What happens to the US if China gets Taiwan

I have written several articles on postings related to politics. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these political events.

China has been flexing its muscles since Biden walked out of Afghanistan. They want Taiwan bad, especially since they are the chip making capital of the world. If they gain control of they will have a strangle hold over the world for the foreseeable future. However, since the Communist party is always planing several steps ahead, they are ramping up their own semiconductor production. They are also having some success with it. So much so that if the US were to preven them from getting Taiwan, I can foresee the possibility that they would level the whole Island before they would allow us to gain power of it. Basically if they can’t have it, nobody can. With their history of mass genocide, I am sure that they would have no qualms in totally obliterating it.

Semiconductors and the U.S.-China Innovation Race

Geopolitics of the supply chain and the central role of Taiwan

Semiconductors, otherwise known as “chips,” are an ­­essential component at the heart of economic growth, security, and technological innovation. Smaller than the size of a postage stamp, thinner than a human hair, and made of nearly 40 billion components, the impact that semiconductors are having on world development exceeds that of the Industrial Revolution. From smartphones, PCs, pacemakers to the internet, electronic vehicles, aircrafts, and hypersonic weaponry, semiconductors are ubiquitous in electrical devices and the digitization of goods and services such as global e-commerce. And demand is skyrocketing, with the industry facing numerous challenges and opportunities as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, Internet of Things (IoT), and advanced wireless communications, notably 5G, all requiring cutting-edge semiconductor-enabled devices. But the COVID-19 pandemic and international trade disputes are straining the industry’s supply and value chains while the battle between the United States and China over tech supremacy risks splintering the supply chain further, contributing to technological fragmentation and significant disruption in international commerce.

For decades, the U.S. has been a leader in the semiconductor industry, controlling 48 percent (or $193 billion) of the market share in terms of revenue as of 2020. According to IC Insights, eight of the 15 largest semiconductor firms in the world are in the U.S., with Intel ranking first in terms of sales. China is a net importer of semiconductors, heavily relying on foreign manufacturers—notably those in the U.S.—to enable most of its technology. China imported $350 billion worth of chips in 2020, an increase of 14.6 percent from 2019. Through its Made in China 2025 initiative and Guidelines to Promote National Integrated Circuit Industry Development, over the past six years, China has been ramping up its efforts using financial incentives, intellectual property (IP) and antitrust standards to accelerate the development of its domestic semiconductor industry, diminish its reliance on the U.S., and establish itself as a global tech leader. As U.S.-China competition has intensified, notably under the former Trump administration, the U.S. has been tightening semiconductor export controls with stricter licensing policies, particularly toward Chinese entities. Concerns continue regarding China’s acquisition of American technology through civilian supply chains and integration with Chinese military and surveillance capabilities.

Caught between these global superpowers is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC), a leading manufacturer in the industry, owning 51.5 percent of the foundry market and producing the most advanced chips in the world (10 nanometers or smaller). TSMC supports both American and Chinese firms such as Apple, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Xilinx. Until recently, the firm also supplied Huawei but severed ties with the Chinese giant in May 2020 because of U.S. Department of Commerce restrictions on Huawei suppliers over security concerns.

Taiwan has also become a geopolitical focal point because the Trump administration’s moves to strengthen American-Taiwanese relations heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait and increased China’s military activity in the region, testing the Biden administration’s resolve. Together, these factors present significant risks to a critical manufacturing node for the global semiconductor industry. Taiwan represents one part of the industry’s complex ecosystem and shows more broadly the increasing difficulty for companies and countries to remain insulated from geopolitics—particularly amid pressures contributing to U.S. and China decoupling. As geopolitical, trade, and technology disputes mount and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to harm the supply and value chains, semiconductor firms are trying to secure their manufacturing processes by stockpiling supplies or relocating production facilities—disrupting the industry at large.

With semiconductors at the heart of U.S.-China strategic and technological competition, the industry continues to experience a range of protective tariff and non-tariff measures that threaten production and competitiveness of the industry. This FP Insider Report analyzes the evolving strategic economic relationship among China, Taiwan, and the United States as it pertains to semiconductors, examines the growing economic and security challenges that key private and public sector actors within the industry face, and pinpoints opportunities for the Biden administration as it seeks to bolster U.S. competitiveness while containing China’s technological ambitions. In particular, this report finds:

  1. Semiconductors represent the linchpin for U.S. and China’s mutually dependent technological ambitions. Semiconductors are a critical technological vulnerability for both China and the United States, which rely on each other as well as Taiwan for cutting-edge semiconductor devices.
  2. Despite massive investment, China is highly unlikely to achieve independent semiconductor manufacturing capabilities in the next five to 10 years. Chinese companies are unable to compete against top-tier firms because of limited access to semiconductor manufacturing equipment (SME) and software, and their overall lack of industry knowledge hinders the development of a self-sufficient supply chain.
  3. Taiwan is set to become the center of U.S.-China tensions. Given the country’s central role in semiconductor manufacturing and technology supply chains, China will likely leverage its economic influence through trade restrictions, talent recruitment, and cyber to attack key companies in order to obtain core semiconductor intellectual property (IP) needed to bolster its domestic industry.
  4. Unilateral restrictions fostering distrust among companies and country governments risk economic decoupling. Unilateral economic measures imposed by the United States on segments of the supply chain, notably manufacturers such as TSMC, have fostered concern among private and public actors on the impact of action by U.S. leaders on global supply chains and corporate competitiveness. Recognizing critical bottlenecks and vulnerabilities, some companies are evaluating new production models, diversifying investments and suppliers to circumvent American economic policies, which could undermine U.S. primacy in the industry.
  5. Collaboration between the Biden administration and American corporations will be key to balancing national security and commercial interests. Given that multilateral frameworks on semiconductor regulation do not include Taiwan or China, the Biden administration could bolster existing forums for enhanced American-Taiwanese economic relations through the Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue (EPP) and Sino-American relations through the Strategic Economic Dialogue. Evaluation of current tax codes and permitting processes under the Federal Clean Air Act, which now disincentivizes companies from investing in U.S.-based fabrication plants, will also be important to attracting investment and strengthening U.S. competitiveness in the sector.

Can Taiwan’s Silicon Shield Protect It against China’s Aggression?

