The China Challenge to Taiwan, With David Sacks

David Sacks, research fellow at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the Biden administration’s strategy toward Taiwan amid growing threats from China.

June 14, 2022 — 36:31 min
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Host

James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair Full Bio

Episode Guests

David Sacks

Research Fellow

Show Notes

David Sacks, research fellow at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the Biden administration’s strategy toward Taiwan amid growing threats from China.

 

Articles Mentioned on the Podcast

 

Richard Haass and David Sacks, “The Growing Danger of U.S. Ambiguity on Taiwan,” Foreign Affairs, December 13, 2021

 

Additional Articles by David Sacks

 

What Is China Learning From Russia’s War in Ukraine?Foreign Affairs, May 16, 2022

 

Reconsidering Japan’s Role in the Taiwan Strait,” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs,  February 7, 2022

 

Enhancing U.S.-Japan Coordination for a Taiwan Conflict,” Council on Foreign Relations, January 18, 2022

 

The United States and Japan Should Prepare for Chinese Aggression Against Taiwan,” CFR.org, January 18, 2022

 

What Biden’s Big Shift on Taiwan Means,” CFR.org, July 6, 2021

 

How to Prevent an Accidental War Over Taiwan,” Foreign Affairs, October 12, 2021


American Support for Taiwan Must Be Unambiguous,” Foreign Affairs, September 2, 2020

 

 

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Transcript

Jim Lindsay:

Welcome to the President's Inbox, a CFR podcast about the foreign policy challenges facing the United States. I'm Jim Lindsay, director studies at the Council of Foreign Relations. This week's topic is Taiwan. With me to discuss the Biden administration's approach to Taiwan is David Sacks. David is a research fellow at the Council where his work focuses on US-China relations, US-Taiwan relations, Chinese foreign policy, and the political thought of Hans Morgenthau. Before joining CFR, David worked on political military affairs at the American Institute in Taiwan, which serves as the center of unofficial US-Taiwan relations in Taiwan. David, thanks for speaking with me.

David Sacks:

Thanks for having me, Jim.

Jim Lindsay:

David, I want to begin at the basics of the US-Taiwan relationship. As I mentioned in the introduction, you worked on political military affairs at the American Institute in Taiwan, which plays this unofficial role in US-Taiwanese relations. Why do we have something that deals with unofficial relations with Taiwan?

David Sacks:

Sure. So, until 1979, the United States maintained formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, formally the Republic of China, but Kissinger and Nixon began the process of rapprochement with the mainland, with the people's Republic of China that started with the Shanghai communique in 1972. And that process was completed in 1979 with the normalization of relations between the PRC and the United States. But the big hold up in negotiations was the status of Taiwan and the United States in that negotiation process acknowledged the Chinese position that there is one China and Taiwan is a part of China, but it never endorsed or recognized that position. After the United States normalized relations with the PRC, Congress passed a law, the Taiwan Relations Act, which president Biden actually voted for, and that forms the basis of our unofficial relationship with Taiwan. It established the American Institute in Taiwan, a nonprofit corporation, and it also set forward a few commitments that we can get into on what the United States would do with, and for Taiwan.

Jim Lindsay:

Let's just drill a bit down David on the term normalization. So what happened in 1979 is president Carter terminated the mutual defense treaty the United States had with Taiwan, Republic of China in formal terms. And that led Congress to pass the Taiwan Relations Act. The United States does not have an embassy in Taiwan does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, but tell us what the Taiwan Relations Act specifies.

David Sacks:

There are a few things. The one that gets the most attention is that the United States will provide Taiwan with defensive arms that enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. Another one that gets less attention, but has come up a lot more recently is that the United States will maintain the capacity to come to Taiwan's defense while the United States has never committed to coming to Taiwan's defense. And I'm sure we'll get into the difference there. And then the other thing is to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means of grave concern to the United States. Again, what the United States would do in the face of a Chinese attack on Taiwan is left ambiguous, but it's specific enough that we have essentially said it would be a big concern for the United States and that normalization with the PRC rested on the assumption that the question of Taiwan would be resolved peacefully.

