Chinese President Xi Jinping. REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping. REUTERS

Shakespeare’s famous line, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”, will be well known to China’s Xi Jinping.

No sooner had he achieved president-for-life status than the daggers were being honed on the continuing American trade war, the slowing economy and high costs of the belt and road initiative. For Mao Zedong invincible status within the Chinese pantheon, Xi must unify China by reabsorbing the currently de facto independent state of Taiwan. 

Not only is it a point of national pride. Xi’s generals view Taiwan as the jewel of the first island chain and essential for control of the China sea.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) military machine has been reconfigured for this task and includes a navy now larger, ship-wise, than that of the US. It includes more than 80 submarines. A second aircraft carrier is on the way and rumours, including land-based versions of the “Guam killer” DF-26 missile that can accurately target American carriers, must be raising red flags at the Pentagon.

But D-Day type landings on Taiwan’s western beaches are unlikely. The 209km Taiwanese Strait makes surprise impossible and the Taiwanese troops have had almost 70 years to prepare.

A Chinese assault on Taiwan’s relatively underdefended Kinmen Island in 1949 was repulsed with thousands of casualties. A bigger bloodbath on Taiwan itself would be the end of Xi. With hundreds of Taiwanese companies operating on the mainland, the takeover must be achieved with minimum military conflict.

Given PRC naval and air forces, just the suggestion of a blockade might be enough to discourage air and sea traffic. Coupled with island-based agents provocateur and suitable propaganda, Tsai Ing-wen’s government could succumb quickly and the whole takeover concluded in two weeks. But that assumes no American carrier group intervention.

This is where the Capitol standoff in Washington becomes critical as the “strategic ambiguity” of the Taiwan Relations Act requires congressional approval. The worse relations between Congress and the president become, the bolder the Chinese will be.

James Cunningham
Camps Bay