This Is How a War With China Could Begin

First, the lights in Taiwan go out.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — If the United States gets embroiled in a war with China, it may begin with the lights going out here in Taipei.

Tensions are rising across the Taiwan Strait, and there’s a growing concern among some security experts that Chinese President Xi Jinping might act recklessly toward Taiwan in the next few years, drawing the United States into a conflict.

Xi’s hard line toward Hong Kong is alarming Taiwanese and further reducing the chance, if there ever was any, of a peaceful unification of China. China seems to be abandoning its effort to win hearts and minds on Taiwan, and it has steadily improved military capabilities — thus prompting the fear that Xi might eventually use them.

“We are very concerned,” Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, told me. He said that one concern was that a slowing economy and other troubles in China might lead Xi to make trouble for Taiwan as a distraction. “This is the scenario that is constantly playing in the minds of the key decision makers” on Taiwan, he said.

The main worry of military planners here isn’t so much a full-scale amphibious invasion. Rather, they fear the mainland sowing chaos and disrupting the economy as a way of trying to bring Taiwan to heel.

Hence the concern aboutcyberattack that would take out Taipei’s electric grid. Or sabotage of the underwater cables that bring data and internet to Taiwan. Or interference in the South China Sea with tankers carrying oil to Taiwan.

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There is concern that troubles in China will lead it to interfere with Taiwan, such as staging a cyberattack on Taipei’s power grid.
CreditRitchie B Tongo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Wu added that China could also step up military pressure by increasing patrols in the area, or by holding military exercises. Even a partial blockade would have a substantial impact if it raised insurance costs and damaged confidence in the island’s future.

Government officials in Taiwan were cagey about how they would respond to provocations in cyber and other realms, but Wu said that military officials “are planning for defense and offense.” Another senior government official said that retaliation could include airstrikes on China’s Fujian Province.

That fits with the belief that Taiwan would promptly escalate to bring the war to China. If that happens, no one knows quite what the U.S. would do, including the U.S. itself. A 1979 American law suggests that the United States is committed to Taiwan’s defense, but the law is ambiguous about just how committed.

China has been vastly improving its military capabilities, including its ability to strike aircraft carriers. I’m told that in 18 of the last 18 Pentagon war games involving China in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. lost. Still, that can be misleading, because the war games are much more limited than real life would be. For example, the United States could interrupt China’s oil supplies from the gulf.

Beijing has also been nibbling away at Taiwan’s international presence, blocking it from participating in the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies, and even barring Taiwanese from taking tours of the U.N. and Taiwanese journalists from getting U.N. accreditation.

President Trump has generally been more supportive of Taiwan than his predecessors, and that’s worked well so far. But this has to be done very carefully. While Taiwan and China may know each other’s red lines, I worry that American politicians may try to help Taiwan in ways that increase the risk of triggering a crisis. Nothing can be so dangerous as a well-meaning American.

Aside from its efforts to isolate Taiwan, China also appears to be borrowing from the Russian playbook and using Facebook and other platforms to interfere with Taiwan’s democracy in the run-up to crucial elections in January.

“China is trying to discredit and dismantle Taiwan democracy,” said Ketty Chen of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

A war between the United States and China over Taiwan would be a cataclysm. But it would also be a catastrophe if Taiwan were blockaded or squashed into submission, because it is a pillar of technology (the source of more than 90 percent of the most advanced computer chips), a pillar of democracy and an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” standing in the way of any Chinese projection into the Pacific or toward, say, Okinawa.

There are steps the U.S. can take that might reduce the risk of a crisis. Washington can emphasize to Beijing that Taiwan will not take any unilateral action, such as declaring itself an independent country — unless China makes a military move, in which case it will do so at once. The U.S. can also caution Beijing that if the electricity goes out in Taipei, the same may happen in Shanghai, and that if Taiwan-bound ships are harassed, they may be reflagged as American vessels.

But that means thinking through what might happen in the next few years and making clear to Xi that he will pay an extremely high price if he messes with Taiwan’s freedom.

Making China Great Again

As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.

The hero, Leng Feng, played by the action star Wu Jing (who also directed the film), is a veteran of the “wolf warriors,” special forces of the People’s Liberation Army. In retirement, he works as a guard in a fictional African country, on the frontier of China’s ventures abroad. A rebel army, backed by Western mercenaries, attempts to seize power, and the country is engulfed in civil war. Leng shepherds civilians to the gates of the Chinese Embassy, where the Ambassador wades into the battle and declares, “Stand down! We are Chinese! China and Africa are friends.” The rebels hold their fire, and survivors are spirited to safety aboard a Chinese battleship.

