Is President Tsai Ing-wen Moving towards Independence? An Interview with Dave Stilwell, Part Two

Simone Gao: (25:22)

let me talk about President’s Tsai Ing-wen’s recent move. Tsai Ing-wen had declared that ROC, Republic of China, and People’s Republic of China do not belong to each other. And to China, this is an indication of moving towards independence. And the U.S. hasn’t said anything about this yet. What do you think the U.S.’s stance is on this?

David Stilwell: (25:57)

Our stance is that we let the DPP and the Taiwan government do what it thinks is best. We obviously are concerned of any just blatant statements of independence, which Beijing has said it would, it would interpret as, uh, an invitation to invasion or whatever else you get. They’re, they’re very clear. I mean, Beijing is fuzzy on a lot of things. They employ ambiguity quite well, too. Um, but you know, any, uh, overt declaration of independence, they have said, in front of their own people multiple times, that that would be cause Bella, that they would take that as, uh, the, uh, key, the trigger to go to war. Uh, one of the key issues I mentioned before here is the fact that they have stated this in front of their own people. And I think Beijing is very concerned about how its own people view it.

David Stilwell: (26:46)

You know, its legitimacy, especially in a period of time when the economy is faltering. You recall that the, the unholy agreement between the CCP and the Chinese people: you allow us to run the country, and we’ll allow you to get rich. And people took that bargain and they, but they bought houses here in Hawaii that they could escape to, and they got blue passports, American passports, for their families’ escape plans and all that stuff. Hedging their bets, but they allowed the government to rule. But what happens when the economy is no longer, you know, cranking out 8% growth every year, and the people are, uh, starting to see their fortunes slip away? Uh, that to me is a cause, gives you cause for uh, concern. Um, uh, and that’s a conversation we should be having, uh, either at a low level or at the high stuff.

David Stilwell: (27:36)

Maybe when President Biden speaks to Xi Jinping, uh, on Monday, it looks like, maybe that’s going to be one of the topics is, you know–hang on a sec–you, you, uh, you throw this at every visiting delegation to read, and I’ve read it. I don’t know if you guys have read it, but basically it’s saying that, you know, our way is just as valid as your way and, and, and don’t, don’t question or, or wreck it. Well, what if it’s not? And what if the Chinese people no longer believe that, you know, the governance, his governance of China is not necessarily the way to go? This takes us to understand that, um, all these things have a domestic component that, uh, that Xi Jinping has to consider. And we should consider that as well as we prepare for, uh, potential outcomes or, you know, bad outcomes.

Simone Gao: (28:24)

Right. Uh, I agree with you that neither side, China or Taiwan, uh, has the will to break the balance right now. You know, China is not totally ready to invade Taiwan and Taiwan doesn’t, definitely doesn’t want to, uh, provoke anything. But there’s one thing that may break the balance and that’s the Sixth Plenary Session of the CCP they just had. So, that meeting just finished and, uh, uh, it seems like, uh, Xi Jinping’s position has been reinforced, and this might pave the way for him to take a third term in 2022. Um, how do you think, how do you think this will affect the situation in Taiwan, if his position does get reinforced and he will get a third term?

David Stilwell: (29:17)

It’s really hard to say. Uh, but you know, he’s basically violating, uh, 60 years of–well, since ’79, ’80, so he’s violating 40 years–of protocol. You know, their system basically said you get two terms, five years a piece. You could count on being in power for 10 years, but because we don’t want to become the Soviet Union, remember that…if you’ve ever seen the movie The Death of Stalin, I think you get a good idea of what a bad outcome looks like in this case. They understand that there’s got to be a transition. You can’t have a cultive personality like Mao, ’cause you see what happens. And I think we’re seeing that happen now as well. You’re seeing it when you have one person who gains too much power in the system, uh, it will eventually take you into, uh, a dead end. The question about how the sixth plenum turned out, though, to me is still a question.

