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The Taiwan question may be turning into a “gray rhino” event, as estimated by Chairman Rabbit
A Ginger "Rabbit" Review
Today, GRR is privileged to publish a translation of an article titled 台海问题可能正在变成一个“灰犀牛” "The Taiwan question may be turning into a 'gray rhino' event" by popular Chinese blogger 兔主席 Chairman Rabbit [links to his Twitter].
The article was originally posted on Chairman Rabbit's WeChat blog in Chinese on July 30 and has been viewed more than 100,000 times within 24 hours. In his article, the author explained how the Taiwan question is being turned into a “gray rhino” event, a predictable event that has a high probability of occurrence, and how key upcoming events -- including the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the U.S. midterm elections in 2022, the election of Taiwan region in January 2024 and the U.S. presidential election in November 2024 -- will shape the political landscape across the Taiwan Strait as well as across the Pacific between China and U.S. (that is of course to assume no major military conflicts would break out between the world’s two largest economies and militaries before 2024).
In Chairman Rabbit's view, the United States is the biggest threat to the situation of the Taiwan question. And the U.S. actually hopes to lead China by the nose and turn the Taiwan question into a “gray rhino” event. For China, it will be an acid test of wisdom and resolve.
A few more words on the author Chairman Rabbit, the social media moniker for Harvard University-educated Ren Yi, who is very popular among usually better-informed Chinese readers. Ren’s writings are well-read and influential in China, but it is worth noting that he is not a decision-maker.
Ginger River is authorized by Chairman Rabbit to publish this translation. Please note that our post does not represent anybody else, as this is only a personal newsletter. Actually, let's just call today's piece a Ginger "Rabbit" Review, a special edition of GRR. [See a previous post of Chairman Rabbit’s article on China’s “dynamic zero-COVID” policy, which is among the most read newsletters on GRR.]
Subscribe GRR newsletter for free to get a glimpse into the priorities of both the leadership and the general public in China.
The Taiwan question may be turning into a “gray rhino” event
“Black swan” refers to an unpredictable event that has a small probability of occurrence, but if it occurs, it causes severe consequences.
“Gray rhino” refers to a predictable event that has a high probability of occurrence. If it occurs, it also has a great negative impact. A key feature of a "gray rhino" is that you can see it running towards you at a certain speed, but it is not too fast, so you have the time to prepare for the collision.
Is the question of cross-straits security a “black swan” event or a “gray rhino” event?
At present, it seems to have become a “gray rhino” event.
The United States is responsible for this situation.
China lays its cards on the table with regard to the Taiwan question. China's position is unequivocal. China has a core; our decision-making and actions are integrated, and we enjoy widespread public support. To put it another way, we speak with one voice, and make concerted efforts to achieve one goal.
In comparison, there is no core in the United States, where politics is decentralized, scattered and fragmented. The US has the White House, the Congress, political parties, the federal government, state and local governments (essentially parallel structures), as well as various interest groups and non-governmental organizations. They can guide and instigate voters to influence politics, or respond to voters’ populist appeal to achieve their own political ends. The United States is beset with serious problems right now. The country is not just facing decentralization, but also antagonism, rupture, and implosion. In a nutshell, no one has the final say in the US, and naturally there is no single voice. Everyone is heading in different directions.
However, when it comes to China and the Taiwan question, we cannot say that there is no consensus among U.S. politicians. On the contrary, “anti-China” may be the only consensus that U.S. politicians can reach. I used to joke that, if politicians in Washington are to find a team-building activity to mend fences, and to reach a bit of consensus between themselves, their only option available is "panda bashing.”
Anti-China is the political correctness in Washington. Accomodations and cooperation among political parties and politicians are often underpinned by an anti-China stance.
The same goes for the Taiwan question. The United States plays a major role in provoking the Taiwan question. This is the consensus of politicians regarding the general direction.
On the surface, the U.S. says it wants to maintain the “status quo” of the Taiwan question. It actually wants two things:
First, it ardently hopes to maintain the current situation where the Chinese mainland and Taiwan are not unified but remain divided and separated. They believe that this is the “status quo” that must be maintained forever. Therefore, in their eyes, any mention of reunification by the Chinese mainland poses a threat to Taiwan as it could change the “status quo.” These are unequivocal statements, not speculation and analysis between the lines.
Second, what the United States is actually doing, nonetheless, is to provoke a change in the “status quo.” On the one hand, it encourages Taiwan to take a step forward – towards the direction of separation and division, and continuously consolidates the gains of this “status quo.” On the other hand, it provokes the Chinese government to take certain actions. (If it did,) it would attest to the U.S. allegation that the Chinese government is “changing the status quo,” allowing the United States to take the initiative and take further actions against China. This is not a conspiracy, but an overt scheme.
