Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum


[email protected]

January 28, 2024

US-China relation is very tense but stabilizing, of course Taiwan is a major concern. But a China-Taiwan war game conducted by the US is a bit strange. First of all, both mainland China and Taiwan have repeatedly stated that no one is interested in any war, rather both sides desire a peaceful resolution. Secondly, it is obvious that, if you ask anyone in Taiwan, Taiwan will NOT go to war with mainland China, unless the US committed to support Taiwan’s fight with US military. In that scenario, US-China war simulation would make more sense than a China-Taiwan war game. At minimum, the US should engage China to exercise such a cross Taiwan strait war game and publish the result. Anyway, a major fallacy of a war game about China without direct Chinese input is meaningless: the US has no clear understanding of Chinese position, no clear understanding of China’s military strategy and deployments.

Further, there is no reason to blame Trump about Taiwan’s risk of war with China. The most important reason that Trump has a strong chance of Trump II is Biden’s weak performance as the US President. There is no reason to believe that a “China-Taiwan War” could have any better result under Biden than Trump. As of now, under President Biden, the US faces the real burden of fighting two dangerous wars: the proxy war in Ukraine and the Israel-Gaza war. They are bloody but also difficult to see the lights at the end of tunnel. Of course, Taiwan is a flash point, but there are more ominous signs that Iran may charge against the US in middle east and North Korea may take actions against South Korea. What is Biden’s crisis management strategy? Ask the Chinese to tame Iran and North Korea!

China does not owe Biden anything, so what Biden has to pay for China’s service to him: could it be Taiwan?

A China-Taiwan war simulation that assumes a Trump return to office in 2025 warns Taiwan would be ‘toast’

Lloyd Lee

Updated Sat, January 27, 2024 at 11:20 PM PST

A war game stimulated a conflict between Taiwan and China if Donald Trump became president in 2025.

  • An international relations director told NYT that the game ended quicker than expected.
  • Taiwan couldn’t meet the demands China and the US expected and was ultimately “toast.”

What would happen if tensions escalated between Taiwan and China in 2025 during a potential second Trump administration?

One war game simulation suggested the conflict would be swift — and ended with a troubling omen for Taiwan.

“Taiwan was toast,” Alexander C. Huang, an international relations director for Taiwan’s KMT political party, told The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof.

Huang told Kristof that the simulation was intended to last three hours but ended in just two without shots being fired.

According to Kristof, in the game, Taiwan couldn’t meet the hypothetical demands China and America would make in the simulation, such as a timeline for a unification — in which China and Taiwan are consolidated — and pressure from the US to spend more on Taiwan’s military.

War games are conducted as part of an exercise to think out potential scenarios and strategies in case of a conflict, but the results should not be taken as guaranteed.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, DC-based national security think tank, ran a simulation 24 times and found that in “most scenarios,” the US, Taiwan, and Japan could fend off China during an amphibious invasion.

But the defense would come at a “high cost,” with Taiwan’s economy decimated, the found.

Donald Trump’s unpredictability also has some political experts and analysts concerned about what a second Trump term could mean for China-Taiwan relations.

“Trump is completely unreliable as an ally or an opponent” for China, Stanley Rosen, professor of political science and international relations at the University of Southern California’s US-China Institute, previously told Business Insider.

In interviews, Trump has repeatedly refused to explicitly say if he would come to Taiwan’s defense if China invaded.

“Trump is very popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong because they think he talks tough and is tough,” Rosen said. “But he doesn’t follow through.”


What Worries Me About War With China After My Visit to Taiwan

Jan. 27, 2024, New York Times

Opinion Columnist, reporting from Taipei, Taiwan

Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is concerned enough about the risk of war between the United States and China that he is listening to the audiobook version of Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August,” the classic history of how the major powers in 1914 stumbled into World War I.

“I think this is the most dangerous time since I was a kid in 1962,” during the Cuban missile crisis, he told me. “The world war potential is really, really significant.”

I came to Taiwan to gauge that risk and assess how to manage it better. For what it’s worth, I greatly respect Admiral Mullen — few people know as much about global hot spots and how wars happen — but my best guess is that Americans may be overestimating the risk of conflict, particularly of an all-out invasion of Taiwan by China.

Moreover, I worry that American anxiety about the risk of war with China may inadvertently exacerbate it. “The Guns of August” is, as Mullen noted, a useful prism for reminding us how miscalculation, misunderstanding and escalation created a world war that no one wanted. So we should be alert not only to the risk that China poses to peace in the region but also to the risk we Americans unintentionally pose, and to the possibility that our legitimate efforts to confront China can lead to accidents at sea or air that lead to war.

