It is likely the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will see 2022 as an opportunity to go big against the U.S. The target will be Taiwan. The CCP will assess that the Biden Administration, facing low polling numbers, continuing economic challenges, the pandemic and midterm elections, will be unlikely to respond forcefully. Pictured: DF-17 hypersonic missiles at a military parade in Beijing, China, on October 1, 2019. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
The year of the Tiger, 2022, is shaping up to be a year of escalating tension between the world's two major superpowers. It will be go big or go home.
Not only will the U.S. go big against China, but it is likely the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will see 2022 as an opportunity to go big against the U.S. The target will be Taiwan.
For the CCP, the most important domestic and international goal is reclaiming and integrating Taiwan into the political, economic and military sphere of China. In 2022, we will see the CCP taking the first major offensive steps to move this process forward. The existing long-term framework will be challenged in a way not seen before, including possible kinetic military action against Taiwan.
There are multiple reasons why the West should contemplate and prepare for this scenario. The most significant concern is that China has paid absolutely no price for its role in the origination and spread of Covid-19 virus from Wuhan. The same inaction by Western leaders to hold China accountable for the global pandemic that infuriates Western citizens only emboldens the Communist Party leadership, which sees inaction as a license to do more.
There is near universal agreement that the CCP has not cooperated in warning the rest of the world about the transmissibility of the virus or addressing its other threats, yet there have been no international consequences for China. Include the West's lack of response to the China's obliteration of Tibet; its illegal seizure of Hong Kong; the duplicitous militarization of its artificial islands in the South China Sea; its staggering theft of US intellectual property; its continuing massive passage into the US of fentanyl, murdering roughly 80,000 young Americans and its genocide against the Uyghurs, and the message becomes even clearer. The West appears impotent and unwilling to challenge the CCP, no matter what it does. There are now more than 5.5 million deaths worldwide from Covid-19 and more than 870,000 deaths in America alone -- not to mention, even after years, devastating economic disruption across the planet.
China will constantly be assessing the political strength of its adversaries. European political leaders have never demonstrated the stomach to confront military threats. During my tenure as U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, I observed that Europeans always believed dialogue was more important than confrontation. Bad agreements were better than no agreements and being party to agreements that did not work was better than withdrawing.
The CCP will assess that the EU will not respond aggressively to military actions against Taiwan. They also likely assess the EU will do almost anything to protect its significant economic ties with China. The EU likely would propose as the appropriate response to any CCP action against Taiwan talks and talks and talks.
The CCP will assess that the Biden Administration, facing low polling numbers, continuing economic challenges, the pandemic and November midterm elections, will be unlikely to respond forcefully.
The CCP will assess that this is a unique and irresistible window of opportunity. China's economic position, the critical role it plays in the U.S. and global supply chain also will, they hope, mitigate any U.S. response.
The CCP will closely monitor the responses of the EU and U.S. to Russia's aggressive posture against Ukraine. Does Russia gain major concessions from the West? Does it grab another piece of Ukraine with little or only a modest reaction from the West? If so, this would signal to China that the West is unreliable ally and ripe for the picking.
The CCP will see that same dynamic at play with Taiwan. A successful "invasion" could come in the form of occupying small Taiwanese islands close to China. The CCP will assess that a bombardment or occupation of these islands will not generate a military response from the U.S.: it has not in the past. It will assess that going to war over unoccupied or lightly populated islands close to China would be a hard sell to the American people.
The CCP would rightly assess that a successful action such as this would further shake the Taiwanese peoples' and government's confidence in their reliance on the U.S. security umbrella.
In the year of the Tiger, the U.S. will be taking actions that will raise tensions with the CCP. The CCP will respond by possibly occupying a minor Taiwanese island. That would be going big in attempting to move the ball forward on one of the CCP's primary objectives, a full reunification with Taiwan.
The year of the Tiger will be turbulent. Both the CCP and the U.S. recognize that this is the year where they need to go big, because they are not going home. It was inevitable that this clash would take place. Now we have an idea of when it will take place.
Peter Hoekstra was US Ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration. He served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the second district of Michigan and served as Chairman and Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chairman of the Center for Security Policy Board of Advisors, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.