Jim Lindsay:

I take it this is where we get the term of our strategic ambiguity, David.

David Sacks:

Yes, and strategic ambiguity to be clear has always been a unilateral policy decision of the United States. It is nowhere in any of the three US-China joint communiques or the Taiwan Relations Act or the six assurances, which together forms the foundation of the US one China policy. But that is a decision the president since 1979, democratic and Republican alike have determined best serves the interests of the United States. Essentially we do not say we will come to Taiwan's defense, but we don't rule it out and say, we won't come to Taiwan's defense either.

Jim Lindsay:

Before we drill down a bit more on strategic ambiguity, David, its pluses and its minuses, give me a sense of how the people of Taiwan view the current situation. Is there a movement for independence on the island? Is there a substantial number of people who would like to be reunited with the mainland? Is it the case of the bulk of the population just wants to maintain the status quo?

David Sacks:

There's robust polling on Taiwan. And so I would point to two things. Number one is that there is a significant rise in Taiwanese identity, and we should expect that it's been about three generations since Taiwan has been separate from the mainland since the KMT went to the island of Taiwan.

Jim Lindsay:

That was the party of Chiang Kai-shek, who had been the ruler of China at the start of the Civil War.

David Sacks:

That's correct. And so there is a rise in Taiwanese identity and a sense that Taiwan and China are on very different trajectories politically and therefore these are essentially two different societies. But at the same time, there isn't that huge push for de jure independence. The overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people appreciate the status quo and what the status quo offers Taiwan. And I think that they do understand that a attempt to establish de jure independence would prompt the PRC to act and likely use force against Taiwan. So the percentage of people who want unification immediately is very low. The percentage of people who want de jure independence immediately is also quite low. So, I think there is an appreciation for the status quo on Taiwan. And then the final thing that I would say is that I think we have to keep in the back of our minds, that Hong Kong was really a, I think a game changer here with how Taiwan views the mainland and its place there.

David Sacks:

China proposed this formula of one country, two systems for Taiwan, it applied that same formula for Hong Kong. And Taiwan now sees that essentially that formula is worthless, to put it bluntly. That whatever promises the PRC makes to Taiwan, it could choose to renege on them in five, 10, 15 years down the road. And that essentially there's very little appetite on Taiwan now for any kind of political discussion with the mainland or any talk of unification. And that goes for both the DPP and I would argue the KMT, the current opposition party, which is generally viewed as "more pro China". But there's really not an appetite there for any kind of political discussion with the mainland.

Jim Lindsay:

I have to ask you, David, what is the DPP?

David Sacks:

The DPP is the democratic progressive party, and it is the current ruling party of Taiwan. The current president Tsai Ing-wen is a member of the DPP, it is generally viewed as pro independence. The last DPP president Chen Shui-bian did flirt with the idea of a referendum on Taiwan's international status before kind of going back from the brink. But I would argue actually that the DPP has learned from the experience of Chen Shui-bian where us Taiwan relations really did suffer because of his flirtation with independence. And that we've seen a much more pragmatic DPP emerge. They don't want to repeat those mistakes.

Jim Lindsay:

David, if most Taiwanese are comfortable with the status quo and would like to see it perpetuated, why is Taiwan in the news so much these days?

David Sacks:

I think that there has been a big shift in the mainland in terms of capabilities, number one, and number two, their potential goal or objectives vis-a-vie Taiwan. Xi Jinping has put forward this vision of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, which he has asserted has to be achieved by 2049. Part of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is restoring its territorial integrity as the Chinese communist party defines it. And Taiwan is the missing link there. That is why you hear a lot of people pointing to 2049 as a date to watch. Now-

Jim Lindsay:

What is the significance of 2049, David?

