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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{ 21 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

. May 24, 2021 at 5:16 am

The U.S. Air Force repelled a Chinese invasion of Taiwan during a massive war game last fall by relying on drones acting as a sensing grid, an advanced sixth-generation fighter jet able to penetrate the most contested environments, cargo planes dropping pallets of guided munitions and other novel technologies yet unseen on the modern battlefield.

But the service’s success was ultimately pyrrhic. After much loss of life and equipment, the U.S. military was able to prevent a total takeover of Taiwan by confining Chinese forces to a single area.

https://www.defensenews.com/training-sim/2021/04/12/a-us-air-force-war-game-shows-what-the-service-needs-to-hold-off-or-win-against-china-in-2030/

. May 24, 2021 at 5:55 pm

US military considered using nuclear weapons against China in 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis, leaked documents show – CNN

https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/24/china/us-china-taiwan-1958-nuclear-intl-hnk/index.html

. June 5, 2021 at 3:10 am

But China could decide to escalate much more rapidly if it concluded that the United States was likely to intervene militarily regardless of whether Beijing moved swiftly or gradually. Chinese military strategists believe that if they give the United States time to mobilize and amass firepower in the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait, China’s chances of victory will decrease substantially. As a result, they could decide to preemptively hit U.S. bases in the region, crippling Washington’s ability to respond.

In other words, U.S. deterrence—to the extent that it is based on a credible threat to intervene militarily to protect Taiwan—could actually incentivize an attack on U.S. forces once Beijing has decided to act. The more credible the American threat to intervene, the more likely China would be to hit U.S. forces in the region in its opening salvo. But if China thought the United States might stay out of the conflict, it would decline to attack U.S. forces in the region, since doing so would inevitably bring the United States into the war.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2021-06-03/china-taiwan-war-temptation

. June 24, 2021 at 1:21 am

The Joint Staff Department chief had pushed for the Hongdu GJ-11 and other equivalent UCAVs to enter serial production in 2022, as well as for the opening of a second GJ-11 production line under the 15th Five-Year Plan, in order to reach the goal of 200 operational long-range UCAVs by 2030. These “dispensable” platforms had now proved their worth. Multiple swarms of roughly a dozen UCAVs each − with each swarm controlled by a single PLAAF operator via satellite links − attacked all of Taiwan’s surviving MIM-104 Patriot, MIM-23 Hawk, and Tien Kung II and III SAM missile companies.

https://thediplomat.com/2021/06/how-chinese-unmanned-platforms-could-degrade-taiwans-air-defense-and-disable-a-us-navy-carrier/

. June 24, 2021 at 2:22 am

Easton estimates that Taiwanese, American, and Japanese leaders will know that the PLA is preparing for a cross-strait war more than 60 days before hostilities begin. They will know for certain that an invasion will happen more than 30 days before the first missiles are fired. This will give the Taiwanese ample time to move much of their command and control infrastructure into hardened mountain tunnels, move their fleet out of vulnerable ports, detain suspected agents and intelligence operatives, litter the ocean with sea mines, disperse and camouflage army units across the country, put the economy on war footing, and distribute weapons to Taiwan’s 2.5 million reservists.

There are only 13 beaches on Taiwan’s western coast that the PLA could possibly land at. Each of these has already been prepared for a potential conflict. Long underground tunnels—complete with hardened, subterranean supply depots—crisscross the landing sites. The berm of each beach has been covered with razor-leaf plants. Chemical treatment plants are common in many beach towns—meaning that invaders must prepare for the clouds of toxic gas any indiscriminate saturation bombing on their part will release. This is how things stand in times of peace.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/25/taiwan-can-win-a-war-with-china/

. June 25, 2021 at 4:47 pm

Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu says ‘we need to prepare’ for military conflict with China – CNN

https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/24/asia/taiwan-foreign-minister-china-intl-hnk/index.html

. June 25, 2021 at 5:07 pm

How Chinese Unmanned Platforms Could Degrade Taiwan’s Air Defense and Disable a US Navy Carrier – The Diplomat

https://thediplomat.com/2021/06/how-chinese-unmanned-platforms-could-degrade-taiwans-air-defense-and-disable-a-us-navy-carrier/

. July 10, 2021 at 12:33 pm

Deputy PM says Japan must defend Taiwan with U.S. | The Japan Times

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/07/06/national/taro-aso-taiwan-defense/

