Imagine a world in which Taiwanese F-35s patrol the skies over the South China Sea.
Date: April 4, 2016
By: Nicholas Butts & Jared McKinney
What would happen if the United States decides to sell its new F-35 Lightning II fighter to Taiwan? The fictionalized scenario below, based on a careful analysis of the Chinese leadership, attempts to answer that question.
March 2, 2017: A Taiwanese fighter jet on a routine patrol collides with a Chinese drone and crashes into the South China Sea; the pilot is killed. In response, the Republic of China Air Force, which for some time has been asking for upgraded planes, presses for a new arms package from America. Despite promising to maintain peace and stability in cross-Strait relations a little over a year ago in her victory speech, Tsai Ing-Wen, Taiwan’s president, is faced with growing pressure to respond strongly. A concerned Legislative Yuan authorizes major defense budget increases (overcoming budget difficulties) aimed at acquiring the F-35. Eager to signal that the rebalance she spearheaded in the Obama administration is returning in full force, newly elected president Hillary Clinton (following the advice of hawkish media commentators) directs the Defense Department to sell Taipei fifty F-35s. The sale is made, despite severe protestations from Beijing. How is a humiliated China likely to respond?
President Xi assembles his National Security Commission (NSC) and asks for options. Exasperated with the United States for so publically rejecting his offer of a “new type of great power relations,” he says he wants to “impose costs” on Taiwan and America for their destabilizing actions. Liu He, Xi’s principal economic advisor and vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, replies that the Sino-American economic relationship is too important to risk over arms sales to Taiwan, which have occurred before. “Moreover, even unofficial aggression, such as the incident with the young singer during the election in Taiwan, can strengthen the voices for independence. Our response, therefore, should be subtle.” [FULL STORY]