Most people assumed that Russia wouldn’t try a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Strategically it didn’t make sense. And indeed it didn’t.
The invasion was a disaster, but it still happened, and the resulting war is still underway.
Hitler’s invasion of Russia was strategically insane. Both the Russians and the Germans pursued horrible strategies that were badly thought out and came from the top down, from Hitler and Stalin, two megalomaniacs who believed that things should happen the way they wanted them to. Stalin planned battles using a globe instead of an atlas. Hitler referred his generals to adventure dime novels set in the Wild West. It was all insane and it happened and millions of people died.
What I’m saying here is don’t assume that China won’t invade Taiwan just because it doesn’t have the proper capabilities and any such move would be a disaster.
The real question is whether China’s generals are any more capable of saying “no” to Xi than Russian generals were of telling Putin the cold hard facts. Considering that Communist China is more ruthlessly repressive than Russia, and certainly more culturally conformist, the odds are they won’t.
Xi has proved to be a fairly canny leader, but the same was true of Putin. Power doesn’t just corrupt morally, it corrupts judgment. Dictators are capable of doing enormously stupid things because, like most of the political class, they’ve lost touch with reality.
I don’t think that China is about to invade Taiwan. There’s a larger plan that Communist China has been willing to slowly play out. But the ruthless crackdown and consolidation of Hong Kong shows that, like much of the politics of the world, Xi and the Communist elite have grown tired of waiting and trusting the plan. That kind of megalomania leads to immediate conquests and victories, which only further feeds that megalomania, until the whole thing runs aground on reality.
Communist China isn’t likely to actually jump. But it can’t be entirely ruled out either.
Reason only plays so much of a role in the minds of men. Xi wants to be considered one of the political immortals. Faced with questions about the future, Putin chose to launch a disastrous war that he will nonetheless pursue as long as there’s the possibility of achieving national consolidation and territorial goals. Xi has a lot more people to play with and China is capable of absorbing more losses. The logistics aren’t there, but Asian wars often don’t play by the same strategic rules.
Consider the insanity at Nanshan in the Russo-Japanese War. The pattern continued in WW2, Korea and Vietnam with Asian forces launching bloody assaults that made no sense whose larger purpose was to destroy the morale of the enemy and its will to fight at the expense of catastrophic losses to their own side.
That’s what a war would look like. And it would make the fighting in Ukraine look like a reasonable and friendly dispute.