April 16, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 593

Despite Being Economically Weak, China May Be Triggered To Attack Taiwan – Xi, Like Putin, Is Belligerent And Unpredictable

April 16, 2024 | By Andrew J. Masigan*
China | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 593

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is desperate for a peace treaty. On October 11, 2022, the Ukrainian leader proposed a ten point-peace plan to the members of the G7.[1] While the plan was supported by the powerful alliance, as expected, it was flatly rejected by Russia.

Fastforward to February, when Zelenskyy made an appeal to an unlikely mediator, Prime Minister and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MBS). Zelenskyy asked MBS to broker a peace deal with Russia yet again.[2] While the crown prince expressed keenness to support the peace effort, it is highly unlikely that Putin will accede, even upon MBS's request.

Recently, at Zelenskyy's entreat, Switzerland announced plans to host a peace summit slated for this June.[3] This too will likely fail to forge a truce. Putin already said that he would not attend the summit and even described it as a "circus."[4]

(Source: X)

Putin Needs To Show That This War Was Worth Something

Putin needs a big win to even consider a peace treaty. He has expended too many Russian lives and too much time, money, and global goodwill to come home with just a truce. This war cannot end with Russia and Ukraine as equals – that would be akin to a defeat. It would be embarrassing, not to mention the end of Putin's political career and legacy.

The truth is that all of Putin's attacks on the Ukraine have failed in that they have failed to crush the Ukrainian forces. Credit is due to the Ukrainian people for their resiliency.

Putin needs to show that this war was worth something for the Russian people. Only a victory in some way, shape, or form will open a way for a truce.

Neither the G7 or Ukraine has announced a winning concession for Russia – not yet, at least. But they will do well to do so at some point if this war is to end.

Until then, Russia will continue to pummel the Ukraine until more territories are subsumed. This is the only win Putin is looking toward at this juncture. And if Russia succeeds in occupying a critical mass of Ukraine, it will gain the leverage it needs to expand its crusade to former members of the Russian empire. Moldova and Georgia are most vulnerable.

This is why the West must continue to support the Ukraine's defense efforts and why we must give Putin his win, however ceremonial.

China's Economy Is Fundamentally Damaged

Xi Jinping inherited a China that was the world's emerging superpower, and proceeded to make a mess of it. Today, China's economy is fundamentally damaged. Its bad behavior in trade and aggressive foreign policy are backfiring. And because Xi doubled down on his iron-grip over the people's rights, the Chinese people too are reeling in discontent.

China's economic problems are deep and systemic. Its debts have become virtually unmanageable at 288 percent of GDP. Its property sector has collapsed. Its banking sector is drowning in non-performing loans. Private consumption is dismal. Pension and healthcare expenses are rising due to its aging population.

China's economy was never as strong as they purported it to be in the first place. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is notorious for fudging its statistics. Plus, the CCP has engaged in malinvestments to artificially pump-prime its economy. Hence, the prevalence of ghost cities.

China's economic woes have made the Chinese people poorer. This is because 70 percent of the net worth of Chinese households are tied-up in property and their values have plummeted. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high and not surprisingly, public discontent is rife.

Diplomatically, China is counted as a pariah state thanks to Xi's policy of continued defiance of World Trade Organization rules, insolence toward United Nations treaties and ignoring the legal rulings of international courts. Adding to its bad reputation and diminished trust among nations is its record of leading impoverished countries into debt traps.

One way to save the Chinese economy is through foreign direct investments. China needs dollars, factories, and export earnings to pay its mountain of debt. This is why Xi agreed to visit Biden last November. His real objective was facetime with American CEOs to woo them back to the mainland. But it did not work. The risks remain high given Xi's anti-espionage laws that allow the government to arrest and detain expats.

China is much weaker today than it was during Zemin's and Jintao's presidencies.

China's Amphibious Forces Are Not Ready To Attack Taiwan; But Let Us Not Put Our Guards Down!

Although China has been preparing for the siege of Taiwan for years (a detailed explanation is forthcoming in a future column), its amphibious forces are simply not ready.

It would take China's navy several hours to cross the Taiwan strait. During this time, U.S. satellites will have detected these movements and mobilized a barrage of anti-ship missiles from Guam.

Even if China succeeds in landing in Taiwan, its ability to re-supply its troops, at least with the Taiwanese and U.S. forces standing in the way, would be insufficient.

But let us not put our guards down; there are certain circumstances that may still trigger a Chinese attack. The first would be Taiwanese President Lai categorically declaring independence from China. The second would be the power of a war to distract the Chinese people from their grievances and unite them. The third would be the People's Liberation Army pressuring Xi to invade now, rather than later, as the generals are aging and their war preparations will soon be for naught. The fourth would be the event that the power struggles within the CCP becomes so divisive that a war is used to unite the party. The fifth would be China's grey zone intimidation tactics being met with an armed response.

Putin and Xi are both belligerent and unpredictable. Anything can happen.

*Andrew J. Masigan is the MEMRI China Media Studies Project Special Advisor. He is a Manila-based economist, businessman, and political columnist for The Philippine Star. Masigan's articles in MEMRI are also published in The Philippine Star.


[1], August 11, 2023.

[2], February 27, 2024.

[3], April 10, 2024.

[4], April 12, 2024.

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