Congressman Andy Kim worries about war with China. Here’s why. | Morane

Congressman Andy Kim was with Speaker Nancy Pelosi when their military plane, a converted Boeing 737, landed in Taiwan last Tuesday evening. He was unprepared for what he saw.

“We had tens of thousands of people at midnight on the streets from the airport to our hotel, praising us and the American partnership with Taiwan,” he said. “There were a few pockets of protesters, but in a way that warmed my heart more, to see that people could protest without the threat of jail. Their democracy is something they cherish and why they are ready to fight.

Shortly after their landing, China announced its plans for military exercises around Taiwan, which became the most aggressive in history. They fired missiles into Taiwanese territory, sent dozens of screaming fighter jets across the demarcation line in the Taiwan Straits and positioned navy ships for a blockade of the island. It was an act of intimidation worthy of Vladimir Putin.

But in Taiwan, the danger to America is much greater than in Ukraine for a simple reason: President Biden promised that American troops would not directly engage the Russians in Ukraine, while not giving the Chinese a such insurance in Taiwan. In fact, Biden sent the opposite message in May when asked if the United States would “get involved militarily” in the event of an attack on Taiwan.

“Yes,” Biden said. “That’s the commitment we made.”

So I asked Kim a direct question: Should American families be willing to sacrifice their sons and daughters to defend Taiwan? Should we be prepared to risk a nuclear war?

“We need to have this conversation in the country, and hopefully we will have it with clear eyes,” he said. “A potential conflict in Taiwan is far beyond anything we have experienced in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is even different from Russia. Russia has the GDP of Spain, and obviously it’s not a superpower, it’s a rogue nation. It would be different depending on the size. It’s as serious as it gets. »

Okay, but does he personally think we should be prepared to fight China directly if they attack? He dodged again but listed all the good reasons we should.

“It goes to the heart of what American global leadership means,” he said. “How far are we prepared to go to defend democracy, here at home and abroad? When we see a nation of 24 million people, living in one of the strongest democracies in the world, we have to think about the responsibility we have.

This one isn’t easy, and I don’t claim to have the answer. But when Biden announced that we would not fight the Russians in Ukraine, his restraint seemed wise to me. Better to arm the Ukrainians to the teeth, as he does, while avoiding the risk of war with the Russians.

So why, I asked Kim, is this logic different in Taiwan?

“It’s different in a lot of ways,” he said. “We have a deeper and more enduring commitment to Taiwan, providing material for their own defense. And in Europe, a lot of our actions are dictated by our NATO treaty and our partnerships, so acting there requires strong collective action within a broad coalition, and a lot of NATO countries were hesitant to s involve more directly.

“We don’t have a NATO in Asia and I think that’s an important distinction. It falls on us much more when it comes to Taiwan, more than in Ukraine, where the main action is with Europe.

Kim is a caring man when it comes to national security. He served as a civilian adviser to General David Petraeus in Afghanistan and now sits on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees. His warmongering thinking on this issue contrasts with his gentle demeanor. He’s the guy who quietly returned to the Capitol after the Jan. 6 riots to pick up trash dumped in what he considers a sacred place. He says members of Congress on both sides talk about China too belligerently. Like Teddy Roosevelt, his philosophy seems to be: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

I asked him about the torrent of criticism of the trip, which many saw as a dangerous provocation by China at a perilous time when we need it to refrain from helping Russian forces in Ukraine. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, called the trip “totally reckless, dangerous and irresponsible”.

Kim admits he worries about it too. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t think of it on my own,” he said.

But he said China’s treatment of Taiwan had been more aggressive than ever under President Xi Jinping, cutting diplomatic contacts, bolstering its ability to invade with amphibious landings and air superiority, and claiming the waters of the Taiwan Strait as China’s territorial waters. . If left unchecked, he worries, China will be more likely to invade, with US military experts saying China will have the necessary capability by 2027, the 100th anniversary of its founding. army.

“They’re taking these escalating actions that disrupt the status quo,” Kim said. “It’s not like this visit happened in a vacuum.”

And despite the sensitive moment, he thinks China’s growing aggressiveness and military buildup have made the show of support pressing. “There is a countdown,” he said. “They want to be sure they have the capability for a possible invasion of Taiwan by 2027 at the latest. That worries me…And the idea that there’s some time down the road where a confrontation would be better, I’m not sure.”

How will this be solved without war? It’s hard to imagine Taiwan agreeing to reunite with China, especially after watching China break its word in Hong Kong by crushing its democracy. But Xi is determined and said last year he viewed reunification as “a historic mission and an unwavering commitment”.

Kim’s Republican opponent in November, Bob Healey, called the trip a “junket” which the dictionary defines as “an extravagant trip or celebration.” Hmmm.

To me, it looks more like a nightmare. Let’s hope it doesn’t start a nuclear war.

After: Columns by Tom Moran

Tom Moran can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. To find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.

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