The Defense of Taiwan Seen in a Global Context: A Polish Perspective

There are many ways to manage this "gap" militarily for the United States. One way would be to focus on any PRC action on the model of the Battle of the Bulge

By Robert Czulda

Since February 2022, the world’s attention has been focused on the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

But once again we see a dangerous escalation in the Taiwan Strait. This is a direct result of imperialist appetites of the PRC, who considers Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China, as its province (in fact, it is the opposite: Republic of China was established in 1912, while the People’s Republic of China was declared in 1949).

Beijing’s aggressive stance and endeavors violate norms and customs of international law, including a right of nations to self-determination. Many things can be said about Taiwan, but definitely not that it wants to be a part of the PRC.

Even without a formal declaration, Taiwan is already a sovereign state with its own, independent foreign security policy, as well as with its armed forces.

Moreover, Taiwan is now an example of a thriving democracy and open society, which has evolved a long way from being an authoritarian regime.

China has openly threatened to not allow Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to visit Taiwan, but was unable to block it. While the visit itself is a great boost for Taiwan and its right to remain a free and independent state, China’s hollow threats is an important victory for the United States, who once again showed that it is the only democratic superpower and no one, including the PRC, can limit its freedom of actions.

Ignoring PRC’s threats and Pelosi’s unhindered landing in Taipei are an extremely important victory in the war of nerves between the United States and China (which, obviously, goes way beyond Taiwan).

This is also a reputational damage for Beijing and particularly for Xi Jin-ping.

Beijing’s attempt to intimidate both the United States and Taiwan, as well as to limit a scope relations between both states, failed significantly.

China was forced to recognize its inferiority.

Moreover, this is also an important message from the United States, which for a long time has been criticized for President Biden’s weak and passive leadership. Now the Americans manifested their steadfastness and strength.

A similar case happened just two years ago, when the United States sent two bombers into a zone, which had earlier been proclaimed by China as its own ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone). The Americans successfully challenged Beijing and won.

Such incidents are always dangerous (since they might trigger an armed clash and even a war), but at the same time they are an integral part of any cold war rivalry – and without a doubt this is a current level of relations between the United States and China.

Similar incidents occurred several times during the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

It was the unshakable and demonstrated force that ultimately contributed to the West’s victory over the “Evil Empire.” Now we are in a similar situation.

Just as during the Cold War the United States could have not allow even a piece of West Berlin to fall under the control of the Soviet Union, now it is necessary to assure that Taiwan remains an equal member of a community of free and democratic nations.

Concessions and appeasement only encourage a bully. The same was Putin’s Russia and the same might happen with Xi’s China. Appetites of authoritarian regimes cannot be satisfied.

China’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit in Taiwan was hysterical – similar visits of U.S. officials were tolerated in the past. For instance, Taipei was visited in 1997 by Newt Gingrich, who was then a Speaker of the House of Representatives. Beijing’s current overreaction was first of all an attempt to test the Americans, who are now preoccupied with the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Secondly, Xi Jin-ping wanted to divert the interest of Chinese public opinion from domestic problems.

Despite China’s failure, one should not lose vigilance.

The PRC will not give up. Singapore’s Founding Father and its first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew  rightly noted that “no Chinese leader can be branded as the leader who lost Taiwan”. This warning, which was made in 1997, is still valid – Xi Jinping does not want to a person, who lost Taiwan.

But it does not mean that a full-fledged invasion is imminent.

This scenario is unlikely for several reasons.

First of all, China’s military is not yet prepared to carry out such massive combined operation, which would require hundreds of thousands of troops and a large naval and air bridge from mainland China to Taiwan’s shores, which would be defended by 170 000 troops.

Secondly, such an invasion would have tremendous diplomatic, political and economic consequences for the PRC, who wants to control Taiwan, not to destroy it.

Both Taiwan and the United States must be prepared to cope with other forms of armed hostilities.

Apart from intimidating live-fire exercises, another plausible scenario includes an aerial and naval blockade of Taiwan, which would have a devastating effect both for its economy and the world.

Taiwan is an unmatched leader of the semiconductor industry. Just one company, TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) produces more than 50% of all semiconductor in the world (they are used also in the military, including in the F-35 jets).

Another possible scenario, which must also be taken into account, is a seizure of Taiwan’s small islets, which are located near mainland China.

This particularly applies to Kinmen (Quemoy) – a group of Taiwanese islands, which could be easily captured by Beijing. Kinmen was savagely attacked by the PRC in 1958, but Taiwan preserved its control.

This is one of scenarios considered by Taiwan’s decision-makers and experts as the most possible.

Someone could ask – why bother with a tiny island with a population of 24 million?

A rivalry over the future of Taiwan is not only a struggle for this island and its society.

This is foremost a clash of two systems of values: democracy and freedom versus autocracy or even totalitarianism.

It is also a fight to preserve Pax Americana – the United States is undoubtedly a hegemon full of flaws.

American democracy is shaken by serious problems.

As a world policeman, the United States has made many, often great, mistakes.

But American leadership is the best we can have, at least for now.

It is naive to think that without American leadership and its contributions, the world will become more just, predictable and calmer – it is quite the opposite.

History shows that sooner or later a new hegemonic contender emerges.

Do we prefer the world to be influenced by the United States or by totalitarian China?

This is a rhetorical question but being pressed by today’s authoritarian powers, Russia and China.

Also, see the following:

Taiwan Trends and Scenarios: Challenge for the Next U.S. Administration

Shaping a Way Ahead for Taiwan: Getting Out from Under the Domination of the PRC “One China Policy”

Airpower When Directly Faced with the Authoritarian Powers: The International Fighter Conference 2019

Taiwan in Pacific Defense: Turning a New Page