Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan marks the beginning of a new and dire strategic crisis with China. Whether by accident or design, the Biden administration is sleepwalking into war with China—quickly, but not quickly enough for most Republican leaders. While the United States wasted $6 trillion or more in failed nation-building campaigns during the past 20 years, China focused its military resources on surface-to-ship missiles, modern aircraft, submarines, and electronic warfare measures on its coast. If we fight China on its home seas, we probably will lose.

“There is a fundamental asymmetry of strategic interest in Taiwan.”

There is a fundamental asymmetry of strategic interest in Taiwan between China and the United States. China is not a nation-state but a polyglot empire. Only 1 in 10 Chinese converses in Mandarin, the state dialect, according to a 2014 government study. Most speak one of 200 dialects. China is held together as it has been for thousands of years by a common tax collector in Beijing and the Mandarin bureaucracy, recast as the Chinese Communist Party. One rebel province—as Beijing views Taiwan—sets a precedent for many. Countless times in its long history, China has fragmented into warring provinces, encouraged during the 19th and 20th centuries by foreign powers.

Opposition to Taiwanese sovereignty is a raison d’etre of the Chinese state, and Beijing will go to war to prevent it. Beijing will tolerate the status quo, but not if it believes the United States is promoting Taiwanese sovereignty.

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