By: Zachary Kaufman
November 21, 2022
Although the battle lines have been drawn for years with civil wars turning into proxy wars across the globe, World War III essentially started in the Winter of 2022 when Russia initiated a war of aggression under the guise of a “peacekeeping” operation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.
On February 4, 2022, prior to the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Moscow and Beijing issued a 5,000-word joint statement announcing their partnership against NATO expansion, and the West at large. The games provided Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping with a forum for their first face-to-face meeting in over two years, since the start of the pandemic. The two met and watched the competition together, leading many to speculate whether they were planning simultaneous invasions of Ukraine and Taiwan, respectively.
Continuing its historical habit of invading after the Olympics,—Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014—Russia began its operation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, just four days after the closing ceremony. To the surprise of many, China remained reticent as the West and much of the world successfully coalesced around Ukraine by providing a constant supply of military aid and assistance, while effectively out-casting Russia as a pariah state.
The quick, unified response by western powers initially sent a powerful message to Beijing. While the West continues to support Ukraine against Russian aggression, tensions in the East—from Azerbaijan to Iran to the Korean Peninsula—are heating up, causing concerns over the potential development of other theaters of war.
The Cold War between the United States and China remains the most noteworthy. One event in the South China Sea, or Taiwan could shift the paradigm of the world making World War III inevitable. The potential for conflict grows, as Beijing continues to harden its position toward Taiwan.
On October 22, 2022, at the 20th National Congress, which occurs every five years, Xi Jinping was reappointed as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), securing his third five-year term, despite asserting himself as ruler for life in 2019.
At the event, former Chinese President, and the immediate predecessor to Xi, Hu Jintao was forced out of the conference, allegedly to signal the CCP’s effort to push out moderates in favor of loyalists. While commentators hesitate to explain the event, some view it as part of China’s concerted effort to continue its authoritarian, combative pursuits by hardening internal support from the top decision-makers.
The most likely victim of Chinese aggression remains the tiny island nation of Taiwan. Not only does Taiwan account for over 90% of the world’s semiconductor production, but also serves as a critical point of political focus between the United States and Beijing. Taiwan has been an independent nation since 1949, yet China maintains its One Country, Two Systems policy. China has never viewed Taiwan as a separate entity and has recently suggested using force to assert its dominance.
Although the intelligence community has yet to see the classic indicators of an imminent invasion, such as the build-up of munitions and supplies, the U.S. has increased cooperation with regional actors to form a backstop to Chinese influence, as part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy.
On November 9, 2022, representatives from the United States and Taiwan ended two days of “productive” discussion under the U.S.—Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade. According to the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the meetings covered 11 areas of trade, including trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, anticorruption, small and medium-sized enterprises, agriculture, standards, digital trade, labor, environment, state-owned enterprises, and non-market policies and practices.
Representatives from Taipei traveled to New York for the meetings to avoid an international crisis by sending US diplomats to Taiwan. This exact scenario played out multiple times over the course of the year with plans of Speaker-Pelosi’s visits to Taipei being met with threats by the Chinese Military. In fact, after overt threats, the Chinese military conducted military drills when Pelosi visited in August.
While the Biden Administration appears to recognize the threat posed by the CCP, evident in the Asia-focused economic framework to combat China, the relationship with Taiwan requires special attention. Due to the One China Policy, the CCP views American influence as a threat and remains consistent in its position that any pressure on the issue will result in show of force.
These concerns remain topical as President Biden continues to reaffirm that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China were to attack. Many had assumed that the President misspoke when he declared this commitment, however, the President has repeated the commitment multiple times since taking office. Not only is this a major policy prescription but it also represents a departure from the U.S.’ historical policy of Strategic Ambiguity.
President Biden prepares to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping for the first time since taking office, on Monday, November 14, 2022. Although the general relationship between the two superpowers will likely occupy much of the discussion, Taiwan plays a key role in any future developments.