The global shortage of semiconductors, or microchips — the “brains” in all electronic devices, has heightened the geopolitical significance of Taiwan and its chip-making sector. The island is home to the world’s largest contract chipmaker: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC).

Many describe Taiwan’s strength in microchips as its “silicon shield,” which can protect it against Chinese aggression.

But others suspect the sector, coveted by China, may also trigger China to accelerate its efforts to take advantage of Taiwan’s tech prowess.

‘Not let war happen’

When asked to explain the shield, TSMC chairman Mark Liu told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” program last week that it means “the world all needs Taiwan’s high-tech industry support. So, they will not let the war happen in this region because it goes against interest of every country in the world.”

While refusing to comment on whether the industry will keep Taiwan safe, Liu added that he hoped no war would occur in Taiwan. It is widely believed that any war fought in Taiwan could disrupt the global supply chains of microchips.

More than 1 trillion chips are currently being produced annually. Industry watchers, including the National Bank of Canada estimated earlier that TSMC alone accounts for one-fifth of the world’s chip production and up to 90% of the supply of the most advanced chips.

In an “extremely hypothetical scenario,” such a disruption in Taiwan’s chip production could cause $490 billion in annual losses for electronic device makers worldwide, according to estimates by the U.S.-based Semiconductor Industry Association last month.

All shut down

American tech giants including Apple, major European auto makers and even Chinese companies would have to halt production in the event of a TSMC collapse, said Frank Huang, chairman of Taiwan’s third-largest chipmaker Powerchip Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp.

That, he said, will make China think twice about using force against Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing views as a renegade province.

“China likes [to]… threat [threaten] Taiwan. But realistically without Taiwan, they cannot move either. Their semiconductors also shut down. So, the problem is: can you take over Taiwan without [triggering] impact [on] semiconductors? That is not [going to] happen,” Huang told VOA.

The term “silicon shield” was first coined by Craig Addison in late 2000, who argued in his book “Silicon Shield: Taiwan’s Protection Against Chinese Attack” that the island’s rise as the key supplier for the world’s digital economy would serve as “a deterrent against possible Chinese aggression.”

The debate over such a deterrent has heated up now that the pandemic has seriously disrupted most supply chains. The U.S. has also placed restrictions on exports of chips and chip-making equipment using U.S. design and technology to China — a development that some observers also fear may end up provoking China to increase aggression toward Taiwan.

But Darson Chiu, a research fellow at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (TIER) in Taipei, disagreed, saying that he believes the world will stand behind Taiwan.

“The world’s superpowers will view TSMC as a key driver behind the future global economic revival, which belongs to no one but the world. Hence the world will not tolerate China’s use of force to control TSMC,” Chiu told VOA over the phone.

Double layer of protection

The island’s dominance in chip-making has fueled the debate over its silicon shield, but the U.S. is more concerned that the shield may “have holes in it” and the technology is being used by China’s military, according to Alexander Neill, a former Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow for Asia Pacific security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

An earlier Washington Post report alleged that a Chinese firm had used TSMC chips in the Chinese military’s development of hypersonic missiles. But the company denied the charges.

The U.S. is also concerned about vulnerabilities caused by TSMC production being concentrated in Taiwan. The island’s water and electric supply shortages could disrupt production.

“What the United States wants to do is to help TSMC diversify its production base so that there’s a double layer of protection. So, if the first shield is being penetrated, the second [reinforcement] shield is to nurture the chip production base in friends and ally countries including the United States,” Neill told VOA over the phone.

Surging demand

TSMC has planned to invest $100 billion in the next three years on new production facilities including a state-of-the-art wafer fabrication plant in the U.S. state of Arizona and expansions of its Nanjing, China-based fab to produce 28 nanometer chips for auto makers.

The move aims to increase TSMC’s capacity, which is currently working at full capacity, to meet surging demand and support future growth in the global economy, TIER’s Chiu said.

In a stock exchange filing last month, TSMC said it “is entering a period of higher growth as the multiyear megatrends of 5G and HPC (high performance computer) are expected to fuel strong demand for our semiconductor technologies in the next several years. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic also accelerates digitalization in every aspect.”

But Powerchip’s Huang questions if overseas wafer fabs will be as cost effective as those based in Taiwan. He said that many fabs in the U.S. and Germany have proved to be too expensive to sustain.

Expansion in China

For years, China’s attempts to manufacture chips have failed since China lacks access to the intellectual property required for the process.

Hence, TSMC’s expansion plan in its Nanjing plant is welcomed by many in China despite worries that the survival of homegrown chipmakers may be threatened by the Taiwanese chipmaker, according to Song Hong, assistant general director at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“28nm chips aren’t high-end. But mid- to low-end chips are in higher demand. So, I think this shows TSMC’s optimism in China’s future demand. It is in our hope to bolster homegrown chipmakers, but we also welcome competition,” Song told VOA.

Song, however, shrugged off the geopolitical implications of Taiwan’s silicon shield, saying that China views Taiwanese issues as domestic affairs and will not be deterred from its goals by U.S. action.

What would happen if China invaded Taiwan?

Beijing announces military drills close to Taiwan after US Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes controversial visit

Ever since Taiwan’s rapid economic and democratic transformation in the 1980s and 1990s, relations with its superpower neighbour China have been characterised by frosty silence interspersed with threats of invasion.

Regarded by China as a breakaway province, the island is arguably “the most dangerous place on Earth”, said The Economist. For months it has faced “a pattern of what Taipei views as stepped up military harassment”, Reuters reported.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raised the stakes, leading Joe Biden to restate the American commitment to defending its Asia-Pacific ally. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for the island’s “meaningful participation” at the UN – which Beijing vociferously opposes.

And as Chinese “military superiority” grows, the possibility that Beijing could deploy “force against Taiwan” has become all the more real, The Economist said.

The latest  

China has announced military drills in the sea ten miles from Taiwan after the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a brief visit to the island today.

“There is a full-on Pelosi lovefest happening in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei,” reported Rupert Wingfield-Hayes for the BBC, with crowds hoping to get a glimpse of the US visitor.

In a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Pelosi said America had promised to “stand with Taiwan” and her delegation had come to “make it unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment”.

But “live-fire exercises in the sea and airspace around Taiwan” were seen as a direct response to the trip by Pelosi, “the most senior American lawmaker to visit the island in 25 years”, said Sky News.

