For the near future (two to five years), the issue of Taiwan and its position between China and the U.S. offers the greatest potential in the world for the outbreak of either conventional or nuclear war. Still worse, we may even see such fears realized within weeks or months in what could well be the greatest military conflict since 1945.
With that as an opening, we might just as well continue “downhill” to what almost certainly is the most dangerous “flashpoint” inside the political globe. Comparisons to other geopolitical “hotspots,” Korea, Russian electoral “meddling,” South China Sea, global terror, Israel-Islam, and China-India, while “serious” by themselves, possess neither alone nor even together the magnitude and degree of potential as this issue by itself. Russia’s current war on Ukraine, which began in February this year, is truly serious but cannot compare to Taiwan as to either magnitude of operations or potential for the global balance.
No crisis in recent history, war, or threat of war, can approach this potential event. The magnitude and diversity of the weapons themselves can be compared to the mid-point of the Cold War. We must go back to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to appreciate the possible scale of destruction from the theoretical use of atomic bombs, missiles, naval forces, and other “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD) assembled by sovereign units. But the Missile Crisis arrived almost “overnight,” without warning, and was settled within two weeks, with exactly a single casualty (an American spy plane pilot). Yet if the issue escalated to nuclear exchange, the disaster could have produced millions of deaths in the first minutes alone. In the case of Taiwan, we already have had years of warnings, predictions, and possible outcomes, all replete with potential disastrous scenarios. Whether nuclear or conventional, the Taiwan issue is, and will be, the most dangerous military scenario on earth.
Regardless of statistics and military realities, any future American military clash with China would shake both U.S. society and the political world in general as none other since Pearl Harbor. Obviously, any future war over Taiwan must be avoided …by both sides.
Yet the recent Chinese military maneuvers against Taiwan threaten just that: World War III. Actions and statements to that effect have dominated recent headlines. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has issued strong, uncompromising statements: “there is no room for China to compromise or to make concessions.” At the same time, the Ministry repeated China’s long-standing, defiant belief that Taiwan has always been part of China: “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. The Taiwan issue is purely an internal affair of China that allows no foreign intervention.”
The clear raison d’état, the explanation behind this crisis, and all crises before, is as old as history: geopolitics. The territorial Chinese claim that Taiwan is integral to China, always has been, and always will be, regardless of factual realities – and this is the gigantic stumbling block that might just set off the first major war of this century.
In order to challenge this central issue of our times, there are two clear choices. But one thing is crystal clear, something must change: 1) either change their minds or 2) eliminate their capacity to change the territorial status quo.
- Change their minds. Taiwan is at least ten thousand years old and has gone through a series of owners: From the aborigines who first entered the island to the colonial periods of Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese rule, to the years of Chinese dynastic conquest, to the Japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945, and to, finally, seventy years of self-governing status.
Today, as the “Republic of China” (ROC) with 23 million people, Taiwan is a democratic polity and a capitalist economic giant and trading leader in the world economy. A member of the famous “Asian Tigers,” Taiwan is the most technologically advanced computer maker in the world, whose GDP ranks 21st in the global economy. Taiwan’s investment in Asia totals around 300 billion dollars, and half to the mainland itself, half to Southeast Asia.
Taiwan, ROC, has been for our lifetime a strong, democratic, and independent country. Given the status of Hong Kong since the Chinese takeover, it would be suicidal for the U.S. to surrender the standing independence of the ROC.
Task: Negotiate with China for recognition of the independence, or at least the “autonomy,” of the ROC.
- Pursue the “Quad”as a wall of “containment” against any potential Chinese invasion.
The Quad has been for years the U.S. pursuit of a series of four nations, USA, Japan, Australia, and India, which would form an alliance to secure the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. The current Biden Administration, like both the Trump and Obama administrations, have been actively pursuing the solidification of such an alliance and have, thus far, taken several steps to bring the idea to fruition.
Like its Asian predecessor, SEATO (1954-1977), the Quad in theory has the potential to include non-members as “protectorate” states (as was South Vietnam).
Task: Incorporate the ROC as a “protectorate” country in any future Quad negotiations. In any invasion plans for Taiwan, China might have to reconsider if they meet resistance from the rest of democratic Asia, rather than the U.S. alone.
Conclusion: whether or not the diplomatic steps above solve the Taiwan “continuing crisis“ or not, it remains clear that there has to be some sort of a rapprochement between the sides for any resolution of the main threat against the peace of the world. That is now, and has been, the continued insistence of mainland China that Taiwan, ROC, belongs to them and nobody else.
As with most other crises around the globe, the issue at heart is “Freedom.”