By: Ari Lieberman
The confused and haphazard U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August on Biden’s orders has had far-reaching consequences well beyond the borders of that primitive country and the confines of the Middle East. The wisdom of the retreat is debatable but what is not up for debate is the way it was carried out, which evoked memories of America’s disorderly flight from Saigon in 1975.
China, under the leadership of its “President for Life,” Xi Jinping, is attempting to assert itself as the world’s dominant superpower. Their economic might is second only to the America’s. They have the largest naval surface fleet (with two aircraft carriers and a third under construction) and largest standing army in the world, and third largest air force. Backed by this political and military might, the Chinese are, with ever increasing belligerency, threatening their bordering neighbors, and flexing their muscles in the South and East China Seas.
Xi and his advisers have been carefully scrutinizing Biden’s foreign policies and it is safe to assume that they are largely unimpressed by administration’s fecklessness. The abandonment of Afghanistan is but one example. Iran is another. The Biden administration has been desperately trying to get the Iranians to re-enter the JCPOA and the desperation is palpable. The Iranians for their part are slow walking the process while they continue to enrich uranium and advance their WMD project. In Ukraine’s Donbas region, the Russians have been waging a proxy war in an effort to undermine Ukraine’s democratically elected government. They’ve also massed 75,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders to exert further pressure. Aside from offering platitudes, the Biden administration seems incapable of responding.
China currently maintains at least 17 separate land and maritime disputes with its neighbors and has shown a demonstrable propensity toward military aggression. Shortly after the Communist takeover of China, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army invaded and conquered Tibet. In 1962, the PLA invaded India in Ladakh, and across the McMahon Line in the then North-East Frontier Agency (also referred to as Arunachal Pradesh). In 1969, PLA troops attacked and ambushed a Soviet force garrisoned at Damansky Island, a small remote Island in Russia’s southeast that marked the border between China and the Soviet Union. That attack nearly sparked nuclear conflagration. And in 1979, the PLA invaded Vietnam, sparking a war that resulted in 125,000 dead and wounded cumulatively.
The Soviet Union, India and Vietnam were all ostensibly brotherly allies of China, yet China had no qualms about resorting to military aggression to unilaterally enforce its dictates. China is now turning the bulk of its attention to the South China Sea and Taiwan. China claims nearly the entire South China Sea as within its Exclusive Economic Zone, a view that is contrary to well-established international maritime law.
To secure its claim, China has been aggressively patrolling this area with its large naval fleet and pillaging it with its vast fishing fleet. Utilizing sand dredgers, China has also constructed several artificial “islands” in the South China Sea, some of which have been militarized with radars, anti-aircraft batteries and airfields capable of accommodating military aircraft. The construction of these Islands has caused untold environmental damage to surrounding maritime life, but the Chinese don’t seem too bothered by this.
The South China Sea is important for several reasons. First, one-third of the world’s maritime traffic travels through it. Second, it contains 12 percent of the world’s fish catch. Third, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the South China Sea holds about 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Lastly, America’s maritime link from its west coast to India and the Mideast runs directly through the South China Sea.
China has also trained its sights on Taiwan, a democratic, strategically placed Island nation of 24 million, which China claims as a province. Most of the island’s inhabitants consider themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese and prefer closer political, economic, and military ties with the U.S. and the West rather than China.
Xi has not minced words in his dealings with Taiwan. He has stated unequivocally that use of force to conquer the island is an option, though he prefers peaceful reunification. In October, China’s top legislature rubberstamped a law designed to give Xi the legal imprimatur to utilize all forms of aggression, including military aggression, to secure land and maritime rights that China claims. The law stipulates that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China are sacred and inviolable.”
In the meantime, China is currently engaged in a hybrid war of sorts against Taiwan employing various schemes to grind down the country’s resolve, morale, and capabilities. Chinese military aircraft – bombers and fighter-bombers – routinely enter Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) forcing Taiwanese fighters to intercept. Chinese sand dredgers are systematically dredging sand off the seabed floor near Taiwan’s outlier islands, destroying fishing resources and causing irreparable environmental harm. China is also employing its diplomatic and economic prowess to isolate Taiwan.
The initiative is currently with China, which has a range of options at its disposal. Reuters has mapped out six frighteningly realistic scenarios that could unfold in a Chinese bid to secure its objectives. These range from so-called gray-zone, non-kinetic warfare to full-scale war involving ballistic missile strikes against U.S. bases in Guam and Okinawa coupled with airborne and amphibious assaults against Taiwan.
Should Taiwan succumb to China’s will, the result would be calamitous for the U.S., the region, and the world. It would give China a foothold in the so-called first island chain, which would severely undermine America’s ability to defend its regional allies – Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. It would also immeasurably strengthen China’s hand in the South China Sea.
Moreover, a Chinese takeover of Taiwan would give China access to Taiwan’s foreign exchange reserves, rated as the world’s fifth largest. In addition, it would instantly give China a stranglehold over the world’s microchip market as Taiwan is the world’s premier manufacturer of microchips, which go into everything from cars to appliances. What we are witnessing today in terms of chip supply shortages is nothing compared to what would happen if China grabbed control of this important industry.
The main impediment to an all-out Chinese invasion of Taiwan is America’s deterrent power, but that deterrence is rapidly diminishing. What has the Biden administration done to bolster America’s standing on the international stage? Sadly, the answer is nothing. In fact, the administration has met international challenges and adversities with fecklessness, vacillation and desperation. From Afghanistan and Iran to Ukraine and Venezuela, the Biden administration is acting like a deer in headlights, unable to respond or react, let alone being proactive.
Moreover, while China’s military expands at an unprecedented rate and its professional cadre of dedicated hackers steal Western military technology, America’s defense spending, when taking into account inflation, has actually shrunk. Equally troubling is the administration’s skewed defense priorities. Valuable resources are being diverted to combat climate change instead of meeting real, clear and present dangers.
China regards America as its main antagonist for regional dominance. It has constructed mock-ups of U.S. navy aircraft carriers and destroyers, created for the sole purpose of target practice and identification, leaving little doubt about China’s nefarious intentions.
Many experts believe that some form of major Chinese aggression against Taiwan is likely within the next decade. Some believe it will take place in 2027 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the PLA. Others have argued that it could take place even sooner than that.
History has taught us that when bullies are confronted, they often back down. When they are allowed to act with impunity, they grow bolder as Nazi Germany did after Britain and France betrayed Czechoslovakia at Munich. What Joe Biden does now will determine China’s trajectory. A resolute and unequivocal commitment to Taiwan’s sovereignty, coupled with increased defense spending and a tougher line toward those who wish to undermine America’s interests will make China think twice about embarking on a reckless adventure; one that could lead to a global war and nuclear conflagration.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration has failed miserably in this geo-political test of leadership. Like his mentor Barack Obama, Joe Biden has demonstrated a penchant for abandoning allies and emboldening enemies, making the world a lot less safe.