China had warned that there would be “serious consequences” if she did make the visit, which was not backed by the White House. Beijing sees the self-ruled territory as a breakaway province that must become a part of the country, and Politico said that the “deteriorating war of words” between the US and China over the issue could “easily escalate”, according to senior diplomats.

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, has said: “The US will bear the responsibility and pay the price for undermining China’s sovereign security interests”.

Speaking before Pelosi’s planned trip, Biden told reporters that “the military thinks it’s not a good idea”, but the White House said any pressure from China against the trip would be “clearly unhelpful and not necessary”. 

‘Ramping up’ military pressure 

In early July, a senior US general warned that while a Chinese attack on Taiwan is not “imminent”, the US is nonetheless watching “very, very closely” for signs they are preparing to launch one.  

Speaking to the BBC, General Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said that China was “developing a capability” to attack Taiwan, but whether China would do so remained “a political choice”.  

President Xi Jinping has “mentioned that in public forums, he’s mentioned it in speeches, that he has challenged the PLA to develop the capability to attack Taiwan at some point in time”, said Milley, referring to China’s People’s Liberation Army. 

“And whether they would or not, it’s a political choice, it’s a policy choice, that will be based off of how the Chinese view the cost risk benefit at the time,” he said. 

The statement came at a time of “increasing anxiety” in Taiwan that China would invade the self-governed island, prompting some locals “to take gun training”, said The Independent

It also followed a warning to China from Foreign Secretary and prime ministerial hopeful Liz Truss, who said at the G7 summit in Madrid that any attempt to invade Taiwan would be a “catastrophic miscalculation”.  

She added that Beijing was in danger of making the same mistake as Russian President Vladimir Putin: “That is exactly what we saw in the case of Ukraine – a strategic miscalculation by Putin.”  

The dispute over Taiwan’s sovereignty is the “main issue that risks one day leading to war between the US and China”, said Bloomberg, with “calls growing” among American politicians for a commitment to get involved if Beijing invades the island.   

And China has “steadily ramped up” its military pressure in recent years, regularly sending warplanes near Taiwan and warning the US that the strait separating the island from Fujian province isn’t international waters.  

There has been a “drastic shift in the consensus in Taiwan against any form of integration with China” in recent years, added the news site, due to both the island’s “growing sense of nationhood” as well as in response to the Chinese Communist Party’s “sweeping crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong”.   

War drums  

China and Taiwan were divided during a civil war in the 1940s, but Beijing has always maintained that the island should at some point be reclaimed. Beijing considers Taiwan a province of China and has described the government in Taipei as separatists, while refusing to rule out the use of force to bring it back into China’s direct orbit.  

Taiwan held the Chinese seat at the UN until October 1971 before it was voted out as the representative of the country in favour of Beijing. “Since then, Taipei has regularly sought increased participation at the UN and its array of bodies,” Al Jazeera said.  

It has full diplomatic relations with only 14 out of 193 United Nations member states – as well as the Holy See – because China has urged its allies to refuse to recognise its legitimacy as an independent nation. The island also has its own constitution, democratically elected leaders and around 300,000 active troops.  

Beginning on 1 October last year, Beijing dispatched 150 military planes into Taiwan’s air defence zone and Chinese President Xi later said he would complete the “historical task” of reunifying the island with the mainland. Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president, has dismissed the claim.  

She said that the country “will do whatever it takes to defend itself” against any Chinese aggression, also writing in an article on Foreign Affairs that there would be “catastrophic consequences” if a conflict were to break out between the two nations.  

Independent state  

Experts have warned for months that “Beijing is becoming increasingly concerned that Taiwan’s government is moving the island towards a formal declaration of independence”, the BBC said. Tsai’s government has maintained the position that “Taiwan is already an independent state, making any formal declaration unnecessary”.  

Should a conflict break out between the two, the international community would be left facing “the central question of our age”, said The Times’s Asia editor Richard Lloyd-Parry, namely “working out what, in practice, ‘not bowing’ to China means”.  

“Facing up to Xi brings large and diverse costs” that make engaging in “a full-scale military invasion and a war that could quickly spread far beyond the island” an unattractive option for many countries.  

But Beijing’s aggressive stance, repression in Hong Kong and “genocidal treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang” also mean that the importance of “standing up to dictatorship is something that most of the world can agree on”, Lloyd-Parry said.  

David and Goliath  

If a conflict were to break out it would be “a catastrophe”, reported The Economist. This is first because of “the bloodshed in Taiwan but also because of the risk of “escalation between two nuclear powers”, namely the US and China.  

Beijing massively outguns Taiwan, with estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showing that China spends about 25 times more on its military. But Taiwan has a defence pact with the US dating back to the 1954 Sino-American Mutual Defence Treaty, meaning the US could be drawn into the conflict.  

“Beijing’s optimistic version of events” after the decision to invade would see “cyber and electronic warfare units target Taiwan’s financial system and key infrastructure, as well as US satellites to reduce notice of impending ballistic missiles”, Bloomberg said.  

“Chinese vessels could also harass ships around Taiwan, restricting vital supplies of fuel and food,” the news site continued, while “airstrikes would quickly aim to kill Taiwan’s top political and military leaders, while also immobilising local defences”.  

This would be followed by “warships and submarines traversing some 130 kilometres [80 miles] across the Taiwan Strait”, before “thousands of paratroopers would appear above Taiwan’s coastlines, looking to penetrate defences [and] capture strategic buildings”.  

Taiwan would be reliant on “natural defences” – its rugged coastline and rough sea – with plans to “throw a thousand tanks at the beachhead” in the event of a Chinese invasion that could result in “brutal tank battles” that “decide the outcome”, according to Forbes.  

The island’s top military leadership is also devising “a multi-pronged” response to an invasion that “utilises aircraft, ships and its air defence systems to counter Chinese military incursions”, Bloomberg reported.  

Taiwan is understood to be watching Ukraine’s defence against Russian invasion closely. But it is unlikely that the island would be able to “copy Ukraine’s civil defence blueprint”, according to The Diplomat.  

The “successful deployment��� of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Force has been vital in its effort to repel Moscow’s attack. However, setting up something similar in Taiwan is neither “legally or politically feasible”, the Asia Pacific-focused magazine said.   