David Sacks:

That's the 100 year anniversary of the establishment of the people's Republic of China. Now some people have then used that as a starting point, but then essentially argued well Xi Jinping won't be alive in 2049, so does he believe that this is something he has to resolve on his watch? Does he want this to be a part of his legacy? Clearly Xi Jinping views himself on par with Mao and as a more consequential leader than Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao. Well some of his predecessors were able to bring back Hong Kong for instance, for the mainland. So what will Xi Jinping do to put himself on par with Mao? I think that's a question. Now there's been a lot of talk recently about 2027. So what is the importance of 2027? That is the 100 year anniversary of the establishment of the people's liberation army.

David Sacks:

They have certain military modernization objectives that they will seek to achieve by 2027. A lot of those are applicable for a Taiwan scenario. And also when you look ahead, Xi Jinping is going up this fall for his third term as the chairman of the communist party. And the end of his third five year term will also be around 2027. Does Xi Jinping believe he only has one term left and has to accomplish this by the end of that term?

David Sacks:

Taiwan is in the news because of those factors, because we see a dramatic military modernization undertaken by China, where they are developing and very focused on the capabilities necessary for an attack on Taiwan. And I would say more broadly that what we've seen with Chinese foreign policy is that under Xi Jinping, it is much more assertive in the region and it is much less risk averse. And again, we see that in Hong Kong, we see that in the South China sea, we see it with economic coercion of Australia and other countries. So, it's difficult for us to gauge China's intentions, but we know that the goal is to "reunify with Taiwan", and we know that they're developing the capabilities they would need to accomplish that objective.

Jim Lindsay:

David, has Beijing gone beyond words and taking any actions that would indicate efforts to try to coerce Taiwan back into reunification?

David Sacks:

I would say the answer to that is yes. We don't really appreciate, I think the extent to which China is already conducting operations against Taiwan to sap the will of the Taiwanese people, and essentially convince them that their only future is reunification with the mainland and there's no hope in resisting. And China does this through disinformation campaigns, through control of certain media outlets in Taiwan, there's military coercion. And we've seen a significant increase in flights through Taiwan's air defense identification zone over the last year or two. China is also ramping up its effort to shrink Taiwan's international space. Essentially in places like the World Health Organization, the World Health Assembly, Taiwan is unable to join those meetings. It is unable to play any role in the UN system and even Taiwan passport holders who want a tour of the United nations headquarters in New York are not allowed onto the premises.

David Sacks:

And that is a fairly recent development. When you look, of course, there's only a little more than a dozen countries that recognize Taiwan or formally the Republic of China and maintain diplomatic relations. But China is attempting to poach those countries, giving them inducements to switch relations. And I would say that the even more consequential is pressure on Taiwan's unofficial relations. And we see this for instance, with Lithuania, where it announced that it was going to open a representative office with Taiwan and China really put down the hammer economically on Lithuania. And there are other instances where China tries to really circumscribe Taiwan's unofficial presence in countries. Yes, there is a concerted pressure campaign against Taiwan. There is coercion occurring right now. And I would just emphasize again, China is serious about the military capabilities that it would need for an assault on Taiwan. This is what they practice. This is what they exercise. This has really been what has animated Chinese military modernization for the past two decades.

Jim Lindsay:

David, I think most people understand the idea of economic coercion, but references to Chinese jets flying into the air defense identification zone for a Taiwan is probably something most people don't have an intuitive sense of. What is an ADIZ and why is it significant that Chinese fighters are entering Taiwan's ADIZ?

David Sacks:

Yeah, so it is important to distinguish an air defense identification zone from territorial airspace, which China has not violated. That would be a big escalation, but essentially Chinese planes are flying through airspace, that Taiwan monitors and again, this air defense identification zone even ranges over the mainland. But what we're talking about are flights fairly close to the island of Taiwan and even making a left turn around the east coast of Taiwan. And the reason this is significant is because there was an understanding there's what we would call a center line in the Taiwan straight. And there was an understanding between the two sides that neither would cross over the center line as a way to ensure that there wasn't an accident or any miscalculation. And under the current Xi administration, China has essentially has stated that the center line does not exist.

