If there’s any actual good news coming out of Russia’s fumbling invasion of Ukraine, it’s based on an assumption that many analysts have been repeating this year. The unified response of the United States and our NATO allies, including the backbreaking sanctions being placed on Russia and the unlimited flow of military equipment to Zelensky’s forces, was surely sending a message to Beijing. ‘If you try invading Taiwan, the same could happen to you.’ But apparently, not all analysts agree. A group of Republican lawmakers recently sent a letter to President Joe Biden warning him that the risk of a Chinese invasion across the Strait of Taiwan might actually be higher now than it’s been at any time in the past. And they would like Biden to make a public commitment to defend the Taiwanese if that happens and urge our allies to do the same. (Free Beacon)
The threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan “remains unabated, if not heightened” as a result of the Biden administration’s “slow, manipulatable, and self-defeatist posture” toward the war in Ukraine, according to a group of Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress who are pressing the White House to confront Beijing.
“We are concerned that Beijing may be learning different lessons from the ongoing crisis [in Ukraine], and the risk of a People’s Liberation Army assault on Taiwan remains unabated, if not heightened,” eight Republicans, including those on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote to President Joe Biden on Tuesday, according to a copy of the missive obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. “To proactively deter China from attempting an invasion of Taiwan, we call on your administration to commit unequivocally and publicly to uphold Taiwan’s security and the intent of the United States to act in the event of Chinese military aggression against the island.”
The Biden administration has sent mixed messages on Taiwan. The president committed to defending the island’s sovereignty from a Chinese attack before having his staff reverse course on that stance.
At first glance, this analysis seems a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it? China’s economy isn’t collapsing at the same rate as Russia’s, obviously. But they took some financial damage during the pandemic just like everyone else and their trade with Russia has already been disrupted in a couple of areas. Would Xi Jinping really risk the sort of global sanctions that Russia is currently enduring?
The other, less convincing argument is that Russia’s poor military performance should be showing Beijing that invading someone else isn’t the sort of cakewalk everyone previously imagined. That’s obviously turned out to be true for Russia, but China may believe (and perhaps correctly) that their military is in much better shape and they could probably overwhelm Taiwan in fairly short order. Whether it would be worth the economic cost is likely the question that would hold them back.
But the idea still must be tempting to Xi Jinping. Much like Ukraine, Taiwan isn’t part of any sort of strategic military alliance that would automatically trigger a war with other nations. They were surely watching as the United States dithered over the details of if and how we would respond to an invasion of Ukraine. Also, as the linked report notes, China was no doubt also watching the United States’ botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and how easily the far more militarily primitive Taliban took over the entire country. They may view the American military as being in decline and the will of the White House to use it as questionable.
Asking Biden to make such a brash move at this juncture still strikes me as being unwise both in terms of domestic politics and foreign policy. The nation is watching as America continues to teeter on the knife-edge of what could turn into a world war or even nuclear war in a single day if things take an additional turn for the worse. Are Americans really ready to see Joe Biden rattling our sabers at Beijing, threatening the potential of war with the other nuclear superpower in the modern Axis of Evil? At some point, we would surely have bitten off more than we can chew.
Perhaps better than any sort of official threat to the Chinese, the White House could focus on getting their policy message straight and sticking to it constantly. Biden already had one senior moment where he made it sounds as if we were ready to go to war on Taiwan’s behalf. That forced Jen Psaki to once again have to go out and “clarify” that the President actually meant the exact opposite of what he said. Too many more episodes like that and Joe Biden may gaffe us into a war whether we want one or not.