Ukraine Has Proven China Can’t Defeat Taiwan
Sinophobic bigots in America are so desperate for a new Big-Bad they are ignoring simple military reality: China can’t take over Taiwan.
As powerful as China’s military is or might become, the hard facts of geography and modern technology conspire to make Taiwan almost impossible to invade.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is proof that the Chinese threat to Taiwan is mostly a figment of the American imagination. Part of a desperate national need for an enemy to justify ridiculous levels of military spending and hold this fast fragmenting country together.
Now to refute any silly allegations that I’m pro-Beijing, let me state for the record: Taiwan is functionally an independent country.
No, Beijing, Taiwan is not coming under your sway any time soon. Whatever political status you want to say it has, Xi Jinping, go right ahead — the hard fact of the matter is that Taiwan has been separated from the mainland so long the Taiwanese people have their own identity.
Any attack by mainland forces would, as we’ve seen happen in Ukraine, instantly make every Taiwanese person feel their identity is distinct. There is nothing like being bombed to make you hate whoever is dropping them, even if they say to be the same people as you.
For China to successfully invade and subdue Taiwan, a mountainous island of 24 million people, it would have to land and park approximately a million soldiers there and supply them for a generation. The only, only way this could ever work is if Taiwan’s government has split into pro and anti-China factions, paralyzing its defenses.
After more than seventy years of being both autonomous and threatened by Beijing, Taiwan’s domestic defense industry — it produces a huge proportion of the world’s semiconductors— is quite capable of building effective mid-range anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. The world has seen proof of how deadly these weapons are in Ukraine — Russia hasn’t risked the constantly predicted landing near Odesa and has failed to secure air superiority over the entire country because of the threat of guided missiles.
There’s a lot of hype in the news these days about autonomous killer robots, but the grim truth is this isn’t new tech. They’ve been around for fifty years — that’s what precision missiles are.
If China elected to invade Taiwan, no amount of bombardment could subdue it and any attempt to land troops in large numbers would be doomed because missiles are too easy to hide. To get across the Taiwan Strait, China has to put troops on big planes and boats, which aren’t.
As one war after another has amply proven, from UK against Argentina over the Malvinas/Falklands in the 1980s straight through to Putin’s assault on Ukraine today, missiles are extremely difficult to stop. Even Hamas, besieged in Gaza, has missiles that can strike Israel despite all its sophisticated defense systems. Technology has marched on to the point that a single person with a radio connected to a hidden missile launcher is absolutely deadly.
The fundamental rule of modern warfare is this: what is seen gets killed — fast. That’s why smart soldiers try to fight from ambush positions, even if they are technically on the offensive.
Survival on a modern battlefield depends on staying hidden long enough to execute a vicious strike then using the confusion of the aftermath to escape to a new hide. Tanks, infantry, even jet aircraft now live or die based on their ability to hide, kill anything that sees them first, then run away. Cheap hidden weapons in large numbers beats expensive kit stuck out in the open.
And technology is making detecting hostile forces terribly easy too. The mere threat of a surface to air missile radar switching on beneath them is enough to keep a jet pilot from flying over hostile terrain. All those much-ballyhooed stealth aircraft America wastes vast sums on are far from invisible, with networked multi-spectral sensors rendering them expensive recon tools and data hubs at best.
China can’t get at Taiwan without aircraft, and aerial warfare is on the cusp of a revolution that returns military aviation to its roots in protecting friendly airspace from attack. The idea of air supremacy over hostile ground is dead — fly high, you are detected and shot at. Fly low and you can go undetected longer, but at the cost of risking attack from smaller shoulder-fired heat seekers or optically guided weapons you might not even realize are coming at you. And low-flying jets can’t cover as much territory as ones up high, limiting their usefulness.
It is now close to impossible to land troops by aircraft or helicopter in sufficient numbers to survive a ground-based counterattack by the defenders, like Russia ran into in the early hours of the push on Kyiv at Hostomel. The World War Two concept of massive airborne attacks was always flawed, as proven by the horrendous casualties the Germans suffered on Crete and the difficulties the Allies faced during Operation Market-Garden.
And ships have it worse than planes. Already more or less floating bombs even when not filled with fuel and ammunition, landing ships have to expose themselves to attack to bring troops onto a hostile shore. Anti-ship missiles can fly a few meters over the water, almost invisible to defense interceptors until they’re just past the horizon, and they fly so fast defense systems have just microseconds to react.
Modern ship killers can be small enough to fit on the back of a truck or hidden in a shipping container, almost impossible to discover until they fire. Sea mines make it even harder to conduct amphibious landings and can’t be cleared without sending in ships.
In World War Two naval landings on defended beaches were bloody, difficult affairs, and they’re all but impossible now. Notably, America in the Gulf War of 1991 and Russia in Ukraine have mostly used the threat of a large-scale amphibious landing to tie down opposing forces. Russia did land some naval infantry near Mariupol, but the feared attack from the sea on Odesa has never materialized for a simple reason: it would be a bloody catastrophe. Heck, Ukraine even managed to take out a Russian landing ship when it was in an occupied port delivering supplies.
Amphibious or airborne military operations against an opponent equipped with decent missiles is suicidal. And as Ukraine’s defenders have skillfully shown, even advancing across contested ground is dicey. Combining precision weapons with information technology, even simple camera traps, allows a defender to observe and strike not just front line units, but logistics columns as well.
In short, all the hot air about an impending Chinese invasion of Taiwan is just that — more unneeded carbon emissions from the Global North.
Worse, the constant barrage of China fear from the English-speaking media is classic racist jingoism of the worst kind. It’s a testament to the utter cowardice of most Americans that even the supposedly “woke” Left is jumping on the Sinophobia bandwagon.
Of all people on this strange platform, the other day Jessica Wildfire wrote a truly wretched piece about China and Taiwan that perfectly encapsulates the rising anti-science, racist bigotry that has gripped Americans on the Left as well as the Right. Asian hate is being fostered by a growing chunk of the self-described Left whose members are now so caught up in their self-righteous pablum they can’t see they’ve been colonized by Bush-era neoconservatives.
Americans love to cheer on a fight they profit from but don’t have to bleed for. Ukraine proves that, and the world needs to know that Joe Biden’s incredible flub in Europe this weekend when he talked up regime change in Russia was less of a gaffe and more of a statement of America’s secret policy.
I expect Americans on the Right to hate and fear China — this is only natural for a political ideology obsessed with America First and all the rest of this country’s self-destructive racist myths. They see the world through the lens of team sports, so China winning at anything automatically means America must be losing.
But watching the Left jump onto the China-hate bandwagon to prove they can be just as aggressive of bigots is simply pathetic. It’s just like in 2009 when they pivoted to defend Obama’s cynical continuation of the criminal Bush-era drone wars. Wildfire isn’t alone in embracing anti-China bigotry — Umair Haque is in on this scam too, even if right now his Russophobia is front and center because that’s what the mob demands.
Look, I don’t blame a writer for pulling in what scratch they can, but I will condemn them when they turn into money-grubbing hypocritical bigots. A significant chunk of the Left has decided that so long as they decry racism against Black Americans they are safe from being outed as bigots when they start talking about rural or indigenous people. Not only is this turning Latino voters off, dooming the Left’s electoral prospects, Asian Americans face a rising tide of bigotry in this cruel country.
You want to know why Asian people in the United States are being targeted by racist thugs all over the place? Decades of being treated as either a “yellow peril” or “model minority” in the mainstream, East Coast dominated American media. Most of it produced by Left-leaning white people.
This is quite personal for me because I’m from the West Coast, where people of Asian descent make up around 12% of the population and white people are thankfully no longer a majority. At Berkeley I was very close friends and flatmates with people from China, including some whose parents were — gasp! — members of the Communist Party!
Guess what? They’re people just like us. Ruled by a government that predominantly serves elite interests and works tirelessly to dominate political, economic, and social systems for the benefits of the big-wigs. Just like you basically have to be a Democrat in California or a Republican in Utah to be accepted into elite circles, the same is true of the Communist Party in China.
Governments are governments, States are States, and powerful people do what they do unless deterred through threat of rebellion. The rest just try to get by. Rogues like me strike back in the limited ways we can.
Whenever an American politician or pundit starts talking about anything like a Second Cold War, showdown between autocracy and democracy, an alleged “rules-based international order,” or any of the other pathetic slogans speechwriters latch onto to shield their masters’ true intentions, they’re engaging in pure racist dog-whistling. Deploying coded bigotry to scare Americans into backing their anti-science madness without applying a shred of critical thought.
The forces producing the wave of Right populism around the world will eventually fade away. But those pushing the American Left to embrace elite-run technocracy may remain. Forever War against an imagined alliance of autocracies led by China is their final ploy in a desperate last-ditch attempt to hold America together through boosting military spending to record levels.
Democrats of today are what Republicans were fifteen years ago. They’re mostly rank bigots too, and must be opposed with equal force.
Now, is China a rich and powerful country? Oh yes.
But you know what country has done as bad or worse as China or even Russia over its history? America.
A country literally built on the graves of indigenous peoples by slaves and exploited wage laborers. A land that waged twenty years of War on Terror in the Middle East, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, then shrugged and moved on to other pastimes while still happily selling weapons to rank dictatorships like Saudi Arabia that use them on poor people in Yemen.
America’s elite leadership can’t admit such simple truths out loud, though. That would break the Fourth Wall of American politics they rely on to keep us docile. Most of America’s geriatric politicians have been active participants in the slaughter — Biden, Pelosi, and almost all the others voted to let Bush invade Iraq.
Leaders on the Left won’t hold them to account because all they care about is money and power, just like the oligarchs they claim to oppose. What really ticks me off is the way the Left has swallowed the convenient myth that only properly educated experts should have a say in foreign policy.
Truth be told education in America is less about learning and more about socialization into the correct facts a person is expected repeat in public. It’s a form of civic religion students are all indoctrinated into. History, economics, politics — all the manifold sub-disciplines in the human sciences in America are little more than jobs programs for people willing to put up with the system long enough to be awarded PhDs, which is why tenured faculty are still predominantly old white men.
American universities have become brazenly exploitative engines of social discrimination where tenured faculty with a terribly limited grasp of science work to train students in America’s civic faith. They teach world history from a purely Euro-American perspective that purposely “educates” them into a bigoted worldview.
Asian hate been an intrinsic part of the American education system for generations. The very ideas of “Western Civilization” or “The Western World” are inherently bigoted constructs that require the creation of a mythical “East” where people are magically different and deserving of mistrust. Orientalism, as Edward Said termed it, is alive and well and remains the dominant paradigm in American elite circles because there is no true accountability in American intellectual culture.
The entire misbegotten idea that China is “rising” with the intent to replace America as world hegemon is born of this bigotry, an inheritance of America’s Anglo-Saxon origins. America’s leaders think like a nineteenth century imperialist in London would, ever fearing rivals in their ancient Greco-Roman project to create a unipolar world, something which has never and will never exist.
The China hysteria of today is a mirror image of what elite types were saying about Japan back in the 1980s when some argued it, not China, would pose a threat to America in the future. Orientalism doesn’t care which Asians you hate, so long as you remain properly concerned for the welfare of the “West” and nobody else.
China serves an explicit function in the American civic religion. And because America’s leaders adamantly refuse to acknowledge the limits of America’s power, China has a strong incentive to pull them into a lethal trap.
What American leaders don’t seem to understand is that Beijing can at any time generate a crisis around Taiwan or the South China Sea that leads to a major American military defeat without Chinese blood drenching the streets of Taipei.
China can’t take Taiwan — but it can beat the United States military in a fight over the Western Pacific. Every American base, even Guam, is vulnerable to long-range missiles, every aircraft carrier a sitting duck. In a fight global supply chains the American armed forces need to sustain a conflict would shatter, yet American leaders still act like they can actually take on China in its own backyard and win.
This delusion stems from the East Coast bias in American foreign policy circles, and reminds me of the failure to understand Japanese military capabilities that led to the first six months of the Pacific War being such a disaster for the Allies. Everyone has forgotten that after Pearl Harbor Japan smacked down every European power with forces in the western Pacific largely because Japan’s military abilities were badly underestimated.
The truth is that Beijing doesn’t need to invade Taiwan. Its leaders only threaten to out of necessity — China’s government’s primary promises to its people are security and prosperity and unlike America’s, it generally delivers.
A political arrangement can and will be found in the future that keeps Taiwan and the mainland happy. Nobody wants or needs a new war in the Pacific except possibly the United States.
The irony is that the United States can no longer protect Taiwan from China for the same reasons China can’t successfully invade Taiwan. American military forces can’t safely get within about 2,000 kilometers of China thanks to the missiles China has spent twenty years — ever since America invaded Iraq — making sure it can put US aircraft carriers and air bases at risk.
If Beijing ever wants to deliver America a sharp slap in the face without running the risk of an invasion of Taiwan’s main island, all it has to do is enact a maritime exclusion zone or customs blockade. On some pretext China’s Navy would surround Taiwan while keeping out of range of shore batteries, stopping any ships heading to the island, daring America to send its fleet into the jaws of the Chinese defense.
This would essentially be the same strategy the USA used in the Cuban Missile Crisis. But America, unlike Russia, is publicly committed to maintaining the global right of free navigation in international waters, which is why it dispatches ships to sail through the Taiwan Strait and Chinese-claimed regions of the South China Sea.
If China establishes a distant naval blockade and America can’t breach it, that means its claim to support Taiwan is hot air. Just like America won’t offer the kind of support to Ukraine the Budapest Memorandum clearly expected in the event of a future Russian attack thanks to fears of a wider war that could escalate into a nuclear exchange, it is unlikely any American President will ever take the risk of defying a Chinese blockade of Taiwan.
China has nukes too, y’know. And is building more thanks to Beijing’s justified fears of a crazy US leader threatening them in the future.
Anti-ship ballistic missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles, swarms of low-flying cruise missiles — to defend Taiwan the United States would have to rely on the 4 carrier groups it can sustain in the Western Pacific, and their aircraft have only a quarter to half the range of a DF-21. Ground bases like Okinawa and Guam can be struck by longer-range Chinese weapons at will and even a single strike launched every few hours that wound up being successfully intercepted would badly disrupt air operations.
Basically, in a fight to break a blockade of Taiwan tens of thousands of American sailors would be put at grave risk with little chance of success. Worse, America’s military was designed for Cold War scenarios, not modern combat, huge chunks of it now just as obsolete as Russian gear because it was designed for a different kind of battleground.
America cannot win a conflict with China. The fact America’s bigoted leadership keeps talking up a confrontation is a bluff that plays right into Beijing’s hands. At a future moment of it’s choosing the People’s Republic of China can demonstrate the hard limits of American power and prove the limits of Taiwanese autonomy without risking a major invasion.
In short, China can’t defeat Taiwan — but it can beat America in the Western Pacific. The US is obsessed with placing more military gear right on China’s doorstep, but this is less a deterrent and more a hollow show of force that puts American lives at risk for little concrete benefit.
If you want to deter China from doing anything to Taiwan, you have to build long-range fighters, drones, and lots of submarines to make it impossible for China to easily surround Taiwan. You’ve got to have the credible ability to to prevent Taiwan from being cut off from the wider world but not to put Chinese territory itself at risk, which can only lead to escalation.
But aside from the risk of being surrounded, so long as Taiwan can build decent missiles, train disciplined soldiers, and its government doesn’t crack apart, Taiwan is as safe as South Korea or Japan.
Given the extreme economic and diplomatic costs a war would incur on Beijing, so long as Taiwan doesn’t declare independence or host American military forces Beijing has no incentive to risk an invasion. The reason China fears foreign involvement in Taiwan is the fact so much Chinese shipping has to pass right by it. China’s single greatest fear is being cut off from foreign markets by American encirclement, and if there is a future crisis over Taiwan it will be closely tied to this concern.
The real danger in any Taiwan crisis is that it will get caught in a vicious proxy conflict between China and the United States. A Chinese blockade of Taiwan will be intended not to subdue it by force, but to impinge on its sovereignty in a clear way while simultaneously demonstrating the real limits of American military power.
Truth be told, given America’s fragility and the rising probability of a second Trump term, Taiwan and any concerned friends need to plan for a future without America in it.
Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Vietnam, and other countries who will always feel justifiably concerned about China’s power will need to work together to ensure they can make any blockade attempt too risky to attempt by adopting the right organization and tools.
Together, this alliance will have more than enough power to keep China honest —and without giving into the disgusting bigotry that risks sparking a Second Pacific War.
My grandfather fought in the first. There must never be another.