All FSI News News March 12, 2021

Breaking Down Assumptions about China's Taiwan Strategy

FSI Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro joins the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's podcast to discuss how she sees China's strategy towards Taiwan and reunification changing as Beijing continues to gain confidence in its military capability and international influence.
[Left] Oriana Skylar Mastro; [Right] Logo for 'Policy, Guns, and Money: The ASPI Podcast'

Oriana Skylar Mastro joined the Policy, Guns, and Money podcast produced by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) to discuss how thinking on China's strategy towards Taiwan needs to shift away from traditional assumptions and acknowledge Xi Jinping's growing confidence on the international stage. Her conversation with ASPI draws on the testimony she gave before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on 'Deterring PRC Aggression Toward Taiwan.'

"The biggest threat [to Taiwan] is the day that Xi Jinping becomes confident that his military can take it successfully. At that point, it will be very difficult to deter him. But the good news is that before that point, the United States and other allies have much more room to maneuver," explains Mastro. Listen to her full conversation with ASPI below (starting at 14:42).

Policy, Guns & Money: The ASPI Podcast · Covid-19 government inquiry, China’s Taiwan strategy, Hong Kong national security law impacts

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In Mastro's view, this increasing confidence is less about Xi being a risk-taker and more about him accurately assessing that the risk of retaliation is no longer as high as it once was. Militarily, China is rapidly approaching a point where they could successfully rebut the United States in outright conflict. China is similarly willing to politically push against the United States on aggression toward Taiwan. But economically, China is unwilling to sacrifice its goal of rejuvenation and reestablishing itself as a great power in order to take back Taiwan. 

"Upsetting the United States does not sacrifice their rise. But if you upset the whole region to the degree that then there is not only some kind of military coalition against you but also an economic coalition, that will be enough [to give China pause.]" Because of this reality, Mastro explains, the best deterrent to aggression against Taiwan lies in strengthening ties to Taiwan and creating broad regional support rather than continuing the conventional strategies of diplomatic isolation and unofficial relations.

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