Pax Americana 

This would all be complicated by the US pledge to defend its ally in what The Economist called a “test of America’s military might and its diplomatic and political resolve”.  

If the US decides against intervention, “China would overnight become the dominant power in Asia” and “America’s allies around the world would know that they could not count on it”, the paper said. In other words, “Pax Americana would collapse”.  

That would be unacceptable in Washington, especially as “Biden pivots US foreign policy towards a focus on the Indo-Pacific as the main arena for 21st-century superpower competition”, The Guardian said. 

US manoeuvres have so far consisted of building up “large amounts of lethal military hardware”, the paper added. But “the steady buildup of troops and equipment and the proliferation of war games” means there is “more of a chance of conflict triggered by miscalculation or accident”.  

Global war  

Following last September’s signing of Aukus, a historic military pact between the US, UK and Australia, former prime minister Theresa May expressed her concern about the “implications” of the agreement if China were to launch an invasion of Taiwan.  

Speaking in the House of Commons, May asked Boris Johnson of “the implications of this pact for the stance that would be taken by the United Kingdom in its response should China attempt to invade Taiwan?”  

At the time, Johnson responded by saying that the pact is “not intended to be adversarial towards any other power”, adding: “The UK remains determined to defend international law and that is the strong advice we would give to our friends across the world, and the strong advice that we would give to the government in Beijing.”  

ABC global affairs analyst Stan Grant wrote that Aukus “is designed to send a clear message to China that the US is not going to surrender dominance in the Indo-Pacific”. The agreement also means that Australia has “dropped the pretence” of playing both sides by “doubling down on the American alliance”.  

All of this seems to suggest that Australia could join the US and Japan, which in July 2021 also pledged to defend Taiwan, in mounting a resistance to a Chinese invasion, raising questions over what the UK would do if the call came from Washington to join its allies.  

If China Invades Taiwan, Commercial Ties Will Be the First to Go

Companies with China exposure that delay contingency planning do so at their peril

  • More than 6 in 10 Americans support Taiwan’s independence, rising to an overwhelming majority of 92% among those with an opinion on the matter.
  • In the event of an invasion, Americans are enthusiastic about severing commercial ties with China. Over half support sanctioning Chinese companies, and near majorities support halting bilateral trade and investment. Smaller shares support military options.
  • While an invasion remains improbable, it’s no longer the tail risk it once was. Companies with China exposure should accelerate their contingency planning immediately.
Most Americans support Taiwan’s independence but are wary of confrontation

Conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan is less improbable than it once was. China’s furor over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s potential visit to the island has made this abundantly clear.

More than 6 in 10 Americans — and an overwhelming 92% among those who have an opinion on the matter — support Taiwan’s independence. Only 6% oppose it, while 32% are unsure. The issue is a rare point of bipartisanship, with 63% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans in favor.

But Americans waver over their country’s responsibility to aid Taiwan if China were to invade. Only 45% think the United States has at least some responsibility to do so, and many (31%) remain unsure. The issue is again bipartisan: 50% of Democrats and 45% of Republicans agree that the United States has at least some responsibility to provide assistance to Taiwan, with the figure falling to 40% for independents.

Americans’ hesitancy is warranted. China is routinely among the United States’ largest trading partners, and the two countries are the world’s largest economies. The economic fallout from a conflict between them, both for each other and for the global economy, would be severe. Direct military conflict would likely be even more disastrous.

In the event of a conflict, Americans want to sever commercial ties

If push comes to shove — meaning if China invades Taiwan and the United States opts to retaliate — Americans are more enthusiastic about severing commercial ties than pursuing a military response.

Democrats and Republicans alike prefer sanctioning Chinese government officials and companies, as well as suspending bilateral trade and investment flows, to a wide range of military options involving the deployment of U.S. troops and weapons. Americans are especially eager to avoid a military conflict. Only 16% support a direct attack on China — rising to 23% for cyberattacks — compared with the near majorities who support most types of commercial retaliation. Sending weapons to Taiwan falls in between.

Now is the time for contingency planning

Companies with China exposure can no longer ignore the increasingly material risks linked to a conflict over Taiwan, and should accelerate their contingency planning. Rerouting supply chains elsewhere in Asia is a sensible strategy that companies should pursue more aggressively despite the risk of reputational fallout among Chinese consumers, per our recent research.

Those serving Chinese consumers should anticipate substantial revenue loss if an invasion takes place due to potentially prolonged barriers to market access and/or ongoing reputational risks, and should make efforts to diversify their sales base accordingly.

China and Taiwan: A really simple guide

China has condemned US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, calling it “extremely dangerous.”

It is the highest-ranking visit by an American politician to the island in 25 years.

China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that will eventually be under Beijing’s control again.

However, Taiwan sees itself as an independent country, with its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders.

China’s President Xi Jinping has said “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled” – and has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve this.

Where is Taiwan?

Taiwan is an island, roughly 100 miles from the coast of south east China.

It sits in the so-called “first island chain”, which includes a list of US-friendly territories that are crucial to US foreign policy.

Map of China and Taiwan with neighbouring states...

If China was to take over Taiwan, some western experts suggest it could be freer to project power in the western Pacific region and could possibly even threaten US military bases as far away as Guam and Hawaii.

But China insists that its intentions are purely peaceful.

Has Taiwan always been separate from China?

Historical sources suggest that the island first came under full Chinese control in the 17th Century when the Qing dynasty began administering it. Then, in 1895, they gave up the island to Japan after losing the first Sino Japanese war.

China took the island again in 1945 after Japan lost World War Two.

But a civil war erupted in mainland China between nationalist government forces led by Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.

The communists won in 1949 and took control in Beijing.

Chiang Kai-shek and what was left of the nationalist party – known as the Kuomintang – fled to Taiwan, where they ruled for the next several decades.

China points to this history to say that Taiwan was originally a Chinese province. But the Taiwanese point to the same history to argue that they were never part of the modern Chinese state that was first formed after the revolution in 1911 – or the People’s Republic of China that was established under Mao in 1949.

Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan after defeat by the communists in 1949
Image caption,Chiang Kai-shek led the Kuomintang after fleeing to Taiwan

The Kuomintang has been one of Taiwan’s most prominent political parties ever since – ruling the island for a significant part of its history.

