Taiwan will likely end up without allies against China if it ever moves to unilaterally declare itself a sovereign nation as Beijing‘s aggressive foreign policy is casting a shadow over the entire Northeast Asia theater, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned Tuesday.
Addressing a regular forum on Korean issues sponsored by the Washington Times Foundation, the onetime Georgia lawmaker predicted that Washington will continue acting as Taiwan‘s main supplier of military hardware and will assist if invaded by the People’s Republic of China — so long as Taiwan doesn’t attempt to alter the delicate strategic balance in the region by claiming independence.
Speaking at “The Washington Brief,” Mr. Gingrich was joined Tuesday by Ambassador Christopher Hill, moderator of the discussion; Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, former U.S. envoy to the multilateral focused on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program; Alexandre Mansourov, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies; and Michael Jenkins, president of The Washington Times Foundation, which hosted the virtual event.
“The most dangerous single place on the planet is the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese Communists have been very clear,” Mr. Gingrich said. “They will go to war at any point the Taiwanese are foolish enough to claim that they are independent.”
The forum focused on “Northeast Asia’s Alternative Futures in the Shadow of Rising China.” Assuming the conflict did not escalate to a nuclear exchange, Mr. Gingrich was pessimistic about the chances the U.S. could prevail in a war should Beijing over an attempt to invade the island with overwhelming force.
“The United States would lose and lose badly if it tried to fight China,” Mr. Gingrich said. “I think the margin of defeat is accelerating. The relative imbalance of power is increasingly pro-Chinese.”
Mr. Gingrich criticized the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding plan, which will build four new combat vessels under the proposed Biden administration FY 2022 budget while retiring 15 Navy ships currently in the fleet. In 2010, the U.S. military boasted 68 more ships than China while this year it has 63 fewer, he said.
China’s explosive rise as an economic and military powerhouse also gives North Korea a buffer against sanctions imposed on it by the U.S. and other nations, Mr. Mansourov told the Times’ forum. While much of the early support for Pyongyang came from Moscow, they have been living in the shadow of their current benefactor China all along..
The North Koreans “can basically ignore whatever the U.S. and its allies are telling them to do,” he said. “They’re well plugged into the second-largest economy in the world. Pretty much, they can turn their back to what people in Washington think about them or tell them what to do.”
But while they require Chinese funding to survive, North Korea‘s leaders do not want the world to think they’re tethered to Beijing, said Ambassador DeTrani, providing Washington with some leverage in the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
“They’re seeking a normal relationship with the United States to balance that,” he said. “They don’t want to be viewed as a vassal state.”
Finding an answer to the vexing North Korea question is among a number of issues the U.S. could explore with China. The bigger question, he said, is China‘s views on a reunified Korea and whether Beijing might see the new nation dominated by the U.S.-allied South as a security threat on its border.
Mr. Gingrich said the United States could have a “contentious but survivable” relationship with China if it rebuilt its military strength. Barring that, it could maintain the status quo so long as Washington is prepared to accept Chinese hegemony in East Asia, including tolerating Taiwan falling under Beijing’s control.
“The Chinese are quite happy if you do what they want,” he said. “The great question now is whether the U.S. can get its own act together. No plausible coalition is going to contain China if the U.S. continues to decay.”
• Mike Glenn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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