David Sacks:

It doesn't recognize the center line, so it'll fly wherever it pleases. And there's a number of reasons why China would, would fly through Taiwan's air defense identification zone. A few of them from the military aspect is that they are exercising for military operations. They are bringing multiple capabilities together through Taiwan's ADIZ and exercising fairly complex joint operations. They're also doing it during daytime and nighttime to try to practice those missions. I think part of it is also to desensitize the United States and Taiwan to this kind of activity so when they're flying through we kind of don't pay that close attention to it. It's a routine activity. China does it all the time.

David Sacks:

But then that could disguise an actual attack on Taiwan if they chose to do so. It also does force Taiwan's military to spend a lot of its resources on responding to China's incursions. And that really does wear down Taiwan's air force. And also the final thing I would note is that it's a political signaling tool. A lot of these flights are done after the United States and Taiwan do something together that China objects to. Whether that's congressional delegation, visiting Taiwan, arm sales to Taiwan, or something like that. This is a way of signaling to the United States that it's displeased with what it's doing with Taiwan, and it will force China and the United States to bear a cost for those actions.

Jim Lindsay:

David, with the obvious evidence that China is potentially less willing to abide by the current status quo, that takes us back to this issue of strategic ambiguity, about how the United States should speak about Taiwan, what it would do if the Chinese were to attack or to try to forcibly bring about reunification. You have been a critic of strategic ambiguity. You and Richard Haas, our joint boss, wrote a peace in foreign affairs, a while back making the case for strategic clarity. What is it?

David Sacks:

Sure. To go back to the foundation of strategic ambiguity, the proposition there was that strategic ambiguity could deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan because China could not be sure that the United States would stay on the sidelines, it might come to Taiwan's defense. But also that at the same time, Taiwan would not be able to do anything reckless because if it was perceived to be the one provoking a mainland attack than the United States might choose not to come to its defense. That was kind of the basis of strategic ambiguity, but Richard and I argued that strategic ambiguity is no longer the optimal US policy. Again, China is much more assertive and it's a very different China than even a decade ago. It is more willing to take risks. It now has far more military capability than it did just a decade ago.

David Sacks:

And for us, we need to make clear to China that we would come to Taiwan's defense because the stakes warrant it. And we believe that strategic ambiguity is not a powerful enough deterrent to Xi Jinping China. And I would just say that there are various historical analogies we could draw, but the one that comes to mind in this is with the Korean war that occurred after secretary Acheson stated that the Korean peninsula was outside the US defense perimeter. And I would argue that's a case where we were ambiguous about whether we would come to South Korea's defense, or we even were perceived to be unwilling to come to South Korea's defense. And that was a core part of the calculation of the Soviet Union and the north to green light, an attack on the south. And we ended up coming to South Korea's defense, but it was incredibly costly.

David Sacks:

I think in that scenario had, we had clarity about our intentions, perhaps the Soviet Union and North Korea would've used more restraints. I think that deterrence through certainty is much preferable to deterrents through uncertainty. And I don't think that strategic ambiguity is strong enough to deter Xi Jinping.

Jim Lindsay:

David, let me ask what you mean by the United States coming to Taiwan's defense. That phrasing covers a lot of terrain. Right now, the United States is providing billions of dollars worth of material to Ukraine and its war against Russia. But most important, the United States is not committing its own troops. When you say the United States should come to the defense of Taiwan, what does that specifically mean?

David Sacks:

It means, of course, sanctioning China. It means providing Taiwan with the weapons it needs, but I don't think that's enough. What I mean by coming to Taiwan's direct defense is militarily intervening on Taiwan's behalf and using whatever tools we need and are necessary to deny a Chinese assault on Taiwan. And so we could get into the specifics of what that would entail, but I think that we have to go well above and beyond what we're doing for Ukraine with a Taiwan contingency.