.. For decades, Chinese nationalism revolved around victimhood: the bitter legacy of invasion and imperialism, and the memory of a China so weak that, at the end of the nineteenth century, the philosopher Liang Qichao called his country “the sick man of Asia.” “Wolf Warrior II” captures a new, muscular iteration of China’s self-narrative, much as Rambo’s heroics expressed the swagger of the Reagan era.

.. “In the past, all of our movies were about, say, the Opium Wars—how other countries waged war against China,” he said. “But Chinese people have always wanted to see that our country could, one day, have the power to protect its own people and contribute to peace in the world.”

.. For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected.

.. Trump often portrays America’s urgent task as one of survival. As he put it during the campaign, “At what point do you say, ‘Hey, we have to take care of ourselves’? So, you know, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that, but, at the same time, our country is disintegrating.”
.. China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence.
.. It has become one of the leading contributors to the U.N.’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and it has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation.
.. This was an ironic performance—for decades, China has relied on protectionism—but Trump provided an irresistible opening. China is negotiating with at least sixteen countries to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free-trade zone that excludes the United States, which it proposed in 2012 as a response to the T.P.P. If the deal is signed next year, as projected, it will create the world’s largest trade bloc, by population.
.. By setting more of the world’s rules, China hopes to “break the Western moral advantage,” which identifies “good and bad” political systems
.. Meng Hongwei, a Chinese vice-minister of public security, became the first Chinese president of Interpol, the international police organization; the move alarmed human-rights groups, because Interpol has been criticized for helping authoritarian governments target and harass dissidents and pro-democracy activists abroad.

.. Moreover, China’s economic path is complicated by heavy debts, bloated state-owned enterprises, rising inequality, and slowing growth. The workers who once powered China’s boom are graying.

.. In 2000, the U.S. accounted for thirty-one per cent of the global economy, and China accounted for four per cent. Today, the U.S.’s share is twenty-four per cent and China’s fifteen per cent.

.. in the past we were used to going to the White House to get our work done,” Shivshankar Menon, India’s former foreign secretary and national-security adviser to the Prime Minister, told me. “Now we go to the corporations, to Congress, to the Pentagon, wherever.”

.. everybody else in the world will look around and say, I want to be friends with both the U.S. and the Chinese—and the Chinese are ready, and I’ll start with them.”

.. He presented China as “a new option for other countries,” calling this alternative to Western democracy the zhongguo fang’an, the “Chinese solution.”

.. The state press ran a profile of Xi that was effusive even by the standards of the form, depicting him as an “unrivalled helmsman,” whose “extensive knowledge of literature and the arts makes him a consummate communicator in the international arena.”

.. Xi has inscribed on his country a rigid vision of modernity. A campaign to clean up “low-end population” has evicted migrant workers from Beijing, and a campaign against dissent has evicted the most outspoken intellectuals from online debate.

.. Foreign universities with programs in China, such as Duke, have been advised that they must elevate a Communist Party secretary to a decision-making role on their local boards of trustees.

.. The Party is encouraging dark imaginings about the outside world: posters warn the public to “protect national secrets” and to watch out for “spies.”

.. Last June, Yao Chen, one of China’s most popular actresses, received a barrage of criticism online after she tried to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. (She was forced to clarify that she was not calling for China to accept refugees.)

.. In Rao’s view, Trump’s “America First” slogan is an honest declaration, a realist vision stripped of false altruism and piety.

.. “In this world, power speaks,” he said, making a fist, a gesture that Trump adopted in his Inauguration speech and Xi displayed in a photo taken at the start of his new term.

.. “I think Trump is America’s Gorbachev.” In China, Mikhail Gorbachev is known as the leader who led an empire to collapse. “The United States will suffer,” he warned.

.. In 1991, when Bush, Sr., launched the war against Iraq, it got thirty-four countries to join the war effort. This time, if Trump launched a war against anyone, I doubt he would get support from even five countries.

.. For Chinese leaders, Yan said, “Trump is the biggest strategic opportunity.” I asked Yan how long he thought the opportunity would last. “As long as Trump stays in power,” he replied.

.. When Trump won, the Party “was in a kind of shock,”

.. “They feared that he was their mortal enemy.” The leadership drafted potential strategies for retaliation, including threatening American companies in China and withholding investment from the districts of influential members of Congress.

.. Before he entered the White House, China started assembling a playbook for dealing with him.

.. “China knows Trump can be unpredictable, so we have weapons to make him predictable, to contain him. He would trade Taiwan for jobs.”

.. there were two competing strategies on China. One, promoted by Stephen Bannon, then the chief strategist, wanted the President to take a hard line, even at the risk of a trade war. Bannon often described China as a “civilizational challenge.” The other view was associated with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who had received guidance from Henry Kissinger and met repeatedly with the Chinese Ambassador, Cui Tiankai. Kushner argued for a close, collegial bond between Xi and Trump, and he prevailed.

