U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent trip to Taiwan generated much anxiety and recrimination. In the aftermath of her visit, China engaged in a military show of force, including missile launches near the island, raising fears that Beijing could be preparing to take control of Taiwan by force, if not immediately, then in the near future.
For example, Hal Brands and Michael Beckley argued in The Wall Street Journal that China under President Xi Jinping “is fueled by a dangerous mix of strength and weakness: Faced with profound economic, demographic and strategic problems, it will be tempted to use its burgeoning military power to transform the existing order while it still has the opportunity.” Their logic turns on its head the so-called Thucydides Trap argument that political scientist Graham Allison put forward a few years ago, in which Beijing, having been “restored to its rightful place, where its power commands recognition of and respect for China’s core interests,” and Washington, as the dominant global power, will inevitably be drawn into conflict as China seeks to exert its expanded influence in its neighborhood, particularly with regard to Taiwan. While the arguments the two articles use to make their case differ, their conclusions both end up with a war over Taiwan.
Such concerns are not off base. China has become increasingly aggressive toward its neighbors, from a skirmish with India, seemingly initiated at random, along the two countries’ un-demarcated border in the Himalayas in 2020, to an escalation of disputes in the South China Sea. Moreover, Beijing has made clear time and again that it considers Taiwan to be part of China’s sovereign territory and that it will one day seek to exert control over the island, preferably through peaceful means, but using force if necessary. Additionally, some worry that the pact signed by Russia and China in Beijing on the eve of the Winter Olympics this year not only paved the way for Russia to attack Ukraine without Chinese interference, but for China to eventually invade Taiwan with Russian acquiescence.