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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Taiwan, Unfinished Business, A Fareed Zakaria Special. Aired 8- 9p ET

Aired March 10, 2024 - 20:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In a conversation with Henry Kissinger in the 1970s, China's leader Mao Zedong said he could live without Taiwan for now. But in 100 years, we will want it, he said, and what's more, we are going to fight for it. Mao's 100-year deadline may arrive ahead of schedule.

In a Chinese documentary called "Chasing Dreams," the country's bravest warriors declared their willingness to die in an all-out invasion of Taiwan. If it's too hard to remove the mines in Taiwanese waters, one says, we would use our bodies to clear a pathway. My fighter jet would become a missile rushing towards the enemy if I used up my ammunitions, says a pilot. I want to see the other side of the strait, a soldier declares. I've been preparing for that day.

A war over Taiwan would be an act of madness. Tens of thousands could die.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nearly 1.2 million jobs have disappeared.

ZAKARIA: There could be a global great depression. Nuclear weapons would be on the table. An attack would be a massive gamble for China's Communist Party. It could risk losing the party's grip on power. But China appears to be preparing for its D-Day. Its leader Xi Jinping has said he seeks a peaceful reunion. But he wants his military ready to invade if necessary within three years, according to U.S. intelligence.

Why would China risk everything and throw the world into turmoil over an island less than 1 percent of its size?

To understand why, we need to understand Taiwan. Once a land of poverty that became a powerful economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taiwan was officially ceded to Japan.

ZAKARIA: A former colony turned vibrant democracy. But for China --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a full-scale civil war.

ZAKARIA: -- Taiwan is an open wound. Part of a history of humiliation which remains unfinished business.

ZAKARIA: Good evening. I'm Fareed Zakaria welcome to a special hour on Taiwan.

(Voice-over): The National Palace Museum holds much of China's most precious works of art treasures from the Song Dynasty. Vases from the Ming Dynasty. 8,000 years of priceless history.

It's China's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its Louve. But it is not in Beijing. It is in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A race for territory began.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): In 1949.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has to be no compromise.

ZAKARIA: At the end of a brutal civil war, China's leader, Chiang Kai- shek, shipped those treasures to Taiwan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The communist are in the Yangtze Valley.

ZAKARIA: To keep them from his rival Mao Zedong.

SHELLEY RIGGER, DAVIDSON COLLEGE: They carried those treasures with them because as the guardians of the Chinese civilization, they felt that they had to also be the guardians of those objects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Year after year this civil war goes on.

ZAKARIA: Chiang and his Nationalist Party had been fighting Mao and the Communist Party since the 1920s in one of the bloodiest civil wars the world had seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have passed the point of no return. No mercy say the communist. Each side blames the other.

ZAKARIA: Over two million soldiers were killed or wounded with roughly five million civilians dead, and Chiang Kai-shek was about to lose.

RANA MITTER, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: This was a war between two parties fighting for the soul of China. Ultimately the communists won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A red China that has played powerful and ruthless communist co-equal of Soviet Russia.

ZAKARIA: Chairman Mao declared the dawn of the People's Republic of China.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nationalist government flee to the independent island of Formosa.

ZAKARIA: Chiang and his half-a-million troops escaped to Taiwan, but claimed their defeat was only a temporary setback.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liberate the homeland is the call to arms.

MINXIN PEI, CLAREMONT MCKENNA COLLEGE: Chiang harbored this fantasy of recovering the mainland.

ZAKARIA: Chiang Kai-shek set up an entire government in exile with leaders for all of mainland China's provinces.

DAVID SHAMBAUGH, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: This was a pipe dream. Recovering the mainland is a pipe dream.

ZAKARIA: The regime mobilized the whole island to fulfill that pipe dream of retaking the mainland, even though most of Taiwan's population was not even from there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: High pay, the Taiwanese capital is the government's seat of nationalist China.

ZAKARIA: Taiwan had its own history and people. A mix of ethnic Chinese, aborigines and other groups.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taiwan's early history is a series of wars, rebellions and invasions.

ZAKARIA: It had been occupied by Japan since the late 1800s. At the end of World War II the nationalists took over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Imposing their own personal dictatorship.

ZAKARIA: And they brought their autocratic ways from the mainland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no opposition party. Freedom is limited. Amnesty International accuses the government of torturing political prisoners.

ZAKARIA: Tens of thousands were murdered by the regime. Chiang Kai- shek's rule became known as the white terror.

