Waiting Game: China Could Alter Taiwan Invasion Strategy By 2025

A Taiwanese F-16 escorting Chinese H-6 bomber out of Taiwanese airspace. Photo courtesy MoD Taiwan.

A military strategy analyst at the National Policy Foundation says the Chinese military might in the near future adjust the tactics it would use in an attempted invasion of Taiwan.

Analyst Chie Chung pointed out in a recent lecture held by the Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation that China will have acquired a large number of Xian Y-20 and An-225 heavy transport aircraft by 2025. This would provide the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAA) with the strategic air projection capabilities required to execute large-scale joint operations.

Taiwan’s National Policy Foundation analyst Chung Jai and Su Tzu-yun

Chung said that at the end of 2017, medium and large aircraft accounted for only 24.7 percent of the PLAA’s transport fleet, and there were no heavy transport aircraft, CNA reported.

The analyst added that because the PLAA continues to improve its helicopter transport and air assault capabilities, and with the PLA Navy’s Type 075 amphibious assault ship now in service, the Chinese military’s roadmap for an attack on Taiwan may change significantly by 2025. By then, Beijing will likely be able to conduct over-the-horizon and shore-to-shore amphibious operations, he said.

Su Tzu-yun, an analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), claimed China has no chance of winning a conflict with the U.S., especially amid unstable relations between China and neighboring countries, including India and Vietnam.

Su added that it remains to be seen whether the various new types of military hardware China has recently touted are effective. He further stated that there are drawbacks in the quality and performance of this equipment, including questions over armored vehicle protection and the short lifespans of fighter jet engines. These are a few key measures of the true combat power of the Chinese military, the INDSR analyst added.

Taiwan Must Maintain Military Modernization Pace

If Taiwan’s defense capabilities do not keep pace with China’s military development, Beijing might attempt an invasion within five to seven years, an expert said on Saturday.

China would not attack Taiwan if it believed it was on equal footing with the US, but it would if its economy had slowed and Taiwan had not given in to pressure, Academia Sinica research fellow Wu Jieh-min said during a forum on democracy in Taipei.

China also wants to annex Taiwan to project its military strength into the first island chain, Wu added.

Taiwan, China and the US are all concerned about misreading each other’s signals in the face of heightened tension in the Taiwan Strait, he said.

However, China is unlikely to take action when faced with obstructions, but would quickly take advantage of a situation in which one side lowered its guard, he added.

Taiwan is building harden shelters for its new F-16V Block 70/72 4.5 Generation aircraft. Source MoD Taiwan.

“China will keep testing the US’ resolve. It will keep up the military pressure on Taiwan, continue limiting its diplomatic space and using ‘gray-zone conflict’ tactics against Taiwan,” he said.

Whether China would attempt an invasion would also depend on its national strength, the basis of which would be its financial capabilities, he said, adding that China’s economy faces a “middle-income trap.”

China’s population is rapidly aging, meaning it has a smaller workforce to exploit, he said.

“It cannot rely on a concentrated labor force to squeeze out large-scale economic surplus, and it has not grasped much of the world’s advanced technology to transition its economy,” he said.

China’s regional governments have long relied on “rent-seeking” to profit, but Beijing has been clamping down on this practice, he said.

It has also been reining in private companies whose massive growth is seen as a threat to the central government, he said, adding that this has added to the country’s capital, but caused a recession in private capital.

“US political scientist Graham Allison coined the term ‘Thucydides trap’ to describe a tendency toward war when an emerging power threatens to displace an existing great power,” he said.

Taiwan is building modern submarine to deter PLA Navy. Source MoD Taiwan.

“Allison in his articles four years ago talked about how the US and Chinese officials he talked to all said that China would choose war rather than give up on Taiwan, which it sees as essential to its national interests,” he said.

The past few years have been a period of major geopolitical change in the region — the second such major period of change since the Korean War.

“The Korean War decided the existence of the ‘Republic of China on Taiwan’ — a term first explicitly used by former president Lee Teng-hui,” he said.

“More than 20 years later that term was replaced by President Tsai Ing-wen, who removed the ‘on,’ making it simply the ‘Republic of China (Taiwan),’” he said.

This period of change encompasses a transition in the way Taiwanese identify themselves, and the emerging idea that Taiwan is the Republic of China rather than the location of a government in exile, he said.

Education and legal systems should be amended to reflect this — not to a point where it causes a rift in the nation, but in a way that it is more inclusive, he said.

“Perhaps this is an area where effort should be focused, during this period of geopolitical change,” he added.

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