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The Role of the United States in Preventing a Conflict in Taiwan

Xi Doesn’t Need Taiwan

by Kharis Templeman

Oriana Skylar Mastro warns that Chinese President Xi Jinping could soon order an attack on Taiwan. She asserts that Xi has staked his legitimacy on progress toward unification and that recent developments in Taiwan, especially the reelection in 2020 of President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party is skeptical of China, have “reinforced Beijing’s fears that the people of Taiwan will never willingly come back to the motherland.” Amid rising Chinese nationalist sentiment, she argues, Xi may soon feel compelled to forcibly impose Chinese Communist Party rule on Taiwan.

This argument exaggerates the importance of Taiwanese public opinion to Beijing’s calculus, as well as the significance and urgency of the Taiwan issue for Xi. As Chinese strategists understand very well, Taiwan’s security rests today, as it has for the last 70 years, on an implicit U.S. commitment to defend the island, not on the will of the Taiwanese people or their leaders. Although the majority of Taiwanese would resist a Chinese invasion if they had U.S. backing, most are also fatalistic about their ability to hold out alone against Beijing—and would probably accede to unification without a fight if abandoned. Trends in the United States, not in Taiwan, will ultimately determine Taiwan’s future.

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