Chinese leader Xi Jinping, like many people, may have been surprised by Russia’s failure to conquer Ukraine in a matter of days – owing in large measure to unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance. In addition, the Americans and the Europeans – even the Germans – imposing wide-ranging economic and financial sanctions on the Russians, and providing the Ukrainians with massive military aid must have surprised Beijing.
Indeed, some analysts suggested Putin’s difficulties with Ukraine might force Xi to decide an assault on Taiwan was too hard for the foreseeable future.
But now that four months have passed, Xi might look at what has happened in Ukraine, and to the Russians, and think he’s got a reasonable shot at Taiwan – and can absorb whatever punishment the U.S. and allies can apply.
From Beijing’s perspective, the question is whether the benefits are worth the costs. If the PRC conquers Taiwan, it would gain crucial strategic terrain. Taking Taiwan breaks the so-called “first island chain” that hems in Chinese forces, thus allowing China to push out from there and move freely south to the Philippines, Malaysia, and on, perhaps to its new friends in Solomon Islands – allowing Beijing to isolate Australia. To the north and east, China could make life very difficult for Japan, surround South Korea, and displace U.S. presence and influence.
All this would shatter U.S. strategic credibility. It would demonstrate that the United States could not protect 24 million free Taiwanese – despite U.S. military power, financial and economic power, and nuclear weapons. Who in the region (and world) will rely on U.S. promises after that? With the exceptions of Japan and maybe Australia, many countries in the region will try to cut what deals they can with the PRC. A PRC triumph on Taiwan would shift the strategic balance in Asia.
Read the rest at The Diplomat.
Grant Newsham is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.