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Taiwan and World Peace.

Should China launch a military invasion of Taiwan, sparking a direct military confrontation with the United States, the world then could be standing at the edge of abyss. Putin is still alone in his war of aggression against Ukraine. It is essential to prevent the global growing-together of these two areas of conflict. 

The Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and the case of Taiwan

On August 24, 1939, the so-called “Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” was signed in Moscow. The aggression against Poland began with the invasion of Poland by Nazi-Germany-troops on September 1, 1939, followed by Soviet troops invading eastern Poland on September 17, 1939. The communist dictator Stalin shamelessly made common cause with one of the greatest criminals in human history, Adolf Hitler. Because without this “Hitler-Stalin Pact” (also called “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”) the Second World War would probably not have broken out in September 1939.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin launched his cruel war of aggression against the sovereign state of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Some see this war as an imperialist war. U.S. President Biden consequently called Putin a “murderous dictator”, and in a guest commentary for the New York Times, Timothy Snyder classified the Putin system in Russia as “fascist”. Just as there are also the terms “Putinism” and “Putinism Fascism”. The one crucial question, of course, is: Could it be that in the current world situation a merging of even two critical trouble spots would be possible? Is it conceivable that after Russia has invaded Ukraine that we will see China to invade Taiwan? Even though the geographic distance between Taiwan and Ukraine is considerable, based on essential historical memory, the long and terrible shadow of the Hitler-Stalin pact casts its darkness.

Is China to play the military card against Taiwan?

So, the specter is haunting us that a tragedy similar to the one in Ukraine could unfold also in the Pacific. Assessments here are divided. A recent poll of American experts found that a majority does not believe that China is planning to invade Taiwan. At the same time, a majority of these experts furthermore expressed the opinion that in such a case, Taiwan would receive military support from the U.S.A.; however, a direct military confrontation between China and the United States should be avoided. Similarly, the U.S. Pentagon analyzes the current situation in a way, saying that an invasion of Taiwan by China is unlikely at least for the next two years. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway territory, which should and must be reunited again with China. But does this also mean that China is actively preparing for an invasion?

Some commentators argue that currently China’s economy is on a problematic path of development, so that now is not the opportune moment to engage in major military confrontations. Recent growth rates of the Chinese economy are lower. Also the projected demographic trends of a possible decline of the whole population are posing problems for China, in combination with a lesser interest of the younger labor force to work in factories. Taiwan’s meaningful role as a producer of semiconductors and microchips clearly implies that military conflicts would lead to a fundamental disruption of important global supply chains in computer businesses. With respect to the global supply of computer chips, Taiwan exercises a dominant position. As TIME has assessed this in a recent analysis: “Each year, nearly a third of the new computing power we rely on each is fabricated in Taiwan”.

In addition, in the event of an invasion, Taiwan is determined to defend itself vigorously. Taiwan is trying to learn from the successful Ukrainian resistance against the Russian invasion, and to initiate corresponding preparations and measures concerning China, for example optimizing implications of the so-called “porcupine strategy”. In addition, the whole world could see, what has happened to Hong Kong, after it was absorbed back into mainland China.

Thinkable Chinese escalation scenarios against Taiwan

Possible military options of China against Taiwan are of course multifold. The U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) ran different scenarios of a Chinese military attack on Taiwan, projecting an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. Should this result in a direct military confrontation of China against the United States, then the Chinese invasion is to crumble, so the war game expectations. However, all sides would suffer heavy and terrible casualties. Furthermore, there are voices, warning that the Chinese military power should not be underestimated, for example that China has capacities to attack U.S. aircraft carriers with “carrier killer ballistic missiles”, as POLITICO has put it in an analysis.

But China may also decide to plan and to go for intensified indirect actions. In a simpler way this would mean to violate and to cross during sea and air maneuvers more frequently the so-called “Median Line” between mainland China and the island of Taiwan. The next escalation step are possible sea and air blockades of China against Taiwan, either partially for a limited period of time or even more extensively. By this, China could try to impose forceful blocking-strategies against Taiwan, cutting off Taiwan from the rest of the world. This ultimately carries the danger of also leading to a direct military showdown between China and the United States. Given the importance of Taiwan for the global computer sector, as has been said in a recently released report in TIME, an isolation of Taiwan can create global economic shock waves, which finally also would hit the Chinese economy severely.

