The Rising Threat to Taiwan

This week:

  • Taiwan: Should the U.S. intervene if China invades?
  • A closer look at China’s military drills in the Taiwan Strait
  • More debates on China’s growing influence
  • In the News: Donald Trump convicted in a criminal trial
  • Your Sunday reading list



Last week, China conducted two days of air and naval military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, as well as the Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, and Dongyin islands close to the Chinese coast, where they staged mock attacks and sent heavily armed fighter jets and warships. This was the first time that China had conducted exercises near the islands.

The military exercises were particularly aggressive and implemented as a “punishment” for what the Chinese called “separatist acts” by Taiwan’s new President Lai Ching-te, who had taken office a few days before. During Lai’s inauguration, he called on China to cease any intimidation tactics and that he hoped “China will face the reality of [Taiwan]’s existence, respect the choices of the people of Taiwan, and in good faith, choose dialogue over confrontation.”

Taiwan and China have had a long, complicated relationship dating back to the early days of the Cold War. Beijing sees Taiwan as a “lost” territory that needs to be “reunited” with the country as part of China. Meanwhile, Taiwan sees itself as an independent country and they maintain a close relationship with the U.S., despite the U.S. not officially recognizing Taiwan under the One China policy.

What’s really in question is whether, in the case of a possible invasion, Taiwan can defend itself against China, and if the U.S. should aid them. In this episode, four political experts on national security and military strategy question Taiwan’s uncertain fate. While they discuss a similar exercise China had conducted a few years ago, we still question whether Taiwan is indefensible.

The Numbers Behind A Potential Asia-Pacific Conflict:

  • China’s military far outpaces Taiwan — China has over two million total active forces, including 965,000 members of the ground force and 260,000 in the navy.
  • Meanwhile, Taiwan has 169,000 total active forces, including 40,000 in the navy, but they have 1,657,000 reserve soldiers, double what China has.
  • 60% of Americans would support sending the military to help defend Taiwan if China invaded, according to an October poll by the Eurasia Group Foundation.


Is China’s military too powerful to stop? Should the U.S. intervene if the conflict escalates? Listen to this debate now on your favorite podcast platform, WNYC, and on YouTube. As always, let us know what you think.



Lyle J. Goldstein

Research Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College



Charlie Glaser

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University



Elbridge Colby

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense



Elizabeth Larus

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at University of Mary Washington



John Donvan

Host and Moderator-in-Chief



Are more military exercises around Taiwan yet to come?



Is Taiwan Indefensible?


YES: Lyle J. Goldstein

“China has both the will and the requisite capabilities to conquer Taiwan, even in the near term. It’s a major focal point of Chinese nationalism and China is fully ready to go to the mat on this. We, by contrast, don’t have the will and don’t have the capabilities. We may have to draw red lines, but those red lines should be drawn over the main islands of our treaty partners, Japan, and the Philippines, not over Taiwan. This is the worst possible place to confront China. They are likely to win, and we are likely to lose. Many Chinese, Taiwanese, and Americans would die in such a war. We should avoid it.”


NO: Elbridge Colby

“Taiwan is defensible. Defending Taiwan would be hard, costly, and risky, but it is possible if we make the required effort. America doesn’t need to dominate or even decisively defeat China. We only need to resist China’s attack enough to defeat the invasion. America and Taiwan together should be able to meet this standard. Beijing’s goal is full subordination and presumably annexation. An effective defense for the United States in Taiwan would be denial of this objective. A defense of Taiwan would be very costly and risky, but with the right focus and effort, it can be done, and it’s worth it.”


YES: Charlie Glaser

“We agree that the people of Taiwan would be better off without being under Chinese control. But the risks to the United States are much greater than these potential costs to Taiwan. Given U.S. interests, the risks of defending Taiwan are far too large. A large conventional war is not unlikely over the next two or three decades. This conventional war would be very costly for the United States and even more costly for Taiwan. Taiwan is not a vital U.S. interest and is not a key security partner… China considers Taiwan to be part of China, and unification is a top national priority. Most importantly, China would have incentives to escalate to convince the United States to back off… China clearly has the greater resolve.”


NO: Elizabeth Larus

“Taiwan is an important element, not a pawn in the game of competition with China. Whoever controls Taiwan controls the Asian seaboard as well as the western Pacific. The alternative to the U.S. being the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific is not good. China in charge of the Asia-Pacific would not be pretty. It would be a very, very different world. Do not think that China will be benevolent and gracious in the Asia-Pacific. It will not live and let live. It will call shots for large and small in the region, even for the United States in the Asia-Pacific.”


Four Debates on What’s Been Happening in China

From China’s power peaking to the techonomic Cold War, these debates will refresh your memory on China’s global effect — listen now.


Has China’s Power Peaked?

Arguing YES: Michael Beckley, Expert on China; Author of “Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China”

Arguing NO: Ian Bremmer, Founder and President of the Eurasia Group


Has the Recent U.S. Policy Towards China Been Productive?

Arguing YES: Kori Schake, Senior Fellow and Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies for the American Enterprise Institute, and Michael Pillsbury, Senior Fellow & Director for Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute

Arguing NO: Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard Kennedy School, and Jake Sullivan, Former National Security Adviser to President Joe Biden


Unresolved: The Techonomic Cold War with China


Michèle Flournoy, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of WestExec; Former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy,

Ian Bremmer, Founder and President of the Eurasia Group,

Yasheng Huang, Professor at MIT and Author of “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics”,

Parag Khanna, Founder of Climate Alpha and Future Map,

and Susan Thornton, Former Diplomat and Senior Fellow at Yale’s Paul Tsai China Center


Is A U.S.-China Space Race Good for Humanity?

Arguing YES: Bidushi Bhattacharya, Rocket Scientist & Space Entrepreneur, and Avi Loeb, Theoretical Physicist & Professor

Arguing NO: Michio Kaku, Theoretical Physicist & Bestselling Author, and Raji Rajagopalan, Nuclear Weapons & Space Policy Expert


Former President Donald Trump Found Guilty



On Thursday, former President Donald Trump was found guilty on all counts in a New York criminal trial where he was accused of falsifying business records with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.

This was one of four trials in which Trump has been in court for this year, including a federal trial related to his alleged interference with the 2020 election that led up to the attack on the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. For a preview at what might come next in this trial, check out our debate in a mock trial format where we asked the question “Is Trump Guilty in the January 6th Case?Listen now.





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