David Stilwell: (30:02)

You know, if you read Xinhua People’s Daily, it says, you know, Xi’s declared better than Mao or on par with Mao, whatever honorifics that come up after–the core and the people’s leader and whatever they throw at him. I’m not sure, and I think the, the jury is out as to whether we actually reinforced Xi Jinping’s position here, or if there was a lot of tension and friction, uh, as people are questioning his ability to continue to lead. That answer, that won’t come out for a while. We’re not going to understand that. But if you read Desmond Shum’s book Red Roulette, which I hope everybody gets a chance to, it reads really well. It’s right up there with, uh, uh, John Garnaut’s book, The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo, another great book, uh, a similar subject, basically saying the facade of a monolithic PRC CCP leadership is a facade.

David Stilwell: (30:58)

There is a lot, as with any human endeavor, there is a lot of back-channel push and pull. There’s, you know, cliques and, and arguments and all that stuff. So, if you look at what Desmond Shum just published, boy that’s got to put the CCP on notice and it’s got to really make them nervous that these things are leaking out more and more. I mean, you are seeing more leaks now from the PRC than you’ve seen in the past as well. That’s people who are unhappy with how things are going. You can look forward to more of those leaks, which I believe will tell you that, uh, sixth plenary probably didn’t go as well as they would have you believe. And the last thing I’ll say on that is if you…I, I read this stuff every day. I try to stay current on all these events. I can’t keep up. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t keep up with the mountains of data coming out of Beijing and then the analysis that goes into that data. Uh, it’s just overwhelming. I’ve never seen, uh, as much change, writing, uh, policy suggestions and all the rest as I’ve seen in the last six months or so. So, all that’s to say the jury’s out. We have to employ time and patience and see how this pans out in two or three months.

Simone Gao: (32:05)

Right, right. Exactly. Uh, you know, I agree with you, there’s different opinions on the sixth plenary session, you know, their analysis saying that Xi Jinping did not get what he wanted from this meeting. Uh, that’s because the resolution did not put Xi Jinping above other communist leaders and, therefore, there’ll still be a hard fight to be fought for the 2022 20th, uh, Congress, National Congress, uh, and Xi Jinping might not get a third term. So, from the American point of view, if Xi Jinping does not get a third term, how will that affect the Taiwan Strait relations?

David Stilwell: (32:48)

I can’t see–again, this is easily arguable, but personally, I can’t see how that would be a bad thing, because that indicates a reconsideration of the current strategy. The fact, that, uh, you know, the current, uh, People’s leader was removed after all the efforts to change the system to allow him to govern, uh, through 2027 or beyond. The fact that that changed, uh, would tell you that there’s been a rethink. And my hope, and I think this is accurate, is that they would sort of, you know, withdraw and get focused on fixing problems at home first. Get, get the, the, uh, domestic issues under control. The rampant corruption. In spite of the disciplinary inspection efforts by Wang Qishan and his successor, corruption still is a massive problem, because the system runs on corruption. That’s…it’s like cancer, man. You pull the cancer out, but you pull the affected organ as well.

David Stilwell: (33:50)

You can’t separate the two. But he’s going to have to deal with that for a much, much longer time. And I do believe he’s, he understands that corruption is going to be the downfall of the Party. I remember stories of friends, um, you know, think tank friends in Beijing, who live near some PLA facilities, and you couldn’t go to a high-end restaurant and have any fun because the uniform PLA guys took the banquet room and they took all the Mai Tai and they took all the best food and, and they made a heck of a lot of noise and the people hear and see these things, and they don’t like it. They’re, you know, they’re having a great time and we’re, our economic prospects continue to decline. These are stories that, Simone, I think you guys can really help to expose as well, to show all this stuff well.

Simone Gao: (34:35)

Right, right. Uh, I think one particular concern about Xi Jinping not be able to resume a third term is he would do something, uh, desperate before the…

David Stilwell: (34:49)


Simone Gao: (34:49)

Yeah. desperation. So, would that be something the American part will consider or nobody was thinking about that?

