Stronger deterrence will prevent war in Taiwan
Xi Jinping positions the People’s Liberation Army to bring Taiwan under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. The Taiwanese may estimate a three-year delay before an attack, while the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Honolulu considers a military assault in six years to be possible.
If a conflict does arise, it will be large-scale and bloody. It will throw the world into two hostile camps – in fact, democracies versus authoritarian regimes. The war in Taiwan will inevitably involve Australia.
There will be no positive results from conflict. If China is defeated, Xi will fall from office and the CCP will face an existential crisis of legitimacy that could cause it to lose its grip on power amid large-scale political unrest.
If Beijing wins, it will face a bloody occupation on an island of 25 million people who overwhelmingly reject the idea of Communist control. The Taiwanese will put up fierce resistance. Xi will face his own moment of occupation of Iraq, with nothing to offer Taiwan other than repression.
Beijing’s control of Taiwan would transform the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. Japan would become vulnerable from the south and east, and face the reality that China could reduce its trade and energy supplies.
It’s hard to see how America’s Pacific alliances could survive a defeat like the Communist takeover of Taiwan. It all depends on how the situation develops. Imagine an American administration that decides that the war against Taiwan, contrary to all American claims, is not worth fighting.
If that happens, U.S. allies in the region, including Australia, will know they are on their own when it comes to facing a militarily prosperous Beijing. In this world, the choice for Japan, Australia and South Korea is either to appease Beijing or to develop a much stronger military capability at a breakneck pace.
Imagine another scenario where America does choose to stand up for Taiwan. Australia will receive the President’s second phone call after calling Tokyo, asking what military support we will offer. Does anyone imagine that Australia has a realistic option not to fight? If we try to pull out, we can say goodbye to ANZUS, intelligence cooperation, nuclear powered submarines, US foreign investment, and all the other things that have made us rich and secure.
It is claimed that the Pentagon’s computer war games invariably see the United States losing to the PLA against Taiwan. It doesn’t necessarily mean much. But to be clear, an American defeat and a resurgence of China would be a disaster for the interests of countries that do not want to bow to Beijing.
All of this means that the war for Taiwan is an outcome that must be avoided. Xi has built such momentum towards war, and such aggressive and nationalistic expectations among the Chinese people, that I think the only way to prevent a war is to change Xi’s calculation of the risk and costs of triggering it. a conflict.
Internationally, Xi has managed to take risks. He organized a takeover of the South China Sea and militarized recovered “island” bases without an effective international response; it has pursued wholesale intellectual property theft around the world with, until recently, most countries reluctant to even name China as the cause; he ransacked the Beijing agreement with the United Kingdom on Hong Kong and sets up a repressive regime on its 7.5 million inhabitants. The world responded by writhing empty-handed.
China continues to wage a campaign of economic coercion against Australia where our fellow Democrats have been happy to fill the export niches we once enjoyed. China supporters in Australia ask us to believe it is our fault because we provocatively wanted to investigate the origins of Covid-19.
Through it all, Xi has learned that being bold and taking risks worked. He got away with barely a scratch with international aggression, internal repression and Covid-19 cover-up. Xi will apply a similar cost and risk calculation to Taiwan. Large-scale military incursions into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone, intensified propaganda about the inevitability of “reunification”, and attempts to exclude Taiwan from international engagement are all aimed at testing how far Xi can go without being pushed back.
It is certain that the PLA’s air incursions will continue, expand, and move closer to the Taiwanese mainland. In an important speech last week, Xi reverted to the old wording of calling for Taiwan’s “peaceful reunification”, but there is no doubt about his sense of urgency. Xi wants to be the leader who delivers this result and not leave it to his successors.
We can prevent this impending catastrophe by making it clear to Xi that democracies will not tolerate China’s forced incorporation of Taiwan. An emergency meeting of the G20 should be organized to unambiguously commit to its security.
Australia should accept Taiwan’s offer to exchange intelligence and security assessments as it does with our Quad partners, Japan, India and the United States. We should send a Defense liaison to our mission in Taipei and invite a counterpart to Canberra. Our uncompromising reading of the “one China” policy meant that as a senior defense official, I could not speak with my Taiwanese counterparts. We run the risk of being asked to defend Taiwan without ever having discussed the task with the Taiwanese military.
More importantly, the United States, Japan and Australia must make clear their intention to work together to protect Taiwan and give Taipei more opportunities to make its voice heard in international forums. More Australian leaders should follow Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott and engage with Taiwan, strengthening political and economic ties.
Beijing will not accept this, but we know that the price of Xi’s approval is respecting his wishes. Xi must understand that the world will not look away as the PLA attacks Taiwan.
It is clear that Beijing will not give up its longing for unification with Taiwan, but if Xi realizes that the costs of such military madness will be too high, the hope is that it will leave that to future generations. Deterrence guarantees peace, while appeasement will surely lead to war.