by Mark Lewis
The answer is as much an enigma as President Xi himself.
Up until recently, I was of the common mind that, yes, Xi will invade Taiwan, and very soon. With an incredibly incompetent bozo leading America, and the U.S. military playing with itself, it does seem an optimum moment for Xi to act. And I think he will do so. But we are talking about China here. An attack could come at any moment. Or it may not be for a while. Flip a coin.
Predicting Xi’s actions is extremely problematic. China is a very complicated place, made even more complicated by the darkness of the inner workings of the CCP. Nobody knows what is going on in the upper echelons of Beijing. Guessing is the best we can do. The CCP is totally unpredictable, except that it will do what it perceives is best for itself. EXACTLY “what it perceives is best for itself,” and when, is the enigma.
So, Xi’s invasion of Taiwan, and when, are merely conjectures for Westerners. But, if he does decide to do it—whenever—he faces some issues. Will he even do it? Why or why not? Explanation:
1. Frankly, he doesn’t really need to. If you ask any person in China, they will tell you, absolutely, “Taiwan is part of China.” Why go to war over something that you recognize is already yours? And the rest of the world, practically speaking, does, too. To the best of my investigation, only 13 countries recognize Taiwan’s independence, powerhouses such as Belize, Haiti, the Marshall Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Tuvalu, and a few others whom most Chinese have never heard of (most Americans, either). The Chinese people already believe Taiwan is part of their country; why go to war for it? Caveat: Not that Xi cares what his people think about anything.
2. Wars are costly and politically dangerous. This, and his need to solidify his dictatorship for life, have probably been the main holdups so far for Xi attacking Taiwan. He’s got a pretty good deal in the world now, militarily and economically, and wars are risky. What if he loses? We all assume a China steamroll, but that isn’t a given. Taiwan has been strengthening its military forces; they aren’t a soft touch. Biden says he will support Taiwan financially, Ukraine notwithstanding. And there are other factors. Japan has quietly been building up its military in the face of the Chinese Asian threat. Believe me, the Chinese and Japanese absolutely hate each other’s guts; a cursory historical survey will explain why. The Japanese just might decide to pitch in and support Taiwan, and that wouldn’t help Xi, either. China stole some islands from the Philippines; that country might want some revenge. Vietnam loves to give China the finger. India and China are constantly squabbling over a few acres in the Himalayas; what would India do? Would there be worldwide economic sanctions against China? Xi must think of just more than Taiwan and Joe Biden. A quick, decisive Chinese victory is not a slam-dunk; the war might be very expensive and lengthy. Xi has a lot of economic leverage in Asia, but it isn’t absolute any more than Russia’s in Europe.
3. Will he be able to control his generals? Right now, Xi is head of the Chinese military; it’s his major power source. In a war, he would have to delegate, or cede, some of that power to his generals. Victorious generals gain prestige and power, and power is what a communist government is all about. Can Xi control his military? Deng Xiao Ping, in 1989, mobilized 300,000 troops to crush a few drunk college students at Tiananmen Square. He could have done it with 10,000, but he didn’t trust about 290,000 of his own personnel. Power IS the name of the game in China, and as Mao said, “power comes out of the barrel of a gun.” For Xi, is giving advanced weapons to his military, thus giving them potential power, worth risking a war with Taiwan?
4. He does have to save face. But if he keeps talking about it, he’s going to have to do it. “Saving face” IS essential to Asians. Bluff is ok, but only for a season. Xi will reach a point where, if he isn’t careful, he will have to invade Taiwan or he will lose face with his people, the world, and, especially, the CCP. If that happens, he’s toast and he knows it.
The invasion of Taiwan is NOT an easy decision for Xi Jinping. The country is an irritant to him, nothing more really, and he may indeed invade. But I halfway understand why he hasn’t done so. And Joe Biden has nothing to do with it. Xi has a good thing going in the CCP now; risking it on an unnecessary invasion of Taiwan might not be in his best interest, though I am confident he would like to go down in Chinese history as the President who “re-united China.” If he invades and quickly succeeds, it will indeed solidify his position in the CCP. If he invades and ends up in a quagmire, he’s got a problem. And again, world reaction needs to be gauged, too. It’s a difficult conundrum for him.Xi won’t do it until he is sure he will win and enhance his prestige. That will be—when?
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