David Stilwell: (34:58)

Oh, of course. I mean, we talk about that a lot. Diversionary wars, right? Things you do externally that create unity and support, uh, internally. Of course. Um, but I can’t think of one time that the PRC has done that. Some would point to Vietnam in 1979. I think that was all about splitting up an alliance between the Soviet Union and Vietnam. It had nothing to do with, uh, maybe securing, Deng Xiaoping or, or, you know, Zhao Ziyang or whoever’s position, you know, as they, as they recovered. Or actually–uh, uh, I’ll think of his name–Hu Yaobang. You know, supporting his position post-Mao. I, I don’t see that. Again, the odds are against you in something like that. Here’s the second question, you know, being a military guy: would the PLA obey those orders? When, when Xi Jinping first came to power in 2012, I remember hearing for the first time him say, PLA, you need to prepare for war.

David Stilwell: (35:57)

If you were to tell an American military person that, I would load up bombs, I would get them armed, and I would sit there on the end of the runway and wait for the order to take off, like we did in 1991 with Kuwait, to take off and go do my nation’s bidding, protect our national interests, through the military. So, so when Xi Jinping is telling the PLA prepare for war, we all imagined the worst, but what we quickly understood was he saying, no, actually like practice, like maybe get good at doing your job, because we may need you to do it at some point in the future, but we need you to stop working in art auctions, in real estate, in all these other, you know, commercial activities, and lining your pockets with all this ill-earned cash and focus on your primary job, which is national defense…uh, nope. Party defense. Defense of the Party, not defense of the nation. That’s another key point with the PLA. 

Simone Gao: (36:47)

Right, right. So, you think that’s not something like, uh, the U.S. should take into consideration, very…

David Stilwell: (36:55)

A key variable here in your, what you’re suggesting, is will the PLA fight?

Simone Gao: (37:01)

Within the PLA fight…

David Stilwell: (37:03)

Because this is…what if they determine this is a losing game, because they would face Japan, the U.S., they probably see some Australian activity, India. You can imagine that they would have to look at the western military region also getting involved if, if India or others chose to join in this, you know, sort of punitive response. So, yeah, I, I think there’s enough doubt there that, uh, I don’t know that the PLA would sacrifice their pink bodies on some bad idea coming out of Beijing, especially if Xi Jinping is being seen as, as, uh, you know, weak.

Simone Gao: (37:35)

Losing power. Okay. You know, a former Chinese Navy officer, excuse me, a former Chinese Navy officer told me that the PLA would not likely, uh, attack Taiwan within three years because, uh, the PLA cannot beat the U.S. military in three years. Uh, I mean, do you agree? And what about after three years? Will the PLA’s ability, capabilities, catch up that of the U.S. military in the future?

David Stilwell: (38:06)

So, at risk of contradicting myself, I will say that, uh, when we use the terms win and lose, uh, related to armed conflict, I think that’s a very bad idea. I mean, I can give you bunches of examples in the recent past–with the exception being Operation Desert Storm, uh, in 1991–where there really was no winning or losing. Look at Afghanistan. You know, we initially went into Afghanistan and we removed, uh, the, uh, Al-Qaeda terrorist threat. Um, but was that winning or was that just a temporary, temporarily delaying a problem or pushing it somewhere else? You know, Iraq, Syria, all these things. Hard to say what winning or losing is, but we do know that blood will be spilled and that the political climate will change on the back end of this to include, you know, demonstrating, uh, an aggressive policy like that would most certainly push Taiwan, Japan, and others, uh, further into the U.S. camp.

