China is going to invade Taiwan very soon. The official Pentagon assessment on this matter indicates that Beijing will make a play for Taiwan in 2027. Many U.S. military leaders and experts, including myself, have expressed skepticism of that claim. They think that the official Pentagon assessment is too generous.
In fact, China might decide to invade Taiwan in the next year or so.
There is some circumstantial evidence indicating that Beijing was seriously considering attacking Taiwan last year. According to private intelligence firm Bellingcat, Chinese President Xi Jinping in December 2021 told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that China was planning to invade Taiwan in the fall of 2022.
Some analysts believe that Xi backed away from that timeline after witnessing the forceful Western reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Nevertheless, for China, reclaiming Taiwan is as much of an existential ideological mission as it is a vital geopolitical one. After all, the Chinese civil war never fully ended. It was simply frozen when the losing side in that fight — the nationalists — managed to escape total destruction by seeking refuge 100 miles off China’s coast, in Taiwan.
Since that time, recapturing the tiny island has been an obsession of every Chinese leader. Xi Jinping, who fancies himself as the next Mao Zedong, believes he will be the Chinese ruler who completes this task.
The future belongs to the side that wants to win it more. While the United States has remained consistent in its support of Taiwan, Washington refuses to clarify its position on the matter. Yes, it sells weapons and provides support for Taiwan’s military. But, to what end?
Standing with Taiwan Will Be Harder Than Most Realize
After all, the Americans and Chinese have a deep, long-lasting trade relationship. That relationship has been controversial in the United States, but most U.S. politicians — including former President Donald Trump — ultimately prefer to preserve American trade ties with China.
President Joe Biden got himself into a bit of diplomatic hot water last year when he said on two different occasions that if China invaded Taiwan, his administration would defend the embattled island democracy. Shortly thereafter, however, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated America’s opposition to any unilateral attempt by either Taiwan or China to change the status quo.
In other words, if Taiwan opted to declare independence from China (which would undoubtedly trigger a Chinese attack on Taiwan), the United States would likely not have Taiwan’s back.
Suppose, though, Taiwan does as is expected of it and it maintains its neutrality on independence. Most Taiwanese voters prefer to maintain the status quo wherein they govern their affairs, but they are not recognized as a totally independent nation-state, to placate the increasingly twitchy Beijing.
What if, despite these facts, Beijing still attempts to annex or blockade the island democracy?
The Warring Factions Misinterpret Each Other
China’s leaders truly believe that the United States is a spent force. They think that the U.S. is a great power in terminal decline, and if China’s leadership had the gumption, it could knock America’s potemkin force over. China’s leadership assumes that America’s political class does not ultimately want to risk a world war over Taiwan — especially given how economically dependent on China the global economy is.
China has therefore developed a suite of capabilities designed to stymie any U.S. military response to a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan. Chinese military doctrine calls for robust strikes in cyberspace, in space (with counter-space weapons meant to disable critical U.S. military satellites), across the electromagnetic spectrum, and utilizing long-range missiles designed to destroy critical U.S. military installations in Guam, Japan, and throughout the region.
All these moves will take place well before any Chinese invasion force nears Taiwan.
By stacking their heaviest punches upfront, Beijing thinks that they can render the Americans so dazed and confused — inflicting so much damage at the outset of a fight — that Washington will stand down and abandon Taiwan rather than risk losing an outright war to China.
A War with China Will Be Protracted and Brutal
Any confrontation with China will be bloody, it is believed. Recently, noted military scholar Hal Brands predicted that the Americans would respond to a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Contrary to what war planners in Beijing and Washington think, any war will be long and brutal.
The world would see a conflict akin to the gruesome combat of the First World War, where the warring parties, after being disabused of their initial belief that the fight would be short and decisive, began embracing increasingly grandiose war aims to justify the loss of lives and resources.
The better solution for Washington would be to avoid a fight entirely. Failing that, Washington must first make its forces more survivable. The U.S. military in the Indo-Pacific has already begun to harden existing military facilities that would be targeted in that opening salvo by China.
Next, American forces must be scattered throughout the region to avoid giving China’s forces large targets.
After that, the United States Space Force must spearhead a comprehensive remake of U.S. military satellite architecture. As it stands, U.S. satellites are far too vulnerable to attack and disruption. Larger, older satellites comprising sensitive military constellations should be replaced with smaller, less sophisticated systems that are easily replaceable but are far greater in number, so as to prevent loss of capabilities.
Those satellites should also be better integrated with civilian and allied systems so that if any of them are taken out in a Chinese “space Pearl Harbor,” the U.S. military can reliably offload some functions to nearby, non-U.S. military systems to keep the Americans engaged in any fight with China.
The Space Force, along with the Missile Defense Agency and the Space Development Agency, must make it clear that they are developing space-based missile defenses both against conventional nuclear weapons as well as against China’s growing, sophisticated arsenal of hypersonic weapons.
The Americans must demonstrate these abilities as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Space Force must also display its own capacity to disable Chinese satellite constellations as a form of deterrence.
As relates to any potential maritime fight over Taiwan, forget about aircraft carriers. Submarines must be the tip of the spear. China is actively tracking U.S. military movements in the Indo-Pacific. Their intelligence agencies must see that Washington is fully committed to deterring any potential invasion of Taiwan.
America is the Safe Power, China is the Aggressor
On the diplomatic front, however, Washington must insist that it strives to maintain the status quo. Taiwan will be left to manage its own affairs, but it will not seek independence. This will show the world that the Americans are not the aggressors here, but are instead the upholders of a regional order that has existed since the end of the Second World War. Beijing is, in fact, the aggressor.
If these moves are made by a disciplined and committed Washington beginning now, the timetable for China’s invasion of Taiwan will be pushed back. Should that invasion scenario be pushed back far enough, given some of the negative domestic trends China is facing over the next decade, Beijing might decide attacking Taiwan would be too costly an endeavor.
As Hal Brands has recently assessed, though, this present moment is decisive for Taiwan’s future.
America must prepare itself for what will be a brutal fight. It is imperative to stress, though, that preparing for such a fight while demonstrating our commitment to the status quo will buy everyone the time they need to allow cooler heads a chance to prevail. Should the hotheads win, it will allow for the Americans and their allies to survive the opening salvos of China’s first strike and hit back twice as hard.
The one thing that cannot be allowed is for the United States to simply abandon Taiwan to China, as many on the right and far left are arguing. Should Washington shirk its commitment to Taiwan, Beijing will move its forces beyond the first island chain and press deeper into the Pacific. Eventually Chinese forces could move right up to Hawaii and threaten the United States in its own hemisphere, as the great realist John Mearsheimer has warned.
These are the stakes.
A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.