There is a fine line between deterring China and provoking it. My take is that while we should do significantly more to help Taiwan boost defenses and deter aggression, we should do so quietly, without needlessly humiliating China. Sometimes Americans loudly embrace Taiwan in ways that inflame tensions at times when we should be hoping to lower them.

Let me also make the case that we think too much in terms of an invasion — when the greater risk may be China’s taking lesser nibbles to pressure Taiwan, leading to the possibility of accidents and escalation that could drag us into an unintended world war, as happened in 1914.

It’s disorienting to go from talking to American security experts, deeply worried about war with China, to Taiwan. Taiwan’s outgoing president, Tsai Ing-wen, said at The New York Times’s Deal Book Summit in November that China was probably too overwhelmed with domestic problems to take on an invasion. And the former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou, on the other end of the political spectrum, agreed, telling me: “I don’t think China is in any mood to start a war to conquer Taiwan.”

Many prominent people in Taiwan told me that while they appreciate American moral and military support, they also fear that hotheaded, China-bashing Americans don’t understand the region and may make things worse.

“Quite a few Americans, opinion leaders or particular members of Congress, made ridiculous statements over Taiwan,” President Ma told me.

Efforts to help the island sometimes backfire. One example often comes up in conversations in Taiwan: Nancy Pelosi’s high-profile visit to Taiwan in 2022, when she was speaker of the House. It was a gesture of moral support, but it didn’t obviously boost Taiwan’s defenses. And China’s response was to move military ships closer to Taiwan in ways that increase the risk of conflict.

For that reason, 62 percent of Taiwanese said in a poll last year that they thought the Pelosi visit had made Taiwan less secure.

Just as American officials read fiery speeches by Chinese officials and grow alarmed, imagine what Chinese leaders thought when an American Air Force general, Michael Minihan, declared last year that he anticipated war with China soon: “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025.”

Beijing must also have been unnerved when Ely Ratner, a senior Pentagon official, described Taiwan as a strategic asset for the United States. The implication was that America may try to use Taiwan as a military bulwark against China; what such comments and high-level visits like Pelosi’s have in common is that they aggravate the paranoia in Beijing.

Instead, we need to solidify the status quo. That means China doesn’t use military force against Taiwan, and Taiwan isn’t seen as slipping away forever into America’s orbit. Taiwanese officials, including President-elect Lai Ching-te, are prudent enough to say they will maintain that status quo — messy and unsatisfactory though it is — and Washington should as well.

But perhaps the single best way to discourage Xi Jinping from attacking Taiwan is to help Ukraine against Russia. The more the West is united in making Russia pay a stiff price for Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the less inclined Xi will be to take a whack at Taiwan. Yet some Republicans who in theory are hostile to China nonetheless resist funding for Ukraine.

As for President Biden, he has done an excellent job in leading the Western alliance against Putin. But he let himself be intimidated by Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling, especially early in the war, refusing to provide some advanced arms to Ukraine for fear that Putin would respond with tactical nuclear weapons. Xi may thus have absorbed the lesson that nuclear threats work.

Granted, my argument that the risk of war is overblown may be wrong. A rule of thumb in following China is always to distrust people who assert with confidence what will happen. “A China expert is an oxymoron,” Winston Lord, a former ambassador to China, likes to say. In truth, there are legitimate reasons to fear what China might do.

“Xi Jinping has been different from his predecessors in how he talks about Taiwan, in ways that we would be unwise to ignore,” noted Matt Pottinger, a Chinese speaker who was deputy national security adviser under President Donald Trump. Xi has shown greater urgency about “recovering” Taiwan, and has linked this to his own legacy, while matching his talk with a military modernization that targets Taiwan and the United States.

“When I look at the military China is building, it is not a general-purpose military,” said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall III. “It is designed around the goal of being able to take Taiwan and keep the U.S. out.”

Also ominous: The Times has reported that China appears to have inserted malware into computer networks that operate electrical grids, telecommunications and water supplies that serve United States bases, including those that would respond to an attack on Taiwan.

Yet the basic reason to be skeptical that war is coming is that it’s not in China’s interest or Xi’s (although it’s also true that plenty of nations have started wars that didn’t serve their interests).

