If true, it’s the best news most of us will hear all year. If not, the threat of forcible annexation is still the elephant in Taiwan.

Photo by Hongbin on Unsplash.

“Biden meets Li Qiang, says China economic ‘crisis’ makes Taiwan invasion less likely,” reported Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt for Reuters this weekend.

The rosy prediction likely took many nervous foreign policy experts by surprise. Most world leaders and geopolitical prognosticators have taken the alternate position in recent weeks.

Many argue that the deepening economic crisis in China will make Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping more likely to invade Taiwan in the coming year, not less.

“My team, my staff still meets with President Xi’s people and his cabinet,” President Biden assured the press after attending the recent G20 summit in New Delhi. “I met with his number two person in India today.”

“We talked about stability,” said Biden, characterizing the meeting as, “not confrontational at all.”

“One of the major economic tenets of his plan isn’t working at all right now,” said President Biden of China’s economy and his Chinese counterpart. “I’m not happy for that, but it’s not working. He has his hands full right now.”

Mr. Biden can probably relate.

Like Xi Jinping, President Joe Biden is heading into a contentious presidential election in the coming year. Biden will face considerable questions over his handling of the U.S. economy, his age, the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal, and Biden family businesses.

He is also increasingly likely to be facing impeachment in the House of Representatives.

For Xi Jinping, the hotly contended 2024 presidential election will be held in Taiwan where the CCP has positioned a “pro-unification” candidate for the win.

“A vote for the pro-unification candidate is a vote for peace,” is a fairly scary campaign slogan, as campaign slogans go. In this context, the converse is almost certainly true.

In many ways, China is already at war with Taiwan.

The Chinese Communist Party employs a multifaceted strategy known as the “Three Warfares” against its geopolitical opponents — including Taiwan — deftly combining psychological warfare, media warfare, and legal warfare to shape and manipulate perceptions both domestically and abroad.

This approach involves leveraging media outlets, content farms, information control, and strategic narratives to advance China’s interests and exert influence on the global stage.

Russia engaged in an identical information warfare campaign against Ukraine in the years leading up to the invasion in February 2022.

The CCP hasn’t faced a threat like Taiwan since Hong Kong in 2020.

The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong was as much of a challenge in 2020 to Xi Jinping’s primacy as Taiwan is today. The Chinese Communist Party publicly embraces a policy it calls “One China.” Hong Kong was considered as much a part of One China as Taiwan.

In 2019 and 2020, the citizens of Hong Kong took to the streets to defend their cherished values of democracy and autonomy. Young activists and concerned citizens led the charge in demanding political reform and protection of their freedoms.

Protesters filled the streets, with numbers swelling to millions at the peak of the movement, marching peacefully to express their discontent with the erosion of the city’s autonomy by mainland China.

Then, the pandemic happened.

What the CCP and Xi Jinping could never have accomplished with tanks — not without a crushing international outcry — COVID-19 safety measures accomplished very quickly indeed.

While the world grappled with the pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party quietly but thoroughly dismantled every vestige of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The CCP enacted the National Security Law, which significantly curtailed political freedoms throughout Hong Kong. Many prominent pro-democracy activists and politicians were arrested and faced prosecution under the National Security Law.

Naturally, this severely diminished leadership and dissuaded anyone new from joining the movement, as was intended. COVID-19 led to restrictions on public gatherings and travel. Large-scale street protests, a hallmark of the pro-democracy movement, were made punishable by law.

Accusations by some activists that the Chinese government was using the crisis as a pretext to further erode civil liberties and silence political opposition weren’t entirely unfounded.

Before the pandemic, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong had gained considerable momentum, with many authorities and elected officials aligned with pro-democracy ideals. The situation presented a challenge to the CCP’s authority.

A challenge to its ultimate authority is the one thing the regime cannot tolerate under any circumstances.

The Chinese Communist Party may be extremely wealthy and powerful — but its rule is brittle. Governing requires the consent of the governed and Xi Jinping doesn’t have that, not really.

Take the lengths to which the CCP must go to quash dissent. The Great Firewall of China, Jack Ma’s mysterious disappearance after criticizing the party, China’s “All Seeing Eye” surveillance state, and even the increasing propaganda are all signs of decay and weakness.

Consider the pains the CCP has taken to conceal the true extent of China’s current economic challenges from the rest of the world. Consider the concerted, long-term efforts the CCP has expended — and continues to expend — combatting, not the pandemic itself, but true information about the pandemic.

Unless another pandemic comes along to distract the world and weaken Taiwan at a strategically convenient time — as it did in Hong Kong — the CCP is going to face some tough choices in the months ahead over Taiwan.

At a time when it could be said to be failing economically, the CCP might turn its sovereign hand — as Vladimir Putin did — to “reunification” and military conquest.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)