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A Chinese Invasion of Taiwan: What Response Would Americans Support?

Taiwan
New Taiwan F-16V fighter jet. Image Credit: ROC government.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened the possibility that Chinese President Xi Jinping might take a similar action toward Taiwan. Xi has made no secret of his ambition to annex the island, and may be emboldened to act sooner rather than later absent a strong international response to Putin’s aggression.

Recent polling from TIPP provides insights into Americans’ views on a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which are remarkably consistent across the political spectrum in our supposedly-polarized nation. Not surprisingly, most Americans are not interested in getting into a war in Asia; in no group surveyed does support for direct military support for Taiwan top 20%.  But there is even less appetite to do nothing, as in no group surveyed does allowing China to take Taiwan top 10%.

The majority of respondents favor economic sanctions – or a combination of military support and economic sanctions  – as the appropriate response to an attack on Taiwan. America’s unparalleled economic strength appears to be the tool of choice, and might be the one that gives Xi the most pause if he understands just how damaging it can be.

What has happened to Russia in the weeks following the invasion of Ukraine is a case in point. Following the U.S. sanctions on the Central Bank of Russia, there was an unprecedented private sector exodus from the country as companies from McDonalds to Shell pulled out as the ruble cratered.

President Biden said when the sanctions were first levied that it would to take a month to see if they had real bite. Unfortunately, a month is now up and the results are at best mixed. While Russia’s energy production has declined and a potential debt default looms, it is still finding buyers for oil and gas, and the ruble has rebounded.

If Washington truly wants to force a change in Moscow’s belligerent behavior, more robust actions will be needed in short order—first and foremost the sweeping energy-sector sanctions that President Biden has been hesitant to implement. Facing sharply spiking gas prices at home, he is clearly concerned that these sanctions could drive prices higher, even though they are probably the strongest tool in his economic arsenal.

The current stalemate absent these measures is unfortunate, first and foremost for the suffering people of Ukraine. But it also sends a counterproductive message to Xi that the Biden administration is not willing to vigorously deploy America’s economic might to protect a threatened ally because of domestic political concerns, thereby weakening the deterrent effect their threat may have.

Decoupling the world’s two largest economies seemed unthinkable before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent shunning of Russia, but now those difficult discussions have begun. The widely-discussed SWIFT sanctions to cut China off from the international banking system would only be the beginning of it, and while China claims it can sustain itself through Yuan-based transactions there is little evidence that the rest of the world is ready to reject the dollar.

That is not to say that the United States would not share in the economic pain from such a separation, but interestingly the TIPP polling indicates substantial majorities of Americans understand this price and are willing to bear it to defend Taiwan. Once again, there is little deviation from this position across the political spectrum, with 68% (Republicans) to 75% (Democrats) responding favorably.

Americans appear to understand the seriousness of the threat from China, and are willing to contemplate strong action to counter it and are willing to pay the price. As I have noted in previous analysis of TIPP polling on Afghanistan, President Biden appears to have misread the desire of the American people to conclude the war in Afghanistan as a mandate to withdraw as quickly as possible and do so at any cost. Given the clear bipartisan support for a strong response to Chinese aggression revealed by the TIPP polling, he should not make the same mistake on Taiwan. A reluctance to engage militarily is not an indication of general apathy.

Victoria Coates is a Distinguished Fellow in Strategic Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC. In the Trump administration, she served as Deputy National Security Advisor for the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of Energy.

Written By

Victoria Coates joined the American Foreign Policy Council as a Distinguished Fellow in Strategic Studies in January 2022. Coates works on regional issues such as energy policy, countering predatory Chinese activity, expanding the historic Abraham Accords between Israel and Muslim-majority nations, and establishing a U.S.-led Middle East strategic alliance. Coates routinely appears on TV and radio outlets such as Fox News, CNN, OANN, Newsmax, The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Erick Erickson Show, and The John Batchelor show. Her writing has appeared in Bloomberg, FoxNews.com, The Jerusalem Post, The New York Post, Newsweek, The National Interest, National Review, The New Criterion, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Examiner, and The Washington Times.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Alex

    April 11, 2022 at 3:53 pm

    The unipolar world is collapsing.

  2. peace-making nukes of US arsenal

    April 11, 2022 at 5:51 pm

    China is a treasure house that the west can’t wait to invade.That’s why the US media, the US generals and the US congress night and day are busily mentioning about china ‘invading Taiwan.’

    China hasn’t even touched any single one of the rocks that lie just off its coast which all ‘belong’ to Taipei.

    However, US will get the chance to drag china into the ring as early as a couple of years from now when the US military is expected to have successfully crossed the hypersonic barrier by that time.

    Right now, US aircraft carriers have zero chance of entering within combat radius of Chinese mainland due to the presence of missiles like the df-17 and the df-21d.

    But this will change soon with US getting its hypersonic arsenal ready and now already seeking UK and Aussie expertise in this regard.