David Stilwell: (39:05)

That’s not, I don’t think, a good trade-off if you’re in Beijing. I don’t think. People are already beginning to question the fuzzy Panda thing. As I said at the top of the call, what you do here and, and, and very clearly painting a contrast between a democratic and free market Taiwan and an increasingly belligerent and authoritarian, uh, PRC is really important for the American people. We need to understand that they’re not the same thing. And as much as he, Xi Jinping, tries to tell us that his new type of governance, which, uh, oh, here we go: “

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era,” right? That’s a long way of saying–theory, throw in that at the end–uh, Xi Jinping thought really isn’t valid. It’s just more authoritarianism. It’s, you’re going to have a hard time demonstrating, uh, that’s a valid way to go, especially since communism died in 1991 with the Soviets. So, uh, it’s a, it’s a tall bill, a tall order, to try to turn a win out of this. I don’t see it happening.

Simone Gao: (40:03)

Okay. Uh, fair. You know, China has been building up its nuclear capabilities. Do you think a nuclear situation will ever be possible in the Taiwan Strait or between U.S. and China?

David Stilwell: (40:21)

Anything’s possible. What’s interesting is, um…and look, anything having to do with PRC claims of warheads, capabilities, economic data, anything you get out of the Party has to be questioned. You can’t take it at face value. This really bothers me about Wall Street and others is, you know, claims of 6.1% or 8% growth. Uh, they buy that, and I’m digressing here, but the point is about nuclear claims. Um, and then if you look at Luckin Coffee and Didi Chuxing, uh, and Alipay and all these other things, you know, you scratch that a little bit and all of a sudden you realize there’s nothing there. Luckin Coffee is a great example of basically a Ponzi scheme, shell game, that people were putting good, American retirement money into thinking it was actually a real deal. And it wasn’t. So first off, I would say any data that comes out of Beijing, you have to question it. If you don’t have any way of independently verifying what they’re saying, I wouldn’t believe it because, remember, the Party manipulates all this data. There are still only 4,300…no, 4,636–four six three six, a little over 4,000–uh, official deaths from COVID in China.

David Stilwell: (41:32)

That’s the official data. Does anybody believe it? No, of course not. So, why would we put any stock in any other claims they make? On claims of nuclear capability, nuclear intent, all those things. Again, I would question those. I would make sure that we keep our options open in case what they’re saying isn’t true. Uh, what they said in the past is that they didn’t need a large nuclear capability, because of no first use and all those things. They needed a small, retaliatory capability, and they seem to be coming off of that as satellite imagery shows missile silos and all the rest. Uh, on that, um, and on issues like basing overseas and that, I would say that it is a little disingenuous of us to deny the PRC the ability, in case of basing or nukes, uh, to defend its own interests. They are in the big leagues now.

David Stilwell: (42:24)

They still claim to be a developing country, and we know that’s not true. Um, but you know, they have significant energy and other resource interests in Australia–uh, in, in Africa–that they have to protect those lines of communication. Uh, and so a base on the west coast of, uh, of Africa makes sense to me. I mean, we did it. Uh, I think it’s something that we can turn to our advantage if we would just think about it. Same thing with nukes. If they see themselves as a great power, and if they see, uh, their relationship with the U.S. is increasingly hostile–it’s always been hostile on their side, we’re finally joining the fight–but as they see that, it would make sense that they would have to build up their not just conventional but nuclear arsenal. So, I’m not alibiing it, excusing it, approving it. I’m just saying, it makes sense as a, as a great power with interests that they would want to do that. Linking it to Taiwan is another issue, and I know. But we’ve heard Chinese statements in the past about, you know, I think you value Los Angeles more than Taipei. I, I, I don’t have a whole lot to say on that.

Simone Gao: (43:22)

Well, yeah, I was going to ask you that question, because there seems to be an understanding among the Chinese military personnel and even average Chinese citizens that the Chinese, um, has, that China have a advantage, uh, over the U.S. regarding nuclear wars, because China can fight a unlimited war. Uh, a PLA General Zhu Chenghu who once said that China can afford to lose the whole population east of Xi An. America cannot do that. So, particularly if this is for Taiwan. Uh, so when it comes down to it, China has advantage over the U.S. on a nuclear situation. What’s your thoughts?