Jim Lindsay:

You envision committing American troops to such a conflict.

David Sacks:

Yes.

Jim Lindsay:

Is it your impression David, that America's allies in Asia would join the fight?

David Sacks:

I think that's a really good question. And that's where there's a big difference between Ukraine and Taiwan. I think that with respect to Ukraine, it was clear from our NATO allies that they did not expect the United States to come to Ukraine's defense and might have even been nervous had they seen signs that the Biden administration was contemplating direct involvement on Ukraine's behalf, but it's a very different situation in Asia. In my view, our Asian allies fully expect us to come to Taiwan's defense. We talked about the Taiwan Relations Act at the outset, but we're the only people I think, who believe in strategic ambiguity in that we would not come to Taiwan's defense. If you speak to Japanese, Indian, South Korean or Australian officials, I think they would unanimously say that they view the Taiwan Relations Act as an obligation to come to Taiwan's defense.

David Sacks:

And the interesting thing over the last few years is that leaders in the Indo-Pacific have been much clearer about how they view Taiwan and what they would do in a Taiwan scenario. For instance, I think Japan has been out in front the most here, former prime minister Abe has actually criticized strategic ambiguity in an op-ed in the United States, maybe around a month ago. And has said before that a crisis over Taiwan would be a crisis for the US-Japanese Alliance. There are questions about whether Japan would also intervene directly on Taiwan's behalf. That's a question that they would have to resolve given their constitutional framework. But I think that Japan would at the very least enable US operations and assist from the rear, for example, but the question of whether they would conduct joint operations with the United States, I think is an open question.

David Sacks:

Australian officials said recently that they couldn't envision a scenario in which the United States came to Taiwan's defense and Australia did not. Taiwan has figured in joint statements under the Biden administration with Japan, South Korea, as well as NATO. So, I think there is a growing awareness that there's a danger here, that deterrents is eroding and that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would be incredibly consequential. As president Biden said when he stood next to Japanese prime minister Yoshihide and made the comment that the US had a commitment to come to Taiwan's defense, he said that it would displace the entire region. And I think that's an accurate assessment.

David Sacks:

We can debate strategic ambiguity or strategic clarity. But I think that another question we should be grappling with is what the region looks like and what the US position looks like the day after a successful Chinese assault on Taiwan. And to me, if the United States stands aside in the face of a Chinese assault, this is a scenario where Japan, South Korea, Australia, our other allies and partners lose faith in US security guarantees. And they choose to either accommodate China's strategic interests or take their security into their own hands and potentially develop nuclear weapons on their own. Both of those outcomes are not good for the US position in Asia.

Jim Lindsay:

Why is that David? As you know, there are a lot of people who are quite critical of the United States for having a large global footprint. They would argue that the United States gets played for sucker by providing security to all these countries. America should come home or embrace America first, you know the slogans. What is your argument for why it matters to the United States that it maintain the system of security alliances?

David Sacks:

That's a great question. And I think that if we use focus on the case of Taiwan first, you know, I think that the argument that you hear increasingly with Taiwan is the economic importance of Taiwan for the United States. This is something that, frankly we didn't hear a lot about a decade ago, but is really now at the forefront of the debate.

Jim Lindsay:

We're talking semiconductors.

David Sacks:

We're all keenly aware of the role of TSMC in global semiconductors that over 90% of the world's most advanced semiconductors are produced on Taiwan and the United States get 70% of its most advanced semiconductors from Taiwan. They're used in everything from phones to microwaves, to cars, to weapons. The javelin missile that we're sending to Ukraine has something like 250 semiconductors in one missile. We are incredibly dependent on semiconductor supplies from Taiwan. And frankly, we have been able to use some leverage there to limit exports of semiconductors to the mainland that could be used to help fuel its military modernization. But a war over Taiwan would therefore be catastrophic for the global economy and regarding the outcome, it could also be catastrophic from a long term perspective as we might not be able to get semiconductors for a while from there. But I actually think that Taiwan has... That the economics are important.

