Will China invade Taiwan?

2021-05-04

in Bombs and rockets, Canada, Politics, Security

This week’s issue of The Economist has Taiwan on the cover and describes it as the “most dangerous place on Earth”.

It is widely reported that a central purpose behind China’s military buildup and particularly the acquisition of naval and amphibious warfare capabilities is the country’s ambition to conquer its democratic neighbour. The implications thereof could be profound, including in terms of China and Taiwan’s domestic politics, Taiwan’s crucial global role as a microprocessor manufacturer, and the confidence of America’s regional allies in America’s security guarantees. If their confidence is sapped by a Chinese takeover, increased regional militarization and perhaps nuclear proliferation are plausible.

China’s conduct toward Taiwan may also be illustrative of its long term geopolitical role as it continues to rise in affluence and military strength, potentially going beyond maintaining an oppressive, nationalistic, and militarist system at home into the actual domination or conquest of foreign territory (though China’s government asserts that Taiwan has been part of China all along).

The question of China and Taiwan also influences domestic national security policy in countries including China. Based on recent decades of use, the likely role for new military platforms like the ships being built for the navy and next-generation fighter jets long under contemplation would be a combination of continental defence under NORAD (arguably with no nation states as plausible enemies in this sense) and expeditionary use in multilateral coalitions for peacekeeping or (as in Afghanistan to begin with) warfighting. If China is developing into a threat that western countries will need to meet with military force, however, it will be indispensable to have advanced weapons and forces capable in their use ready before the conflict begins.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

. May 4, 2021 at 9:33 pm

Defending Taiwan is growing costlier and deadlier

Would America have the stomach for such a fight?

American intelligence officials do not think that China is about to unleash this firepower. The PLA’s amphibious fleet has grown slowly in recent years. China has never held even a single exercise on the scale that would be required for a D-Day-type campaign. Indeed, no country has assaulted a well-defended shore since America did so in Korea—with good reason.

Although China could wipe out Taiwan’s navy and air force, says William Murray of the us Naval War College, the island would still be able to fire anti-ship missiles at an invading armada, picking out targets with mobile radar units hidden in the mountainous interior. That could make mincemeat of big ships crossing a narrow strait. “The PLA can’t use precision weapons to attack small, mobile things,” says Ethan Lee, who as chief of general staff at Taiwan’s defence ministry in 2017-19 developed a strategy for asymmetrical warfare.

Nor can China put all its forces to use. “Only a fraction of the pla could be deployed,” says Dennis Blasko, a former American army attaché in Beijing, “because its overwhelming numbers can’t all fit into the Taiwan front or in the airspace surrounding Taiwan at one time”. Satellite reconnaissance would give Taiwan weeks of warning to harden defences and mobilise reserves. Mr Blasko thinks a nimbler air assault, using helicopters and special forces, is more likely than an amphibious attack. Even then, he says, the island is “very defensible, if it is properly prepared and the people have the will to defend it”.

Alas, Taiwan’s preparedness and its will to fight both look shaky. “The sad truth is that Taiwan’s army has trouble with training across the board,” says Tanner Greer, an analyst who spent nine months studying the island’s defences last year. “I have met artillery observers who have never seen their own mortars fired.” Despite long-standing efforts to make the island indigestible, Taiwan’s armed forces are still overinvested in warplanes and tanks. Many insiders are accordingly pessimistic about its ability to hold out. Mr Greer says that of two dozen conscripts he interviewed, “only one was more confident in Taiwan’s ability to resist China after going through the conscript system.” Less than half of Taiwanese polled in August evinced a willingness to fight if war came.

Polls by CSIS show that Americans broadly support coming to Taiwan’s aid, roughly as much as they support helping South Korea, Japan or Australia. Such enthusiasm may wane, however, if American ships start getting sunk in large numbers. American losses in the CNAS wargame amount to a hundred or so aircraft, dozens of ships and perhaps a couple of carriers. “An aircraft-carrier has 5,000 people on it,” says Mr Murray. “That’s 100 voters in every state of our union. That’s a lot of funerals.”

. May 5, 2021 at 5:42 pm

Chance of China, Taiwan conflict should not be discounted – Australian defence minister | Reuters

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-defence-minister-says-conflict-with-china-over-taiwan-should-not-be-2021-04-25/

. May 5, 2021 at 5:45 pm

Why are Australian officials hinting at war with China? – CNN

https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/05/china/australia-china-war-military-mic-intl-hnk/index.html

. May 6, 2021 at 12:34 am

Another error is to assume that China’s actions are driven by a desire to export its own autocratic political system and statist economic system. True, Xi has grown increasingly repressive at home and assertive abroad, but China is still preoccupied more with safeguarding its own interests than with trying to remake other countries in its own image. Even though China seeks to reshape the international system to reflect its priorities, that is a far cry from trying to overturn the order altogether.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2021-04-20/how-not-win-allies-and-influence-geopolitics

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