The CIA believes a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is likely. The likelihood of that happening increases as this decade progresses. Two things are decisive for the calculation of ruler Xi.
Given the close dictatorial friendship that connects Xi and Putin, it was expected that the nomenklatura of the People’s Republic of China under its leader Xi Jinping would take a close look at the course of Putin’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine. Now the CIA has spoken out, which for its part has analyzed China’s reaction to the war. Beijing is “uneasy” about the “strategic failure” of the Russian army, intelligence chief William Burns said at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado.
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Alexander Görlach is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian teaches democratic theory in Germany, Austria and Spain as an honorary professor at Leuphana University. In the 2017-18 academic year, he was at National Taiwan University and City University Hong Kong to conduct research on China’s rise. He is currently researching new technologies at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute and how they are used in democracies and abused in dictatorships.
Two things are decisive for Beijing’s calculation: On the one hand, the status of the Taiwanese army, which has ordered new weapon systems and submarines in order to be able to counter the Chinese superiority. And secondly, it requires the construction of a pretext, such as that used by Putin when he claimed that he had to “denazify” Ukraine because of the “genocide” against Russians committed there. As for the second point, Beijing in presented in the past few days: The regime branded the visit of a Taiwanese MP to the Czech Republic last week and warned the European country not to send any more “wrong signals”.
Now Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives and thus one of the highest representatives in the United States, has announced a trip to Taiwan for August. Beijing fumed and threatened that this visit could trigger a military escalation in the Taiwan Strait, the strait that separates the People’s Republic of Taiwan. China has been trying for years to limit its neighbor’s room for maneuver by threatening to use force against Taiwan and its friends. Claiming that Pelosi’s visit to the island would herald “Taiwan’s secession from China” may be just the pretext dictators need to stoke the local populace and begin their invasion.
The reaction of the US military shows that the danger of a war starting, triggered by Pelosi visit, seems real. According to a statement by US President Biden, the visit is “not a good idea at the moment”. President Biden himself has repeatedly announced military assistance should Xi allow Taiwan to be attacked.
Pelosi’s office said that due to security concerns, no details are currently being given on the itinerary of the MPs’ Asia trip. If Pelosi backs down after her announcement, Beijing could see it as a success. At the same time, it would give Republicans an excuse to denounce the Democratic Party and the White House as cowardly.
The situation is complicated: The USA still has the largest fleet and the strongest army in the world. In 2020, the armed forces spent around 780 billion US dollars, while the People’s Republic “only” spent around 220 billion. Washington, especially in conjunction with partners in the region such as Japan and Australia, could win a war against Beijing China, on the other hand, is in the midst of a real estate and financial crisis, is suffering from falling economic output and the highest youth unemployment in a long time. Xi Jinping, on the other hand, has made the annexation of Taiwan the goal of his rule, which will last for another five years at the 20th party congress in autumn years should be extended.
Xi must now choose: ruin China’s economy or abandon an ideological goal. However, radicalized ideologues like him tend to sacrifice their own country for their great power plans. The warnings from the CIA and the US military should therefore not be dismissed prematurely.