Choosing a Royal Funeral Over the Growing Threat of War With China | Opinion

Louis XIV of France was the "Sun King." Coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral blotted out the sun.

NPR's "Up First," a 12-minute news-update podcast I listen to every day, led off with the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, of which the United States has not been a part for nearly 250 years. It was the 11th day of coverage of the 96-year-old's death.

However you feel about the queen, what was striking was that the lead story wasn't President Biden's extended remarks on CBS's 60 Minutes promising planes in the sky, ships on the sea, and boots on the ground if China attacks Taiwan. Every news website in the world seemed to lean NPR's way, too.

On the one hand, the queen can only die once, and world leaders thought it was of such importance that they all made the trek to watch the funeral. And it's fair to say that Biden has previously made similar statements, only to have his own administration treat him like he's a 79-year-old man with dementia. "Calm down pops! Let the diplomats and generals do their jobs..."

Taiwanese Condolences
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is placed on a table where people can sign a book of condolences on the death of Queen Elizabeth II in Taipei, Taiwan, on Sept. 14, 2022. Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

But sadly, there's another hand. When Biden sat down on the 60 Minutes couch he took the "ambiguity" out of the phrase strategic ambiguity.

"Strategic ambiguity" counts for a lot in the foreign policy thinker world, and maybe in the real world as well. The U.S. Taiwan policy essentially permits the United States to be threatening, but not that threatening to China. It's been in place for more than 40 years and I don't think anyone's died because of it.

Take out the ambiguity and the question becomes not whether anyone will die, but when and how many?

At some point China is really going to want control of Taiwan, and there's a good chance they'll get it, either through the credible threat of the use of force, or the actual use of it. China has always said Taiwan is a runaway province, not a nation. Watching this runaway province get rich and stick a democratic finger in Xi Jinping's eye... well, it's easy to pretend that's a provocation, not just a Tuesday.

When you're playing with egos and honor on the world stage, someone is going to get hurt.

And China—which every day is less authoritarian and more totalitarian—is in a position to do some hurting. It is now building its own aircraft carriers largely from scratch. That's a big deal. They're expensive and fiddly (witness our own next-generation carrier, the Gerald R. Ford that can barely seem to get out of its own way), and you use them for force projection, not coastline protection.

Where is China looking to project force? Its Belt and Road Initiative means it has economic interests all over the world, from Asia and throughout Africa. To protect those interests, an aircraft carrier or a dozen might be nice. Think about what's happened whenever there's a threat to cut off oil coming out of the Persian Gulf. Here comes the U.S. Navy with its 4.5 acres of American territory also known as a modern supercarrier.

And just like in World War II, when it was the U.S. versus the Japanese, Chinese carriers can meet their peers far out to sea.

So, where would you want to test one of these things out? Where would you want to put on a show for the world of what you can do, should the world ever deny you anything? Maybe there's an itch that you feel like you're finally strong enough and flexible enough to scratch?

Maybe that little tropical island to the east where they make all those nice semiconductors? Taiwan is sorely tempting.

Perhaps Biden's words are another provocation, maybe they are a simple statement of fact and a warning of consequences, but billions of lives are at stake. True, the British Empire once ruled much of the world, but that was a different queen, and quite a while ago. Maybe it could have been the second story on the newscast?

China is now. Taiwan is soon. The U.S. is in it up to our necks. And if we want to stop Chinese expansionism before it truly starts, maybe we should be.

Jason Fields is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.