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There’ll Be Time for War: China’s approach to Taiwan



The Taiwan Strait, which keeps mainland China 81 miles from Taiwan at its shortest distance, has witnessed many crises since the 1950s. The repeated nature of these crises is ultimately a consequence of China's aim and desire to consolidate Taiwan. The strait is a geopolitical hotspot, and 2022-23 has been especially challenging for China's, Taiwan's, and, of course, the United States' efforts to secure their interests in the strait.


Whenever the issue of Taiwan's unification with mainland China emerges - whether the conversations are about forceful or peaceful unification - the broader geological context frequently remains absent in political analyses. Taiwan is a volcanic island part of the Philippine Islands plates, shifting 80 mm annually towards the Eurasian continent. At this speed, Taiwan will collide with mainland China after 1,481,328 years, only 1,481,455 years after China lost the island in 1895. However, Taiwan's peaceful or forced unification is a top priority for China, and geographical unification will take too long. 


Yet China has delayed its march on Taiwan because of the increased US-China competition in the region. China's delay can be understood within the framework of Sun Tzu's Art of War, which tells us that gathering knowledge is fundamental to victory, and to do this, you need time. 


China's love of history sees them shunning other's war adventurism. Their observations have influenced their plan to reunite with Taiwan; they have decided to take their time, unlike Russia in Ukraine and the US in the Middle East, who rush into conflict often ineffectively. Thus, between 2027 and 2035, China plans to coincide Taiwan's reunification with its gradual rise to a moderately prosperous nation with a mature economy.


Learning from other great powers' successes, lessons, and failures — China is biding its time, ensuring it doesn't repeat any of the mistakes made by its adversaries. As the Russia-Ukraine conflict weakens Russia, and while many Americans don't want the US to continue playing the role of global policeman, the Chinese government watches closely, and like Sun Tzu says: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles".


Over the years, China has reduced the once significant gap in military and economic strength with the US, growing its power. A Goldman Sachs prediction states that the Chinese will eclipse the US in 2041 in terms of GDP, although this is still debatable. Despite COVID-19's and China's Zero Covid Policy's impact on the Chinese economy, it has regained momentum and is edging closer to achieving its annual target of a 5% GDP growth rate. The 2023-24 Q3 data showed a 4.4% growth rate, highlighting the Chinese economy's strong foundation, vibrancy and strength. 


China is working to expand its power to push the US military forces away from its shores and establish a hegemony which will supersede the US. US global power between 2015 and 2020 was primarily projected in the region by its navy. However, China has increased the number of warships in its fleets and created a gap between both navies, favouring China. A Leaked US Intelligence presentation in 2023 revealed that China's estimated shipbuilding capacity and prowess stand 232 times more than the US today, which is alarming. The strength and size of the PLA Navy will undermine the West's dominance in the Western Pacific.


China's position reflects a long-term strategy to reclaim the land once held by the Middle Kingdom and achieve the 2049 Chinese Dream. However, China has studied US military adventurism and the logistical constraints Russia has faced in Ukraine whilst sublimating the strategies of Sun Tzu. Therefore, time and patience are prominent parts of China's national strategy to regain its former glory, for which Taiwanese unification is vital. But it is almost certain that unification will only be achieved by paying a heavy price. 


According to a US government document, an invasion of Taiwan would be bloodier than the Allied D-Day landing in France. Moving mountains of armour, equipment, fuel, and soldiers across the strait during the war will be risky and leave the PLA as a sitting duck. The casualties on both sides would be substantial. 


China is aware of this and will employ military treaty tactics and strategies to ensure that its advanced naval vessels do not suffer the fate of the Russian cruiser Moskva, destroyed by Ukraine's R-360 Neptune, a low-cost anti-ship missile. Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated his desire to see the reunification of the motherland and secure national rejuvenation. China is delaying war with the US over Taiwan to be as informed as possible about its enemy's condition to avoid a situation similar to the one Russia faced in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. "If you know the enemy and know yourself..."


Image: Getty Images/via Council On Foreign Relations


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