Does China Want a War with The United States?

Does China Want a War with The United States?

Image By Officia do Pal├ício do Planalto – President of the People’s Republic of China

President Joe Biden has said yet again that the U.S. will rise up in defense of Taiwan should China strike it to bring the country, which Beijing considers an insurgent, back into line with the mainland. On multiple occasions, Japanese defense and foreign ministers have complained that Chinese actions endanger regional peace and could militate Japanese and American intervention should China attack Taiwan. Japanese leaders often voiced profound concerns about Chinese belligerence toward Taiwan, Chinese control over resources in the South China Sea, asserting its right of possession to Japanese islands, and sending ships into the exclusive economic zones of other countries.

As evidence, China points to increased U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, although repeated U.S. promises to curtail them, the trade war, which Beijing views as a concerted effort to stifle its economy, and U.S. campaigns against Huawei, which it views as an effort to hinder Chinese technological advancements. In the Taiwan case, China has used Chinese ships and aircraft menacingly to signal that any moves to declare independence from the mainland would face a heavy military response. During their first direct face-to-face talks, China will not shy away from starting a war, destroying any efforts at self-governing island independence in a fiery manner, warned the U.S. defense secretary.

President Xi Jinping’s Chinese government must clarify to the American people why defending Taiwan is crucial for America and commit the resources necessary to prevent a Chinese assault on Taiwan. His first book, The Far East, contends that, should China lose a military campaign over Taiwan, it would be forced to deal with the burden of escalation–of widening the conflict that it is losing–and would probably withdraw, but that should Taiwan’s allies lose the limited war, it would have to regain Taiwan from China or accept Chinese importance in the Far East.

The case remains that the most significant disincentive for China to launch a large-scale military assault on the island is the Chinese presumption that a war with Taiwan would mean war with America. Second, while the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) does not have any language explicitly promising that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked, there is a belief among many in the U.S. that there is such a promise.

The United States has treaty obligations with Japan and the Philippines, and it has legislative commitments to help defend Taiwan (thanks to the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in 1979), and successive administrations have asserted that China’s expanded territorial claims are illegitimate. China’s increased military assertiveness in recent years and its increased levels of armed provocations across the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere on China’s periphery have served only to reinforce the U.S. conviction that Taiwan is a committed democratic partner worth supporting as it seeks to protect the small island against Chinas efforts to compel the island to unwanted reunification with China.

As China’s military forces are known, the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) continues to presume that, should it begin to invade Taiwan, the most capable armed forces in the world would quickly and forcefully intercede. The United States and its friends can take steps to thwart Beijing, such as dramatically speeding up weapons purchases and deploying military assets across the Taiwan Strait and in the East and South China Seas, among other efforts, to demonstrate their toughness and to make sure that China cannot quickly demolish American fighting strength with one surprise attack.

To deter China, the United States should rapidly increase the size of the United States forces in the Pacific, continue strengthening military alliances in the region to provide bases for conflicts, and expedite the delivery of purchased military equipment to Taiwan. Our best chances for avoiding war are for us all to better understand the other side’s strategic thinking and plan for a world where the United States and China can compete to live together, even in a continuing state of competition reinforced by mutual deterrence.

Yet, in his speech to the UN in September, President Biden said that the U.S. is not seeking a new Cold War with China or Russia. In fact, the Biden administration’s national defense strategy, delayed because of delays over the Ukraine crisis, is expected to be focused on China, with no clear resolution of the dual-front war issue. The Biden administration’s strategy towards China could be summarized as Invest, Align, Compete, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling for increased R&D into emerging technologies. That is partly because, since 2017, the U.S. has adopted a new strategy toward China, embracing what the Trump and Biden administrations call the New Era of Strategic Competition.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused China of provocative behavior, citing efforts to sever Taiwan relations with other countries and flying military planes close to Taiwan almost daily. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sharply escalated the conflict threat, saying the U.S. stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners to defend their sovereign rights to offshore resources following their rights and obligations under international law language that was explicitly meant to justify future uses of force by U.S. ships and aircraft aiding friendly states being bullied by China.

In so doing, he let China know the U.S. was willing to condone a formal Taiwanese push for independence – an action which will no doubt trigger a Chinese incursion attempt (which, in turn, raises the possibility of both Washington and Beijing finding their countries to be placed on the path of entanglement.

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