A prominent Chinese researcher and military expert connected to the People’s Liberation Army is saying that a potential war with the United States over Taiwan independence essentially relies upon Washington, or U.S. actions.
Zhou Bo, an honorary fellow at the Centre for China-America Defence Relations at the Academy of Military Science of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, is quoted in a news story in the South China Morning Post called “U.S.-China relations” as saying “The development of cross-strait relations is not solely decided by the Chinese mainland. It is, on the contrary, a result of the interaction between Taipei, Washington and Beijing.”
The essay goes on to say China is “reluctant to use force against Taiwan because it sees the people as their compatriots.”
These two comments, as cited in the paper, seem to resonate as a bit of an overt contradiction, meaning they seem to both communicate warnings and threat while also encouraging restraint. Which is it? Chinese-military affiliated experts, analysts and researchers have of course a long history of making provocative statements, and this simply seems no different.
After all, it seems clear that the United States would have no actual reason to risk war except in the unforseen or unanticipated event that China actually launches an invasion to reunify with Taiwan.
Nonetheless, much of what could be called confusion or overt contractions coming from Chinese officials does seem to pertain to the arrival of a new Taiwanese president.
“Now the US is increasingly edging closer to Taiwan, and [President] Tsai Ing-wen holds a totally different stance to developing ties with Beijing when compared to her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou,” Zhou says in the South China Morning Report, referring to Ma’s mainland-friendly approach.
Zhou’s comment raises an interesting question in the sense that it may not be clear what exactly he means by the “U.S. edging closer to Taiwan.” Perhaps this relates to increased U.S. weapons sales to the island, or could simply be seen as a kind of empty threat.
The United States is already close to Taiwan and has a long history of providing military and diplomatic support to the island. As part of this, Taiwan has long been a Foreign Military Sales customer of the United States, acquiring Black Hawk and Kiowa helicopters, hellfire missiles, Stingers, torpedos, and even C-130 aircraft, along with much more.
Most recently, the United States is now amid a deal with Taiwan to offer as many as 108 Abrams main battle tanks. This is quite significant, as the presence of main battle tanks on the Taiwanese mainland certainly strengthens a credible deterrent against a Chinese invasion, by at very least ensuring that a ground invasion could be costly and lengthy for China should it embark upon such a venture.
Also, Taiwan received some Patriot (PAC-3) air defense missiles during the George W. Bush administration, yet Taiwan has overwhelmingly purchased maritime defenses. They have also received air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons, torpedos, and ship-fired SM-2 missiles.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.