The clock is ticking. Taiwan and mainland China appear to be on a colliding course, a flashpoint that could trigger a regional catastrophe or even a global conflict.
China is increasing military pressure on Taiwan, sending military aircraft to Taiwanese territory.
The attacks occurred almost every day. Taiwan’s Minister of Defense, Joseph Wu, has warned that the Chinese drone might be shot down and, if attacked, Taiwan would defend itself “until the last day”.
And it probably should.
Xi’s company in Taiwan
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that under his watch, he wants Taiwan to be returned to the mainland. He warned that he would use every means necessary, even force, to achieve it.
Xi couldn’t back down. A fake “strong man” doesn’t just have to appear strong – he has to be strong.
His dream in China is a rejuvenated and powerful country with the Chinese Communist Party at the center of everything.
In order to “harmonize” the country, he has crushed dissent, locked up and oppressed Uyghur Muslims – who are internationally described as “ethnic cleansing” or even “genocide” – cracking down on freedom and democracy in Hong Kong and directing Taiwan in its sights.
Territory and sovereignty are sacred to Xi. His forces have clashed with Indian soldiers on the disputed border, and he has claimed and militarized islands in the South China Sea.
But Taiwan is most critical of all. This is an unfinished business. Feelings of drunkenness from the war between Mao Zedong’s Communist forces and the Nationalists supported by Chiang Kai-shek’s US.
After Mao claimed victory in 1949, those loyal to Chiang fled from the mainland to Taiwan.
Xi has styled himself in the image of Mao. He wants to finish the revolution.
He is building a strong military to counterbalance China’s economic strength. He believes that it is the power of the weapon that can withstand any conflict.
The big question
But what if he attacked Taiwan?
The big question is “what will America do?” The US is bound to support Taiwan, to ensure it can sustain itself.
Although not obliged to send his own troops.
Xi may simply be betting that America will not shed any blood for Taiwan. If he were to mention America’s bluff, it would signal a fundamental shift in regional power.
American allies such as Japan and South Korea will question the resolve of the US and increase their own military posture and capacity.
If the US intervenes in Taiwan, it could easily spark a wider war, potentially dragging Australia down.
Harvard University military historian Graham Allison said such a conflict could turn into a nuclear war.
Both sides have ‘plans to fight’
Five years ago, the Rand Corporation think tank faced a potential conflict between the US and China.
It goes on to say, “while neither country wants war, the militaries of the two countries have plans for war”.
Rand predicted “a fierce initial trade-off, with heavy military losses on both sides.”
To counterbalance the threat of war, Rand recommended the US build stronger alliances with major allies.
Joe Biden, in the early stages of his presidency, is already doing just that.
The worry is that as China gets stronger, any conflict will become more “prolonged and destructive.”
China is definitely much stronger today than it was when Rand released his report. Under Xi Jinping, it was more assertive, even aggressive.
And the United States has weakened.
Rand calls his report Thinking Through the Unthinkable.
It is clear that while war may still (hopefully) not occur, it is no longer unthinkable.