Currently, only 13 countries (plus the Vatican) recognise Taiwan as a sovereign country.

China exerts considerable diplomatic pressure on other countries not to recognise Taiwan, or to do anything which implies recognition.

Taiwan’s defence minister has said relations with China are the worst they have been for 40 years.

Can Taiwan defend itself?

China could attempt to bring about “reunification” by non-military means such as strengthening economic ties.

But in any military confrontation, China’s armed forces would dwarf those of Taiwan.

China spends more than any country except the US on defence and could draw on a huge range of capabilities, from naval power to missile technology, aircraft and cyber attacks.

Much of China’s military power is focused elsewhere but, in overall terms of active duty personnel for example, there is a huge imbalance between the two sides.

Graphic of Chinese and Taiwanese active military personnel

In an open conflict, some western experts predict that Taiwan could at best aim to slow a Chinese attack, try to prevent a shore landing by Chinese amphibious forces, and mount guerrilla strikes whilst waiting for outside help.

That help could come from the US which sells arms to Taiwan.

Until now, Washington’s policy of “strategic ambiguity” has meant the US has been deliberately unclear about whether or how it would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack.

Diplomatically, the US currently sticks to the “One-China” policy, which recognises only one Chinese government – in Beijing – and has formal ties with China rather than Taiwan.

But in May, US president Joe Biden appeared to harden Washington’s position.

Asked whether the US would defend Taiwan militarily, Mr Biden replied: “Yes.”

The White House insisted that Washington had not changed its position.

Is the situation getting worse?

In 2021, China appeared to ramp up pressure by sending military aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defence Zone, a self-declared area where foreign aircraft are identified, monitored, and controlled in the interests of national security.

Taiwan made data on plane incursions public in 2020.

The numbers of aircraft reported peaked in October 2021, with 56 incursions in a single day.

Graphic showing reported incursions into Taiwan's Air Defence Identification Zone.

Why is Taiwan important for the rest of the world?

Taiwan’s economy is hugely important.

Much of the world’s everyday electronic equipment – from phones to laptops, watches and games consoles – is powered by computer chips made in Taiwan.

By one measure, a single Taiwanese company – the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company or TSMC – has over half of the world’s market.

Graphic showing computer chip manufacturing

TSMC is a so-called “foundry” – a company which makes chips designed by consumer and military customers. It is a vast industry, worth almost $100bn (£73bn) in 2021.

A Chinese takeover in Taiwan could give Beijing some control over one of the world’s most important industries.

Are the Taiwanese people worried?

Despite the recent tensions between China and Taiwan, research suggests that many Taiwanese people are relatively untroubled.

In October 2021 the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation asked people whether they thought that there would, eventually, be war with China.

Almost two thirds (64.3%) replied that they did not.

Graphic showing that most Taiwanese people don't think there will be military conflict

Separate research indicates that most people in Taiwan identify as Taiwanese – embracing a distinctly different identity.

Graphic showing whether people in Taiwan regard themselves as Taiwanese or Chinese

China and Taiwan: A really simple guide

Surveys conducted by the National Chengchi University since the early 1990s indicate that the proportion of people who identify as Chinese, or both Chinese and Taiwanese, has fallen and that most people consider themselves as Taiwanese.

Economic Chaos of a Taiwan War Would Go Well Past Semiconductors

A Chinese invasion is more likely than most assume, and would come sooner rather than later.

There are plenty of reasons the US should seek to deter China from attacking Taiwan: that island’s strategic position in the Western Pacific, its status as a thriving democracy, the certainty that a successful assault would send shivers through America’s alliance network across the region.

Yet not the least of these reasons is that a major war over Taiwan could create global economic chaos that would make the mess produced by Russia’s war in Ukraine look minor by comparison, for reasons going far beyond the island’s crucial position in semiconductor supply chains.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to conquer Ukraine has already had global macroeconomic ramifications. That conflict, US officials warn, could trigger “a potential mass starvation event” by disrupting food and fertilizer supplies to developing countries. It is roiling energy markets, pushing up commodity prices and intensifying the recessionary and inflationary dangers in economies around the world.

An early estimate from the United Nations predicted that the war could shave roughly a percentage point off global growth, reducing it from 4.0% to 3.1% this year. That’s nothing compared with the havoc a Taiwan conflict could wreak.

As Michael Beckley and I write in our new book, “Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China,” the possibility of such a war is alarmingly high, and any invasion is likely to come sooner rather than later. China’s window of military opportunity is opening, as the People’s Liberation Army reaps the fruits of a generation-long buildup focused on defeating Taiwan and, if necessary, the US.

Yet Beijing’s political window is closing, as the population of Taiwan becomes ever more determined not to accept reunification on the mainland’s terms. Impending demographic decline and a slowing economy are also threatening China’s long-term trajectory, perhaps putting President Xi Jinping in a “now or never” position. Historically speaking, this sort of situation has often tempted dissatisfied powers to use force to achieve objectives they cannot attain peacefully — with consequences that reverberate far and wide.

A war over Taiwan would not be a conflict between two lackluster economies, as with Russia and Ukraine. Assuming the US intervened, it would be a brawl involving the two largest economies in the world — perhaps the three largest, if Japan fought in support of Washington and Taipei.

An all-out Chinese invasion would likely be accompanied by missile strikes on Taiwan and US bases throughout the Western Pacific. It would feature intense, potentially protracted struggles for control of the air and sea.

The fighting would turn parts of the most economically dynamic region on earth into a free-fire zone; it would threaten critical shipping lanes through which perhaps one-third of the world’s seaborne traffic passes. Commercial and financial decoupling between the US and Chinese economies would accelerate dramatically, whether due to deliberate policy choices or simply the turmoil the war creates.

As in Ukraine, both sides would have strong incentives to keep fighting after the opening salvos, and the longer the conflict drags on, the more vicious its economic disruptions would become.

China and the US would be likely to make economic warfare a key part of their strategy. The US might blockade Chinese energy imports, in hopes of making Beijing’s military machine grind to a halt. Washington and its allies would use economic and financial sanctions to raise the costs of China’s war. Beijing, in turn, might seize US and other foreign assets in China. In an extended conflict, the US and China could try to undermine each other’s rearmament through military strikes, cyberattacks and sabotage.

