The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is building up its military power in a sweeping and destabilizing fashion. Its principle objective is preparing for a war of conquest directed at Taiwan and, by way of extension, the United States and its allies.
This is not a new development. China has considered the annexation of Taiwan its supreme military objective since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Communist China is a predatory state, driven by expansionist aims. Recently, American officials have become more vocal about the challenge this regime presents to the current American-led world order.
According to a top CIA expert on East Asia, Michael Collins, China is engaged in a cold war with America. It seeks to replace the United States as the world’s predominant superpower. This judgment was confirmed by Washington’s most recent National Security Strategy, which states: “China ... wants to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor.”
The biggest obstacle facing Chinese dictator Xi Jinping (習近平) is the continued existence of Taiwan as a de facto independent country. Destroying the democratic Republic of China (ROC), and occupying Taiwan, is critical to the success of the Chinese Communist Party’s long-term hegemony plans.
Beijing has repeatedly evinced a willingness to risk breaking the peace. While China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea are disquieting, its continuing provocations against Taiwan portend something far more ominous. It should be clear that China’s aim is not the maintenance of the “status quo,” but rather the forcible annexation of Taiwan, even at the risk of great power war.
From the perspective of Xi and his communist comrades, taking Taiwan will solve a number of grave political, economic, and military problems. Moreover, it would allow them to solidify and expand China’s prestige, power, and influence around the globe at the expense of the United States.
At the current time, China must dedicate an enormous amount of resources to suppress Taiwan’s voice on the international stage, roll back its diplomatic freedom of action, and control its influence on domestic Chinese audiences.
While impossible to accurately quantify, it might be plausibly posited that a majority of Chinese national security spending is directly and indirectly related to Taiwan, especially if one considers and accounts for China’s worldwide diplomatic, united front, intelligence, propaganda, and influence operations, in addition to its associated military spending.
Given the opacity inherent in what is probably best seen as a broad and interlocking series of covert actions, we may never know exactly how much the PRC spends on Taiwan. What we can say with a high degree of certainty is that if Taiwan were to fall, it would free up a large pool of offensive resources with which China could apply against others.
In such an event, Beijing would control the center of the First Island Chain. The Chinese military would have unfettered access to the deep waters of the Western Pacific, and dominion over the world’s most consequential air and sea lines of communications. Japan and the Philippines would be held at risk of blockade and invasion. The US territories of Guam, Saipan, and Tinian would face a menacing environment the likes of which is now difficult to imagine.
The world of tomorrow will look radically different if the PRC achieves its main external objective. In that event, the door would be wide open to new opportunities for Chinese expansion and conquest. We can only speculate about what might happen under hypothetical conditions. It is certain, however, that bending the arch of history in this direction is Beijing’s aim for the future.
Defeating China in a long-term strategic competition will be a difficult enterprise, requiring a grueling campaign. Enormous time and treasure will have to be dedicated. The American and Taiwanese governments should mobilize their media and civil society. They should execute public relations campaigns to undercut the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party.
Public education will be vital for helping universities, research labs, and corporations understand why they need to do a better job of ensuring that their technology and talent does not help strengthen the Chinese military-industrial complex. Without public understanding and support, no strategy is sustainable for long in a democracy.
Defense analysts should continually assess their country’s strategic position relative to that of their competition. What are the Chinese military’s relative strengths compared to the US and Taiwan? What are its relative weaknesses? How is the balance of power across the Pacific likely to change over time? What new security approaches might be available to Washington and Taipei as they enter into what will be a different and dangerous future? Which strategies and operational capabilities are most likely to forestall a Chinese attack and defeat aggression if it does come?
Immense challenges wait ahead. The People’s Liberation Army has the mission of crushing all threats to the Chinese Communist Party, foreign or domestic. It will fiercely struggle against any attempt to undermine the success of its political overlord.
To prevail, our national security leaders should be ready to take calculated risks, accept setbacks, and learn from mistakes. Keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open will be a team effort, requiring allies and partners like Washington and Taipei to work more closely together to advance shared interests.
China’s rapid military buildup represents a serious threat to peace and stability. In light of the hard and heavy facts before us, action should proceed with the aim of advancing our competitive position.
Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute and author of The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia (中共攻台大解密).
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