Is the US willing to start a war in Taiwan?

13 October, 2021

Taiwan's military rehearses defensive ground maneuvers in the event of an invasion from the mainland.
Taiwan's military rehearses defensive ground maneuvers in the event of an invasion from the mainland.

Tension between the U.S., Britain and China in the Taiwan Strait has been at its highest point since the 1950s. A formal declaration of independence, which the ruling party in Formosa is threatening to make at any moment, would be enough to trigger a war in Taiwan directly pitting the two great imperialist powers against each other with disastrous consequences. It sounds crazy, but nevertheless, there are underlying reasons that could push the U.S. to take a step with no turning back.

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The topic of this article was chosen this morning by subscribers to the Communia channel on Telegram

The Taiwan Strait is in a spiral of maneuvers and shows of force

Chinese fighter jets and nuclear bombers on patrol this week next to the Taiwan border.
Chinese fighter jets and nuclear bombers on patrol this week next to the Taiwan border.

October kicked off with military exercises by the U.S. and British navies in waters near Taiwan. The Chinese response was to send air patrols over the Strait separating the mainland from Formosa. Within four days the number of aircraft in these units went from 16 to 36 fighter jets and up to 12 nuclear bombers. They were clearly on “their own side” of the border – which neither side recognizes – but both the U.S. and Taiwan perceived the warning and demanded Beijing cease pressure.

The next day it emerged that a US nuclear submarine had suffered a collision in South China Sea waters while satellite surveillance revealed that China was rapidly building infrastructure to concentrate its air capabilities off the island’s coast. The prospect of a war in Taiwan became universally present.

Xi publicly intervened to assure that he “preferred” “reunification by peaceful methods” to armed conquest of the island. And the Taiwanese prime minister, far from trying to defuse the situation, took advantage of the international spotlight to launch pro-independence messages and slogans of “resistance to annexation.”.

It would take a formal declaration of independence for a war in Taiwan to break out

Chinese army amphibious maneuvers this week. The PLA's first goal in the event of a war in Taiwan would be the mass landing of infantry troops.
Chinese army amphibious maneuvers this week. The PLA’s first goal in the event of a war in Taiwan would be the mass landing of infantry troops.

The Chinese military (PLA) responded yesterday with new amphibious landing drills and a threat to “crush” any move toward independence. And just today Beijing assured that the military will do whatever is necessary to “prevent actions leading to Taiwan independence and interference by outside forces”.

Today, the situation is that of a confrontational spiral in which, given China’s position, a declarative gesture by the Taiwanese government would suffice to usher in armed conflict.

With her application to join the Trans-Pacific Treaty, which ignores that its members do not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state, the Taiwanese President has demonstrated her willingness to do so and push the situation to the limit. But the Taipei government has no real say. It needs the go-ahead from Washington. So the question is whether the U.S. is willing to go to war in Taiwan…

Is the US willing to go to war in Taiwan within five years from now?

Joint fleet of US, UK and regional allies in waters near Taiwan this month. Signal that a war in Taiwan would directly involve the US.
Joint fleet of US, UK and regional allies in waters near Taiwan this month. Signal that a war in Taiwan would directly involve the US.

If anything can be ruled out already it’s a war in Taiwan “by proxy”, i.e., fueled by the US and China but fought by others. For China this is about its national territory. And the mere fact that the USA is sending military advisors to Formosa, immediately after the constitution of AUKUS and the QUAD summit a month ago, sends a clear signal to Beijing: if Taiwan officially declares its independence – rather than maintaining its status as China’s “rebel government” – any Chinese military response will be answered directly by the US, Australia and Britain.

Biden has so far been in favor of holding “extreme pressure“, but not of immediately escalating to war. Sending a minimally relevant amount of troops to Formosa would already be a “casus belli” for China, for instance. However, “extreme pressure” means keeping open indefinitely the possibility of armed conflict as something immediate. And there, on the terrain of a “cold war,” other kinds of considerations can produce a step toward disaster.

1 China will have the capability to close the Taiwan Strait by 2025 according to the Taiwanese defense minister. That is, 2025 would mark a turning point in Chinese military capabilities that would make possible the economic blockade of the island without going to war. The U.S. strategy of exerting pressure without going on to direct confrontation would then have an expiration date.

2 Although in a framework in which no information is reliable, the “leaks” about a US defeat in the AI race, asserted by Google itself, are very worrying. In the end, the imperialist confrontation between the US and China is not a struggle of positions as that between Russia and the US, but a direct struggle for markets and capital applications. In other words, the technology race is its clearest expression. If the U.S. truly believes it can be left behind technologically in the short term, the drive toward war would appear as an immediate emergency.

On the other hand, Huawei’s latest advances will be immediately incorporated into the Chinese military, which is already developing an entire fleet of unmanned submarines and naval and aerial robots. If the U.S. really thinks it may lose its naval superiority as a result of a nascent technology gap, a new countdown would be added to military considerations.

3 It is no secret that the current US administration has as its main goal to overcome the fracture within the US bourgeoisie that materialized in Trumpism. But the Republican party has no capacity today to do anything but reproduce the fracture and even increase it.

But what the polls say is that the Democratic party is at too high a risk in the 2022 midterm elections and that as of 2026 it will be difficult to get anything other than a Republican majority in both houses. According to his own analysts, a “great national cause” led by the presidency would be necessary to turn this poll expectation around. And the confrontation with China, practically the only issue of consensus between the two major parties, is its best hope.

4 Meanwhile, in Washington, even in the Republican Party, a new strategic conception of the imperialist confrontation with China is emerging. The “new hawks” see the war in Taiwan as the first in a series of local wars that will usher in the U.S. encirclement of China by conditioning its economic and technological development.

This perspective sees the possible course of a war in Taiwan as limited to the script of the Falklands War. It takes for granted that it would affect neither the states in the region, nor the US mainland. Chinese bureaucrats see it as “madness”. The US cannot go to war in Formosa without involving its bases in Japan and Korea, Formosa is not the near-deserted Falklands, and the Chinese military of today is not the Argentine military of 1981. But both sides are trying to convince themselves that they have the upper hand. Bad symptom.

A war in Taiwan within five years?

Xi and Biden
Xi and Biden

As the international editor of the Financial Times said the day before yesterday, both imperialist powers are “in a potentially deadly poker game over Taiwan, as they try to fool each other yet also thinking the other will back down.” The analyst predicts an early “moment of truth” in which the outbreak of war in Taiwan will be decided “haphazardly” in the style of the Cuban Missile Crisis of ’62. The Wall Street Journal was echoing the same idea yesterday.

The reality is that the threats of nuclear ordeals, the urgency of the times and the triumphalism are part of the propaganda game and “psychological operations” of the “cold war” moment we are living in. That is why, in a way, the war in Taiwan has already begun, although before becoming open war it will surely go through a phase of Chinese naval blockade of Taiwanese exports… which, incidentally, would multiply the supply crisis and industrial crisis in the US, Japan, and Europe.

Guessing dates is virtually impossible. But the outlook is clear. Both imperialist powers are on a collision course toward a war in Taiwan which would hardly be confined to the island or even to the Asian mainland.

The only alternative to this continuing slide toward war in Taiwan lies in the ability of the workers, within each country involved, to resist the increasingly oppressive nationalist war propaganda and turn the prospect of a new imperialist war into a struggle against their ruling classes.