David Stilwell: (44:06)

I love that quote. I wish you could get Enes Kanter on this show and ask him how he feels about that. I mean, that’s a really bold statement about how little they value their minorities, isn’t it? Everything west of Xi An is either Hui or Uyghur or Tibetan or whatever. I mean, that, that is so telling as to this idea of human rights and other things. Um, Mao Zedong said the same thing after the Great Leap Forward, right? Three years of really bad policy resulting in 36 million dead of his own people. And they asked them, how do you assess all this? He goes, well, we need, we had too many people anyway. I mean, geez. It does, it does give you an idea of exactly how they think. Uh, a really wise, uh, fellow defense attache named Frank Miller calls this, this concept is amorally practical. Doing what makes sense, whatever, even if it’s to only allow a little advantage, doing it without risk or regard to the values of the morality of any certain thing.

David Stilwell: (45:06)

So, yeah, you know, losing a hundred million people, shoot, we got 1.4 (billion). That’s, uh, that’s a very small price to pay. Um, would they, is that the calculus in a nuclear exchange? You know, I, that one, I don’t think really applies because as you know–now, I won’t go too far into nuclear deterrent theory because, uh, it, my memory is old and dated–but there’s two, there’s two ways you target, uh, nuclear weapons: countervalue or counterforce. Um, countervalue is targeting the people. This is what Zhu Chenghu says. To just wipe out the population. And I’m talking to nuclear pre-1991 sense, right? And then counterforce is basically taking everything from the PLA up to the top of the command chain, the people who order the PLA, which is the leadership. And then you target that, uh, you know, that’s not west of Xi An.

David Stilwell: (45:58)

I mean, there’s bunkers and tunnels and all those concepts, but I’m sure the folks in the, what was our policy to PLA, it’s the Strategic Rocket Force now, have briefed the boss on that. This is how the Americans approach nuclear combat. And, uh, we would definitely be in, in, in you, the leadership, would be in the targeting plan. And is it worth it to you, uh, to, you know, be obliterated? And, you know, I think Mao would say no. I’m pretty sure the rest of the leadership would say no as well. So, that’s it. That’s everything I know about Chinese nuclear stuff, but I would just say that these things all add a deterrent pressure on the decision to turn keys and start launching nuclear, nuclear warfare. It’s capability. It’s, again, posturing. I just, I can’t imagine anybody actually seriously employing nukes over Taiwan.

Simone Gao: (46:54)

Okay. And the bottom line is, uh, America would not be intimidated by the Chinese using a nuclear weapon on any occasion. Because their calculation, I think, is once we use a nuclear weapon, America will be intimidated and will retreat.

David Stilwell: (47:12)

Oh boy, that’s not a good way. Look what happens. You attack the U.S. on December 7th or on 9/11/2001. And look what happens to the American population. You want, you want to unite the American population, attack it, right? Attack Americans, right? And, you know, we have a policy on that as far as, uh, responding, uh, that I think makes it a very bad calculus. But this thing, Simone, takes us to a completely different conversation, which we can do later but I just want to tee it up. Is this desire, this endless begging for dialogue, um, this need to, you know, and I think there’s value in having military leaders talk and, and, and, you know, laying out that, that that’d be a really bad course of action and you would be on the losing end, my friends in, in Beijing, but until they want to talk, it’s not worth even considering, you know, begging for dialogue, just sending Wendy Sherman or John Kerry to do a VTC in Tianjin tells you how much they value dialogue. 

David Stilwell: (48:16)

Um, they’re clearly not ready to talk. You know, our approach was we’re just going to fold our arms and continue to apply pressure, well-considered, but, but, you know, increasing pressure, knowing that there will come a point where they will want to talk and have, uh, and start working out, uh, some sort of an accommodation. Until that time, there’s no point in getting together and having a conversation because they’re just going to posture, grandstand, and do things that make them look better to their own domestic audience and to global audiences. And there’s no, I don’t think there’s a good outcome there.

