When the latest delegation from the House of Representatives returned from Taiwan, they had one message for the rest of Congress: Taiwan needs weapons and training, now. The U.S., they believe, needs to speed up the number and power of armaments it promised to Taipei. The United States currently has a backlog of $19 billion in undelivered weapons.
The U.S. might have a little more time to deliver the weapons, but only a little. CIA director William Burns told CBS’ “Face the Nation'' that Chinese President Xi Jinping has instructed the Chinese military to be ready to invade Taiwan in four years. And that’s not a full four years Taiwan has to prepare. Even after the weapons are delivered, the Taiwanese will still need to train with them.
“We do know, as has been made public, that President Xi has instructed the PLA, the Chinese military leadership, to be ready by 2027 to invade Taiwan, but that doesn’t mean that he’s decided to invade in 2027 or any other year as well,” Burns said.
Historically, the government in Beijing has considered Taiwan to be a part of greater China. The Taiwanese government was established in 1949, after Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek was forced to retreat to the island at the end of the Chinese Civil War. There, he established the Republic of China, which was a one-party authoritarian state until the late 1980s.
Since then, it has evolved into a multi-party democracy with an economy that ranks 20th in the world based on Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. In 1971, the United Nations voted to replace Taiwan as the legitimate government of China with the People's Republic of China on the mainland. Taiwan still claims to be the legal representative of the Chinese people, and still maintains diplomatic relations with 13 countries – the U.S. is not one of them.
After Taiwan was established, President Harry S. Truman first declared that the United States would not intervene in any conflict between China and Taiwan. After the Chinese intervention in the Korean War in 1950, Truman reversed his decision, saying “neutralization of the Straits of Formosa" was in the best interest of the United States. He then sent the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet to the strait to prevent a conflict. Taiwan was under American protection
In 1954, communist China began shelling islands in the Taiwan Strait as Taiwanese forces were building defensive structures on those islands, killing two American advisors. For eight months aggressive rhetoric almost led to a U.S. led war with communist China, one that almost saw the use of nuclear weapons. Cooler heads prevailed in what we now call the First Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Similar crises almost bubbled over into war in 1958 and 1995, with the 1958 crisis also nearly ending in a nuclear war. Fears about a new communist invasion of China have been mounting since before the global COVID-19 pandemic, as communist China pours men, money, and material resources into building out the People’s Liberation Army and gets more aggressive with territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The People’s Republic of China has unfounded claims on the Paracel Islands, Pratas Island and the Vereker Banks, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands. Despite this new aggression, China is not ready for a major war, even one with tiny Taiwan.
“Our judgment at least is that President Xi and his military leadership have doubts today about whether they could accomplish that invasion,” Burns said, citing Russia’s struggles against Ukraine as one reason for Chinese reconsideration of its military strength.