Would China really invade Taiwan?

The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.

We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.


And it is true, of course, that the relationship between the two most powerful countries in the world, the US and China, is very rocky indeed. Back in March, a meeting between the US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and their counterparts from China got off to an icy start, in Anchorage, Alaska no less. The Biden administration has declared that China's treatment of Muslim minorities constitutes "genocide" and also continues to push back on the unilateral erosion from Beijing of Hong Kong's autonomy. So, this is not a good relationship.

Of all the issues, the most volatile and explosive could well be Taiwan. The Economist argues that China may finally look to capture the small island democracy.

And yes, there is a lot to be concerned about, but The Economist doesn't have it quite right.

So, let's get out the Red Pen.

First, a central point in the magazine's argument is that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would have global economic repercussions, including disrupting the world's most important semiconductor manufacturer, TSMC, that's Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. That company makes more than half of all of the chips outsourced by all foreign companies globally. A quote from the piece: "Were production at TSMC to stop, so would the global electronics industry, at incalculable cost."

And yes, war would be devastating for many reasons, including the interruption of TSMC's operations. But that's precisely why it's not going to happen. China relies on a functional TSMC as much as the United States does for advanced semiconductors. In fact, China right now is way behind the US in this particular aspect, though not all, of the technology battle. Taiwan is a critical player in the great decoupling battle and an attack would seriously set back China's own tech ambitions.

The article also states that "China would overnight become the dominant power in Asia" if China attacked Taiwan and the United States didn't intervene.

That's doubtful. Actually, the "Quad," the US, Australia, India, and Japan, would be turbocharged overnight. China could completely undermine its own bid for regional dominance if it were to suddenly assault Taiwan. Also, the argument fails to acknowledge that Taiwan itself could mount significant military resistance, exposing weaknesses in Beijing's military power. Not to mention any such attack by China would further damage its ties to the European Union.

Finally, The Economist speculates that China's President Xi Jinping may want to "crown his legacy" as they say, with the takeover of Taiwan.

That is a huge gamble. What happens if Xi attempts an invasion and fails? His legacy would be defined by a reckless move that would destroy China's long-term strategic prospects.

Which brings us back to that very splashy and provocative cover and headline. Is Taiwan really "the most dangerous place on earth?" No. Or at least, not right now.

We've laid out a few of the reasons, but here a couple more: The Winter Olympics in Beijing, already super controversial as human rights groups call for boycotts based on abuses of Uighurs, Tibetans, and actions in Hong Kong. Beijing wants to avoid boycotts as much as possible, they see themselves as quite vulnerable in the upcoming Winter Olympics and attacking Taiwan would make matters far worse.

Also, President Xi is looking to secure a third term next fall. Remember, he ended term limits. A military attack on Taiwan could weaken China's standing if it fails. Xi's not likely to go there.

Still, there are other ways for China to assert greater control. For example, the very fear of a looming threat would likely erode Taiwan's quest for independence over time without any shots fired. How do the United States, the Quad, and Europe respond to that? The answer to that question is going to tell us a lot about where the GZERO world is heading.

That's your Red Pen for this week. Stay safe and we'll see you again here real soon.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

More Show less

For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.


"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

More Show less

As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

More Show less

For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

"Pandemic" was the most used word of 2020. "Delta" looks set to inherit this year's title.

Vaccination rates are ticking up slowly. Governments aren't talking to each other enough. Parts of the world are back to normal, while others are still locked down.

Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak?


Unfinished Business: Is the World Really Building Back Better?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 11am ET/ 8am PT

Our speakers:

Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Visit gzeromedia.com/globalstage to watch on the day of the event.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

Coronavirus

UN Chief: Still time to avert climate “abyss”

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal