Three times in the past year, President Joe Biden has said we would defend Taiwan with military force, which would be a major shift in U.S. defense policy. Every time he has said that, his Cabinet and White House advisers have denied that we have any commitment to do so.
We haven’t had an obligation to defend Taiwan since January 1980 — before President Ronald Reagan took office — when we terminated our mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 only says that we will sell Taiwan sufficient arms to defend itself.
Last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a defense conference in Singapore that China was increasing its “provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan,” and promised that the U.S. would maintain its military capability of defending the island democracy.
Even if that were true — and it manifestly isn’t — Biden and the Democrats are ignoring the rapid expansion of Chinese influence and naval power around the world.
At that same conference, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said that China would smash any effort to make Taiwan independent and threatened that it would start a war to prevent its independence no matter what the cost.
Wei’s statement is more evidence that China’s longstanding strategy to grow into superpower status has ended. It’s a reflection of China’s newly aggressive strategy and the hotheads in China’s government who could precipitate a war.
From the time President Richard Nixon opened relations with communist China, its governments have been content to grow powerful quietly. Now, under President Xi Jinping — the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong — China is openly aggressive.
We have seen (and not responded to) Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, where it has built and armed islands, the ownership of some of which are contested by other nations. Large masses of Chinese ships and aircraft regularly sail or fly close to Taiwan in an effort to intimidate it.
On May 26, Chinese aircraft intercepted an Australian P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft over international waters. It not only cut across the P-8A’s path but it also dumped chaff — aluminum strips — close enough that the chaff could have been sucked into an engine and possibly caused the P-8 to crash. There have been many incidents like that over the past few months.
China has built sea, air, and ground forces designed to prevent U.S. ships from contesting the air, land, and sea areas they claim. Those “area denial” forces — aircraft, missiles, and ships — can almost certainly prevent U.S. carriers and other surface ships from defending Taiwan and other contested areas in the Pacific.
China is about to launch its third aircraft carrier, which is intended to project power around the world. It has produced a new “J-20” stealth attack aircraft, which has features stolen from our F-22 and F-35.
China’s PLAN — its “People’s Liberation Army Navy” — has big plans that are being implemented around the world.
From Pakistan to Africa to South America, China is projecting power and enabling its influence to grow.
China is heavily invested in Pakistan and Africa. Under its “Belt and Road Initiative,” China is building industrial sites around those nations with particular emphasis on port facilities. For example, the Pakistani port of Gwadar, at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman, is controlled by China and is the site of its construction of a large naval base.
Across Africa, China has suborned 34 of its 54 nations, plying them with big loans that those nations cannot afford to repay and thus bringing them under Chinese control. China is building ports and industrial facilities in Africa. The people building those ports and facilities are all members of the PLA or PLAN. They are there to stay, intending to spread Chinese influence — and the dependence of these nations’ governments on China.
Addressing a late November meeting last year of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Xi Jinping said that China and Africa have forged an “unbreakable fraternity.” Though China is reducing the number of loans it is providing African nations, Chinese influence is firmly embedded even in the central African nation of Congo and nearby Kenya.
China has reportedly financed, developed, and now operates 35 large African ports and thousands of miles of roads and railways in 34 African nations. It is also reported to be negotiating with the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea to establish its first naval base on the Atlantic.
In South America, China is supporting Venezuela’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro, by obtaining oil from Venezuela and arming its navy with anti-ship missiles.
According to the Pentagon’s report on Chinese military power, published in August 2020, China has surpassed the U.S. in the size of its naval force, missiles, and air defenses and is rapidly narrowing the small gap in other areas of military competition. That gap, especially in technology, has enabled U.S. forces to dominate the battle space.
Also in August 2020, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense for China Chad Sbragia (as reported in October 2020 by Air Force Magazine) told reporters that China sees the current world order as “antithetical to their socialist system and an intolerable constraint to their strategic ends.” He added that China views U.S. world alliances as “destabilizing and irreconcilable” with China’s rise as a military power.
There is no reason to doubt Sbragia’s conclusions. Team Biden is, as you would expect, ignoring them.
Our navy plans to reduce its fleet size by 24 ships to a fleet size of 280 ships by 2027. The Air Force wants to retire more A-10s and F-22s this year and buy fewer F-35s than planned. Both services are suffering pilot shortages.
The answer to all this is not simply to spend more to repair the weaknesses in our combat force strength. The answer is to create a strategy — which we now do not have — that can counter China around the world and create the forces that enable us to do so.
For example, such a strategy would begin with strengthening, as I wrote a year ago, the “Quad Nations” (Australia, Japan, India, and the U.S.) alliance. Biden, as I wrote then, should put teeth into it. But at the Quad Nations’ May meeting, the only result was a long UN-like resolution to fight COVID and keep the region at peace. There was no mention of increasing military cooperation and diplomatic efforts aimed at accomplishing it.
Biden’s strategy-free approach to countering China is obvious to the world, especially China itself. Congress is too busy with the nonsense of the Jan. 6 Committee’s work and gun control to concern itself with trivial matters such as the increasingly possible likelihood of global war.
The war in Ukraine should remind us of Margaret MacMillan’s book, The War that Ended Peace, which analyzed Europe’s drift into World War I after nearly a century of peace. The “Pax Americana,” which we had imposed since 1945, was ended by Russia’s February attack on Ukraine. War is no longer unthinkable even between nuclear superpowers. In the words of Carl von Clausewitz, war is — as it has been throughout history — politics by other means.
Like Europe between 1900 and 1914, we are sleepwalking into war.