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How about some context for the war talk surrounding Taiwan
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It seems that every day, there are bold headlines talking about war with China over Taiwan. There are, as they say, “like an onion, there are a lot of layers to this discussion.” It’s important to briefly have this talk put into context. Today’s TAT will try and briefly hit the highlights. Because this is such a complicated issue, today is just a primer of sorts. We’ll revisit this issue off and on as the need arises.
Now, here are the basics…
China, for all intents and purposes, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 years old. It’s landform, depending on rulers, emperors, dynasties etc. have had countless changes. Like the US or any other nation, history matters, sor
ta. The basic facts are that Taiwan was not under the control of the Chinese state until the end of the 17th century. After China lost the first Sino-Japanese war, circa 1895, China ceded Taiwan to Japan, briefly.
After Japan’s loss in WWII, China regained Taiwan, again very briefly. After the Communist revolution in China, the nationalist Chinese party retreated to Taiwan in 1949 and have since lived without Communist Chinese rule since.
Enter Xi into this drama. Xi for just over a decade has ruled what is called, Communist China. He wants to be an Emperor and since taking charge has organized a strategy that puts China as the hegemon regionally by 2035 and with the Chinese version of global domination by 2049, the centennial of Mao’s communist victory over the Chinese nationalists, holding out still, in Taiwan.
Xi’s narrative of domination takes on many aspects of the glory days of Chinese power with dynastic rule. Yes, Xi wants to be “Emperor.” His narrative of ascension, a research paper I wrote a couple of years back requires his consolidation of all former Chinese territory and that everyone within the boundaries, must be Han. The most succinct version of his narrative is as follows:
The world, All-Under-Heaven, is one, with China / the “Middle Kingdom” at the center and at the pinnacle, is an Emperor or “Son of Heaven”, the sole interface with heaven with no peer. The Han are the “enlightened,” while everyone outside is “barbarian” and seeking a tributary relationship with enlightened China for commerce and protection. Those who do not voluntarily seek tributary status must be persuaded or conquered militarily. This will unify All-Under-Heaven under the Chinese paradigm of world order.
- Oct 2020
So, if you are wondering what all of this background means to a potential war over Taiwan, let’s talk about this now.
For a couple of decades, those who truly understand threats regarding China have been trying to tell the US and allied national security communities that a war over Taiwan was not imminent. Still, planning for such has been an obsession within the Pentagon and greater national security community. They are still planning for this war and if they wait long enough, they will get their war. Xi’s narrative, based on intense narrative analysis says so, conclusively.
He must take Taiwan, in order to check the boxes in his narrative described above. For a couple of decades though, the national security community has been dead wrong. This willful error in thinking has now allowed a wannabe emperor like Xi, to set the stage for what they have been talking about, mostly is WWII terms, for decades. Planning for the wrong threat has gifted a serial aggressor with the conditions to do so.
In the interim decades of improbable focus, a cross-Taiwan Straits war, China has had free rein to aggressively expand their influence, military and they’ve stolen just about all of the IP, intellectual property to do so. China’s global and especially regional influence is, far greater because we encouraged it and facilitated it, until in the 2011 time period, the US claimed a “Pivot to Asia,” in regard to our national security. This was a start, but too little too late. Xi came to power the next year, with strategy in hand. The rest is as they say, “history.” The question now is: how to address Xi’s aggression effectively so that an actual conflict is not imminent?
This question is the primary function of what the Pentagon and national security community calls, Great Power Competition. To date, Xi has beaten the pants off the US in this competition. Were it not for his penchant for poor decision-making, he may have already had far more success. For those of us who’ve outlined strategies and made recommendations to the Pentagon for an effective strategy, “I told you so” brings no relief. I had the pleasure of being part of a small team a few years back, that made such recommendations to the JOINT STAFF, only to have them dismiss them.
It is one of our most serious vulnerabilities that the big-ticket hardware, defense contractors that make ships, planes, missiles etc. have a too-strong voice in US strategy. Those who advocate for reasonable and effective solutions that don’t make those contractors more money, get precious little attention. One look at any US annual budget shows precisely how much reason is ignored. President Eisenhower was right about the “military industrial complex.”
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower
So, with this very brief and succinct context, allow me to summarize. The US national security community has long planned for the wrong type of aggression from China. In most areas, they still do. They may, due to their failure to look outside of more weapons of war, will likely now get that war, unless those with more comprehensive and better-informed perspectives take on more substantial roles within the decision-making seats of power.
Don’t get me wrong, we must be militarily sound and ahead of our foes. This is in fact prudent, but not at the expensive of more pragmatic and reasonable solutions. The US and our allies made post WWII decisions that paid off handsomely by weaving non-kinetic options with kinetic. The Marshall Plan was just part of such thinking.
So long as Xi is in power, he absolutely will pursue his narrative of ascension. You can as they say, “take this to the bank.” Still, with the options we are finally just now starting to pursue that include far more pragmatism, there is still hope, that we can avoid war by depriving Xi of what he needs to accomplish the capitulation of Taiwan. There is no honor in Xi. This must be decisions we pursue aggressively with as many, RBIO/ rules-based, international order, nations collectively, as possible. The more, the merrier is a good rule of thumb. This type of leverage exercised wisely will avoid war.
The answer to our China threat is wisdom, collective action and putting such as a priority, over shooting at each other. It’s a fairly good assumption that any such war with China would be devastating to all militaries involved, non-combatants and especially to the global economy. That’s a lot to unnecessarily risk for any nation or collective of nations. Make no mistake about it, recovery, post conflict would take a generation.
This is today’s context for the ever-present headlines. More to follow, about why Xi and his plans are pure evil. Spoiler alert, just look at the history of the destruction wrought, by so many Chinese emperors and leaders. No one matters, but them.