Taiwan is under direct threat of an invasion from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) which could well occur in 2024 or 2025. What happens on Taiwan matters to Americans and for American national security for four reasons.
The first is economic, Taiwan is vibrant and wealthy economy—and a superpower in computer chip production. Any damage to its factories, including their destruction, or conquest by the PRC, will reverberate for many years throughout the U.S. and global economies. There may come a day when the U.S. is no longer dependent upon Taiwanese chips, but that day is not today, and will not be for many years.
Second, Taiwan occupies key geopolitical real estate as Beijing and Washington recognize. For the PRC, it is a cork in the bottle of the first island chain, and so prevents the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) from easily accessing the Pacific and further expanding its power, from defending China’s ports from mining, and sustaining the Sea Line of Communication from the East and South China Seas.
Third, in the realm of political warfare, Taiwan is a strong democracy. It demonstrates what the PRC might have been had the Chinse Communist Party (CCP) not come to power in 1949. Taiwan’s existence is a daily reminder of this, and of the government the great Chinese people might have had, which demonstrates why the CCP is illegitimate.
Fourth, Taiwan is a symbol of U.S. credibility to resist the PRC’s aggression and thus to defend its interests and allies against its existential enemy. Standing with Taiwan, as former-Speaker Nancy Pelosi did in August 2022 and Speaker McCarthy did in April 2023, provides a tangible indication that the U.S. will resist the PRC’s expansion and will do so with substantial U.S. and allied support.
A future where Taiwan is conquered is one where the U.S. and allied economies are profoundly disrupted and tipped into depression and the Chinese Communist Party’s dictator Xi Jinping will be emboldened to undertake further aggression.
Viewed in perspective of the value of Taiwan for U.S. security, the Taiwanese presidential election of January 13, 2024, is one of the two most important elections of the year—the other being the U.S. in November.
There are three major parties running in Taiwan. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP,) whose candidate is Lai Ching-te, known as William Lai, and is the party currently in power. Second, the Kuomintang (KMT), whose candidate is Hou Yu-ih, and is the major rival to the DPP. The third is the Taiwanese People’s Party (TPP) whose candidate is Ko Wen-je, a former mayor of Taipei. Of the three, the DPP’s candidate is most supportive of a good relationship with the U.S. and a providing maximum resistance to the ability of the CCP to conquer Taiwan. It is a tight race, and either the DPP or KMT are likely to win it. A potential independent spoiler candidate, such as billion businessman Terry Guo, has dropped out as is positive outcome for the DPP. The DPP was leading in the polls before the required blackout was imposed on voter opinion polling. A DPP win and so the continuation of DPP governance is the best outcome for U.S. national security.
The dynamics of the Taiwanese election are heavily impacted by the PRC. The PRC is determined to undermine the stability of Taiwan so that it falls under its control without an invasion, or to maximize chaos in the steps leading up to an invasion. The PRC’s efforts to conquer Taiwan is now principally based on political warfare attacks against the DPP and a strongly contested election.
The PRC is running a campaign against the DPP through a variety of media. The PRC’s choice is clear: not the DPP. The PRC’s messaging is that the KMT would be the best choice for Taiwan because the PRC has the most influence in the KMT. The PRC’s support for the TPP needs to be watched as well. In a practical sense the PRC’s thumb is on the scale for the KMT and TPP, although the TPP is not expected to be competitive.
A major lesson of the PRC’s political warfare campaign in the Taiwanese 2024 election is that it is multifaceted. It is subtle, including employing social media and framing issues that matter for the Taiwanese people. This impacts all three of the major Taiwanese parties. It has also been crude but effective, such as employing bribery and business opportunities in the PRC.
While the PRC has its preferred party, its preferred outcome is political doubt and instability in Taiwan. From the PRC’s perspective, as Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin said of the Tsar’s many crises, "the worst, the better.” Any problem hurting the Tsar and his rule in Russia was good for the Communist revolutionaries attempting to overthrow his regime. The PRC wants confusion, doubt, invective, backstabbing, and chaos on Taiwan. The PRC does not want good governance in Taiwan. It wants to destroy the willpower of the political elites and Taiwanese people to resist the PRC’s control.
Finally, the PRC’s political warfare campaign in the Taiwanese presidential election provides insight into how they are and will continue to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. It falls respectively to the Taiwanese people and the American people to thwart the CCP’s effort to control political outcomes in Taiwan and the U.S.
Bradley A. Thayer is a Contributing Columnist for Warroom and @bradthayer on X, @bradleythayer on Gettr and TruthSocial.