An amphibious operation to conquer Taiwan would be an enormous challenge and might well fail. Taiwan is nearly 100 miles from China, without many beaches to offer easy landing. A surprise invasion in Normandy was possible in 1944, but would not be feasible in an age of satellites and drones.

China’s military is inexperienced — the People’s Liberation Army’s last “combat” came when it fired on fellow citizens during the 1989 pro-democracy protests — and deeply corrupt. Well-connected Chinese friends have told me how officers are regularly promoted based on the bribes they pay. Xi is a risk taker, but even he must know that an all-out invasion would be a dangerous roll of the dice.

“Just out of prudence, I think he’s unlikely to do something in the next few years as the alarmists have been promoting in Washington,” said Joseph Nye, a retired Harvard professor with long experience in Pacific strategy.

One step that might make Chinese aggression more likely to succeed — and thus a greater possibility — is a Trump victory in November. Trump has expressed uncertainty about helping Taiwan, and it’s difficult to imagine him coordinating allies to press China to back off.

Alexander C. Huang, a Taiwan strategist, said he took part in a war game set in early 2025 that assumed that Trump was president. The war game was supposed to last three hours, but it was over after two — even before shots were fired — because China and America were making demands that Taiwan couldn’t meet and that were beyond the scope of the game. These included a timetable for unification in China’s case and pressure to spend more on the military from the U.S. War games should always be regarded with some skepticism, and Taiwan did not end here in ashes — but given the possibility of a Trump election, the war game did conclude ominously.

“Taiwan was toast,” Huang said.

In the United States, there are calls to adopt a formal policy of defending Taiwan, replacing the present “strategic ambiguity” of a U.S. response (which Biden has in any case undercut by saying four times that the United States would defend Taiwan).

For the United States to formally say that America would back Taiwan militarily would be a mistake, I believe, partly because of its effect on Taiwan. If Taiwan were confident that the American cavalry would ride to the rescue, it might be less worried about provoking China and do less to defend itself.

The truth is that Taiwan hasn’t been willing to make deep sacrifices for its own security. It’s a wonderful place, partly because it’s much more Athens than Sparta. It allocates a smaller share of G.D.P. to defense than the United States, Israel or Estonia; it is only now requiring a year of military conscription (for men); and it is phasing out nuclear power plants, which are critical for resilience in a blockade because they provide homegrown power when imports provide 98 percent of energy.

In any case, a tighter squeeze on Taiwan — including a blockade — seems a more likely scenario than a sudden invasion. China could hold high-intensity military exercises that rattle Taiwan. It could cut undersea cables carrying the internet to Taiwan. It could also seize one of the Taiwan-controlled islands, like Taiping.

China broached one alarming idea last year: It announced inspections of ships traveling from Taiwan to the Taiwan-controlled islands of Kinmen and Matsu. It never actually conducted inspections, but the announcement offered a clue to what it may be planning.

What if Xi moved toward a partial blockade of Taiwan, saying: The world recognizes that Taiwan is a part of China, so ships bound for Taiwan are now subject to Chinese customs inspections. The Chinese Coast Guard will board ships periodically, to ensure that papers are in order.

This kind of gradual approach, a salami slicing of Taiwan’s autonomy, is how China neutered Hong Kong.

Maj. Gen. Sun Li-fang of the Taiwan armed forces told me that China is particularly ramping up its efforts to demoralize the Taiwanese people and gain an advantage through what’s called “cognitive warfare,” including manipulation of public opinion and the release of fake photos and information. He described it as an update of the strategy for how to win without fighting a battle depicted by the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in “The Art of War.”

“The threat is not just coming from guns, artillery, rockets, missiles, warships,” General Sun said. “They’re trying to influence our minds as well.”

What Taiwan needs is more practical help — anti-ship missiles, military training, coordination with allies, better cyberdefenses. Meanwhile, the United States needs to boost the capacity of industry to produce munitions rapidly in a crisis.

The Biden administration has worked very effectively with Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines to prepare for joint action to constrain China. That enhances deterrence. Washington could also do more to help Taiwan cultivate cyberwarfare: If the grid goes out in Taipei, Shanghai should lose power, too. If Taipei’s internet cables are cut, then China’s great firewall should cave so ordinary Chinese are able to read about their leaders’ corruption.

Maybe the best recommendation I heard came from Mark Liu, the chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. He offered this useful advice for Americans aiming to help Taiwan’s security: “Do more. Talk less.”

That advice might have helped the major powers in August 1914 avoid a cataclysmic and unnecessary war. It remains sound counsel today.

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