David Sacks:

Taiwan is our eighth largest trading partner as well. But I think that the traditional argument has also been, of course Taiwan's geography is incredibly important and we know the phrase that it was the unsinkable aircraft carrier. But it sits at the heart of the first island chain. And if China were to occupy Taiwan and place its military on Taiwan, it would be able to threaten Japan much more easily in particular, the Senkaku islands, as well as Okinawa. So suddenly it becomes much more difficult for the United States to honor its treaty commitments to Japan. The PLA would also be much closer to the Philippines. Another US treaty ally, much more difficult for the United States to come to the Philippines defense. The PLA would now be able to much more easily roam the Western Pacific and threaten the United States from that standpoint.

David Sacks:

All of that matters. I think that what we hear a lot of now as well, is this kind of, I think president Biden has, has framed it as a long term, struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. And we can get into whether that's a useful framing or not. But clearly Taiwan has put forward the narrative that it is on the front lines of this battle between democracy and authoritarianism and that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would kind of give an upper hand to authoritarianism and show that democracies didn't have the metal to defend each other and to protect their way of life. Again, I don't think that's the best way of framing it, but I do think that when you look at Taiwan and you look at what it means for the US, from an economic or security perspective it is important and it merits a more robust commitment.

Jim Lindsay:

I will note David that Americans who would like to see the United States have a smaller global footprint would argue that the way you deal with the semiconductor issue is you build more semiconductor plants in the United States and that would bring jobs and technology back home. Just want to flag that argument as to whether or not that's feasible on a particular timeline and at a reasonable cost is another issue. But I want to go back to this issue of strategic ambiguity. Is it functionally dead? You mentioned the press conference that president Biden gave with the prime minister Yoshihide and the president came out and said, we would come to the defense of Taiwan. He didn't spell out what exactly that meant, but that was at least the third time the president has done so. Is strategic clarity now the policy of the United States or at least of the Biden administration?

David Sacks:

In my view, we have moved away from strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity. As you noted, president Biden has said this now, at least three times. And in each instance, his administration has walked it back and said, there's no change in US policy. But in my view, if China were to attack Taiwan, it is up to the president to decide whether to commit the United States to Taiwan's defense. And right now we know where the president's head is at. I think that president Biden knew exactly what he was saying. This is a man who was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's traveled to Taiwan. He voted for the Taiwan Relations Act. My assumption is after the first two times he said this, he was briefed by his staff on the significance of that remark and kind of asked, do you really want to go there?

David Sacks:

Do we really want to change this? But he went there again. And so I think he is a person who believes in this. And so to me, that's significant regardless of the walk back from the National Security Council or from a white house spokesperson, I'd also note that interestingly, when president Bush said that the United States would do whatever it took to defend Taiwan, president Biden was very critical of president Bush's imprecision I think he called it in an op-ed after that. So he's immersed in these issues, he knows them, but I think that the war in Ukraine was in the back of his mind there. And he even contextualized some of his remarks on Taiwan by mentioning Ukraine. I think that there is a rethink given Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Well, what does the world look like if Russia invades a democratic neighbor and then China invades a democratic neighbor? And what does that mean for the United States? What does that mean for international order?

Jim Lindsay:

I have to ask David, do you think that China can be deterred?

