not been engaged in what most might call a war for more than 40 years, while America has been at war someplace most of the time. China is demonized for allegedly threatening the Western, liberal world order the US built after World War II, even though it is now crumbling for various reasons and cannot be put back together again.
Finally, China’s application of its money and technology to expand its influence is a far more superior way than America’s tendency to use its military might to impose its will over other countries. The world is dotted with carcasses of America’s interventionist failures which brought nothing but blood, misery and economic ruination in every country whose sovereignty it violates under highfalutin pretexts.
The author is the Stanley J. Buckman Professor (emeritus) of International Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of more than thirty-five books, including the seventh edition of Taiwan: Nation-State or Province? (Routledge) last year and Taiwan’s Politics in Action (World Scientific) early this year.