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Veteran American diplomat Chas Freeman. Photo: Handout

Next US election may prove most dangerous time for Taiwan, warns veteran US diplomat Chas Freeman

  • Richard Nixon’s former interpreter tells an online magazine that a disputed result may prove a ‘tempting time’ to exploit US weakness
  • He also says Beijing may view the election of a supporter of Taiwan’s independence as something it must respond to

The years of 2024 and 2025 might prove the most dangerous time for Taiwan if a new US president who supports the island’s independence is elected or there is another attempt to challenge the election result, according to the veteran American diplomat Chas Freeman.

He told Week in China: “If in 2024, the election brings to power right-wing Americans with a commitment to Taiwan independence – such as Mike Pompeo has articulated – this is a direct challenge to Beijing of exactly the sort that the Anti-Secession Law [in China] requires a military response to.”

Beijing is likely to step up its campaign to ‘reunify’ with Taiwan

Freemen, who was Richard Nixon’s interpreter during his groundbreaking visit to Beijing in 1972 that laid the foundation for the restoration of diplomatic ties and later charge d’affaires, said the period between the election in November 2024 and the inauguration of the new president in January could prove the most dangerous period.

He warned that if the transition proved chaotic, or if there was another attempt to challenge the result similar to Donald Trump’s efforts that prompted the attack on the Capitol in January last year, that might provide a “tempting” moment for anyone – and not just China – to challenge the US.

“The question would be for the Chinese … if they conclude that they cannot work with the incoming administration – that the die is cast, and it is committed to policies of confrontation with them over the Taiwan issue,” Freeman told the Hong Kong-based online magazine.


He said that the uncertainties would put “terrible pressure” on Beijing to accelerate plans to attack Taiwan even though he said the Chinese people are “risk averse” and “don’t want a war”.

“[Beijing is] concerned to complete the preparations for whatever military operations they have planned on a contingency basis,” Freeman said.

He added that although any attack would be difficult it is “less difficult than many imagine, as the PLA is able to deploy air cavalry, paratroops and other troops in new ways”.

He also said Taiwan may not be able to defend itself as effectively as Ukraine has done following the Russian invasion.

“[Taiwan] does not have a territorial defence. Its armed forces have been more interested in buying fancy, expensive weaponry, than they have been in doing the hard slog of training for the kind of distributed warfare that the Ukrainians have mounted,” he said.


The veteran American diplomat who spent years in Taiwan learning Mandarin and some local dialects, said it might be too late for Taiwan to learn from the example of Ukraine to enhance its military capability.

“It’s got a very long way to go and anyone who looks at the problems the Taiwan military have – whether it’s their inadequate number of pilots, aircraft that are wearing out, or their four-month conscription with minimal and apparently not very demanding training – has cause for concern,” he said.

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“There’s no reason for [mainland] China to take an incremental approach that gives the US ample opportunity to consider options and intervene … If they do move it will be sudden, it will be with maximum force, it will be with great speed, it will involve the decapitation of the leadership in Taipei and the destruction of Taiwan infrastructure simultaneously.”


He also warned that US priorities towards China were wrong and too confrontational.

He said: ‘’The emphasis should be on cooperation where we have common interests. For example, climate change, security issues in Asia, international regimes that facilitate trade and investment.”

He also criticised both Pompeo and the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian – one of the most prominent Wolf Warriors – saying their confrontational approach had done “huge damage to the image of their respective countries”.

“[Both] contributed to the contentions that have risen to the extent they have that we’re now talking seriously about a possible war,” he added.


More Taiwanese seek gun training as Ukraine war drives home cross-strait tension

More Taiwanese seek gun training as Ukraine war drives home cross-strait tension

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, said Taiwan was the one area where Beijing saw no room for compromise.


“Only the Taiwan issue will cause military conflict between the PLA and their American counterparts,” he said.