David Sacks:

I think that China can be deterred, but not through the threat of sanctions or international isolation. I think that China has already factored in what the cost of the sanctions would be and what the sanctions we are levying on Russia right now is probably helpful for China in some ways, because it can see what it can anticipate, how to harden itself against those sanctions, become less reliant on certain technologies from the west, and also increase other countries dependence on China. So I don't think that China will be deterred by sanctions. I think the only way to deter China with respect to Taiwan is the threat of direct US involvement, which is, again, coming back to why we believe strategic clarity is necessary. Even though the PLA has invested a lot of resources in its modernization and in developing capabilities specifically tailored for Taiwan contingencies, the assessment of most PLA experts is that they still don't have the capability to invade and occupy Taiwan, which would be one of the most complex missions in military history. It would make Normandy, I think, look simple by comparison.

Jim Lindsay:

Because of the distance from mainland China to Taiwan, about a hundred miles.

David Sacks:

Yeah. Yeah. There's a strait and you can only cross that strait a few months out of the year because the waters are so choppy. There are very few landing beaches in Taiwan, very mountainous terrain, dense urban centers that China would have to fight through. So, this is an enormous undertaking for a military that has not had significant combat experience since 1979. So again, there are issues that China has to solve. I don't think that they're there yet, but at the same time, this isn't something where I believe China will just say, this is too difficult, what are our other options? China's determined to solve this problem? And they're determined to be able to use military force if Xi Jinping or any other leader of China determines that's the way that they want to go.

Jim Lindsay:

It seems like you're predicting very turbulence seas ahead, David.

David Sacks:

I think that we are in for a turbulent period ahead. I think there's no doubt that deterrents in the Taiwan strait is eroding. Taiwan frankly has not kept up with with China. It is behind the curve in terms of reforming its military and investing in the asymmetric capabilities that we think it needs to defend itself against China. I think Japan has also been late to wake up to this reality, although now they are making important moves and China's moving ahead. The people's liberation army is developing significant capabilities. I think people were shocked when they saw in the latest department of defense paper on China's military power that they're now undertaking a very significant build out in their nuclear forces. And there was a lot of head scratching in Washington. Why is China investing so much in a nuclear arsenal? What are they attempting to accomplish here? Well, I would submit that China has concluded that with a survivable, deliverable, robust nuclear arsenal, they can deter US intervention or any third party intervention on behalf of Taiwan. And that essentially that will enable conventional operations to proceed.

Jim Lindsay:

Basically a nuclear shield.

David Sacks:

Pretty much. And so I think that's also frankly, a lesson of the war in Ukraine that the Biden administration kept referring to direct US intervention as amounting to World War III, going to war against a nuclear power is unthinkable. And so for the Chinese, they see that a nuclear arsenal has utility and that there's all this talk about strategic clarity, all this talk about whether the United States should come to Taiwan's defense, but some nuclear saber rattling, nuclear test at the outset of a conflict will eventually force the United States to blink.

Jim Lindsay:

On that sobering note. I'll close up the President's Inbox for this week. My guest has been David Sacks, a research fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. David, thanks for joining me.

David Sacks:

Thanks, Jim.

Jim Lindsay:

Please subscribe to The President's Inbox on Apple Podcast, Spotify, wherever you listen and leave us a review. We love to get feedback. You can find the books and articles mentioned in this episode, as well as a transcript of our conversation on the podcast page for The President's Inbox on cfr.org. As always opinions expressed in the President's Inbox are solely those are the host or our guests not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. Today's episode was produced by Rafaela Siewart with senior podcast producer, Gabrielle Sierra. Rafaela did double duty as our recording engineer. Thank you very much, Rafaela. Special thanks go out to Margaret Gach for her assistance. This is Jim Lindsay. Thanks for listening.

 

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James M. Lindsay sits down with Bonnie S. Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, to discuss House Speaker Nancy Pelos...

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Top Stories on CFR

United States

Violence during the election season undermines the United States’ democracy, its relationship with allies, and its strength against adversaries.

Burkina Faso

The latest military coup d’état would seem to be the least of Burkina Faso’s problems.

Iran

 Iran is seeing its biggest protests since 2019 over the death of Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini. Pro-women, anti-morality police demonstrations evolving into broader anti-government protests. Drawing international support and a crackdown by the regime.