International Opinion

Taiwan could be the trigger for a catastrophic war

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 (image by the U.S. State Department via Wikimedia Commons)

It is becoming a case of when, not if, there will be a war between the U.S. and China.

Nobody wants war and yet the public is being convinced that it might happen and if it does it will be a necessary evil.

China is now the accepted enemy. Its real crime is that it is eclipsing the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy. America will never accept a China with greater economic power and associated prestige.

If it cannot out-trade its rival, or through alliances and trade war policies, manage to restrict and reduce China, then the final option becomes not only thinkable but a real option.

There is now no pretence about the aims and motivations of the U.S. in the region.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March 2021, Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the Indo-Pacific Command declared:

“We absolutely must be prepared to fight and win should competition turn to conflict.”

At the same time, the U.S. military has asked Congress to double its budget in the Pacific. The Pentagon made the request as part of its Pacific Deterrence Initiative. The focus of the "initiative" is based on providing a network of missiles in Taiwan, Okinawa and the Philippines that directly target China and with the capacity to 'sustain combat operations for extended periods'

These missiles are only a few minutes flying time to Beijing.

The U.S. missile buildup in the Pacific follows Washington’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty. The two events cannot be regarded as coincidental. The withdrawal from the INF Treaty had been the most significant nuclear arms reduction treaty of the 20th Century.

That treaty was, admittedly, signed between the former Soviet Union and the United States. Tearing up the treaty has allowed the U.S. military to go ahead with renewed vigour in arming the Asia-Pacific and ringing China with missiles.

The siting of these new missiles on Taiwan is provocative in the extreme. China is, understandably, anxious. Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, recognising at the time the legitimacy of China’s claim to Taiwan. This did not stop the U.S. from supplying Taiwan with "defensive" weapons and to support the island in the event of a conflict.

What is now happening is that conflict is becoming a reality and so, the USA can intervene. Admirals Davidson and Aquilino, Commanders of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command have given a time frame for war within six years. Their talk of Chinese plans to invade Taiwan is perhaps unlikely.

Taiwan, bristling with U.S. arms and lying so close to the mainland, makes it central to any war plans. It is also at the very epicentre of an economic war being waged around the control of the production of semiconductor chips. Nothing, from smartphones to supercomputers to advanced weaponry, works without them.

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) produces 55 per cent of the world’s chips and 90 per cent of advanced chips. It has a special relationship with America. This virtual monopoly has clear military implications.

An article in the Financial Times in February made the point that:

'If military technology in previous centuries was built on breech-loading rifles, warships or atomic bombs, it may well depend in the 21st Century on the smartest use of advanced chips.'

Huawei had been sourcing these chips, but Washington cut their supply chain and pressured TSMC to support the ban. This has prompted China to rapidly increase its own production as it was acutely aware of the implications. Wars are fought in many ways. Taiwan plays multiple roles. It hosts weapons that have the capacity to destroy much of China and through the weapon of technology is playing another, no less deadly role.

War can only be contemplated if the possible gains outweigh the possible losses. War with China does not satisfy this rationale. The other reason is if one side believes that not to go to war will mean irretrievable loss. The United States simply cannot contemplate a world without it at the helm. Its economic policies and its foreign policy have always been intrinsically linked to the use, if required, of force.

It is looking at a future that does not see it as a hegemon and is prepared to defend its position at any cost. President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Pentagon make no bones about their willingness to utilise force. For the U.S., the choices are rational ones.

This should be enough to make allies pull back and reassess things. The Australian Financial Review of the 16 April has indicated that this will not be the case for Australia.

It writes that:

'The Australian government has sharply escalated its internal preparations for potential military action in the Taiwan Strait ... options include contributing to an allied effort with submarines, as well as maritime surveillance aircraft, air-to-air refuelers and potentially Super Hornet fighters operating from US bases in Guam, or the Philippines, and even Japan.'

The newspaper also added the option of incorporating Air Warfare Destroyers into U.S. aircraft carrier groups.

War could be a probability and no longer a possibility. Taiwan is increasingly shaping up to be the trigger point. 

Dr William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. His latest book, 'China, the USA and Capitalism’s Last Crusade' is due to be published by Zero Books in October.

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