MITTER: The rationale was that essentially Taiwan was under siege, under siege from the forces of communism.

ZAKARIA: In fact, Chairman Mao was attacking Taiwanese islands near the mainland throughout the 1950s. For both sides, the civil war had never really ended.

RIGGER: They each are trying to indicate to the other this isn't over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Red China is warned by the president that he will not hesitate to commit American armed forces.

ZAKARIA: Mao's attacks got America's attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The addition of Nike Hercules missile batteries on Formosa.

ZAKARIA: And nearly led to the unthinkable.

PEI: The U.S. responded by threatening to strike China's coastal cities with nuclear weapons. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the war's most historic meeting.

ZAKARIA: America's relationship with Taiwan had been complicated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long live the revolutionary of the Nationalist China.

ZAKARIA: It had bankrolled Chiang Kai-shek in the civil war then turned its back on him after he lost, and plan to abandon him if Mao invaded. But in June of 1950 --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are fighting in Korea for our own national security and survival.

ZAKARIA: Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, and neighboring Taiwan became a crucial cold war flare.

RIGGER: The tune in Washington changed 180 degrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the most powerful nation in the world we have to assume world responsibilities.


ZAKARIA: President Harry Truman sent the Navy into the Taiwan Strait.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Eisenhower praised for most of all, keeping alive the cause of liberty.

ZAKARIA: And America backed Taiwan as the only legitimate government of China.

SHAMBAUGH: Chiang Kai-shek owes Kim Il-sung a major debt of gratitude for saving his regime because Mao was about to send a million troops across the Taiwan Strait to finish his regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chiang and Madame Chiang were pictured as the aging Kennedys of a Camelot.

ZAKARIA: The U.S. now painted Chiang Kai-shek.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to free China.

ZAKARIA: As a defender of freedom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dream of liberty.

ZAKARIA: But by the 1970s, times were changing. America was losing a war in Vietnam and President Richard Nixon needed a new Cold War strategy.

BONNY LIN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The greatest threat to the United States was not China. It was the Soviet Union.

SHAMBAUGH: China could be an important supplement to the American deterrent against Soviet adventurism in Europe, as well as Asia worldwide.

ZAKARIA: Nixon sent Henry Kissinger on a secret visit to Beijing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: East meets West as a handshake bridges 22 years of hostility.

ZAKARIA: The following year, he met with Mao.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not want walls to ideology or philosophy between peoples.

ZAKARIA: Opening the door for a whole new relationship with mainland China.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Our two peoples tonight hold the future of the world in our hands.

ZAKARIA: Meanwhile at the United Nations, Mao's China was invited in. While Chiang Kai-shek's Taiwan was forced out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a final leaving?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. OK. Oh, no, no. We don't want any question.

ZAKARIA: And a few years later America recognized Beijing as the real China.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This will serve the interest of both our nations.

ZAKARIA: Cutting off diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

CARTER: To the health of the Republic of China.

RIGGER: People in Taiwan are freaking out.

MITTER: This would leave Taiwan in a globally highly isolated position.

ZAKARIA: Taiwan had reached a dangerous low point. What's more, Chiang Kai-shek, its longtime leader, had died. Chiang's son, Chiang Ching- kuo, took over and pursued a bold new strategy. To move Taiwan toward democracy in order to save it.

PEI: He knew that the future of Taiwan would depend on support of the U.S. But how do you build up American support? You have to be really democratic.

ZAKARIA: Chiang filled key government posts with native Taiwanese. Massive pro-democracy protests pushed Chiang further and helped spawn the Democratic Progressive Party. Taiwan's first big political opposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Martial law was declared officially at an end.

ZAKARIA: In 1987 Chiang lifted the island's decades-long state of martial law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chiang oversaw a major political liberalization inside Taiwan.

ZAKARIA: The following year, Taiwan's Gorbachev passed away. And his vice-president, Lee Teng-hui, a native of Taiwan, took the helm.

MITTER: He regarded himself as someone standing up for the island's interests and this was a real earthquake in terms of the domestic politics of the island of Taiwan.

ZAKARIA: Democracy under President Lee arrived fast and furiously. Old, unelected legislators from the mainland were forced out. And the first full elections for parliament brought new blood in.


RIGGER: We used to joke about how you have to go to Taiwan every year because something is happening for the first time in every election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Candidates are out in force. Voters in Taiwan go to the polls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As they directly elect their president for the first time.

ZAKARIA: Taiwan's first free presidential election was held in 1996.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This election represents an historic turning points.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the culmination of nine years of reforms.