. July 13, 2021 at 2:51 pm

‘Sense of crisis’ in Japan over rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait | South China Morning Post

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3140872/sense-crisis-japan-over-rising-tensions-taiwan-strait

. July 14, 2021 at 10:31 pm

To be the world’s “largest developing country” (a popular moniker in Beijing) once meant that China’s capabilities surpassed those of its immediate peers. Nowadays, it means the country’s power is second only to that of the United States. Consider the sharp contrast between Chinese success and American failure in the fight against COVID-19: China suffered the least among all major powers during the pandemic and is the only major economy to have grown over the past year. By the end of 2020, its GDP had reached 71 percent of U.S. GDP, up from 66 percent in 2019, and Chinese policymakers are confident that they will close the remaining gap in the coming decade. In their eyes, China has gone through the stages of standing up and getting rich and is now advancing to the stage of becoming strong. The U.S.-led unipolar order is fading away, its demise hastened by China’s rise and the United States’ relative decline. In its place will come a multipolar order, with U.S.-Chinese relations at its core.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2021-06-22/becoming-strong

. August 19, 2021 at 4:24 am

White House rebuts Chinese claim that Afghanistan withdrawal suggests weakening support for Taiwan | South China Morning Post

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3145406/white-house-rebuts-chinese-claim-afghanistan-withdrawal

. September 22, 2021 at 4:07 pm

Second line of defence: Taiwan’s civilians train to resist invasion | Taiwan | The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/22/second-line-of-defence-taiwans-civilians-train-to-resist-invasion

. October 5, 2021 at 12:20 pm

Beijing warns of war as record number of jets enter Taiwan’s air defence zone

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/beijing-warns-of-war-as-record-number-of-jets-enter-taiwans-airspace-2g8c8wm53

. October 6, 2021 at 5:06 pm

China could mount full scale invasion of Taiwan by 2025, defence minister says | China | The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/06/biden-says-he-and-chinas-xi-have-agreed-to-abide-by-taiwan-agreement

. October 6, 2021 at 5:07 pm

The US must avoid war with China over Taiwan at all costs | Lt Col Daniel L Davis (ret) | The Guardian

Before war comes to the Indo-Pacific and Washington faces pressure to fight a potentially existential war, American policymakers must face the cold, hard reality that fighting China over Taiwan risks an almost-certain military defeat – and gambles we won’t stumble into a nuclear war.

Bluntly put, America should refuse to be drawn into a no-win war with Beijing. It needs to be said up front: there would be no palatable choice for Washington if China finally makes good on its decades-longthreat to take Taiwan by force. Either choose a bad, bitter-tasting outcome or a self-destructive one in which our existence is put at risk.

. October 16, 2021 at 1:15 am

But despite the rhetoric and the military saber-rattling, analysts agree China is unlikely to invade Taiwan anytime soon, with one expert adding the chance of invasion in the next 12 months is “close to zero.”

https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/15/asia/taiwan-invasion-us-china-tensions-intl-dst-hnk/index.html

. October 16, 2021 at 9:42 pm

The key Chinese weapon is long-range rocket artillery that can reach all points in Taiwan with high accuracy (guidance by the BeiDou satnav system), and can be launched in such numbers that Taiwanese anti-missile defences would be overwhelmed.

Such a weapon exists. It’s called the PCL-191, and it’s a glorified version of the ‘Stalin organ’ and other multiple rocket launchers of Second World War vintage, but with a range of 350 km. There are eight or twelve rockets on each mobile launcher, depending on the range and the explosive power required, and they can be reloaded quite fast.

There are already two brigades of these rocket-launchers stationed on the Chinese coast facing Taiwan, and the number is going up all the time. Soon, if not already, they will give Beijing the power to launch saturation strikes on all of Taiwan’s airfields, radar stations, anti-aircraft defences and ports simultaneously.

If all the runways and ports in Taiwan are shattered, then its planes and warships cannot stop Chinese assault troops crossing the Strait in ships (ten hours), and nobody else will be close enough to help even if they want to. Taiwan is at extreme range for fighter aircraft based in Japan, and the US Pacific Fleet is very unlikely to be within reach if the attack is a surprise.

https://gwynnedyer.com/2021/will-china-invade-taiwan/

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