by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: White House/Public Domain
A RECENT PODCAST by former Trump administration official Peter Navarro about Taiwan, entitled “How Taiwan Must Prepare for War, Imperial China Prepares Pearl Harbor 2.0”, proves a bizarre example of how MAGA Republicans imagine war scenarios between Taiwan and China. The podcast was released for Navarro’s regular podcast, “Taking Back Trump’s America.”
In particular, the podcast heavily leans into tropes about how China challenges America’s imperial glory. This is evident from the start of the podcast, in that Navarro phrases China’s expansion of its maritime power as “adventures in the South Pacific where the Imperial Japanese Navy once roamed as it prepared to attack America at Pearl Harbor.”
It is unclear what the reference to imperial Japan accomplishes, seeing as most countries in the Asia Pacific maneuver in the South Pacific, regardless of whether they are allies, client states, or potential antagonists for America. But the possibility of Chinese threats directed at Pacific Islands, including preemptive strikes on US territories such as Guam, is framed by Navarro and his interviewee Alex Gray, another former Trump administration official, as infringing upon the heroic sacrifice of Americans during World War III.
The Biden administration–referred to throughout the podcast as the “Biden regime”–has like the Trump administration before it sought to sought to keep Pacific islands from siding with China. However, the Biden administration’s attempts to appeal to Pacific islands over issues as justice for Indigenous or cooperation to combat climate change are sneered at as an ideological distraction by Gray and Navarro, though Gray at least suggests sympathy to victims of past nuclear testing by the US.
In the meantime, the solutions that Navarro and Gray offer for Taiwan are also highly reflective of their worldview. Taiwan is criticized for not spending enough on defense and called on to increase its defense spending to 5% of its GDP–a magical number produced out of thin air only by analog to Israel’s spending of that amount, a comparison that many critics of Taiwan over its defense spending are very fond of.
Navarro and Gray justify strong-arming Taiwan to do more for its own defense and suggest that Taiwan is otherwise merely freeloading off of the US, never mind that the military draft for all males was already extended to one year. Navarro and Gray suggest that the Taiwanese economy could, in fact, see benefits from expanding the defense industry yet nowhere do they note that it is not as though Taiwan freeloads from the US–Taiwan instead purchases arms from the US. And so it is the US arms industry that benefits from Taiwan’s defense needs, rather than that this benefits the Taiwanese economy. Though Navarro and Gray suggest that the Taiwanese government could try to increase domestic, homegrown defense spending, one expects that the US defense industry would be less happy about this, and seek to compel the US government to instead ensure that Taiwan continues to mainly purchase arms from the US.
Further suggestions by the duo are fanciful, such as suggesting that every police station in Taiwan be armed with Kestrel rocket launchers in order to fend off Chinese helicopters during an invasion. The two also call on Taiwan to develop a vigorous gun culture along the lines of the US, never mind that it is very possible to train the general population in the use of firearms without developing a gun culture along the lines of the US Indeed, in theory, the current military draft system for men already ensures that most male members of the population know how to use firearms, without leading to the propagation of firearms among the general public in a way that leads to violent crimes.
Otherwise, some comments by Navarro and Gray suggest that the two do not actually know very much about Taiwan. At one point, Gray suggests that former president Ma Ying-jeou met with Chinese president Xi Jinping during Ma’s recent visit to China, when no such thing occurred.
But perhaps the views of MAGA Republicans should not surprise. Certainly, one sees much of their projection of America onto Taiwan through their recommendations for Taiwan, as well as their blindness and idealization of American imperial power.