ZAKARIA: And Lee Teng-hui, known as Mr. Democracy, won decisively. For the first time in China's 4,000-year history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a major step.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Transforming an authoritarian state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the world's first genuinely democratic Chinese society.

ZAKARIA: A Chinese people had freely chosen its leader.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The impact of what happened --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will be shaping Asia for the next 50 years.

ZAKARIA: Back in Beijing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The leadership here cannot allow any attempts to divide China.

ZAKARIA: There was shock and rage. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New warnings by China's military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chinese military exercises.

ZAKARIA: Weeks earlier, China had launched missiles that landed close to Taiwan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beijing insists democracy is not a suitable form of government.

ZAKARIA: And rehearsed for an amphibious assault.

SHAMBAUGH: Missile firings into the sea just to show their ire and their anger.

ZAKARIA: Not only had the so-called renegade province gone democratic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beijing acknowledges deep opposition to independence.

ZAKARIA: There was talk of independence during the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lee struck a defiant note, declaring that he would never give in to Chinese pressure.

ZAKARIA: A nightmare scenario for the party of Mao.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taiwan's troops remain on high alert.

SHAMBAUGH: If Taiwan were to consider proclaiming independence, it would be literally explosive. That is the one thing the mainland has said would provoke an attack.

ZAKARIA: Coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Taiwan mainland thaw represents a stunning change.

ZAKARIA: How a reunion between two bitter enemies seemed possible once upon a time.



ZAKARIA: Before a bitter civil war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mao's forces swept over all of mainland China.

ZAKARIA: And decades of conflict.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a hazardous task for ships trying to beat the communist blockade of Quemoy.

ZAKARIA: The man who would eventually lead China, Deng Xiaoping, and the future president of Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo, were classmates and close friends in college. They studied together in the 1920s and lived in the same university dormitory. Two men cut from the same cloth, like many of their fellow communist and rival nationalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is to be no compromise.

ZAKARIA: What's more, these warring factions shared the same dream, to reunify their homeland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free China. What a difference a word makes.

ZAKARIA: And that homeland was China. Like bitter sibling rivals, the two sides hated each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Highest level talks between the Communist China and its longtime nationalist adversary in 43 years.

ZAKARIA: But there was always the hope that they would remain family. This is the story of a family rift that seem to be mending but became permanent much to the shock of Beijing. For decades, China's founding revolutionary, Mao Zedong, had been threatening to liberate Taiwan by force.

But all of that changed with Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping. Deng pursued a kinder, gentler approach to the world including Taiwan. He made it an offer he thought it couldn't refuse. If the island returned to the motherland it would be allowed to essentially run itself, keeping its own political system, its economy, and even its military.

PEI: His offer slogan was one country, two systems.

ZAKARIA: Deng's old classmate, Chiang Ching-kuo, turned him down. But quietly Chiang abandon his father, Chiang Kai-shek's old pipe dream of taking back the mainland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The prime minister's visit to China in September, 1982, provided the opportunity to open discussion.

ZAKARIA: Deng then offered one country, two systems to the British colony of Hong Kong in the 1980s. Hoping it would eventually become an alluring example for Taiwan.

RIGGER: Hong Kong was supposed to be the test case to prove that the PRC could be trusted to actually tolerate another system.

ZAKARIA: Then suddenly a bizarre breakthrough when a Taiwanese pilot hijacked the plane and defected to China. The two sides were forced to end their silence for the first time since the Chinese civil war, leading to a surprising rapprochement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thousands of Taiwan residents are returning to their families and hometowns here.

ZAKARIA: Families that had been separated for decades were now allowed to visit each other. Trade, once a trickle, rose into the billions. A national unification council in Taiwan explored a roadmap for a reunion. And a historic summit in Singapore was held to much fanfare. RIGGER: There were a lot of people who were kind of trying to come up with something. Should it be a commonwealth? Or a confederation? Or what about something like the E.U.?

ZAKARIA: But Taiwan was undergoing a massive sea change. Democracy was flourishing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Lee's swept to victory with almost 54 percent of the vote.

ZAKARIA: And the Taiwanese people were asserting their own unique identity.

RIGGER: The question really became, why are we still worrying about China? We've been separated since 1949. Why can't we just get a divorce?

ZAKARIA: Beijing was shocked and appalled by this metamorphoses.

SHAMBAUGH: I don't think the Chinese Communist Party and its leadership have ever understood the reality on the ground in Taiwan.


