What will happen when China invades Taiwan, as so many in Washington believe is inevitable? To answer that question, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, an entity created at Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s behest in February, conducted a “tabletop exercise” involving a simulated attack of this sort on April 19. No official report on the closed-door exercise has been made public, but participants indicated that the outcome of such an encounter would prove catastrophic for all parties involved. Committee members were confronted “with the potential for death and destruction on scales that haven’t been seen in decades,” reported one game-player. What hasn’t been reported, however, is that any such engagement would almost certainly brush up against the nuclear threshold—and very likely cross it.
Of course, there is no reason to assume that China will invade Taiwan, thereby incurring that apocalyptic risk. Nevertheless, Chinese officials have asserted their right to employ force to prevent “separatist elements” on the island from severing ties with the mainland, and recent Chinese military exercises—many conducted in the days following Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s April 5 visit with Speaker McCarthy in California—suggest elaborate planning for such an endeavor. Whether or not these moves suggest a genuine intent to employ force, US defense policy has largely coalesced around plans to defend the island should Beijing actually mount an invasion. Accordingly, a US-China conflict over Taiwan has become a very real possibility—and this, in turn, has led to growing concern over the possible outcomes of such a clash.
In considering such a scenario, it is natural to assume that a conflict over Taiwan would look something like the ongoing war in Ukraine, with the Taiwanese fighting off the Chinese as the Ukrainians have been fighting off the Russians. But this would be misleading.
Read the full op-ed, published April 26, 2023, in The Nation.