A delegation of 12 US Congress members on Nov. 9 landed in Taiwan on a US military plane for a three-day visit.
Speaking to the US Senate on Tuesday last week, delegation leader Senator John Cornyn said: “If China is able to capture Taiwan, there’s no reason to believe that the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] would stop there... We shouldn’t view Taiwan as the CCP’s ultimate goal, but as the first domino in a quest to reach regional and global dominance. If Taiwan falls, it will not be the end, but rather a beginning.”
Is Cornyn’s warning a sincere and insightful word of caution, or is it simply scaremongering?
On his first official visit to the US as Chinese vice president in 2012, Xi Jinping (習近平) told the Washington Post that the “vast Pacific Ocean has ample space for China and the United States.” He made similar comments when, as president, he visited then-US president Barack Obama in the US in June 2013, and again when he met then-US president Donald Trump in China in November 2017.
With a land area of just 36,000km2, Taiwan is barely more than a dot on the map. Would China, with its growing military might, and Xi, with his growing ambition, be satisfied with capturing such a small piece of land, or would they simply be emboldened? Considering Xi’s repeated statements about sharing the Pacific Ocean, the answer seems quite clear. Having removed Taiwan as an obstacle to encroaching upon and dominating the Pacific, would Xi be content to merely share the ocean?
Open up a map and picture what could happen if China were to capture Taiwan. After taking the South China Sea islands that are controlled by Taiwan — namely, the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙島) and Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) — China could soon get its hands on all of the other islands in the South China Sea.
China would also be in a position to claim the Taiwan Strait as its territorial waters instead of an international shipping lane that everyone can pass through freely.
With Taiwan as an open door, the first island chain of the Pacific Ocean would exist in name only, and the second island chain would be too weak and separated to be of use. Chinese warships could sail from Taiwan into an almost empty ocean. Hawaii would seem much closer, with nothing between there and the continental US.
For Xi’s China — which, in Cornyn’s words, is on “a quest to reach regional and global dominance” — Japan, as the biggest member of the first island chain, might be too strong to challenge. It would also be very difficult for China to achieve a breakthrough on its border with India.
Taiwan, which is not protected by the UN, is China’s best option as a “first domino.” Of course, Taiwan is not the only country that needs to take this problem seriously, because history shows that with the first falling domino comes a second, a third and so on.
Aside from this domino effect, what other outcome could be expected?
Chang Kuo-tsai is a retired associate professor of National Hsinchu University of Education.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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