On the Cusp of War with China

By Greg Ganske

Aug. 26, 2022

Those of us of a certain age remember. As kids we were riding our bikes while our parents were considering turning basements into nuclear shelters.
From Oct 16-29, 1962, The United States stood toe to toe with Soviet Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We learned about “duck and cover” in school to protect us from the fallout.

America had deployed Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey stimulating Russia to deploy ballistic missiles in Cuba. Fidel Castro wanted to deter a future Cuban invasion after the Bay of Pigs debacle. In order to avoid a declaration of war, President Kennedy ordered a naval “quarantine” on Oct. 22.

The world was as close to a nuclear war as it had ever been.

What if China declares a naval and air “quarantine” on Taiwan, not just of weapons but of trade? This past week, Communist China did a dry run of exactly that. They used a diplomatic visit to an independent Taiwan by Speaker Pelosi as a pretext to surrounding the island with its navy, repeatedly violated its air space, and sent 11 live-fire missiles over the island into the Sea of Japan. These military exercises continue.

Why should this send shivers down our spines? What would be the U.S. response? This wouldn’t exactly be an invasion but sure could lead to war. Once war starts there is no telling where it ends. Not too long ago President Biden said the United States would help defend Taiwan should China invade it, though his administration subsequently said the ambiguous “one China” policy was still in place.

Since President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger’s “rapprochement” with Beijing to counter the Soviet Union, the United States has officially recognized the China led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing.

At the same time, it has continued close relations with Taipei codified by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) supported by then Senator Biden and signed into law by President Carter.

Officially, Washington takes no position on the sovereignty of Taiwan after claims to Formosa (Taiwan) were renounced by Japan at the end of WWII. The TRA makes a commitment to Taiwan’s self defense against China to ensure its future is determined consistent with the wishes of the people of Taiwan. Also, the law requires the U.S. to maintain its own capacity to resist any mainland coercion that would jeopardize the social and economic system of Taiwan.

Recently, Communist China issued its first white paper in two decades outlining its strategy on Taiwan. It proposed that Taiwan reunite with mainland China under the government of the Chinese Communist Party, but could keep its capitalist system. In return, China would not use force to take the island. Sound familiar? The same assurances were given to the people of Hong Kong before Hong Kong democracy protesters were rounded up, jailed, and democratically elected officials replaced by CCP puppets?

The CCP’s failure to keep its promise to Hong Kong was not lost on the Taiwanese. Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou said in a news conference that only the people of Taiwan can determine their future as she claimed that using Pelosi’s island visit was just “an excuse to create a new normality to intimidate Taiwan’s people.”

Why is this island nation of 25 million people of such importance to the United States and to the world as to risk a war with China? There are many geopolitical reasons. It sits on some of the most important sea lanes in the world.

To the south of the island is the Bashi Channel, part of the Luzon Straight, one of the few international waterways through which China’s naval forces can safely reach the Western Pacific. Control by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) of Taiwan would provide it with a forward base, giving its aircraft and missiles another 150 miles range to the east. It would control the East China Sea and thereby the economies of East Asia. It would increase its ability to strike Japan and Guam. Conversely, the West would lose the ability to project power into China.

Taiwan is Beijing’s 5th largest trading partner and the 10th largest partner of the U.S. at $85 billion. Its importance far exceeds the size of its trade. Taiwan dominates 60 per cent of the world’s foundry market of semiconductor chips. Last year Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) alone accounted for 54% of the world’s total foundry revenue. It counts Apple, Qualcomm and Nvidia as its customers.

Semiconductors are critical components that power electronics from computers to smartphones to brake sensors in cars. TSMC is even more important because it makes some of the world’s most advanced chips essential to our military like those in our Air Force F-35 fighter jets. Chips are critical to manufacturing of nearly everything. Why are people waiting so long for their new cars? The global shortage of chips has forced many automakers to stop production. Taiwan’s high-tech products simply keeps our global economy moving. Imagine the CCP controlling it, think about the disruption to the supply chain with a war in the South China Sea!

If China embargoes or invades Taiwan without the U.S. fighting for Taiwan, American credibility around the world would crash. The implications to our relations with allies like Australia are obvious. Taiwan’s very prosperity in a democracy is an affront to the CCP authoritarian model. Every day that Taiwan exists as a very successful, free and independent nation is a contraindication to Chinese Communism’s top-down authoritarian, managed economic model.

The chances that Xi Jinping pulls the trigger on either a blockade or an outright invasion increases with President Xi’s own troubles on mainland China. China’s economy is straining under the effects of its zero-tolerance approach to Covid and a deflating huge housing bubble. The Chinese have put up with the CCP’s authoritarianism and lack of civil rights in return for improved economic life. However, there are now protests and mortgage payment strikes in several provinces and cities. One in five Chinese youths are unemployed. The People’s Bank of China is lowering interest rates and is dropping its growth estimates.

In addition, Xi sees much of our military tied up in Europe. Our poorly executed pullout of Afghanistan and dithering on supplying Ukraine may have encouraged Putin and could do the same for Xi. President Biden is perceived as a weak leader. This comes at a time when Xi is seeking his unprecedented third term. Will he be tempted to use a Taiwan conflict and the return of Taiwan to Communist control to shore up his standing within the party?

So what should the U.S. do to try to prevent an attack on Taiwan? First, Taiwan has to take this threat seriously. It has to increase its defense spending immediately. The U.S. and allies should sell them weapons systems that would make invading a mountainous island very costly to the PRC: weapons like anti-ship and anti-air missile systems, submarines, mobile precision-strike capability, coastal radars. Former Secretary of State Pompeo says the U.S. should just give Taiwan “every tool” it needs. How about a lend-lease program for Taiwan?

If it does come to war, can we win? Reports are that Defense Department war games are not encouraging. Our Navy has been shrinking for years, for example. Admiral John Aquilino, who commands the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command recently said, “We’re watching the largest military buildup in history since WWII by the PRC.” The only reputable public war game recently completed by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) and reported in the WSJ last week came to the conclusion that the U.S. and Taiwan can defend against a Chinese invasion. . .but at a huge cost: “In the first three weeks after invading Taiwan, China sank two U.S. aircraft carriers, attacked American bases across Japan and on Guam and destroyed hundreds of advanced U.S. jet fighters. . .China’s situation was, if anything, worse.” Mark Cancion of CSIS in a personal communication says,”Providing weapons to Taiwan before the conflict is critical because, once the conflict begins, it is impossible to get munitions or reinforcements onto the island. This is not a situation like Ukraine where continuous resupply is possible. Ground-launched anti-ship missiles like Harpoon are a critical capability. Sea mines and mobile air defense systems are also valuable. The United States needs to buy more long-range air-launched cruise missiles like LRASM and maintain the size of its bomber force.”   Others knowledgeable note that if Taiwan wants to repel an invasion it needs to be willing, able, and prepared to mine its own ports if China tries to invade.

Such a conflict would leaveTaiwan’s economy shattered and it would take years to rebuild the American military.

What is unknown is whether this conflict would extend to space, cyber warfare attacks on American infrastructure like the electric grid, and if the losing side would resort to tactical nuclear weapons. Sabotage of important American infrastructure would be likely. This is a horrific scenario. We may have a few years grace to arm Taiwan so well that the PRC will back off. Our military commanders used to point to 5 years or so before China would consider its forces so strong that they would either win or intimidate the U.S. from challenging them. Now others see such a rapid Chinese military buildup place the possible date of conflict sooner.

President Biden and Chinese President Xi are making plans to meet in Bangkok in November for a face-to-face meeting. We should remember that the Japanese military nixed a declaration of war on the U.S. prior to Pearl Harbor.

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Greg GanskeGreg Ganske, MD, is a retired surgeon and U.S. Congressman from Iowa who served from 1995-2002.

Ganske has written several fine columns for this website, several of which have received national attention.

 His latest column for johnkassnews.com was a warning about the march of the left—with its agenda consumed by immutable characteristics of race and gender–marching through the American medical schools.

It is a pleasure and privilege to publish his most important work.