    Once the US deploys it’s hypersonic arsenal right at china’s doorstep, it is going to be game over for the Chinese and their treasure house will belong to the ‘civilised’ west.

  3. Jacky

    April 11, 2022 at 7:35 pm

    The US military, specifically Army, is expected to introduce hypersonic weapons unto service by 2025.

    The US Army is expected to replace or complement its vaunted ATACM missile batteries with hypersonic short-medium range ones in a few years’ time.

    By the time it’s ready, america’s peer rivals will have to contemplate facing their day of reckoning. No two ways about it.

    So, the only fallback is strategic strike missiles. Compared to china, russia is in a more advantageous position, having already developed its rs-28 doomsdayer.

  4. Vladolph Putler

    April 11, 2022 at 11:24 pm

    Peacemaking Putinbot- The US wants to seize China? For WHAT? Cheap labor? The US already has that from China.

    Otherwise- hypersonic weapons? Dude. Hypersonic weapons have been around for more than half a century in the form of ground launch ICBM. Functional ramjet cruise missiles are relatively new, but despite all the hoop, HDGV’s have been around since the 70’s in the form of MIRVs. Sure, tinker and optimize, and it’s not exactly the same creature, but the only reason they weren’t done decades ago, is because world powers realized it was a bad idea. Too easy to accidentally cause a nuclear exchange.

    And current delivery methods work just fine. So all it really does is give the holder a theoretical first strike advantage- which could backfire when some satellite launch is misidentified and triggers a counter-strike by accident. IE you might get nuked by mistake just for *having* them.

    As to adversaries of the US facing reckoning? The US has had the ability to destroy China and Russia with conventional forces and/or nuclear forces- again for DECADES. If that was the desire of the big bad west, it would have happened a LONG time ago.

    Probably not a good idea to test the resolve though. 😉 The wee wee is better off *outside* the light socket.

  5. Yeah yeah yeah

    April 12, 2022 at 2:57 am

    US is the genghis of our age. It has attacked, bombed and/or invaded at least thirty countries or places since 1945. Google maurer.ca. or ‘the all-american bombardier.’

    Never mind what US presidents are in the oval office, they have all of them participated in big wars, little wars minor wars, overnight wars, all over this little planet.

    Take Lyndon Baines Johnson, who tricked US into nam, via the Aug 7 1964 resolution passed by US Congress. Several million dead humans, and US achieved absolutely nothing.

    Today, Biden is treading the same path as LBJ, tricking untold millions into viewing Russia as humankind’s mortal enemy, when he refused to show accomodation to Russia’s legitimate security concerns.

    This is biden’s prelude to ww3 in Europe, a man who once voted for war on Iraq, only to say he regretted it after hundreds of thousands of innocent people had paid with their lives.

    Today, US is standing on the edge of making history, as it’s defense contractors finally get to grasp with hypersonic weapon systems.

    In the very recent past, US hypersonic tests failed one after another, with the prospect of rivals leaving it in the dust.

    But now, everything is coming together, perhaps with a little espionage (in July 2018, at least one employee at a Roscosmos facility was alleged to have passed secrets to western agents), and now the world can only await US to start using its best wonder weapon after kicking some suitable casus belli against rivals. Truly the great most amazing genghis of our modern era ! ! ! Yeah, yeah, yeah !

  6. Alex

    April 12, 2022 at 3:09 am

    It’s so funny when a Bandera Nazi from the most impoverished country in Eurasia talks about who, when and with what could destroy 🙂

    Of course, a fool cannot understand that even in the worst times, in the 90s in Russia, with a completely killed economy, nuclear forces were always on alert. Even then, the Perimeter or Dead Hand system worked.

    The Nazi is right about hypersonic missiles – why develop them if they already exist. Only for someone on paper, but for Russia they fly all over the world. When someone makes their hypersound, Russia will already have more advanced technologies. If once lagged behind in some areas, it will be almost impossible to catch up.

    And when a person does not understand why the US needs China, it is immediately clear that even if he is a schoolboy, he is studying according to the new school curriculum. If someone has not seen the school curriculum of Ukraine, then it is worth a look – Somalia, in comparison with them, is all doctors of science 🙂

  7. Chris

    April 12, 2022 at 5:05 am

    What is exactly a “Bandera-Nazi”? I hate nazis, but I have never seen a Bander-nazi….

  8. Kangal

    April 12, 2022 at 10:01 am

    @Chris:
    Stepan Bandera was an Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the Wehrmacht. During the Nazi occupation, his militia became a horrible local police force, committing mass murder.
    Later, he was held by the Gestapo because some of his militia members (not he himself!) declared an independent Ukrainian state – not something the Nazis would support. A tragic lack of judgement from Bandera and company.
    After WWII, he lived in West Germany, where he was later murdered by an KGB agent. His grave in Munich is decorated in Ukrainian colors, but was also desecrated several times by the other side.

    By all accounts, he was no nazi himself. But I think it is fair to call him a fascist. In recent years, he became a symbol for nationalists on both sides. For Russia and it’s trolls, of course there is a direct line from „Nazis“ to present day Ukraine. There, for many people he is a national hero, having opposed Stalin.