According to a RAND Corporation study, a war lasting one year would slash America’s gross domestic product by a painful 5% to 10%. But it would gut China’s gross domestic product by an excruciating 25% to 35%. And lest Americans console themselves that China would get the worst of it, the entire world would suffer as the war ripped apart critical technological supply chains.

Over 90% of the world’s most advanced semiconductors are manufactured in Taiwan. They power smartphones, computers, automobiles and other key components of the modern digital economy.

If China somehow seized the facilities and workforce of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., it could vault ahead in the race for digital supremacy. Even short of that nightmare scenario (experts are divided on its likelihood), the destruction of critical plants and the interruption of shipments would constitute a global economic emergency.

A Chinese Invasion Of Taiwan Could Unleash An Economic Disaster

China Invading Taiwan Would Unleash a New Wave of Economic Uncertainty, Political Turbulence – China could be planning its own Russia-style “special military operation” in Taiwan, an island that the Chinese Communist Party insists is Chinese territory, according to reports from China.

This week, the Chinese Communist Party government declared that President Xi Jinping had laid the legal basis for the expansion of the Chinese military’s role in foreign countries. It means that the Chinese government could technically initiate invasions of foreign territory while claiming that the operations are not actually war.

According to a report by the state-run Global Times newspaper, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army now has the legal authority to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

“Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, recently signed an order to promulgate a set of trial outlines on military operations other than war, which will take effect on Wednesday,” The Global Times reports.

“The outlines will standardize, and provide the legal basis for Chinese troops to carry out, missions like disaster relief, humanitarian aid, escort, and peacekeeping, and safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests, experts said.

The tactic seems remarkably similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to justify his invasion of Ukraine, first signing a decree that recognized the independence of the self-styled people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine. The Russian president also first described his so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine that soon followed the decree as a “peacekeeping” mission.

Global Economic Impact Bigger Than Ukraine War

If China goes ahead with an invasion of Taiwan, regardless of whether China officially considers it an invasion, it could have a substantial impact on global trade.

Speaking to Reuters on Tuesday, Taiwan’s top trade negotiator John Deng warned that the move would have a bigger impact on global trade than the Russian invasion of Ukraine for one simple reason: microchips.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven up the cost of fuel, with the United States and several NATO countries implementing sanctions against Russian energy, the invasion of Taiwan could worsen an already serious semiconductor shortage globally.

During the interview, Deng said that the economic impact of a Chinese invasion would be “much more significant” than the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The disruption to international supply chains; disruption on the international economic order; and the chance to grow would be much, much (more) significant than this one,” Deng said. “There would be a worldwide shortage of supply.”

How China Could Make the Semiconductor Shortage Worse

Taiwan presently accounts for 92% of the world’s semiconductor manufacturing capacity, and should China invade the sovereign territory, those manufacturing facilities may wind up destroyed.

Last year, American academics recommended that Taiwan threaten to destroy its own factories to deter a Chinese invasion.

Describing the move as a “broken nest” strategy, academics Jared McKinney and Peter Harris argued in a piece published in the U.S. Army War College Quarterly “Parameters” that Taiwan should prevent a full-scale war with China by threatening to destroy its own factories.

Such a move would cause significant economic turbulence, hurting the global economy including China. It would also remove perhaps the second-biggest motivating factor for China’s plans to invade.

If China calls Taiwan’s bluff, however, the move would make the global semiconductor shortage even more impactful than it already is. The global semiconductor shortage impacts virtually every industry in the world, with low-margin processors – used in toasters and washing machines – becoming harder for manufacturers to find. It doesn’t just mean a shortage of products, but higher prices for consumers.

The semiconductor shortage has hit the automotive sector the hardest, too. Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volkswagen – three of the biggest car manufacturers in the world – have shut down factories over the last year, reduced vehicle production, and laid off thousands of workers.

Taiwan Warns Of Missile Strike On China

In response to the news from China, Taiwanese officials warned that the country is armed with missile systems capable of striking Chinese territory.

Speaking to Taiwanese media outlet Liberty Times Net, the president of Taiwan’s Legislative Assembly, You Si Kun, said that the country wouldn’t shy away from a conflict with China and would use its Yun Feng supersonic cruise missiles to defend its borders.

The most recent variant of the Taiwanese Yung Feng missiles is capable of striking targets as far away as 1,200 miles, meaning Taiwan could theoretically strike Beijing – just 50 miles short of the maximum range of the missile.

You told Taiwanese media that, unlike in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, China would need to cross the Taiwan Strait to invade the country, meaning soldiers would ultimately “fight on the beachhead.”

“If the landing is successful, everyone in Taiwan must be as determined to die as Ukraine,” You said. “Go out and never let China swallow Taiwan.”

Should China go ahead with an invasion of Taiwan, the country may also receive military support from the United States – not only making the conflict more dangerous but potentially worsening the economic impact of an invasion even more.

“I believe that the U.S. would help Taiwan in a robust manner far beyond what the Biden Administration is doing for Ukraine right now,” explained Harry J. KazianisPresident of the Rogue States Project and author of the book the Tao of A2/AD, a look at China’s vast military modernization. “That would put China in a position of having to consider unleashing its vast weapons arsenal against U.S. convoys and aircraft trying to bring aid into Taiwan.”

Kazianis continued: “My gut tells me Beijing would be hard pressed not to strike U.S. forces hard, going far beyond just ships and planes bringing in aid. That means actually launching a full-out assault to lay waste to U.S. command and control assets in a sort of Chinese style ‘shock and awe’ to get Washington to back down or pay a high cost.”

It is not clear, however, how seriously the Chinese Communist Party takes President Joe Biden’s repeated claims that he remains committed to the One China Policy, and his support of Taiwan’s independence.

Zhou Bo, a senior fellow at the Tsinghua University’s Center for International Strategy and Security Studies, said recently that the United States is merely paying “lip service.”

The “One China” policy is the cornerstone of Chinese-U.S. relations. It is a diplomatic recognition that there is only one Chinese government and that Taiwan is an “inalienable” part of China.

“We believe he is actually paying lip service to this One China policy,” Zhou Bo said recently. It was not clear, however, what the Chinese academic meant by “we.”

U.S. undersecretary for defense policy Colin Kahl, however, made it clear this week that any Chinese “act of aggression” in Taiwan would draw a similar response as Russia has seen over the last three months.

