Beijing Views Taiwan as ‘Next Big Prize’ After Hong Kong, Xinjiang Crackdowns: Former National Security Adviser

Beijing Views Taiwan as ‘Next Big Prize’ After Hong Kong, Xinjiang Crackdowns: Former National Security Adviser
Outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster attends a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on April 3, 2018. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Cathy He

The threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan makes the island the world’s “most significant flashpoint” that could lead to a “large-scale war,” according to former national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

McMaster, speaking before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 2, said that Chinese Leader Xi Jinping views Taiwan as the “next big prize” after solidifying the Chinese regime’s control domestically—by imposing a draconian national security law in Hong Kong, and its genocidal campaign against ethnic Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

The former official said Xi believes “he has a fleeting window of opportunity that’s closing” in relation to attacking Taiwan. “He wants to, in his view, make China whole again,” McMaster said.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views Taiwan as part of its territory, even though the island has been governed as a distinct entity for more than seven decades. It has vowed to retake the island by force if necessary.

The regime has sharply escalated its rhetoric and military pressure toward the island in recent months.

On the first weekend of President Joe Biden’s term, China made its largest-scale military incursions into the island’s air defense zone—13 military aircraft flew over Taiwan’s southwest waters on Jan. 23, and another 15 military aircraft made a similar incursion the next day. Days later, a Chinese official warned the self-ruled island that “independence means war.”

According to McMaster, the period from 2022 onward marks the time “of greatest danger” to Taiwan, noting that this coincides with after the conclusion of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

He said the Chinese regime is currently working to weaponize the South China Sea, to create a barrier that would make it “far too costly for us” to come to Taiwan’s defense, in the event of an attack.

Beijing has for years been gradually building military outposts on artificial islands and reefs in the contested waterways.

The former national security adviser recommended that the United States keep a military presence in the area surrounding Taiwan and the South China Sea to deny the Chinese military use of that space.

He also said the United States should continue to help Taiwan fortify its defenses against a possible attack.

Under federal law, the country is obliged to provide the island with military equipment for its self-defense. Under the Trump administration, arms sales to Taiwan increased with the government approving more than $15 billion in weapons packages.

A possible war between the United States and China over an invasion of Taiwan would be “extremely costly for both sides,” McMaster said.

“If the United States did decide to respond to Taiwan, I do believe that the People’s Liberation Army would suffer tremendous losses based on the tremendous capabilities of our joint forces,” he added.

Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
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