In early January 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping remarked that his country would not shy away from using military force to annex Taiwan. The comment was followed by widespread condemnation by several U.S. politicians who reasserted their support for Taiwan’s democracy. It also raises an important question — what would the U.S. do if China actually ended up attacking Taiwan?
Would the U.S. administration send in the military to counter Chinese forces and declare war against China? Or would it choose not to interfere in the China-Taiwan war in order to avoid a massive conflict with China and other global repercussions?
Back in 1951, the U.S. faced a similar situation during the Korean War when it had to decide whether to war against China. A speech made by then-General of the Army Douglas MacArthur still remains relevant and might provide an insight into the course of action America should take in a China-Taiwan conflict.
The Korean War and the 1951 speech
In June 1950, North Korean communist forces invaded South Korea. As a consequence, the United Nations Security Council authorized military action to resist the invasion. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander of the Occupation Forces in Tokyo, was given charge of the operation. Under his command, the U.N. alliance was successful in pushing back the North Koreans. But a few months later, he faced an unprecedented problem — thousands of Chinese forces attacked U.N. troops. Eventually, the U.S.-led alliance found itself unable to overcome the enemy.
MacArthur proposed a series of military actions against the Chinese forces including bombing their bases. However, these suggestions were turned down by the administration. Going into direct war with China was “not an option” by the Joint Chiefs and even U.S. President Harry Truman. Since MacArthur remained adamant on his position to aggressively attack the Chinese, he was soon removed from his post.
Later, MacArthur was invited to speak before the U.S. Congress in April 1951, where he delivered his famous speech. MacArthur stated:
“There are some who for varying reasons would appease Red China. They are blind to history’s clear lesson, for history teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier war. It points to no single instance where this end has justified that means, where appeasement had led to more than a sham peace. Like blackmail, it lays the basis for new and successively greater demands until, as in blackmail, violence becomes the only other alternative.”
The Korean War ended with the establishment of the Korean Demilitarized Zone that still separates North and South Korea. While North Korea remains under communist control, with its people denied many fundamental human rights, South Korea today is a flourishing democracy, with its people enjoying one of the highest qualities of life. China remains under the strict control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
America’s Role in the China-Taiwan conflict
Most geopolitical experts are of the opinion that a China-Taiwan military conflict is inevitable. The annexation of Taiwan is too important for the CCP to not to act on. A successful annexation would cement the “One China” dream of Xi and will place Chinese military in a position of strength on the world stage. The question is whether the U.S. would choose to make the mistake of not attacking China to avoid a “bigger war.”
From a purely moral perspective, it is imperative that America support Taiwan. To allow an authoritarian country to destroy democracy is a threat to all democracies around the world. China’s success would also diminish the prestige of the U.S. military. It would raise questions as to whether American forces have the ability to counter China or not. Eventually, some countries that allied with the U.S. (even if their values were different) would now gladly start supporting China, thereby threatening America’s economic and military might across the world.
But there is also a bigger issue. Once China annexes Taiwan, what next? Will the CCP’s hunger for absolute control stop with just Taiwan? China is already bullying Vietnam, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asia nations over the issue of the South China Sea. Japan and South Korea are also worried about the CCP’s aggressive military posturing. How long before the Chinese communists decide that they have enough power to take complete control over the entire region?
As MacArthur said in his 1951 speech: “… appeasement but begets new and bloodier war.” Standing on the sidelines as China takes control over Taiwan will never stop China’s aggression. It would only embolden China and other authoritarian regimes. It will sanction the idea that “rule by force” works, pushing the world into more conflicts. To avoid such a catastrophic result, it is necessary that America lend its full support to Taiwan against the Chinese.
Otherwise, it will like in the story of the scorpion and the frog. Even if it dies, the scorpion will sting because that’s its nature. The nature of the CCP is to sting, betray, and do whatever it can to get power. Once the good forces retreat, it will assume total control.