Earlier this year, a Russian intelligence analyst leaked a classified conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping wherein Mr. Xi told Mr. Putin that China had been planning to invade Taiwan in the fall of 2022. The Russian intelligence analyst leaked this information to the private Western intelligence firm known as Bellingcat, which then disseminated that intelligence to the Western press.
About a month after that supposed conversation, Mr. Putin ordered the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has torn Europe apart and has kept the world on the brink of nuclear, war. Many observers believe that the shambolic Russian invasion of Ukraine has dissuaded Mr. Xi‘s regime from launching the planned invasion of Taiwan.
I disagree. I am concerned the Chinese leadership under Mr. Xi is looking for an excuse to launch an attack of some kind against Taiwan, whether it be a naval blockade or an invasion, by the fall of this year. Far from convincing Mr. Xi an attack or blockade of Taiwan is off-the-table due to how poorly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has gone, the protracted Russo-Ukraine War may be just what Mr. Xi needs to reaffirm his loosening grip on power.
Since the Second World War, the United States has enjoyed its status as the unofficial “arsenal of democracy.” This was a concept that can be traced back to former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man many political scientists believe to have been the father of the modern U.S. government. Roosevelt’s notion was that the United States, with its vast mineral wealth and industrial capabilities, could produce the weapons that the world’s threatened democracies would need to defend themselves from rapacious dictators.
Roosevelt understood that because the United States’ geographic location isolated it from being directly threatened by those rapacious dictators. Yet, he accurately assessed allowing for threats to fester; by turning our backs on regimes that may share our interests and even our values, the U.S. was made less safe. Selling arms and providing training for the regimes that were friendly to America without directly involving U.S. military personnel, Roosevelt believed, was the best solution for securing America without courting a direct war.
This all makes sense. On paper. Presidents of both political parties — including Donald Trump — acted in accordance with the “arsenal of democracy” model that Roosevelt created more than 80 years ago. Yet, what so few have clearly realized is that the arsenal of democracy is predicated upon America possessing a robust industrial capability within its borders. Since the 1970s, American manufacturing has been on the decline whereas the manufacturing capabilities of rival countries, notably China, have been on the rise. Therefore, the American capacity for serving as the arsenal of democracy is limited to what reduced industrial output can be maintained. Until recently, this was not a concern; Washington was able to have its proverbial cake and eat it. This was partly because the U.S. was not fighting a near-peer competitor, such as Russia or China. It was also because, until the last decade, the U.S. was the undisputed global superpower whose only real challenges came from terrorist organizations and rogue states.
Ukraine has changed this reality. As has COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns that occurred in response to the pandemic. In Ukraine today, the limits of America’s arsenal of democracy are being tested. Critical weapons systems — such as the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System — that have proven decisive for Ukraine in its defense and devastating to Russia’s invasion are being depleted at a faster rate than what America’s ailing industrial capacity can replace. The more finite military resources the U.S. pours into Ukraine to fight Russia, and the longer that Moscow refuses to surrender or seek a negotiated settlement ending hostilities, the less available key American weapon systems will be for other military crises, such as a Chinese military attack on Taiwan.
In fact, many of the U.S. weapon systems that are being used in Ukraine are systems that Taiwan will need to defend against any Chinese attack. Beijing is aware of these facts. What’s more, China has been watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine closely. Beijing’s war planners are aware of mistakes Moscow has made in Ukraine and they are learning from those mistakes.
And it’s not as if Mr. Xi is sitting pretty. After all, Mr. Xi has presided over a wildly unpopular COVID-19 response and has overseen the collapse of China’s real estate sector, sending China’s economy heading in the wrong direction. In China’s system, absolute political power is given to the Chinese Communist Party largely because the CCP promises the Chinese people it can deliver economic prosperity. Under Mr. Xi, that promise is fading — and rivals within the CCP are clamoring to remove Mr. Xi from his place as leader. What better way, then, for Mr. Xi to put his rivals on their heels and shore up political support than by appealing to the flag with a war against what many Chinese view as the “rebellious province” of Taiwan?
Further, the next CCP People’s Congress is tentatively scheduled for this fall in China. At this meeting, it is believed that Mr. Xi will seek a new term as president, meaning he would become the longest-reigning ruler of the CCP since Mao stalked the Earth.
For Mr. Xi to have a chance, though, he must prove that he is still capable of leading the country. With the economy failing, military adventurism may be his next best bet. And with President Biden’s days in the White House dwindling down, as it appears that Mr. Biden will be replaced by a much stronger successor in 2024, Mr. Xi may believe 2022 is his best — only — chance to restore Chinese rule over Taiwan.
The only question is what will Mr. Biden do when the Chinese attack comes?
• Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who runs The Weichert Report: World News Done Right. He is the author of “Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower” (Republic Book Publishers). He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.
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