Due to economic interdependence, a China-Taiwan war is, in the short term, improbable. However, such an event is a long term possibility. In this article, I’ll be shedding light on why this is the case.
In the aftermath of WWII the world was distraught. Lives had been taken, property had been destroyed and those left alive anxiously anticipated what was to come.
Only the United States, now with over 50% of the world’s wealth, had it’s head held high.
With unprecedented confidence (and an unapologetic lack of humility) they made it their mission to ensure such devastation never happened again.
Communism, they believed, had replaced fascism as the biggest threat to global security. Any country that adhered to it was considered dangerous.
As such, when a civil war erupted in China, between Mao Zedong’s communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists, the U.S. were quick to support the latter.
Chiang Kai-shek was someone they could work with. They had no love for Mao’s communists who were greatly aided by the soviet union.
But when Mao’s forces won, Kai-shek had to flee. He took refuge in a small island just over a hundred miles south east of China called Taiwan.
Since then the two regions have remained divided. There was a brief moment when the U.S. considered turning a blind eye to China’s pursuit of Taiwan. But that was swiftly overcome and the island has been a source of tension ever since.
Whilst the United States continues supporting Taiwan with arms and advice, China looks on with frustration.
During the 13th National People’s Congress on 7 March 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proclaimed that: “Taiwan will eventually return to the embrace of the motherland.”
Two years on, China’s President Xi Jinping has only become more adamant about this position.
All of this, combined with China’s increasing capability, has led people to ponder a China and Taiwan conflict.
As I explained in the introduction, economic interdependence and U.S presence make such a scenario, in the short term, very unlikely.
Why is Taiwan important for China?
- Taiwan is, in many ways, a scar left by the west. For China, Taiwan symbolises the century of humiliation, a time when China suffered under the hands of imperialism.
- By taking Taiwan, President Xi Jinping would symbolize China’s final emancipation.
- Practically speaking, by taking Taiwan he would eliminate any chance of U.S. intervention in that area.
- And economically, it’s possible that he would reap the rewards of Taiwan’s impressive semiconductor industry.
- In 2020, China spent more on semiconductor imports than it did oil. By seizing Taiwan, it would no longer have to deal with such an inconvenience.
Why does America support Taiwan?
- Like China, there are militaristic, economic and ideological reasons for U.S-Taiwan relations (in that order).
- Militarily, Taiwan enables them to better contain China.
- Economically, Taiwan manufactures nearly 70% of the world’s semiconductors and is responsible for trillions of dollars of global economic output.
- If it’s industry was to fall into China’s hands, it would cripple the U.S. tech industry.
- Ideologically, Taiwan is also important. There are few things the U.S. likes doing more than supporting democracy. Taiwan is a democracy and the U.S. prefers it’s system of governance to the communism found in China.
Is China Going To War? Scholars Think Not
- Any prospect of ‘China vs Taiwan’ on initial viewing seems unlikely. 72% of Scholars from The Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute, said that China would not use military force against Taiwan over the next year (this included the straights of Taiwan).
Assessments from the previous year were almost identical. 71% said China wouldn’t invade, 22% said they didn’t know and 7% said they would.
Is China Going To War? Some Think So
- In January 2023, U.S Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan warned troops that the United States could be at war with China in 2025.
Since then the Pentagon leadership has distanced itself from his comments. In saying that, the general’s words seem to resonate with much of the world.
- Earlier last year, Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Meta, Google and Amazon all requested production capacity outside of China and Taiwan.
- TSMC, the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, plans to make its most advanced semiconductors on US soil next year. A $40 billion chip plant is already being built in Phoenix Arizona.
- China has never recognized Taiwan as a separate entity nor has it shown any willingness to. For realists, the only reason it hasn’t already invaded comes down to the U.S military presence in south east Asia.
As you can see, the U.S. has basis in South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Philippines and Guam. It has China surrounded and is more threatening when you consider it’s naval presence in the south China sea.
Furthermore, when asked about the situation in 2022, Joe Biden said very clearly that he would defend Taiwan. When asked to clarify whether that meant sending American men and women to the country’s defence, he replied: “Yes.”
Final Verdict – Is A China – Taiwan War Likely?
- All of this will give China cause for concern. On the one hand, they’re adamant about reclaiming the territory. On the other, such assertion comes with consequence.
- The Russian invasion of Ukraine was uniformly met with western backed sanctions. It’s quite possible that Xi, during a time of economic difficulty, wants to avoid such repercussions.
- Furthermore, a China Taiwan conflict may not necessarily yield gains. Whilst the country hosts the bulk of the world’s semiconductors, an invasion by no means guarantees their acquisition. A conflict in Taiwan risks destroying much of the tech infrastructure China currently relies on.
- A China-Taiwan war is, in the short term, improbable. China’s economy is incredibly integrated, not only with Taiwan, but with the United States. Any invasion or conflict would put it’s economy in jeopardy. Evidence may suggest decoupling, but even if this is the case it’ll be a while before either of these countries is able to act against one another. Thinkers have pointed to 2049 being a possible date by which China hopes to seize Taiwan as that would indicate a hundred years since the establishment of the ‘People’s Republic’.