“Where the world is now, the Ukraine scenario is a much more likely outcome,” Kahl said.

China’s decision in Taiwan will ultimately depend on several major diplomatic, economic, and geopolitical factors ranging from the United States’ commitment to the One China Policy and the likelihood of Western military involvement in a future invasion, as well as the potential economic damage that could hit China.

Will U.S. Defend Taiwan if China Invades? Experts Weigh In

Alife-size mockup of an American aircraft carrier in a desert in northwest China, captured by commercial satellites late last year, confirmed for many that Beijing was actively preparing for a military engagement with U.S. forces in a future fight over Taiwan.

China, which has maintained a decades-long claim to the island it has never governed, faced off with the United States on the Korean Peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait during the first half of the Cold War.

In the mid-1990s, already over a decade after Washington and Beijing had established formal diplomatic relations, it was the U.S. Navy that deterred the People’s Liberation Army from further aggression against Taiwan.

Nearly 30 years later, the balance of power across the strait has shifted significantly; Pentagon officials and their counterparts in Taipei believe China intends to build the capability to finally seize Taiwan, regardless of Washington’s intention to intervene in the next Taiwan Strait crisis.

Experts tell Newsweek that a U.S. military reaction to a future Chinese invasion is likely, even though the precise nature of the American response is hard to predict.

Officially, however, Washington has kept its cards close to its chest for more than 40 years, since ending formal diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979.

The Impact of the Taiwan Relations Act

That year, President Joe Biden, then still a junior senator for his home state of Delaware, was among those who voted to pass the Taiwan Relations Act, a piece of legislation governing unofficial relations with Taiwan, and once described by a current administration official as among the most significant foreign policy undertakings in the history of Congress.

Among the law’s key provisions is a mandate to provide Taipei with defensive arms so as to maintain its self-defense capability against Beijing.

It also requires the U.S. to “maintain our capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of Taiwan,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken reminded the public last week.

Crucially, the TRA doesn’t include a concrete security guarantee that would obligate a U.S. military response to a Chinese attack against the island, despite past experiences suggesting otherwise.

Given the close ties between Washington and Taipei—Taiwan is the U.S.’s eighth-largest trading partner—analysts believed a Taiwan crisis might see rapid American arms transfers at the very least.

However, Biden himself, and some of his senior officials, have been the ones suggesting the U.S. could do more, especially since the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

Assessing China’s Aims and Ambitions

Since Russia’s invasion began in February, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been asking for the administration’s assessment of when China might do the same.

The answer across government departments has been consistent: Beijing wants to be able to take Taiwan by the end of the decade—over U.S. intervention, according to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

Ely Ratner, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told a House committee hearing in March that the U.S. response in such a scenario would differ from how it’s supporting Ukraine. “I’m confident that some of our closest partners would be with us in a Taiwan contingency,” he said.

Last week, while standing beside Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan at a press conference in Tokyo, Biden said the U.S. would become military involved in the event of a Chinese invasion, even though he believed such a move “will not happen” and “will not be attempted.”

Although Biden later disagreed, his remarks appeared to break with over four decades of careful dancing around the question, a deliberate position known as “strategic ambiguity,” in which the U.S. doesn’t publicly commit or dismiss the possibility of defending Taiwan militarily.

The End of Ambiguity?

Taiwan, meanwhile, says it would be ready to fight alone, although it has asked the U.S. to expedite arms sales as PLA capabilities continue to grow.

While some may argue otherwise, subject matter experts believe China already assumed America would intervene, long before the president’s apparent slip of the tongue.

“For Beijing, Biden’s remarks may reveal the attitude to the current ‘answer’ to U.S. strategic ambiguity,” says Hung Tzu-chieh, an assistant research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, Taiwan’s top military think tank. “I don’t think Biden’s remarks will change Beijing’s strategic thinking, as Beijing has long considered the possibility of U.S. military intervention.”

“For example, China has continued to develop its naval power and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities in the Western Pacific over the past decades. Its purpose is mainly to target the U.S. military,” Hung says.

The PLA’s rapidly developing long-range strike capabilities—both conventional and nuclear—are unlikely to be used on Taiwan either, their range already capable of reaching Guam.

According to Su Tzu-yun, an associate researcher at Taipei’s INDSR (Institute for National Defense and Security Research), the U.S. approach has changed. “President Biden has referenced a commitment to defend Taiwan several times,” he says. “These are clear strategic signals to deter China’s military adventurism.”

“[U.S.] policy is clear, but its strategy is ambiguous; that is, its objective of maintaining the [Taiwan Strait] status quo is clear, but its means are flexible,” Su argues.

America’s Changing Sentiment Towards Taiwan

The defense analyst lists obvious geostrategic reasons for why the U.S. might want to defend Taiwan, which sits in the center of the so-called first island chain that hems in China. The sea lines around Taiwan are busy, carrying 90 percent of Japan’s crude oil and 76 percent of its liquified natural gas—both major lifelines for Tokyo, Su says.

The Bashi Channel, a waterway separating Taiwan from the Philippines to its south, is also critical for the defense of the continental U.S., as Chinese submarines exiting the passage into the Western Pacific can launch ballistic missiles capable of reaching the West Coast, Su’s analysis shows.

Sean King, senior vice president of New York-based Park Strategies, believes Biden’s comments were sincere. “He voted for the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 as a senator (so, he clearly understands the issue) and has now said three times that we’d defend Taiwan in case of mainland attack.”

“It’s not a change in U.S. policy but does signal growing American sentiment in Taiwan’s favor,” he said.

However, King argues a U.S. commitment to defend the island is complicated by the fact that Washington and Taipei have no official diplomatic relations. It’s a reality that leaves the otherwise close partners unable to coordinate a joint defense strategy, much less discuss the type of interoperability American forces enjoy with allies like Japan and South Korea.

“How can we credibly commit to defend an island (Taiwan) whose government we don’t even recognize?” King says.

Biden’s Multilateralization Moves

The willingness of U.S. allies in the region to play some part in a future Taiwan contingency will be a new factor in China’s calculus. One of Biden’s unquestionable foreign policy successes has been the multilateralization and, to some extent, the internationalization of concerns over Taiwan’s security.

