How Committed Is the U.S. to Fending Off a War Over Taiwan?

How Committed Is the U.S. to Fending Off a War Over Taiwan?
A Taiwanese soldier watches from an M60A3 Patton tank during a military exercise in Taichung, central Taiwan, Jan. 17, 2019 (AP photo by Chiang Ying-ying).

China and Taiwan marked the Lunar New Year holiday this week with dueling propaganda videos showcasing their respective military might, released on social media. It was the latest sign that North Korea may no longer be the world’s most volatile hotspot, the nation most likely to unleash a major crisis that could spiral out of control. Now that dubious distinction may be shifting to Taiwan.

The root of the problem is, of course, that China considers Taiwan an inextricable part of its territory ripped away in 1949 when the government of the Republic of China, facing military defeat against communist forces on the mainland, moved to the island. Beijing always saw this as temporary—something to be rectified when it had the power to do so. Now that time is at hand. Massive economic growth has given China a degree of influence and resilience that it never had before. Its military capabilities have grown extensively. And while America has long been committed to Taiwan’s separation from China, the willingness and ability of the United States to back Taipei with force seems shakier than ever. For strategists in Beijing, imposing reunification on Taiwan probably appears more feasible than at any time since 1949.

What is making the situation particularly dangerous now is China’s mounting internal problems, especially a slowing economy. Its short-term economic prospects, at least, are troubling. This matters because the Chinese Communist Party sustains its rule in part by buying off internal dissatisfaction. The Chinese people tolerate authoritarianism in exchange for stability and prosperity. But if economic imbalances and problems mount, the Communist Party may have a harder time fending off political opposition. As often happens in authoritarian political systems, economic frustration could turn into dissent.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.