American politicians, from those in the White House to those on the Capitol Hill, are working in different ways towards this direction in the light of their own interests.
Traditionally, the White House is relatively more conservative (in this regard), because it is already elected and leads all departments, so it is aware of the historical context and complexity of various issues. Thus, the White House is generally less inclined to create a catastrophic crisis, and is willing to continue some of its previous practices. The White House is the interface with which the Chinese government makes contact with the United States. Overall, interacting with the White House is easier. The two sides are more likely to understand each other. Of course, Trump constitutes an exception to this, and we’ll talk about him later.
In the Congress, the members of the House of Representatives have smaller jurisdictions (they are responsible for specific constituencies), and are generally more concerned about local issues and affairs, so they often lack national vision and ambition. Because they are more “deep-rooted”, they are more likely to be populists, and more willing to respond to the voices of the masses. As a result, they are more extreme. If anti-China becomes a mainstream view among the grassroots people and society, you can imagine how the members of the House of Representatives will act.
Senators have a larger jurisdiction (senators are accountable to states). Thus, their concerns generally go beyond the local level, and they pay more attention to national and international affairs. Many of them have the ambition to become presidents. Obama, Biden, and Hillary Clinton were all senators. When anti-China dominates U.S. foreign politics, the attitude of senators can also be imagined.
In this way, if we can say that we still have room for negotiation with the White House, there seems to be no “good guy” in Congress.
From this perspective, we must treat the White House as the representative of American politics (rather than the U.S. government in a narrow sense), and through the White House, try to cast an influence on American politics.
However, can the current White House influence American politics? To begin with, the United States is a country split fifty-fifty, with half of the population not supporting the Democratic Party. Moreover, Biden, as a Democratic President, has less than 40 percent approval ratings, and the public is highly dissatisfied with him.
Biden has a mundane performance and looks tired and old. People raise doubts about his ability to handle political issues independently, and even his ability to take care of himself. By the presidential election of 2024, he will be 82 years old. I don’t think Americans are prepared to elect such an old man again. His vice president, Kamala Harris, is even more unfavorable. Democrats believe that Kamala Harris is a “time bomb”. Because she is unpopular, she has no chance of being elected president, and therefore cannot succeed Biden in any form. Therefore, if something goes wrong with Biden, the Biden-Harris administration will collapse.
Trump has yet to make clear whether he would run for president in 2024. However, this has long been an open secret. He is merely waiting for the right moment to officially announce his bid for presidency.
Trump will be back in the game. Which Democrat will compete with him? That’s the Democratic Party's biggest concern right now: Biden’s re-election in 2024. This problem is the “gray rhino” the Democratic Party is facing.
How to solve this problem? Should they let Biden give up being the presidential candidate? If so, who can force him to quit? Who will take over? I think maybe no one knows for sure how such an “exit” and “swap” can be achieved.
Therefore, the Democratic president can hardly fend for himself. The U.S. congressional midterm elections are to be held in November this year. It is widely predicted that the Republican Party will perform well and the Democratic Party will hang by a thread. This election might lead to a big change in the Congress, with all 435 seats in the House of Representatives reassigned. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, must come up with something to help the Democrats gain political support.
Obviously, they believe that diplomacy will win them some extra points. Thus they are targeting Asia/Taiwan, and the topic they chose is anti-China.
Therefore, this is the Democratic Party’s “self-salvation” operation.
Can Biden rein in these politicians? If Biden can help these representatives get elected, he will have some influence over them. But what if Biden cannot help them get elected, and even get in the way of their election? In that case, he will have no influence, obviously.
This is the situation in the United States.
What we should focus on now is not just Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Asia and her potential visit to Taiwan, but the situation in/after 2024.
A few major events are set to take place soon.
— The upcoming 20th National Congress of the CPC. This must be a successful congress, which will "set the goals, tasks, and policies for the Party and the nation for the next five years or even longer periods to come” [See a GRR's post about President Xi Jinping's tone-setting speech before 20th National Congress of CPC]. No doubt the American politicians will spare no effort to hype whatever announced/set at the congress, to fuel their anti-China politics.
— The U.S. midterm elections in 2022. The midterm elections involving all 435 seats in the House of Representatives (and 35 out of the 100 seats in the Senate) will be a “major reshuffle”. Polls and political commentary over the past few months suggest that Republicans will prevail in elections. If the Democrats lose in the House of Representatives, Biden is basically unable to make major accomplishments before the end of his term. Republican obstruction will make it harder for him to make political achievements. He would be "crippled" ahead of time. Moreover, the public opinion reflected in the midterms can be seen as a kind of “rehearsal” of the U.S. presidential election in 2024.