ZAKARIA: What's more, the pro-unification nationalists lost power in 2000.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people of Taiwan have spoken.

ZAKARIA: To the more anti-mainland Democratic Progressive Party.

MITTER: A major Democratic turning point in Taiwan.

ZAKARIA: And though the nationalists regained power in 2008 and signed a flurry of trade deals with China, they were met with massive protests known as the Sunflower Movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Students occupied parliament.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The polls have just closed in Taiwan.

ZAKARIA: Soon Taiwan's more anti-Beijing party, the DPP, was back in power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A really very clear victory for Tsai Ing-wen.

ZAKARIA: Meanwhile in Beijing, a new leader in the mold of Mao, was far less tolerant of bold assertion from its sibling rival, Xi Jinping. His signature initiative was China's great rejuvenation. Restoring its historic status as a great power.

SHAMBAUGH: But until Taiwan is brought back into the fold, that rejuvenation will not be seen as complete.

ZAKARIA: In Hong Kong, Xi effectively eradicated one country, two systems. Bringing a freedom-loving city to its knees. RIGGER: Taiwanese were riveted by what was happening in Hong Kong.

ZAKARIA: The message to Taiwan was clear. You could be next.



ZAKARIA: Taiwanese call it their sacred mountain. Protector of the nation. It's not a religious shrine or a top-secret weapon. It's a world-renowned company that makes the most important technology in the world today. The microchip. Our lives run on semiconductors.

JASON HSU, HARVARD UNIVERSITY FELLOW: From our phones, to our cars, in our military use, semiconductor is omnipresent today.

ZAKARIA: And nobody makes them better than Taiwan. Over 60 percent of the world's chips come from this small island, and 90 percent of the most advanced chips are made by just one company. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Microchips are the oil of the 21st century, and if Taiwan is attacked, the whole world could grind to a halt. Plunging into a global great depression.

How did Taiwan, this David in the Pacific, become the Goliath of semiconductors?

This is the story of how one man rewrote Taiwan's destiny, and how microchips might save its future.

1949, Mao's communists are sweeping across China, driving Chiang Kai- shek and the nationalists from the mainland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Left behind is a nation in chaos.

ZAKARIA: A young student, Morris Chang, also fleas, leaving Hong Kong for Harvard. Then MIT. Eventually he moves to cowboy country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mighty Texas. Largest of all the United States.

ZAKARIA: And joins another premier institution. Texas Instruments.

MARK LIU, CHAIRMAN, TSMC: At that time, TI Semiconductor is number one in the world. It was the company to work for if you were in the semiconductor industry.

ZAKARIA: Here, Chang becomes an American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The objective, semiconductors.

ZAKARIA: And a master of making chips.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a very exciting time for the semiconductor technology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today and tomorrow, a new tool.

CHRIS MILLER, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: And chipmaking is more of an art than a science.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The basic goal, make it smaller, more reliable, more economical.

MILLER: And that's what Morris Chang was particularly skilled at. Finding new ways to improve product quality and drive down the price.


ZAKARIA: While Chang was climbing the corporate ladder, China shook the world. Detonating its first nuclear bomb in 1964. Meanwhile, a bloody war in Vietnam had America considering a retreat in Asia.

MILLER: When Richard Nixon was elected, he gave a very prominent speech talking about having Asian allies and partners stand up for their own defense rather than relying on the United States. If you are sitting in Taiwan that made you very, very nervous.

ZAKARIA: Taiwan desperately needed a way to keep its powerful ally on board. The solution, link Taiwan's economy much more closely to America's, to give the U.S. more skin in the game.

MILLER: The more U.S. factories they had on the island, the more U.S. companies would have a real stake in making sure that China didn't attack.

ZAKARIA: By 1969 Texas Instruments was in Taiwan. The island was industrializing quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Its so-called economic miracle.

ZAKARIA: Fast becoming the famed Taiwan miracle. Meanwhile, Morris Chang's career had stalled at Texas Instruments. Soon Taiwan came calling. Its government asked him to lead not just one company, but to lead Taiwan's entire chip industry. It was an offer he couldn't refuse.

MILLER: He saw a unique opportunity to build something almost from scratch.

ZAKARIA: Now in Taiwan can pioneered a radical new business model. At the time, most chip companies designed and made their own chips, but manufacturing them was painstakingly difficult and expensive. So Chang decided that Taiwan would become the world's master chip maker, building the chips that other companies designed.

