I have been reading a lot about China lately, and the more I read, the more disturbed I get about the way Taiwan is currently discussed in the United States. For half a century this topic has been understood as the mother of all red lines when it comes to US-China relations. That is no longer the case for discussions in the United States. I am pretty sure it’s still a massive red line for China. Uncharacteristically, I now do think there is a chance of war between the US and China. But because of US aggression, not US withdrawal…
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there! Did you know that the US government is actively trying to start a war with China right now? Now I am not talking about the usual threats and the supplying of weapons to all of China’s neighbors. That’s normal. No, I am talking about a premeditated attempt to undermine the very foundation of peace between the United States and China. It started as what looked like a joke in the final days of the Trump administration, but the Biden administration has just decided to run with it, and nobody’s talking about it.
To explain the truly radical nature of this Trump-Biden policy we have to do some history. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the US was the main sponsor of the Chinese government, under a guy named Chiang Kai-Shek. He was our brave ally against the Japanese, and the Communists, but the more I read about him the more he looks like that Afghan government that evaporated last week. He wasn’t quite that bad, but according to Barbara Tuchman, his government was horrifically corrupt and most Chinese were miserable under his rule. After the Japanese withdrew, civil war with the Communists sparked back up, and Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalists lost miserably. The remnants of his army and government fled to Taiwan, a small island off the Coast that China had just won back from Japan after 50 years. Despite his colossal failure, Chiang got to live in his own private fiefdom for another quarter century, and after his death, one of the grandest monuments on the planet was dedicated to his memory. The US wasn’t willing to fight to prop him up in China, but it was relatively easy to use the Navy to set him up in Taiwan, so that’s what we did. In the 1980s, after Chiang’s death, Taiwan did finally go democratic, and the economic rise of the Chinese mainland in recent decades has made Taiwan one of the wealthiest and most impressive civilizations on the planet. I believe Taiwan is worth defending. But it’s important to remember that it started out as the refuge of a failed dictator, and that the mainland Chinese still see Taiwan’s status as deeply insulting unfinished business.
For over two decades, the US pretended that the island of Taiwan was China, and even kept it on the UN Security Council. But by the late 1960s China hadn’t just had a falling out with the Soviet Union, it had had a minor shooting war with the Russians. Both Beijing and Washington DC wanted to figure out how to work together. Taiwan was a serious stumbling block, however. China couldn’t accept open US relations with its old enemy. But the US couldn’t abandon it’s long standing anticommunist ally either.
The ingenious answer was to simply not talk about it. The policy of Strategic ambiguity was first laid out in the Shanghai Communique of 1972. There have been a number of clarifications since, but the bare bones of the strategy remained in place from 1972 until January of 2021. The US continues to arm and support Taiwan, but we don’t acknowledge that we are doing so. There are in depth contacts, political, economic, etc. But until the Trump administration there were no formal diplomatic contacts. This has been acceptable to both sides, with on-going nit picking and occasional flare ups for almost 50 years. The details matter. We acknowledge that the mainland has a One China policy, but we don’t endorse that policy. We don’t support Taiwanese independence, but we don’t oppose it either. The US is intentionally vague about whether it would support Taiwan if China invaded. With strategic ambiguity, we continue to arm Taiwan, without insulting China.
This may all seem faintly ridiculous, and it totally is, but this silly policy has been the rock solid basis of 50 years of extraordinary Asian prosperity. Not just for everybody else, but for Taiwan itself as well. Taiwanese companies build most of the world’s iphones, but they build them on the mainland. Strategic Ambiguity isn’t just the reason Asia got rich, it’s probably the reason Taiwan was eventually able to go democratic as well. Threatening this policy is insane. So it was one of the first things Donald Trump did after he was elected president.
Even before he was inaugurated, Trump started toying with strategic ambiguity, by openly flaunting a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president. Once he was actually in office he laid off. He recognized that he could make more progress on trade and everything else if he left this radioactive topic alone. But he decided to make a revolution in Taiwan policy one of his parting fuck yous to the Biden administration.
Parting shots are nothing new in US politics. In January 1969 the Johnson Administration famously launched a sweeping antitrust case against IBM, two weeks before the more pro-business Nixon came into office. What was strange about what Trump and Mike Pompeo did, was the way they dragged so much foreign policy into this. Long time viewers know I flipped out about their Yemen vandalism, but that was nowhere near their most significant action.
On January 9th 2021, 11 days before Biden’s inauguration, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo removed all restrictions on the State Department’s interactions with Taiwan. This was a direct attack on the very foundation of US-China relations, and the past half century of Asian prosperity. It wasn’t full recognition, but with US officials and cabinet members now encouraged to visit Taiwan in an official capacity, the Chinese wouldn’t be crazy to think US supported independence could be coming soon. It’s insanely dangerous stuff. Biden quickly reversed Pompeo’s Yemen vandalism, but almost 8 months later, US Taiwan policy, and the whole policy of Strategic ambiguity that underpins US-China peace remains up in the air. Biden is letting Taiwan slip into his speeches in ways former presidents would have avoided. US defense industry lobbyists are advocating for a clear commitment to Taiwan, something that would have been seen as guaranteeing World War III as recently as a decade ago.
Last week I had a relatively successful tweet mocking a much more popular twitter account for thinking that Afghanistan withdrawal might lead China to invade Taiwan. The US government has been selling us this story for decades, but after sending this mocking tweet I decided to look into it more deeply. And now I think the paranoid tweeter may be on to something. I do believe there’s a serious danger of China invading Taiwan. Not because we left Afghanistan, but because the US government, under both Trump and Biden, is discarding Strategic Ambiguity. It is mind-blowing that nobody is talking about this.
Why is the US government taking such an aggressive position, and why is nobody talking about it? Well what I think we may be seeing here is a sort of twilight of a dying myth. The US government, the US military industrial complex, and the media it owns desperately wants a new cold war with china, and, as I’ve pointed out before, it’s not going very well.
“The US government has been working really, really hard trying to make rivalry with China a thing. We spent decades building them up into a manufacturing powerhouse. While the rest of us were distracted by the orange plague we had elected president, the Pentagon did it’s big great power competition launch and it’s honestly pretty underwhelming. I mean US media is doing its usual job of copying out defense department press releases, but there is only so much they can do with reality. We are literally spending trillions to keep China from controlling the South China Sea, even though they want it to be just as open for trade as we do, and we are spending another trillion on expanding our nuclear arsenal which is already 20-100 times the size of China’s depending on how you measure it. None of this makes any sense. China couldn’t be less threatening to the United States.”
Screwing with strategic ambiguity over Taiwan is a last desperate attempt to get some seriously aggressive behavior out of China. The US media isn’t talking about what we’re doing here, because if China does invade Taiwan they want to make damn sure that it’s China that looks crazy and aggressive not us. They’ve been using this playbook for a solid decade now, attempting to build up a number of failed moves and pitiful reactions into Hitler level aggression.
There are a number of scare stories that are ridiculous upon cursory examination. The dumping concrete into the South China sea and calling it power projection. The belt and road infrastructure plan that even most mainstream media agrees has flopped almost entirely. The trade advantages and opportunity for intellectual property theft that the United States very much made a political decision to voluntarily give to China. There is a class of quite horrific crimes that China is unquestionably committing. There is no explaining away the horrors of Xinjiang or Hong Kong, or the country’s fall back into one man dictatorship. But it’s important to recognize what these actions actually are. They are the desperate lashings out of a crappy system that is terrified. And China should be terrified.
The United States is the world’s most powerful country and its past three presidents have been denouncing China with ever increasing severity. First we had the good cop who only heavily armed an ever growing list of China’s neighbors, and sought to close down it’s foreign trade miracle with the TPP. Then we had the bad cop who screamed angrily about how he was going to brutalize China for four straight years. And now Joe Biden, the responsible return to normalcy is cheerfully throwing out the basis of US China relations for the past 50 years. China’s leadership is often described as paranoid. But it’s not paranoid of them to think we are out to get them… every recent US president has loudly proclaimed that we are out to get them. Washington DC want a conflict, and China keeps disappointing us.
China’s actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong are disgusting, but they are Chinese actions taken in China in a desperately miscalculated effort to defend Chinese security. Despite all the opportunities the US has provided, China has refused to engage in any lucrative proxy warring in Africa or Myanmar. And I suspect that that’s why the Biden administration is taking half century old Taiwan policy and setting it on fire. Washington DC is desperate to get this cold war started. Cold war with China, Hot War with China, either one is a good way for Washington DC to make money.
So maybe I owe that twitter guy an apology. I think it’s for different reasons, but yeah, if anything we have been told about China’s capabilities and intentions is true then an invasion of Taiwan should be imminent. If anything we have been told about China’s red lines over the past 50 years is true, then they should be invading Taiwan very soon. Not because of Afghanistan, but because the US has been working hard to provoke China on this issue all year long.
There is another possibility though. Maybe Beijing and Washington DC have each endorsed a myth of Chinese power, for their own purposes. If we don’t see a Taiwan invasion by the end of the year, then maybe, just maybe, the New Cold War is just as much of a mirage as the Afghan military was. Maybe we have wasted far more on defense spending than the 2 trillion that just went up in smoke in Afghanistan.
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