– The election of Taiwan region in January 2024. It can be imagined that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will activate the election mechanism and mobilize all the electoral resources it has to secure a victory. They will seek political support by taking advantage of the tensions over the Taiwan question and over the changes in international geopolitics. American politicians will echo them in this process.
– The U.S. presidential election in November 2024. At this time, there is only one question left, that is the possible return of Trump. Think about this: given Biden’s current declining approval ratings, is it possible for him to be re-elected? Will Trump have a more than 50 percent probability of being elected? I personally think he will. Let's wait and see the history moves into the next chapter.
If Trump was to come back into power, I think he would do what he can within his power to promote anti-China policies. Anti-China will be the most salient theme of his administration, and he will be remembered as an anti-China president.
Therefore, the current upgrade in the tensions over Taiwan question will be something to contemplate for Trump and other U.S. politicians.
The more rigorously we react, the more Trump and other American politicians will see the “value” of “provoking” the Taiwan question. After all, the angrier we are with such people, the more in high spirits they will be, and the more they want to challenge our bottom line.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict is the result of this logic.
The escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is not a good thing for Europe and the United States, but politicians only consider their own short-term interests, and no one really thinks about the situation from the perspective of national politics and long-term history. Therefore, there is an internal logic and inevitability behind the United States and NATO's constant provocation in the Russia-Ukrainian conflict.
At this point, it is no longer a simple question of “right” or “wrong” from a historical viewpoint -- i.e. we are right, and the United States is wrong, and so on. Analyzing who is “right” and “wrong” is meaningless -- and our judgments may just be something they could not accept from the bottom of their hearts. However, it doesn’t matter, because our judgment is true and important to us. This is the same with the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It is “meaningless” to make judgments now. What we need to do is to see the logic behind the development of things from the perspective of the overall history.
Once the logic gets established and we know that tensions may lead to conflict, it becomes a “gray rhino” event.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a “gray rhino” that is happening in Europe.
Under the rule of American politicians, the same mistakes will occur over and over again. Thus, don’t harbor any illusions with regard to them.
If Trump is to be elected president again –- his “100 days against China” might as well be:
– Vigorously promote Taiwan’s entry into the United Nations and other international organizations and systems;
– Significantly increase the sales of military weapons sold to Taiwan;
– Encourage Taiwan to join certain East Asian military partnerships and even alliances (Japan will certainly cooperate immediately)
– Send key members of the administration (such as the Secretary of State) on official visits to Taiwan
– Meet with Taiwan leaders (maybe in a third-place for the first time)
– Base ties/relations with Taiwan on some sort of formal diplomatic footing
– Invite Taiwan leader or members of the region’s administration to visit the United States and hold high-level reception;
– Visit Taiwan in person;
– Conduct large-scale military exercises around Taiwan in cahoots with Japan and some other neighboring countries;
– Promote congressional legislation or sign executive orders to formally abolish, abandon, or refuse to recognize parts of the three China-U.S. joint communiques;
– Comprehensively escalate the financial war, science and technology war, and sanctions against China, and force the Taiwan island to join the anti-China system and framework
Because of the escalating tension over the Taiwan question caused by Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit, Trump will further see the political value in it and take more drastic actions.
In the process, Trump will certainly be bluffing. As in the Russia issue, he said to the professional golfer John Daly: why wouldn’t Putin take action against Ukraine throughout Trump’s term? That's because Trump told Putin: “If you dare to do that, We're gonna hit Moscow.” Trump said: “And he sort of believed me, like 5 percent or 10 percent. That's all you need.”
He will do this to Russia and he will do the same to China. But there’s an important difference: Trump and the American populist right he represents (and the far-right populists in Europe) had no intention of clashing with Russia whatsoever. On the contrary, they are fond of Russia. They hope to mend fences with Russia, and “discuss major issues”, and shift their attention to China.
Deep down, Trump believes that Taiwan is too far away from the United States, so the US will not sacrifice a single soldier for it. “Taiwan is like two feet from China,” Trump once told a Republican senator. “We are 8,000 miles away. If they invade, there isn’t a f***ing thing we can do about it.”
However, this will not keep Trump from bluffing and threatening us. If these generated any positive responses in the US, he will definitely take advantage of them and change his strategy (this is where we need to pay attention). Nor would it prevent him from promoting the provision of military and other assistance to Taiwan and thwarting our cause.
Therefore, the United States is the biggest threat to the situation of the Taiwan question. And the US actually hopes to lead us by the nose and turn the Taiwan question into a “gray rhino” event.
How should we deal with one who acts in such a reckless manner in international affairs?
We might as well turn to the basic principle in dealing with the cross-strait ties: “We must firmly maintains the initiative and ability to steer cross-Strait relations.” It all boils down to how to achieve this. Arguably, that’s an acid test of our wisdom and resolve.
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