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Likelihood of Hot War Between US-China Could Increase If Taiwan Isn’t Secure, Report Says

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By Samantha Aschieris, The Daily Signal | March 27, 2024

A special report released by The Heritage Foundation on Wednesday lays out how U.S. national security could be impacted should China take over the self-governing democratic island of Taiwan.

Michael Cunningham, a research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, authored the report titled, “The American Case for Taiwan.” (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

The report explains how the U.S. might not be able to remain neutral in the event of a war over Taiwan, noting that tens of thousands of U.S. citizens living on the island would be directly impacted.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly called for the “reunification” of mainland China with the sovereign nation of Taiwan, though the island was never ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. 

“Unless most of them could be evacuated before the conflict started—an unlikely and Herculean task that historically has proven difficult in other conflict areas—a Chinese assault on the island would almost certainly result in a substantial number of American casualties given the proximity of the [People’s Liberation Army’s] likely targets to population centers,” Cunningham writes.

Cunningham notes examples of when Americans were killed by foreign actors, including the Lusitania’s sinking by Germany in 1915, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941, and the terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001, that resulted in the U.S. entry into both world wars and the “war on terrorism.”

“Although this would not be an attack on American soil, thousands of Americans dead at the hands of the [Chinese Communist Party] would likely produce a substantial public backlash and pressure on the president to respond forcefully,” Cunningham writes.

Additionally, the Heritage scholar discusses the U.S.’ involvement in respect to its treaty allies, the Philippines and Japan.

“Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. acknowledged in February 2023 that his country would be ‘on the front lines’ of any such conflict and that ‘it’s very hard to imagine a scenario where the Philippines will not somehow get involved,’” the report says.

“Chinese control of Taiwan would make Japan so vulnerable that in 2021, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe candidly declared that ‘a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency, and therefore an emergency for the Japan–U.S. alliance,’” writes Cunningham.

Cunningham also highlighted similar comments Japan’s former Prime Minister Taro Aso made in 2023.

“Statements like this show that the likelihood of a Japanese intervention in a Taiwan conflict is higher than any sitting government in Tokyo cares to admit publicly,” Cunningham writes. “If a Chinese attack on Taiwan turned into a Sino-Japanese war, the U.S. would almost certainly be compelled to defend its treaty ally where roughly 56,000 U.S. servicemembers are stationed.”

“In fact, Beijing is so convinced that both the U.S. and Japan would intervene on Taiwan’s behalf that it might even preemptively strike Japanese and U.S. forces in Japan at the outset of a Taiwan contingency,” the report says, adding:

This would eliminate any possibility of U.S. and Japanese neutrality, yet Beijing’s military strategists might conclude that the likelihood of intervention is so high that the best course of action is to strike first and buy time by slowing down America’s ability to mobilize for Taiwan’s defense.

In addition to U.S. national security, Cunningham also highlights the potentially devastating impact a Chinese takeover of Taiwan could have on both the global and U.S. economy.

“U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in May 2023 that the loss of Taiwan would cost the global economy around $1 trillion each year,” Cunningham writes. He notes later in his report that “Bloomberg Economics has estimated that a war over Taiwan would cost far more: $10 trillion, or 10 percent of global [gross domestic product].”

Specifically relating to the potential impact on the U.S. economy, Cunningham highlights Taiwan’s unparalleled role in the semiconductor industry.

“Without semiconductors from Taiwan, the U.S. economy would face disruptions far exceeding the chip shortages that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic in both severity and duration,” the report says. “Much of the economy would come to a standstill.”

In addition to semiconductors, Cunningham details how significant of a role the self-governing island plays in manufacturing, specifically noting Apple’s supply chain for iPhones.

“Each iPhone consists of roughly 1,500 different components, many of which are either manufactured in Taiwan or produced by a Taiwanese-owned factory abroad,” Cunningham says.

“Though Apple’s most up-to-date list of suppliers identifies slightly more Chinese than Taiwanese firms, most of the Chinese suppliers produce relatively low-value, replaceable components, while the high-value processors, circuit boards, and camera lenses are supplied by Taiwanese companies,” Cunningham further explains, adding:

As for the iPhone’s final assembly, 70% of the devices are put together by Foxconn, Taiwan’s most famous contract manufacturer. Taiwanese firms Wistron and Pegatron are also among the product’s top manufacturers.

Lastly, Cunningham presents five recommendations for Washington with the goal of keeping Taiwan secure and free from the Chinese Communist Party’s control.

One of the recommendations urges the U.S. to preserve the longstanding status quo of U.S.-Taiwan relations.

“The main imperative of an effective U.S. Taiwan policy must be to preserve the status quo, which is that Taiwan continues to enjoy de facto sovereignty without either side of the Strait forcing a change through unification or formal independence,” Cunningham writes. “This has been the bottom line of America’s policy toward Taiwan since 1979.”

“It is also what Taiwan wants: The government in Taipei, all major political parties, and nearly 90% of Taiwan’s people favor preserving the status quo,” Cunningham says. “This means that, while helping to ensure Taiwan’s freedom from CCP control, policymakers in Washington must resist the urge to try to ‘fix’ the problem.”

Samantha is a senior news producer for The Daily Signal.

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