.. While Xi was at the resort, the Chinese government approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, clearing the way for her to sell jewelry, handbags, and spa services in China.

.. During the transition, Kushner dined with Chinese business executives while the Kushner Companies was seeking their investment in a Manhattan property.

.. In May, Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, was found to have mentioned his White House position while she courted investors during a trip to China.

.. During the Mar-a-Lago meetings, Chinese officials noticed that, on some of China’s most sensitive issues, Trump did not know enough to push back.

.. “Trump is taking what Xi Jinping says at face value—on Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea,”

.. “The Chinese felt like they had Trump’s number,” he said. “Yes, there is this random, unpredictable Ouija-board quality to him that worries them, and they have to brace for some problems, but, fundamentally, what they said was ‘He’s a paper tiger.’ Because he hasn’t delivered on any of his threats. There’s no wall on Mexico. There’s no repeal of health care. He can’t get the Congress to back him up. He’s under investigation.”

.. a Beijing think tank, published an analysis of the Trump Administration, describing it as a den of warring “cliques,” the most influential of which was the “Trump family clan.”

.. The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia—“to treat the state as your possession.”

China Mistakenly Challenges Andrew Jackson to a Duel

China Mistakenly Challenges Andrew Jackson to a Duel USS Ronald Reagan and ships of Carrier Strike Group 5 transit the Pacific Ocean in June 2017.

A Chinese diplomat’s insulting words invite a vigorous response from the U.S. The United States Navy will be making a port call in Taiwan in the near future. The only questions that remain are where, when, and how many ships of what type will drop anchor or tie up at Taiwanese piers. Of course, this may cause a war to break out in Asia, but it won’t be one of the United States’ making. We owe this troubling possibility to a China whose rising sense of anticipatory greatness is at odds with its capacity to execute a successful war. Hubris stimulated a Chinese official, Li Kexin, who is attached to its embassy in Washington, D.C., to threaten war against the United States. Li was responding to fairly normal language within the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that allowed for mutual port visits between American and Taiwan naval vessels. In response, Li stated: “The day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung [Taiwan’s main deep-water port] is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force.”

Under these conditions, the United States has no choice but to send the United States Navy to Taiwan for a port visit, and to do so in a big way. The USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class super carrier based in Japan, with its entire embarked air wing of 65 strike fighters and reconnaissance aircraft and its accompanying escort strike group of Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class ballistic-missile-defense destroyers, should quickly sortie to Taiwan. They should divide up, with one portion of the strike group transiting down the strait that separates the island from China and the other coming down the eastern coast, meeting up at the southern tip to escort the Reagan into port at Kaohsiung. At that point, the other strike-group ships should either take up station north and south of Taiwan, with their Aegis radars at full alert given the nature of Mr. Li’s threat, or rotationally enter other ports in Taiwan for friendly port visits. The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine Michigan, carrying 154 Tomahawk missiles, should also make an appearance, before quietly disappearing into the depths to continue its lonely patrols. Such a move would be an effective demonstration of American naval coercive diplomacy worthy of Theodore Roosevelt.

.. Additionally, the United States should consider a robust, healthy defensive-arms sale package for Taiwan in the coming year. Surface ships and fighter aircraft, top-of-the-line fifth-generation stealth fighters, should be part of the package,

..All of this will be viewed by China as escalatory, and it should be, but the Chinese must be reminded that it was their intemperate language that started the upwards climb.

.. Walter Russell Mead identified four schools of U.S. foreign policy; the

  1. pro-business Hamiltonians, the
  2. liberal-order Wilsonians, the
  3. realist Jeffersonians, and the
  4. mercurial, exceptionalist Jacksonians.

The election of President Donald Trump signaled the return of the Jacksonian impulse for the first time in a generation

.. And when it comes to war? Mead states that “when an enemy attacks, Jacksonians spring to the country’s defense” viscerally, and Jacksonians, like their namesake Andrew Jackson, will not stop until honor is satisfied. It is a dangerous impulse to stimulate, as China’s Li Kexin has done. China owes the United States a public apology. It now needs to accept a U.S. Navy port visit to Taiwan with a minimum of protests

.. Jerry Hendrix is a retired U.S. Navy captain, an award-winning naval historian ..

Trump has been making ominous threats his whole life

The crisis we now find ourselves in has been exaggerated and mishandled by the Trump administration to a degree that is deeply worrying and dangerous.

From the start, the White House has wanted to look tough on North Korea.

.. In the early months of President Trump’s administration, before there could possibly have been a serious policy review, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the era of strategic patience with North Korea was over.

