Jessica Chen Weiss, who served on the Biden State Department’s Policy Planning Staff until last July, has once again taken to the pages of Foreign Affairs to assure us that “[f]ears that China will soon invade Taiwan are overblown,” and are driven not by China’s rhetoric and conduct but rather by “Washington’s assessments of its own military vulnerabilities.” China’s foreign policy, she claims, has “moderated” due to internal problems. This China “expert” warns that Western policymakers who “exaggerate the risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan” may produce the very thing they are trying to prevent.
Weiss, who is currently a professor at Cornell University and a senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Policy Institute’s Center for China analysis, calls upon the United States to reduce tensions, avoid needless confrontation with China, and to “thread the needle between deterrence and provocation.” And what she labels as provocative are “symbolic displays of resolve, unconditional commitments to defend Taiwan, and pledges of a surge in U.S. military power in the region.” Weiss even suggests that authoritarian leaders like President Xi Jinping are less likely than democratic leaders to initiate crises to divert the attention of their populations from domestic problems. She takes comfort in President Xi Jinping’s remarks to the CCP’s 20th Party Congress that “the wheels of history are rolling toward China’s reunification.”
The United States, she advises, should not mistake heated rhetoric from Chinese spokesmen or aggressive posturing in the South China Sea for CCP preparations for war because China’s leaders have told us that “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan is their “first choice.” And she cautions U.S. policymakers that denying the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Navy (PLAN) the ability to prevail in a war in the South China Sea is not “the only way to deter Beijing from … aggression.”
Weiss assures us that like in the United States, there are hawks and doves within China’s leadership, and the hawks, she writes, “appear to be less influential” than the doves — whom she acknowledges want to take Taiwan without fighting (as presumably Sun Tzu would have recommended). The fact that Chinese leaders are instructing the PLA to prepare for war over Taiwan, Weiss claims, is evidence that “they are uncertain about their ability to win.” There is “no evidence,” she writes, “that they are preparing for an imminent invasion.” That assessment differs somewhat from the U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations, Michael Gilday, who warned in October that China could attack before 2024. And it also differs from Weiss’ former boss Secretary of State Antony Blinken who warned that “China was seeking unification with Taiwan on a ‘much faster timeline’ than previously thought.” To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what the meaning of the word “imminent” is. And perhaps China’s leaders are preparing for war because they intend on seizing Taiwan by force and don’t believe that the United States can or will stop them.
Beijing has told us in no uncertain terms that their goal is reunification with Taiwan, and that they are prepared to achieve it peacefully or by force. Weiss counsels her former employer — the Biden administration — to “assure” Beijing that we are not “bent on promoting Taiwan’s permanent separation or formal independence from China.” That we should not “refer to Taiwan as a country, ally, or strategic asset.” That we should not “attempt to sow discord or encourage regime change in China.” That we should not “provoke” China to attack Taiwan.
There is a word for such counsel — appeasement.
The Mirage of Détente With China Lives On