Taiwan's government and military (like the rest of Taiwanese society) are far tougher than they get credit for. But they can only do so much by themselves. The Pentagon has a critical role to play in assisting Taiwan maximize its war fighting capabilities. With America's help, Taiwan can make sure its defense investments factor into Beijing's calculations and, hopefully, prevent a future invasion from occurring in the first place.
Various sources from within the People's Republic of China have allegedly suggested that time is running out for Taiwan's democracy. In their narrative, China's iron-fisted leader, Xi Jinping, is "losing patience" and could order the invasion of Taiwan in the early 2020s. The world's most dangerous flashpoint might witness an overwhelming amphibious blitz, perhaps before July 2021 to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
That's the narrative. The reality is that China will probably not attack Taiwan in such a radical and high-risk fashion. Xi and his top lieutenants are far more likely to draw-out and escalate the war of nerves across the Taiwan Strait. They will continue using disinformation and other techniques to drain Washington's confidence that Taiwan can be defended, while ramping up subversive activities to undermine the island nation's confidence and willpower.
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(This first appeared in last year.)
Xi will bide his time and hope the Taiwanese government cracks under mounting pressure, allowing him to conquer his target cheaply. At the same time, his military generals will continue planning and preparing to deliver on their "sacred" mission. Coercion could easily fail, making invasion a tempting option―especially in a future scenario where the balance of power looks more favorable to Beijing than it does today.
Assessing the Threat:
The ever-tense political and security environment across the Taiwan Strait necessitates an accurate depiction of PLA capabilities, strengths, and shortfalls.
The PLA's strengths are more apparent than its weaknesses. China's military muscle is frequently highlighted and hyped up by the media, both in Beijing and abroad. Undoubtedly, China's ballistic missiles, cyber warfare capabilities, and counter-space weapons make it a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps even more dangerous are its espionage and covert actions abroad to shape foreign policymaking.
But there is always more to the story. Renowned Naval War College professor, Andrew Erickson, makes it clear in his recently published book, Chinese Naval Shipbuilding that while Beijing's fleets are growing at a remarkable clip, the PLA Navy is not ready to support the invasion of Taiwan. The Chinese navy still lacks the lift capacity and the air defense capability it needs. Nonetheless, the situation will almost certainly look very different tomorrow than it does today.
Dennis Blasko, author of The Chinese Army Today, observes that the CCP's ground forces, like the navy, are not yet ready for the ultimate fight. For invasion to be a realistic option, China would have to have far more helicopters, paratroopers, special operators, amphibious mechanized divisions, and marines. Moreover, the PLA would need to build a solid non-commissioned officer corps and provide better training to unit leaders up and down the entire chain of command. Much of this work has already begun and will start to bear fruit over the next decade.
Taiwan's Anti-Invasion Strategy:
So how do Taiwanese military experts plan to defend their country against attack, and how can the United States help?
Taiwan is at the tail end of a transit from a conscription force to an all-volunteer military. Building an elite force of professional warriors is a good thing. It gives Taiwan a comparative advantage. China has no national army and relies mostly on short-term draftees.