TCS Daily

China's Chance to Conquer Taiwan

By James D. Miller - December 5, 2003 12:00 AM

Fearing that Taiwan might formally declare independence, China has threatened war. Normally, the U.S. could easily protect Taiwan's de facto sovereignty. A U.S.-North Korean war, however, might soon give China a uniquely favorable opportunity to conquer Taiwan since a war with North Korea combined with our already heavy deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan might not leave the U.S. with enough force to defend Taiwan.


Speed = life for America in a North Korean war. While the lunatics from Pyongyang would ultimately lose any military engagement, they do have massive offensive capabilities. To protect Seoul and Tokyo from North Korean conventional artillery and nuclear missiles, therefore, the U.S. military almost certainly plans to hit North Korea with maximum firepower in the opening minutes of any war.


Consequently, if China attacked Taiwan at the beginning of a North Korean war, the U.S. would be challenged to divert forces to respond. Furthermore, to avoid a repeat of the first Korean War in which Chinese troops assisted North Korea, the U.S. would be very reluctant to antagonize China during a second Korean war. It thus seems likely that if China did invade Taiwan at the start of a new Korean war, the Chinese would offer to stay out of Korea in return for the U.S. abandoning Taiwan. Given the strain on the U.S. military that a Korean war would create, such a deal would surely tempt the U.S. So, militarily, a U.S.-North Korean war would provide China with the perfect opportunity to attack Taiwan.


A Korean war would destroy Pyongyang's communist regime, forcing South Korea to merge with her much poorer northern neighbor. As the East-West German unification showed, however, such a joining would impose significant costs on South Korea, costs that the U.S. would surely have to share. Consequently, after a Korean war, the U.S. would be in a horrible position to suffer through a trade war with China, and therefore if China attacked Taiwan we would be reluctant to impose economic sanctions on Beijing. So, economically, a U.S.-North Korean war would provide China with the perfect opportunity to attack Taiwan.


The U.S. might strike the first blow in a North Korean war to stop Pyongyang from selling or further developing her atomic arsenal. If China invaded Taiwan immediately after the U.S. attacked North Korea, China would no doubt claim she was acting to thwart U.S. imperialism. Most U.N. members would likely believe this Chinese propaganda. Consequently, after a Korean war the U.S. would find it very difficult to rally the international community to punish China for invading Taiwan. Diplomatically, therefore a U.S.-North Korean war would provide China with the perfect opportunity to attack Taiwan.


How should the U.S. counter China's threat to Taiwan? Before we ever attack North Korea, we should place significant military assets near Taiwan to signal to China our willingness to simultaneously fight on these two fronts. We should also consider providing Taiwan with further armaments so she can better defend her own liberty.


The U.S. seems to be counting on China to help us resolve the dilemma caused by North Korea's nuclear program. Our diplomats need to recognize, however, that rather than seeking peace, China might actually be fanning the flames of U.S.-North Korean conflict to advance her own territorial ambitions.


Of course, everything in this article is pure speculation. To predict your adversary's next move, however, you need to look at her future opportunities. China undoubtedly has many bright minds pondering how to conquer Taiwan and so has surely figured out all the advantages of striking at the beginning of a U.S.-North Korea war.


James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work.


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