On Sunday, President Tsai Ing-wen replied that “nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us.” She added that the island country of 23 million people faced a situation “more complex and fluid than at any other point in the past 72 years.” That is, since the Nationalist government of China lost the civil war and retreated to Taiwan in 1949.
And the United States, while not directly promising to defend the island at the expense of a war with China, let it be known that there are US special forces and Marines in Taiwan on training missions. Beijing already knew that, of course (Trump sent them there two years ago), but Washington’s open confirmation of it was a clear warning to China.
So there is a crisis of sorts, although a slow-moving one. As Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-Chen said in Taiwan, Beijing is capable of invading the island even now, but will be fully prepared to do so in three years’ time.
“By 2025, China will bring the cost and attrition to its lowest. It has the capacity now, but it will not start a war easily, having to take many other things into consideration.” What did he mean, exactly, and is it true?
In part it’s a recognition that China is rapidly accumulating weapons that will make a seaborne invasion across the Taiwan Strait possible, although it is 180 km. wide at its narrowest point.
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.
So what ‘other things’ may still deter China from making such an attack even after it has enough rocket launchers on the coast? Just one is enough: the certainty that even if the United States could not intervene militarily in time to save Taiwan, it would certainly institute a complete naval blockade of China immediately afterwards.
That might be of little consolation to the Taiwanese, but the Chinese economy is utterly dependent on foreign trade, and China’s geography makes it extremely vulnerable to blockade.
Ships from China crossing the Pacific must pass between the ‘first chain’ of islands (Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines); shipping to the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Europe has to go through the Strait of Malacca (Malaysia and Indonesia). In practice, there’s no way out: China’s economy would be strangled within months.
Further escalation by either side would be deterred by the fear of nuclear war, and some sort of deal would have to be made. It could be very humiliating for China, perhaps so humiliating that it would even undermine the control of the Communist Party. So Xi Jinping won’t ever really risk it.
That’s the way people steeped in classic strategic thinking see it, and they’re probably right. Although you don’t get your money back if they’re wrong.
I lived in Taiwan for a couple of years, back in the 90s, during first direct presidential elections. Even then, the threat of Chinese invasion was always in the background. At the time it was the run up to the handover of HK to China, and the general consensus was that China would not attack Taiwan because the UK may very well nullify the agreement. China wanted to make the handover a success, and to honour the "two systems" agreement to not interfer in HK governance so the Taiwan public could be convinced that it could trust China to treat it in a similar way.
It's pretty clear now that China has given up on that and has crushed any freedoms that did exist in HK. It's also been clear to everyone that the US would not risk war with China to intervene directly militarily, and China knows this.
The time to act was two or three decades ago, when China was first moving towards a capitalist model. It was an opportunity to push it economically towards the democratic route that Taiwan and South Korea followed. Instead, the focus was purely on economics, and the present situation of a strong, rich China with the latest tech is a direct result of that failure.
The US is not doing itself any favours building a global alliance having elected a president who openly courted Russia and North Korea while dismissing long term allies in Europe and threatening to pull out of NATO, while Biden has continued this theme by pulling the rug from France.
I would not be at all surprised if Europe and much of the rest of the world might feel a strong China would serve a useful purpose in tempering US power. Which might well be bad news for Taiwan.
By TPE from Lisbon on 12 Oct 2021, 11:36
Xi has made it clear that (so-called) reunification will happen.
Why the continued questions...?
Taiwan is ****ed
By Michael from Algarve on 15 Oct 2021, 20:29