Red Letters #4
This is the fourth installment in our Red Letters Q&A series. If you have any questions you’d like to have answered, please feel free to shoot us a message.
Will we see a full-scale China-Taiwan conflict any time soon?
Most Likely: The chance of a significant armed conflict occurring in the first island chain between China and the US rises every year as China grows in military capacity. Between now and 2027 either miscommunication or unintended escalation would be the most likely reason for a war. Given the current path, from 2027 forward there is a significant growing danger. There are also potential leadership changes in Taiwan and the US between now and 2027 that could affect the timeline.
Most Dangerous: There is the possibility that China perceives a closing window of opportunity to take action. If Xi believes that US leadership is off balance and has invested too many resources in other theaters, Xi may initiate a war of desperation to take Taiwan. Essentially what happened with Imperial Japan. Under this construct, there could be a high chance of a surprise attack on US military installations within the first and second island chains before 2028.
Should Western countries diversify away from China?
Western countries should either completely divest or be able to easily switch off low-tech operations based in China. There is no good economic advice or models for systemic conventional warfare or Cold War 2 because the first hasn’t happened since WW2 and the US-Soviet trade relationship was negligible. Companies also continue to have huge blind spots when it comes to doing business with China, especially in regards to IP/trade secrets theft. This is likely because 1) the United Front co-opts key decision makers and 2) the CCP will clear the way for a very few preferred partners that play ball. For example, Apple frequently supports Chinese censorship efforts and receives preferential treatment.
Is Xi kept in the dark about PLA shortcomings?
Many would say yes. However, given the friction between the CCP and the PLA, it is unlikely that Xi does not have a realistic sense of PLA capabilities. Xi himself has driven constant military reform since 2016, and has written often about the “peace sickness” and lack of combat experience within the PLA. He wants to go further in terms of improvement.
What steps should the US take to improve technology and catch up with China?
The US leads the advantage in tech. To maintain this advantage:
Focus on missiles
Understand military AI
Higher funding for national applied research
Remove PRC students from STEM research that has defense implications
Build a strategic tech and econ relationship with India
Focus Five Eye applied research on offsets - revolutionary breakthroughs that could change how we fight
Fully reinvigorate the US space program
What do you think of the PLA generals promoted by Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin who were purged by Xi?
The debate in the late 200s early 2010s was always whether the CCP would promote Red (politically loyal) or expert (good at their technical job) military leaders. Under Xi, the Party has swung decisively towards promoting Red leaders. There are probable exceptions like Zhang Youxia, but expertise is clearly not the preferred route to promotion. Some of the leaders Xi purged were almost certainly guilty of corruption, especially leaders from Jiang and Hu’s respective eras. However, political loyalty is likely the current litmus test of highest importance for PLA promotions.
Although there are parallels to the Cold War in the last century, what are the ways competition with the CCP is distinct?
China has a robust economy and the SOviets did not.
Asia is primary, Europe is secondary.
Maritime strength and power projection plays as large a role as ground power.
Everything is much farther away.
Less ideological (communism vs free markets) and driven by a ethno-nationalist CCP and a patriotic USA.