Washington, DC — Distinguished visiting fellow Matt Pottinger brought his new book The Boiling Moat to Washington in June, urging lawmakers to embrace proposals that would deter China from invading Taiwan.

Across thirteen chapters, the book’s contributors outline what the costs would be to Taiwan and the United States if China invaded or blockaded the island nation, how to retool and beef up Taiwan’s military, and what regional partners such as Japan and Australia, and even nonregional ones such as the European Union nations, need to do to help deter China and prepare for its potential moves on Taiwan.

“We don’t have to have this war over Taiwan, this war that Xi Jinping is in fact preparing in earnest for,” Pottinger said at a panel organized on Capitol Hill on June 3. “But for us to avoid this catastrophe, an even bigger catastrophe than what we’re seeing in the Middle East or even Ukraine, we have to do certain things urgently.”

Pottinger said The Boiling Moat is different from other earlier entrants in the category of strategic advice for Taiwan, because it argues the island nation should prepare for the worst-case scenario—that a full-scale invasion is imminent—and discard discussions of preparing for lesser events.

“The odds of Beijing attempting something else militarily, like an offshore island capture or a sustained blockade, those things become far less likely if Beijing is persuaded that they wouldn’t be able to escalate further; if it was obvious they wouldn’t succeed in a full-scale invasion,” Pottinger said. 

Pottinger was joined on the panel by Alaska senator Dan Sullivan and Hoover fellows Glenn Tiffert and Matthew Turpin.

“It’s about closing the sense of optimism rising in the mind of one man, Xi Jinping, that war is going to work out for him in the end. We need to erode that sense of optimism,” Senator Sullivan said. 

Senator Sullivan just returned from an official congressional visit to Taiwan, where he met newly inaugurated Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te, and Singapore, where he heard state delegates from China speak about their views on relations with Taiwan and the United States, among other groups, at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

He said that while much is being made about China’s strategic threat to Taiwan, not enough is mentioned about how the mere existence of Taiwan as “an outpost of liberty” threatens the Communist Party of China (CCP).

“Taiwan also is a threat to the CCP, most of us know the reason why,” Senator Sullivan said. “It is a direct challenge to the model of Communist Party governance on the mainland. It is a direct challenge to the notion that one person ruling in perpetuity, crushing all dissent, knows what’s best for 1.4 billion people.”

Turpin, who contributed to the book’s chapter on the myth of accidental wars, spoke of how the last two years of war in Ukraine has influenced the Taiwan situation in the eyes of Beijing.

“We have now created the floor of what the expectation would be of the international response,” Turpin said. “From Beijing’s perspective, it is already baked in that we would likely do at least as much in the economic sanctions realm for Taiwan as we have done with Ukraine.”

He said the United States needs to convince its allies that a similar common front of sanctions would be imposed on China in the event of an invasion of Taiwan.

Senator Sullivan said that beyond Taiwan’s improving its own defenses, the second layer of deterrence is the possibility of US intervention.

“You look at all the different crises that involve the PLA [People’s Liberation Army of China] and Taiwan and usually they’ve ended because the US military has shown up and essentially said ‘hey, not today,’” Senator Sullivan explained.

Sullivan recounted that his first deployment as a marine officer was as part of the US naval response to the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996. That experience, he said, drew him to become interested in Taiwan’s future.

But Senator Sullivan said the expectation that the US military will shrink this decade threatens this layer of deterrence.

While in Washington, Pottinger participated in a media dinner and met with US Air Force officials at the Pentagon, diplomats at the State Department, Republican party leaders, and members of the US-CCP Competition Committee.

He also spoke to CBS’s Face the Nation and Voice of America about the contents of the book.

You can order a copy of The Boiling Moat here.

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