Sanctions will not deter China from taking Taiwan

China is not Russia and Taiwan is not Ukraine but it is a foregone conclusion that China will take over Taiwan before too long.

It is only a matter of when. Chinese honour is already hurt by the fact that Taiwan has lasted for 110 years. Almost certainly by 2030. There is a small probability that it could happen in 2024. The two key questions are

  1. whether Chinese military superiority is sufficient to prevail in a conflict lasting less than 12 months, and
  2. whether the US will have the stomach to get involved militarily.

The likelihood of any other countries entering the fray is already very low and is zero if the US does no more than levy “stringent” sanctions which half the world will ignore. As a military presence the EU is of no significance. The most the EU can do is provide support (in material resources) for the US. 

The first question is probably what engages Chinese strategists the most. Taiwan’s military strength cannot be underestimated and judging the superiority of Chinese military capabilities for a mainly sea borne operation is quite chancy. The rapid neutralisation of the Taiwanese air force will be a critical requirement. In any event, the Chinese capability for accepting and absorbing losses is very much greater than Taiwan’s. However, even in a campaign of attrition the Chinese will probably be looking for the take-over to be completed within 12 months. It is known that this take-over is one of the strategic goals for equipment procurement and the current expansion of the Chinese military. Their provocative sea exercises are nearly all geared to testing the responses of potential opponents and training for Invasion Day.

The second critical question, whether the US will act or just rely on sanctions, will also be exercising the Chinese strategists. They will be studying the US rhetoric and its lack of response in the Russia/Ukraine story very closely. The Chinese probably believe that Invasion Day will occur only when a Democratic President is in the White House and during the second half of a Presidential term. The chances of the US making a lot of noise but doing little else is then very high. China is even less susceptible to US sanctions than Russia (and half the world is even now ignoring the US sanctions against Russia). The Chinese will also be looking for a period which is relatively quiet in US domestic politics to make their move. Turbulent politics at home could even lead to a reckless Democratic President. Action abroad may be seen by a weak President as a way of currying domestic favour.  

There is a small probability that the Chinese assessment of the current US administration’s fear of risks and their paralysis of action, is that timing is unlikely to be better (from their point of view) in the next decade. That creates the possibility – though small – that 2024 as the last year of the Biden administration is seen as a window of opportunity.


 

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