China’s economy is in serious trouble. Paramount leader Xi Jinping’s turn toward Chinese Communist Party control is finally ending the People’s Republic of China’s experiment with state-directed capitalism.
China has cut off the outside world from its economic data, but its youth unemployment rate and local government debt problems are growing to unsustainable proportions. And its real estate market is a mess. China also is entering into a deflationary period and has even cut the salaries of mid-level government officials.
As a result, the longstanding agreement between the CCP and the Chinese people — economic growth in exchange for political repression — is null and void.
This presents Xi with a conundrum. He can relax controls to improve the economy, but that would mean admitting error and losing face. Worse, if the economy doesn’t improve, Xi’s reign will be seen as a failure.
But there’s a way out, one common to dictators: start a war to stoke nationalist fervor.
This option is often overlooked by Western observers, who feel comfortable in their mirror-imaging fallacies. Under this bias, they assume that foreign regimes act with the same rationale as the nations where they have lived, studied, vacationed, or worked.
In 1982, when a worldwide recession was hitting developing nations harder than the U.S., the Argentinian junta was running low on popularity. Then, on April 2, Argentina’s military leaders made the rash decision to invade Islas las Malvinas — known in most of the world as the Falkland Islands, a British territory. For weeks, the people celebrated the junta amid a swelling of nationalist pride. But in just over two months, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put together a British task force and retook the islands. Within weeks, the Argentinian junta was ejected from power.
So, what might the run-up to conflict in the Pacific and first few weeks afterward look like?
Michael Lucci, founder and president of the State Armor Project, has thought about how China would prepare to invade Taiwan, the self-governed democracy of 24 million people only 90 miles off the coast of China. Lucci believes China would want assurances that the U.S. would not come to Taiwan’s aid.
The Taiwan Relations Act, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, considers “…any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.”
Testing Western Resolve
Lucci believes China is already testing American resolve. The spy balloon incident is one clear example. President Joe Biden did nothing. To that we could add more than 100,000 deaths per year from fentanyl largely cooked in Mexico from Chinese ingredients, the recent water cannoning of Philippine resupply vessels, and the use of military-grade lasers and aggressive ship and jet maneuvers around U.S. Navy ships as well as Navy and Air Force aircraft.
China has other means to test America’s willingness to fight. It is known that China has inserted kill switches in the large high-voltage transformers it has sold to the U.S. This led then-President Donald Trump to sign an executive order in 2020 banning the importation of these large transformers, which carry 70 percent of America’s electricity, from “foreign adversaries.” Biden promptly lifted the ban.
What if China selectively blacked out a major U.S. city or region? Some U.S. metropolitan areas, already reeling under defunded police and increasing crime, might quickly descend into looting and violence.
The prudent response would be to send a contingent of Marines to Taiwan while reinforcing the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan. But Biden would likely remain passive. As we have seen in Hawaii in the wake of the wind-driven fires, the disaster response would be slow and bungled. Plus, Taiwan, on the verge of a presidential election on Jan. 13, 2024, might turn down an offer from the U.S., fearing it would provoke China.
Alternatively, China might try to seize Lesser Orchid Island, a small, uninhabited island measuring about half a mile on its sides, just three miles south of Orchid Island, itself about 20 miles east of the southern tip of Taiwan. Such an action likely wouldn’t involve shooting with Taiwanese forces and could give China an indication of the willingness of the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan to respond.
Moving up the escalation ladder, there are three more scenarios, any of which might be preceded by the one just outlined.
Escalating to War
In recent years, China has developed a robust shipbuilding capacity, now some 200 times the capacity of America to launch warships and submarines. The PRC has been making good use of this capability to start to close the gap with the U.S. Navy, especially in the restricted, highly contested waters around Taiwan. This might lead China to attempt a blockade of Taiwan. China would announce that it will inspect both sea cargo and cargo aircraft to prevent additional weapons and ammunition from being shipped to the island nation.
Blockades are acts of war, and it would give the U.S., Japan, and other regional powers ample warning of the PRC’s intentions and time to plan ways to break the blockade. The U.S. Navy could easily choke off China’s considerable oil imports, most of which travel through the Strait of Malacca adjacent to Singapore. China would likely threaten the use of nuclear weapons against Japan and West Coast cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But China has planned for this eventuality. Not only did China purchase much of Biden’s sell-off of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve to salt away into its own reserve, but China has successfully electrified much of its transportation system. Half of the world’s electric vehicles operate in China, where domestic coal production powers them. China is also greatly expanding its coal-to-liquids program. This is the same technology that Nazi Germany used to turn its own vast coal reserves into fuel and high-quality lubricants.
China’s Invasion of Taiwan
Sensing weakness and irresolution from Biden, who was responsible for the embarrassing debacle in Kabul and the indecision in the first few weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China might decide to invade Taiwan. If so, the invasion could feature a lot more violence than that which Russia brought upon Ukraine. Taiwan is a far smaller target, and, while separated by 90 miles of ocean, China has built thousands of guided missiles for the purpose of attacking Taiwan.
China has been practicing commandeering its vast civilian fleet in support of amphibious operations. In mid-August, two civilian roll-on/roll-off ships, particularly useful in military operations, were seen steaming south, far from their usual routes in the Yellow Sea, to join another two such vessels at a navy base in Hainan Island.
But PRC planners may assess that the U.S., Japan, and other nations might not easily be cowed — or at least might eventually swing into action to defeat an invasion of Taiwan. In this case, the PRC would likely preempt U.S. and Japanese military assets in the region that could contribute to a defense of Taiwan. China might attack Okinawa, Guam, other bases, and ships at sea with little to no warning.
Attacks on America and Deadly Trade Disruptions
Coincident with such an attack, China may hit the American homeland by severing oceanic internet cables, attacking the electric grid, damaging key infrastructure, such as pipelines and municipal water systems, and even carrying out direct sabotage and assassination operations.
Regarding the latter, since the beginning of the year, sources at the border with Mexico have described an abrupt shift in the nature of Chinese nationals illegally crossing into America. In the past, family units crossed. They would eagerly tell Border Patrol agents their stories — back when the Border Patrol had the increasingly rare luxury of interviewing would-be migrants.
Today most illegal aliens are military-aged and very tightlipped, simply wanting to be released to go on their way to the U.S. interior. These young Chinese nationals might simply be fleeing the increasingly bad economy in the PRC, or they might be part of a vanguard of saboteurs, or both.
Lastly, with America’s overwhelming dependence on China for key medicines, such as antibiotics, and the world supply chain’s reliance on China for basic drug ingredients, a disruption in trade would threaten to kill more people than there are military members in the line of fire.
China’s worsening economy, combined with the understanding that the sluggish and inept Biden administration won’t likely remain in office for long, increases the likelihood of Xi playing the jingoistic card of war and invasion.