MILLER: The intuition was sort of like Gutenberg. Gutenberg didn't write any books. He only printed them. Morris Chang didn't want to design any new chips. He only wanted to manufacture them.

ZAKARIA: Chang's approach was a massive gamble.

MILLER: At the time it was a crazy idea because there were no companies that existed that only designed chips.

ZAKARIA: But Chang was determined. In 1987, he founded the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, or TSMC.

MILLER: It would give birth to a series of other startups that wouldn't have to invest in factories, wouldn't have to invest in equipment. Only do the design and rely on him to manufacture.

HSU: And that was essentially how Taiwan changed the game.

ZAKARIA: The orders started rolling in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm predicting a fairly healthy growth this year.

ZAKARIA: And the company became an industry leader.

HSU: TSMC leapfrogged in his technology breakthrough, and Intel and Samsung had no way to catch up.

ZAKARIA: Today TSMC is the only company making the most powerful semiconductor in the latest iPhones. A chip packed with 19 billion microscopic transistors. Each less than half the size of a coronavirus. That mastery has made TSMC one of the most value companies in the world.

BECCA WASSER, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SOCIETY: TSMC is the crown jewel. It has semiconductors that everybody wants.

ZAKARIA: But one of the company's biggest customers is also Taiwan's biggest threat. China is highly dependent on TSMC. It got 70 percent of its chips from there in 2020.

MILLER: And this is something that makes them concerned, frightened, but also angry.

ZAKARIA: Some in China say it must seize TSMC. But could they?

PEI: It's total nonsense. The most valuable things about TSMC is its all engineers. Those engineers could refuse to work.

ZAKARIA: Some believed TSMC isn't a target on Taiwan, but a silicon shield over it.

JOSEPH WU, TAIWANESE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: TSMC is going to be a deterrence against the idea of aggression against Taiwan.

ZAKARIA: That's because an attack on Taiwan would likely shut down the chip industry and ruin China's own economy.


For Xi Jinping, that might be a risk worth taking.

WASSER: For China it's not just about chips. It's about unification. That is part of their basic ethos.

ZAKARIA: Coming up next, what would an invasion of Taiwan look like.


ZAKARIA: Picture this. Chinese missile strikes wreaking havoc, pounding Taiwan's military. Amid the chaos a decapitation strike. Chinese special forces tried to kill or capture Taiwan's leaders. Meanwhile, a full-on amphibious assault with hundreds of thousands of troops crossing the Taiwan Strait.

This is one of the most dire scenarios experts predict for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, and it may happen sooner than you think.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Beijing may be moving much faster than expected with its plans for a so-called reunification.

ZAKARIA: Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said that he seeks a peaceful reunification, but he has also said that China will never commit to abandoning the use of force to reunify with Taiwan. And that he wants his military to be ready in three years, according to U.S. intelligence. A single spark could set the wheels of one motion, experts say.

HSU: Any kind of accident that could escalate out of control is a possibility.

ZAKARIA: Something as simple as an accidental collision of Chinese and Taiwanese jets.

LIN: Once we have an accident, we could see a range of the cascading actions that could eventually lead to potential or major Chinese use of force.

ZAKARIA: An initial force of 60,000 Chinese troops could try to gain a foothold on the island, paving the way for up to a million more troops to arrive. But Taiwan would be no easy target. Much of its terrain as rocky and unforgiving. Very challenging for an amphibious assault.

A key to victory for China, experts say, would be speed. Securing crucial footholds on the island early before the United States and its allies could react.

WU: Beijing must think twice. If they are not able to take Taiwan over quickly, I think they need to pause before they act.

ZAKARIA: President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that the U.S. would defend Taiwan.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS 60 MINUTES: U.S. forces, U.S. men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?


ZAKARIA: But it might take a while for the U.S. to pull the trigger on such a massive operation.

Xi could also try a very different approach, taking Taiwan without firing a single shot. How? By launching a massive blockade of the island,

WASSER: What China would be doing is trying to choke Taiwan to make its population and its leadership capitulate.

ZAKARIA: Taiwan is almost completely dependent on coal and natural gas imports for all of its electricity. Most of its food comes from abroad. Those supplies could run low in as little as two weeks, according to some analysts, bringing the island to its knees. Whatever Xi decides, the scary fact is that Taiwan may not be fully prepared to defend itself.

Many military experts have urged Taiwan to rely on the so-called porcupine strategy.

WASSER: The idea there is for Taiwan to make itself so prickly, so pointy that it would be difficult for China.

