As Taiwan Goes, so Goes the World

COMMENTARY Asia

As Taiwan Goes, so Goes the World

Oct 29th, 2021 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY

Former Visiting Fellow, Center for National Defense

Robert L. Wilkie, former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, was a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks from the Great Hall of the People on December 2, 2019 in Beijing, China. Noel Celis - Pool / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Xi Jinping is telling the West exactly what he wants to do to Taiwan. Yet the Biden administration does not seem to believe him.

Beijing’s external endeavors are subservient to its internal security priority. The country is riven with industrial unrest, and its leaders are corrupt.

The U.S. must make the cost of invading across 110 miles of ocean so steep that a Chinese military failure may bring the shaky edifice of the Communist Party down.

Golda Meir famously said, "If someone tells you he wants to kill you, believe him."

Xi Jinping is telling the West exactly what he wants to do to Taiwan. Yet the Biden administration does not seem to believe him. Xi has plainly stated that a forced unification of Taiwan with the mainland is an option. He has already wrecked Hong Kong’s democratic autonomy. He has threatened Australia, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam while militarizing the South China Sea. But Taiwan is the key. To the Chinese Communist Party, an independent, democratic Taiwan represents a century of humiliation. Gaining control of Taiwan is also the key to establishing Beijing’s hegemony over the most vital areas of the Pacific.

Xi may have found his mark in the Biden administration. He has increased warplane flights into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone since Joe Biden entered the Oval Office. After the fall of Kabul, those military flights mounted exponentially. The message is not subtle: The United States abruptly abandoned an ally after 20 years of war; what makes you think it would come to the aid of a small island and risk Seattle for Taipei?

The answer will set the course of world history for the next century.

>>> “One China,” Two National Days, and 152 Warplanes

The Biden administration equivocates in defense of American values and U.S. global leadership. But China is not invincible. Its population is aging and growing at its slowest rate since the 1950s. It has laid environmental waste to vast stretches of its homeland. It has insufficient oil or gas reserves. Its economic growth, while impressive, is slowing. Beijing’s external endeavors are subservient to its internal security priority. The country is riven with industrial unrest, and its leaders are corrupt.

As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has written, "China’s leaders are scared to death of their own people." China’s neighbors remember one thousand years of Chinese aggression and imperialism. In the last 60 years, China has fought wars with Vietnam (it lost) and India. Strengthening those and other nations wary of the new mandarins—Japan, Australia, the Philippines, and to a lesser degree, the French and British—weakens Beijing. Again, however, the key is Taiwan.

The strengthening of Taiwan must be a U.S. priority. The U.S. must make the cost of invading across 110 miles of ocean so steep that a Chinese military failure may bring the shaky edifice of the Communist Party crashing down. Or, at the very least, bring an end to the Xi dictatorship.

Conceptually, this is not difficult. It means shoring up the island with layers of redundant denial systems such as mines and anti-ship and anti-air missiles. We can aid the Taiwanese in the development of artificial intelligence programs that can both disrupt Chinese systems and make the indications and warnings of an imminent Chinese threat easier to detect. The Taiwanese can fortify their own island by hardening their infrastructure for storing food, ammunition, and fuel to hedge against the possibility of a U.S. Task Force not getting to them on time. They have to be able to mobilize their people and increase defense spending.

This is not rocket science. If China cannot bully or capture the island, its hegemonic plans for the Pacific are at risk.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner