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Japan Diary

June 13, 2022

Fallacies about Chinese armed attack on Taiwan

Fallacies about Chinese armed attack on Taiwan
                           Akio Kawato

These days in Japan, one often hears such valiant phrases as "protect Taiwan's democracy from China's armed advance" and "prepare for a Taiwan contingency," etc. During U.S. President Biden's visit to Japan in May, the QUAD summit meeting was held and the IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Framework) was inaugurated. These are also designed to contain China.
Although I am all for deterring China, I would like to point out that the danger of a Chinese armed intervention of Taiwan has now subsided for the moment.

The thinking of the Taiwan crisis theorists would go something like this:
--Taiwan has a strategically important geographic position for Japan and the United States. If China were to take it, the U.S. fleet passage between its bases in Japan and the South Pacific will be greatly impeded. This would drastically reduce the significance of having naval bases in Japan. As a result, if the U.S. military withdraws from Japan, Japan would be forced to confront China alone.

Besides, the Taiwanese people truly love their free and democratic society and want to protect it. Therefore, the U.S. , Japan and Australia should even pull in NATO countries to better protect Taiwan---

I support their endeavor. It is absolutely necessary to develop sufficient deterrent to prevent China from taking armed action against Taiwan.

However, we should avoid unnecessarily provoking China. This is because China seems to be deferring for the time being its attempt to militarily invade Taiwan, because of the situation below.

First, President Xi Jinping is eager to assume the life-time position of "Chairman of the Communist Party" (a position abolished in 1982) at the Communist Party Congress this fall. Ahead of that party congress, he cannot make any risky move like the armed invasion of Taiwan. If China were to face sanctions such as those imposed on Russia, it would be barred from international trade, the source of China's wealth, and if it failed in its armed invasion, Xi Jinping's promotion would be doomed. Therefore, China has turned to a strategy of political maneuvering; to ensure that a pro-Chinese Kuomintang candidate be elected as Taiwan's next president.

Next, when I visited Taiwan recently, I noticed that the standards of living both in big cities and suburbs is no longer much different from those in the coast area of China. The southern part of Taiwan, the stronghold of the Democratic Progressive Party (which advocates maintaining Taiwan's independence), is even suffering from an economic downturn, because China snubbed this region by reducing the extent of its economic engagement.
In other words, in terms of living standards, a situation is emerging in which Taiwanese people feel less reluctant to integration with China.

In addition, Taiwan's electronics and semiconductor industries have gained a strong position not only toward China but also toward the U.S. After the 1986 Japan-U.S. Semiconductor Agreement, U.S. companies began to outsource low-margin downstream manufacturing of micro-chips to Taiwanese and Korean companies. As a result of this Taiwan's largest micro-chips maker TSCM (Taiwan Semiconductor Circuit Manufacturing) now enjoys more than 50% share of the global market in contracted semiconductor production. Even Intel Corporation of the U.S., which has manufactured semiconductors for themselves, has finally begun to consider outsourcing its cutting-edge 2-nanometer products to TSCM.

In other words, Taiwan's semiconductor industry has a strong position in the U.S. Since more than half of TSCM's customers are in the U.S., TSCM is pretending to comply with U.S. demands, such as cutting ties with China's Huawei and building factories in the U.S. But if the Taiwanese company one day declares that it will do business with both the U.S. and China on an equal basis, the U.S. will have no choice but to comply.

The real estate market in China is cooling down, implying that the engine that has supported its phenomenal growth may finally break down. If the Chinese economy sinks and China's position weakens, Taiwan may even be able to strengthen its partnership with China on its own terms. This was exactly how Sino-Taiwanese relations were in the late 1990s. If things so develop, it would become irrelevant for the U.S. and Japan to cry "protect Taiwan's freedom.

Therefore, using the "Taiwan contingency" as a story to bolster the defense budget may not be a rational choice; money may be wasted on unnecessary equipment.
Japan's defense capability should be substantially leveled up, but the budget should be used in a prudent way. Development of space-based missile defense, AI weapons, and cyber warfare technology, for example, needs far more resources.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator and amended by the author