LIN: Taiwan needs to spend on a large number of small things.

ZAKARIA: Things like shoulder-fired missiles and mines. These weapons are relatively small and simple to operate, yet potentially have a very high impact.

HSU: We have to be able to inflict so much pain on our adversary and to ensure that they cannot come a step closer.

ZAKARIA: Yet Taiwan continues to order billions of dollars of bigger weapons from the U.S., like fighter jets and tanks that China could destroy in a matter of hours. And over all the talk of invasion looms the specter of the most horrific threat.


PEI: We're totally in unchartered territory.

ZAKARIA: China has more than doubled its nuclear arsenal since 2020, according to the Pentagon. One of its most ambitious military initiatives. Even without nuclear escalation, this is a war that all sides would lose.

LIN: We could see millions dead.

ZAKARIA: A disaster of historic proportions.

WASSER: We find ourselves looking at numbers that are akin to World War II.

ZAKARIA: Up next, my thoughts on Taiwan.



ZAKARIA: And finally some of my own thoughts on this subject. A couple of years ago, "The Economist" declared on its cover that Taiwan, this tiny island, home to 24 million people, was the most dangerous place on earth. The reasons it came to that conclusion remains sound. In fact, have only grown stronger recently. The backdrop to the tensions over Taiwan is of course the new geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States.

Ever since the rise of Xi Jinping and then Donald Trump, both nations have fundamentally shifted their attitudes toward the other. From benign to wary to hostile. Perhaps the extraordinary and rapid growth of China and the reality of America's dominance status make this inevitable. A rising power faces an established one, creating a situation that may be in the words of Graham Allison, destined for war.

But are we destined for war? The U.S. and China are unusual in that while increasingly geopolitical rivals, they're also deeply intertwined economically. One example, during the Cold War, at the peak of U.S.-Soviet trade, the two countries exchanged $5 billion of goods with each other in one year. China and the U.S. do $5 billion in trade every few days. And that number has not dropped that much even as tariffs, bans and restrictions have grown in recent years.

In addition, China does not seem to be a revolutionary state seeking to overthrow the international system and present the world with an alternative ideology to America. That idea logical rivalry at the heart of the Cold War is largely absent today. One thing that is present, however, is nuclear deterrence. China and the U.S. both have large arsenals, which should have the effect they have had elsewhere, on the U.S. and Soviet Union to Pakistan and India in deterring all- out war.

And yet, and yet, there is the problem of Taiwan that sits at the heart of U.S.-China relations. China has never accepted that Taiwan can be an independent country. Every leader, beginning with Mao Zedong, has a firm the goal of reunifying the two. But in the past, communist China believed that it could wait because time was on its side. Eventually, the mainland with its massive economy and billion- plus population, would draw the tiny island of 24 million into its orbit.

That was the thinking. But that premise is proving untrue. Taiwan has developed into a feisty democracy with the political culture defined by its political system and in stark contrast to China. Over the past few decades, Taiwan has gotten more determined not to reunify with China.

So Xi Jinping must look at this situation, feel time is not on his side. Perhaps it would be better to act sooner than later.

For America and its many allies in Asia, Chinese aggression to retake Taiwan would be unacceptable. Washington has been willing to accept China's claims on Taiwan as long as it did not use coercion to achieve them.

Taiwan policy for all sides has been about tolerating fantasies about the future. As long as there are no practical changes in the present. Most people in Taiwan simply want to maintain the status quo and keep things going as they are. While the recent elections on the island brought to power for a third term a party that is closely associated with the idea of an independent Taiwan, it's worth noting that it got only 40 percent of the vote with the other 60 percent going to two candidates with less independence minded positions.

What does all this mean? That this issue will need to be managed rather than solved, and managed very carefully both by Beijing and Washington. This is the one place on earth where there should be little room for macho rhetoric and provocative actions. All three sides should keep talking to ensure no misperceptions or miscalculations.

Deterring China from invasion is crucial. But persuading Taiwan to avoid needless provocation is also important. Washington should be careful not to needlessly provoke China as well.

None of this is morally satisfying. But the stakes are high enough that one thing is clear. Were these tensions to be mismanaged, were this conflict to turn into war, it would be a lose, lose, lose for all three parties. Indeed, the whole world would suffer cataclysmic consequences.

Better to kick the can down the road as long as possible. And hope it doesn't explode.

Thank you for watching this special hour on Taiwan. I'm Fareed Zakaria.