Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019
By Grant Newsham
Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate. The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners. But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’
Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan. And Xi Jinping just might do so. He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”
The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.
However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon. Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.
This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects. The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.