Twice in the past week, Chinese President Xi Jinping has gone out of his way to assert that peaceful reunification with Taiwan is Beijing’s foremost foreign policy goal. Whether or not this is wishful thinking, it reflects the reality that retaking Taiwan by force would be extraordinarily difficult, especially if Taipei has outside help. This underscores a second reality: To pave the way for reunification, whether peaceful or otherwise, Beijing thinks it must first isolate Taiwan and sap its will to fight.
Both have been illustrated in Taiwan’s quixotic quest to modernize its submarine fleet. Until the past few months, at least, Beijing had succeeded in sinking Taiwan’s submarine force without firing a shot, using its diplomatic and economic leverage to prevent foreign submarine exporters from selling to the island nation. But in April, the U.S. State Department approved licenses for U.S. defense contractors to export U.S.-made submarine technology to Taiwan. In May, Taiwan re