It began in April 2021, when Biden hosted Japan’s former prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, at the White House, where they released a joint statement that included a call for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The phrase has emerged in bilateral and multilateral statements in the 15 months since, including among the Group of Seven and the European Union.

The significance of the additional sentence is evidenced by Beijing’s frequent protests at its inclusion. This week, Biden and Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, underscored the same sentiment in their joint statement.

Japan’s Growing Importance

For Japan in particular, whose westernmost island of Yonaguni sits less than 70 miles from Taiwan’s east coast, the prospect of a cross-strait conflict has emerged as an urgent issue for its defense planners.

America’s most committed treaty ally in Asia—and host to the most American troops outside of U.S. territory—could be involved in a future U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan, especially if U.S. bases across Japan become points of interest for the PLA.

But Tokyo can’t craft an effective action plan for the Japan Self-Defense Forces if the U.S.’s own intentions remain unclear. It’s small wonder Biden’s comments were received so positively in Japan.

Two days after Biden’s remarks in Tokyo, Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an interviewer that he believed the president’s comments were “intentionally made.” Abe, considered by many as a pro-Taiwan China hawk, is an advocate of abandoning strategic ambiguity.

“At the time when the U.S. adopted strategic ambiguity, there was a huge gap in military power between the U.S. and China. But as we see China closing that gap…it’s dangerous to keep this policy in place,” he said. Abe described Biden’s pledge as “a message to China,” and believed it would serve to increase deterrence.

“If the U.S. were to clearly be in a position to intervene in a military invasion by China, I think China would consequently have to give up the idea, because China certainly doesn’t want to go into war with the U.S.,” Abe concluded.

But CAN the United States defend Taiwan?

President Joe Biden has yet again stated that if China attacked Taiwan to reunify what Beijing sees as a renegade province with the mainland, the United States would come to Taiwan’s military defense. White House staff has again followed up these off-the-cuff presidential comments with a “clarification” that in fact, strategic ambiguity remains American policy. Somewhat oxymoronically, the United States seeks to be crystal clear about being intentionally unclear about what we would do (evocative of British policy just before World War I on whether London would come to Paris’s aid, should France be attacked). The goal is to avoid emboldening Taiwan to provoke China even as we try to deter China in the event it does feel provoked. Quite the balancing act.

But here’s the real rub: Saying we WOULD defend Taiwan militarily does not mean we COULD do so successfully. These doctrinal debates over strategic ambiguity versus strategic clarity seem strangely disconnected from military reality.

America’s policy of strategic ambiguity was born during the Cold War, when it was a simple fact that the United States enjoyed overwhelming military dominance against China in the waters and airways of the western Pacific. Even though Taiwan was 100 miles from China and thousands of miles from the United States, U.S. dominance in advanced air and naval weaponry meant that we almost surely could have come to Taiwan’s defense and prevailed. Given China’s dramatic military modernizations of recent times, the situation is now much more complex. Recent analysis that I have done at Brookings indicates that especially for certain types of blockade scenarios by which China might seek to squeeze Taiwan into submission, the United States and its allies might still win a war in which they sought to break the blockade. But we also might lose it.

In general terms, a possible naval blockade of Taiwan offers advantages to China. For this scenario, unlike that of an attempted invasion, trends in technology favor rather than hurt China, since it would be the actor threatening large military objects like ships and airfields and ports. To minimize China’s own vulnerabilities, People’s Liberation Army Navy attack submarines might be the principal assets employed, rather than surface ships or aircraft. Cyberattacks would likely support the physical operation. Beijing might escalate to the use of land-based missiles and aircraft later in a battle, depending on initial results. And all of these operations, and the effectiveness of their counters, would surely fluctuate over time. The opposing sides would seek the best places to operate (given sonar conditions and other considerations) and would vary the intensity of their efforts as a function of their effectiveness, and of the interplay between military operations and broader political dynamics in Beijing, Taipei, Washington, Tokyo, and beyond.

My modeling strongly suggests that the outcome of such a conflict over Taiwan is inherently unknowable. That is true, I believe, even if the battle is assumed to remain within reasonably specific boundaries of possible escalation.

I cannot prove my conclusion beyond any reasonable doubt with simple models that depend on unclassified and potentially dated input data to generate their results. But it is doubtful that planners on either side with access to more complex models and more current data can do much better. There are simply too many major technical uncertainties — about the performance of command and control systems, undersea warfare, and possibly missile defenses, in addition to questions about resilience and reparability of the in-theater ports and runways upon which U.S. operations would depend — to permit reliable prognostication. The possibility of escalation to wider or even nuclear war of course reinforces these specific uncertainties about a more concrete scenario centered on a blockade.

The best that modeling can do to handle these variables is to create reasonable boundaries within which actual scenarios might generate their actual results. So long as those boundaries are difficult to dismiss, and include cases in which both sides win, anyone entering a war confident of knowing the winner in advance has a high analytical threshold to establish. Thus, although it is possible that planners on one side or the other (or both) could develop plausible theories, and concepts, of victory — perhaps akin in some ways to Germany’s war plans against France and Britain of 1914 and 1940 — defeat must be considered an equally plausible outcome. This conclusion should be sobering for any leader who might consider risking such a conflict in the years to come.

The implications of a responsible approach to modeling and analyzing warfighting scenarios are important not only because they should affect leaders’ assessments of the risk of war, but also for purposes of U.S. and partner force planning. Model results might for example suggest certain modifications to or modernizations of key assets to reduce vulnerabilities, especially in command and control, but also in supply and maintenance, in ordnance sustainability, and in the adequacy of anti-submarine warfare assets including planes, ships, and submarines within the U.S. military force structure. But even more, the implications should affect how all parties think about crisis management and any use of force. China should not see such limited-force scenarios as somehow safe or controllable; the United States should not necessarily respond to a Chinese blockade with a prompt counterblockade operation, if it can devise alternative approaches.

The United States should respond to any Chinese attack, yes — in that sense, there should not be strategic ambiguity — but rather than promise to respond militarily, we should seek to develop a wider range of response options that include the use of economic, diplomatic, and other tools. This approach has the benefit of being consistent with the Defense Department’s concept of “integrated deterrence,” and of not promising that we would effectively defend Taiwan when in fact it may be beyond our power to do so.


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