Xi Jinping’s falling-in-love with power and what Taiwan could mean to him

China’s strongman is Xi Jinping. He is now President of the People’s Republic of China since 2013. Under his leadership, China converted over to increasingly authoritarian forms of governance. The Uyghur minority faces brutal persecution and re-education initiatives in China. Hong Kong’s political freedoms have been consistently confiscated and removed. A general social-credit-system puts the whole of society under a comprehensive and intensified control. This social-credit-system is also being referred to by some as a form of “IT dictatorship”.

Originally, the office of Chinese Presidency had a term limit of two-function-periods. Xi Jinping again abolished this policy of a term limit approach, his infatuation with political power was and is too great, applying now more the style of a “Personalistic Rule”. Just as recently as with the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), during last October in 2022, Xi Jinping secured for him a third term of five years in the function of the party’s general secretary. Furthermore, if Xi Jinping were to succeed in merging the island of Taiwan back into context of mainland China, he would secure for him a greater historical role from a larger Chinese perspective, so his calculation.

The one decisive factor, blocking Xi Jinping’s potential Taiwan ambitions, is the United States. The U.S. would provide military support to Taiwan. But the crucial question is, whether the United States would be willing, under such circumstances, to engage directly with military means against China in the format of an open confrontation. The current Biden doctrine is perhaps ambiguous on this, making it impossible for China to come up with a clear draft scenario.

What has been striking lately are the frequent visits of American lawmakers to Taiwan. The former Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, opened this round dance, but the Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn also had landed in Taiwan. Parliamentarians from other Western countries followed, for example from France. So far, China has not exceeded further than naval and airborne military exercises near Taiwan.

Concerning Taiwan itself, it appears that a growing share of the Taiwanese population considers of already accepting a distinct “Taiwanese” self-understanding. Already more than half of the population supports this form of identity. Furthermore, as surveys are showing in Taiwan, being performed and documented by the Election Study Center (NCCU), a majority of the Taiwanese prefers the current political situation, whereas there are mixed feelings about advances in favor of a more comprehensive “independence” status. Reasons for this could be that there are fears that an international declaration of Taiwanese independence (separating openly from China) may finally trigger exactly a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

As David Chu, a political analyst, emphasized recently: “Taiwan produces important shares of semiconductors and of advanced chips; so the current computer‐based societies and economies also depend on Taiwan. However, while concerns on chip supplies could be minimized through expanding operations to foreign countries, it would simply be absurd to strip away the democratic rights and freedom of the 23 million lives on the island. As such, a global effort to ensure Taiwan’s status of being independent of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is not only crucial to the digitalized 21st century world, but also for the democratic freedom of the Taiwanese people as well.”

Preventing the Third World War and the saving of world peace

There is one worrying thing to note, for sure. With the start of Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine, unleashed on February 24, 2022, an international turning point established itself, with the unfolding of the first war on European soil since the end of the Yugoslav wars, which had lasted around ten years, 1991-2001. So, what would be the consequences should China launch a military invasion of Taiwan, resulting in a direct military confrontation with the United States? We would then have a systemic coupling and growing-together of the Ukraine war in Europe with a Taiwan war in the Pacific, and the world would be on the brink of a new global war that could escalate into a Third World War. Such a scenario is so terrifying, so that it remains to be awaited (and envisioned) that China will not play the military card of invading Taiwan.

Despite all the re-authorizations in China under Xi Jinping, there is still a good chance that China’s leadership will behave more rationally than the Putin system in Russia, and will calculate that the price of forcefully integrating Taiwan into China’s political system is just too high. Based on this assumption, world peace would be preserved, which clearly must be the goal.

Xi Jinping also made clear that he objects the possible use of nuclear weapons by Putin in his crusade of warfare against Ukraine. In this respect, China and the United clearly have common grounds to cooperate. Perhaps, a “surrealistic move” by Taiwan may create an additional momentum: What would happen, should Taiwan apply for membership to the European Union? Could this confuse next steps in a greater Chinese masterplan?

About the Author:

David F.J. Campbell
Founder & Director
David is an Associate Professor for Comparative Political Science at the University of Vienna. His thematic core focuses are quality of democracy in a global perspective, knowledge and innovation in a knowledge economy and knowledge democracy, where David co-created (together with Elias G. Caraynnis) the concept and theory of the Quadruple and Quintuple Helix Innovation Systems. Additional themes of his are interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in the sciences and arts.