.. Last week, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that North Korea’s potential to hit the United States with nuclear weapons was an “intolerable” threat. Not North Korea’s use of weapons, mind you; just the potential.

.. So why do it? Because it’s Trump’s basic mode of action. For his entire life, Trump has made grandiose promises and ominous threats — and rarely delivered on any.

When he was in business, Reuters found,

  • he frequently threatened to sue news organizations for libel, but the last time he followed through was 33 years ago, in 1984.
  • Trump says that he never settles cases out of court. In fact, he has settled at least 100 times, according to USA Today.

..In his political life, he has followed the same strategy of bluster.

  • In 2011, he said that he had investigators who “cannot believe what they’re finding” about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and that he would at some point “be revealing some interesting things.” He had nothing.
  •  During the campaign, he vowed that he would label China a currency manipulator,
  • move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,
  • make Mexico pay for a border wall and
  • initiate an investigation into Hillary Clinton. So far, nada.
  • After being elected, he signaled to China that he might recognize Taiwan. Within weeks of taking office, he folded.
  • He implied that he had tapes of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey. Of course, he had none.

Does he think the North Koreans don’t know this?

.. The secretary of state seems to have been telling Americans — and the world — to ignore the rhetoric, not of the North Korean dictator, but of his own boss, the president of the United States. It is probably what Trump’s associates have done for him all his life. They know that the guiding mantra for him has been not the art of the deal, but the art of the bluff.

China Goes Soft on U.S. Sanctions over North Korea, Condemns Arms Sale to Taiwan

The Chinese government appears to be reserving its ire towards the United States for its response to a recent arms sale to Taiwan, keeping its commentary limited on new U.S. Treasury sanctions against the Bank of Dandong for its ties to North Korea.

The U.S. Treasury announced Thursday that evidence shows the Bank of Dandong “acts as a conduit for illicit North Korean financial activity,” including money laundering and, as such, would be banned from the U.S. financial system.

Trump’s Retreat From Populism

The Trump administration is in full retreat from its array of right-wing populist promises.

Instead of scrapping NAFTA, they are merely looking for minor adjustments. Instead of showing China who’s boss, they have retreated on Taiwan, and are promising a far more favorable stance on trade in exchange for whatever help China might offer on North Korea — while telegraphing that they know help is bound to be limited.

.. Most dramatically, Trump reversed the overwhelming thrust of his campaign with respect to foreign policy, ordering an attack on Syria and welcoming Montenegro into NATO, saying that the Atlantic alliance is “no longer obsolete.”

.. Most dramatically, Trump reversed the overwhelming thrust of his campaign with respect to foreign policy, ordering an attack on Syria and welcoming Montenegro into NATO, saying that the Atlantic alliance is “no longer obsolete.”

Faced with any difficult problem, he chooses the easiest way out, which in politics will mean appeasing whoever presents the most current threat.

Trump was right about health care for most of his life

President Trump could actually use the legislative collapse to fix health care if he went back to basics and to his core convictions on the topic, which are surprisingly intelligent and consistent.

.. in 1963, economist Kenneth Arrow, who later won a Nobel Prize, offered an explanation as to why markets would not work well in this area. He argued that there was a huge mismatch of power and information between the buyer and the seller. If a salesman tells you to buy a particular television, you can easily choose another or just walk away. If a doctor insists that you need a medication or a procedure, you are far less likely to reject the advice. And, Arrow pointed out, people think they don’t need health care until they get sick, and then they need lots of it.

Every advanced economy in the world has implicitly acknowledged his argument

.. Consider the 16 countries that rank higher than the United States on the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. All except Singapore (which has a unique state-driven approach) have universal health-care systems that can be described as single-payer (Medicare for all), government-run (the British model) or Obamacare-plus (private insurance with a real mandate that everyone opt in). Hong Kong, often considered the most unregulated market in the world, has a British-style government-run system. Switzerland, one of the most business-friendly countries, had a private insurance system just like the United States’ but found that, to make it work, it had to introduce a mandate.

..Taiwan, another free-market haven. In 1995, 41 percent of its population was uninsured and the country had very poor health outcomes. The government decided to canvass the world for the best ideas before instituting a new framework. It chose Medicare for all, a single government payer, with multiple private providers.
.. among industrialized countries the United States is in the middle of the pack for wait times, behind even Britain
.. Americans use less care than the average for developed countries when it comes to things such as seeing a doctor and spending time in the hospital. The problem with the free market is that there is little profit in prevention and lots in crisis care.
.. “I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses. . . . We must have universal healthcare. . . . The Canadian plan . . . helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans. There are fewer medical lawsuits, less loss of labor to sickness, and lower costs to companies paying for the medical care of their employees. . . . We need, as a nation, to reexamine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing.”