Simone Gao: (48:48)

Hmm, okay. Last question. 

Simone Gao: (49:48)

You know, many people have, uh, you know, many people think that Xi Jinping has determined to solve the Taiwan problem during his tenure. And if, uh, I don’t know if you agree, but if you agree, uh, what do you think will be the timetable, most likely timetable for him? You know, people have been talking about 2049, 2035, even 2027. What’s your thoughts on those?

David Stilwell: (50:15)

Well, I think we’re all aware of Admiral Davidson’s statement that, you know, he’s looking at 2027. I think his successor in, you know, PACOM repeated that. Uh, I, I don’t think that statement’s based on intelligence, I think it’s based on, uh, the larger understanding of what Xi Jinping says. He says, this is not a problem. Taiwan is not a question I’m going to bequeath to the next generation. Basically saying, as you just said, I’m going to solve this on my watch. Um, so then I’ll point back to another historical example: the two centenary goals. One of those goals was that, um, uh, that they would accomplish this rejuvenation and this standing up of China’s as a well-respected global power by 2000, by the millennium. That was Mao’s goal. And when it became obvious that that was way too aggressive and optimistic, they slipped it to 2049, the hundred year anniversary of the establishment of the communist party.

David Stilwell: (51:06)

So, these…in a, in a situation where you control the information so tightly, as is the case in China, you can tell any story you want. I mean, read 1984 or watch the movie where Winston Smith, our hero, goes back and he, he cuts out historical statements that he doesn’t like and inserts new ones into the, the bound volumes of the newspapers. They can do that, too. Um, digression. There’s a great photo, and I gotta find it again. Early on in the pandemic, uh, there’s a headline at Global Times. It says the Wuhan virus is under control and there’s no problem here, or something like that. And then about a month later, after they realized that Wuhan virus meant the world is going to make sure that China owned this problem, because that’s where it came from. And after the language of COVID came out, they went back historically and changed something that was already archived online and changed it to say, instead of Wuhan virus, they changed it to say COVID-19. They are not, uh, um, allergic to playing those sorts of horrible 1984ish Orwellian games with their own people.

David Stilwell: (52:08)

So, they can manage the narrative inside China any way they want. And if they need to slip it 10 more years, or if 2027 is no longer the goal, then they create a narrative inside China that, that explains why they could blame somebody else for it. And then they drive on. So, yes, the timing is a concern, but to me they have proven many times that they won’t be bound by, uh, timelines. We’ve got four year or eight year election periods that we have to, if we really want to get something done, we have to get things done inside. Their, their timing is much more fungible than that.

Simone Gao: (52:41)

Hmm. All right. Okay. Well said, Dave. Anything else you want to add?

David Stilwell: (52:47)

I appreciate the chance to share these thoughts, though, because this question is, is growing and you could hear an increasing demand for it. So, what you’re doing here is really important.

Simone Gao: (52:55)

Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Stilwell. Thank you for coming to Zooming In today.

David Stilwell: (53:02)

You bet. My pleasure.

Simone Gao: (53:03)

Thank you. Alright. That’s it. Wonderful.

David Stilwell: (53:09)

Thank you.

Simone Gao: (53:09)

Happy. Uh, tomorrow is, uh, oh, yesterday is Veteran’s Day, right? 


Right. Yep.

That’s it for today. Thanks for watching Zooming In China Chat. Please like, share, subscribe and donate to this program if you like my content. As I have announced before, we are producing a documentary movie on Xi Jinping’s war over Taiwan. It will come out by the end of this year. Zooming In members will get an early view of this movie. Our website is Also, I would like to let you know that our website is experiencing some technical problems right now that resulted in payment not being processable. Therefore, your membership might be automatically canceled. We are fixing this problem right now, and once it is fixed, I will send individual emails to every member so you can enroll again. Thanks, and I’ll see you next time.

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