  9. Joe Comment

    April 12, 2022 at 10:06 am

    Since the 20th century, US interventions have generally been motivated by the idea of defeating some dictatorship that is threatening its neighbors. Mainland China militarily threatened Taiwan three times since 1949, actually seizing territory in 1955 and trying to take some more in 1958. The hypersonic missiles are neither here nor there. The main problem for the Mainland is that they lack any popular support in Taiwan. The people of Taiwan are not interested in becoming the next Hong Kong. That doesn’t have a military solution, and the leaders of the Mainland must know it.

  10. Dan Farrand

    April 12, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    If I look at stuff I buy, beyond food and paper products, it is mostly made in China.

    Describing the US as an economic powerhouse if laughable. A Chinese response to sanctions would be to stop shipping goods to the US. That would spell disaster for vast swaths of the US economy.

    If Taiwan is invaded, the chip industry shuts down almost immediately. Another disaster for the US and global economy.

    The US better decide now if it is willing or able to actually to defend Taiwan. Before we do that we should carefully evaluate is the people in Taiwan are willing to fight ?

    This article has very little useful insight. More blah, blah, blah by “analysts”

  11. Stefan Stackhouse

    April 12, 2022 at 4:03 pm

    All the armchair theories about free trade and laissez-faire capitalism look good on paper. Unfortunately, the real world is not paper.

    Free nations – heck, even unfree ones – need to do what it takes to stand up and survive in a hostile world. Too bad, but that is the reality.

    The US needs to do what it hasn’t done, and probably isn’t good at doing (if it is even capable of it at all): Identify what is really essential for us to produce ourselves, and make that happen. We need what is essential for a defense that actually defends, as well as to sustain a domestic economy that can at least provide its citizens with the essentials of life. If cheap trinkets from China are no longer available at the local WalMart, we can survive that.

  12. Johnathan Galt

    April 12, 2022 at 5:50 pm

    Germany held off the largest amphibious assault in history with just 1,500 light infantry for 4.5 hours against a surprise attack with complete sea and air superiority against them. After slaughtering the invaders for half a day, they only ran away because they ran out of bullets.

    I don’t think Taiwan will make that mistake.

    Taiwan has a viable Air Force. They have air defenses. They have a small but capable Navy which, operating in LOCAL waters with protection from shore batteries, should be capable of holding off the Chinese Navy. Said shore batteries have missiles capable of taking out any ship hat gets too close.

    That latter is the key. China can’t land soldier #1 if they can’t get ships all the way to shore. And, the Chinese won’t have surprise.

    Wake me when China tries to take Taiwan. It will all be over in an hour or two.

  13. Pssst

    April 12, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    Typically, not one word about Japan.

  14. Andrew

    April 13, 2022 at 4:39 am

    Pssst is correct. No commenters mentioned Japan

    Taiwan and Japan is very tightly linked.

    People focus on the US, but I suspect once bullets start flying, it’ll be Taiwan and Japan allied , with the US is support role only.

    Once China gets Taiwan, Japan is closed off, surrounded by enemies. And the US will not be worth any deterrent value, as we can see with the Russian aggression over the last 10 years.

    So Japan needs Taiwan to remain independent.

  15. Matt Musson

    April 13, 2022 at 8:56 am

    China is entering a period of destabilizing Famine. That may encourage them to unite against Taiwan. But, they do not have the navy that can hold the straits while their relatively few LST type ships make the 6 hour journey. Foreign submarines from a half dozen nations could interdict them with anonymity beneath the waves.

    The big question for this article is would the Chinese attack US bases in the area before on jointly with their attack on Taiwan?

  16. Joe Comment

    April 13, 2022 at 10:09 am

    Matt Musson: Everyone asks what the US will do. A lot depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. But one thing’s for sure: if at any time the Chinese attack US bases in the area, the US will have to strike back and destroy whatever capabilities the Chinese are using to attack the US. The results won’t be pretty, and the next question will be how fa it will escalate.

  17. stephen chock

    April 13, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    THE CCP has stated in their 5 year plans that Taiwan would be “reintegrated” into the motherland (China) by 2025. They have stated this and reiterated this position continuously…no change. This position has not been altered or modified in any way. This is their policy position. The attack on Taiwan will happen. Taiwan will be reintegrated–either willing or unwilling– by 2025. This will happen.

  18. Joe Comment

    April 13, 2022 at 2:26 pm

    stephen chock: I have seen predictions around 2025, but nothing official, certainly not in the Mainland’s “5 year plans.” Can you cite a source?

  19. truthalwayswinsout

    April 13, 2022 at 8:23 pm

    How about some genius getting those in Taiwan to spend some money on their own defense.

    They barely spend 2%. If they spend 4% they can double their abilities overnight and have more than enough stand off weapons to destroy any invasion by the Communists.

    How about that for a novel strategy, they can defend themselves and until they do we should do nothing.

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