For China, Invading Taiwan a “Significant” Risk


Categorie: Asia, China, David Axe, Naval |
Tags: ,

PLAN photo

PLAN photo.


In mid August the U.S. military belatedly published its annual report on Chinese military power. The 83-page document highlights the growing sophistication of Chinese weapons and Beijing’s increasingly ambitious regional strategy. China’s major preoccupation is, of course, Taiwan — a country the U.S. is legally required to defend.

On this front, the news seems discouraging, according to the report:

Cross-Strait economic and cultural ties continued to make important progress in 2009. Despite these positive trends, China’s military build-up opposite the island continued unabated. The [People's Liberation Army] is developing the capability to deter Taiwan independence or influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms while simultaneously attempting to deter, delay or deny any possible U.S. support for the island in case of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces
continues to shift in the mainland’s favor.

Blog Information Dissemination details the shift in the maritime balance. Beijing has been building around two destroyers and two attack submarines annually, along with a mix of frigates, missile boats and amphibious ships. China’s first aircraft carrier, the converted Soviet vessel Varyag, could take to the sea next year. The PLA Navy’s battle force numbers some 70 vessels.

By contrast, after many years of haggling, this year Taiwan managed to secure a deal with Washington to acquire two former U.S. Navy mine-hunters. It’s been some four years since Taipei has acquired major warships, in the form of four decommissioned U.S. Kidd-class destroyers. In addition, the Republic of China Navy possesses 22 aging frigates.

The numbers are no better for Taipei in the air or on land, with China enjoying a significant numerical advantage in ground troops and fighter planes. It might seem Taiwan is doomed to eventual armed conquest.

But technology has never been Taiwan’s best defense. World opinion, geography, Chinese inexperience and the age-old laws of warfare have long protected the island nation … and should continue doing so. The U.S. report admits that:

An attempt to invade Taiwan would strain China’s untested armed forces and invite international intervention. These stresses, combined with China’s combat force attrition and the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency (assuming a successful landing and breakout), make amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk.


12 Responses to “For China, Invading Taiwan a “Significant” Risk”

  1. Brian Black says:

    While there would obviously be a significant risk carried by any Chinese invasion, one should not overlook the prestige factor that would be involved in any such decision. The potential prestige derived from pulling off a successful recapture of Chinese territory would be weighed against the potential political risk.

    The recapture of occupied or errant national territory has always been seen as an easy way to whip up patriotic sentiments within the general public; and in relation to China, would also seem entirely in line with its desire to be recognized as a true global superpower.

    For example: The consideration of domestic prestige can be seen within the 1990 Iraqi decision to recapture the historical Iraqi province (Iraq’s contemporary claim, not mine) of Kuwait – a decision made in large part to bolster Saddam’s position within the Ba’ath party; and also in the 1982 Argentine decision to recapture the occupied Malvinas – a decision made almost entirely to maintain the position of the military junta.

    China is a vast country with many regional separatist movements; central party control has to be continually and actively maintained. The domestic prestige gained from taking Taiwan would be invaluable to the party. Not discounting the international political furore, the international prestige of taking Taiwan would be considerable and would clearly mark China’s emergence as a superpower state.

    In relation to the military risk of invading Taiwan, the biggest deterrent to Chinese action is the potential clash with US forces. Even if China believes it could overcome US military opposition it has to consider at what cost victory would be achieved – but what should not be forgotten is that as a general rule, whether fiddling expenses, getting friendly with the interns or launching military invasions, political leaders will always try and do whatever they think they can get away with.

    Looking at the 1982 Falklands War, Argentina did not believe that the UK would fight over the islands – Royal navy cuts and withdrawal from the south Atlantic led to the belief that the UK had neither the capability or willingness to protect the islands. Similarly, it is not inconceivable that future US defence cuts could see a reduction of the Pacific fleet generally, or of large carriers in particular, and a reduction of naval exercises in the region. This combined with other factors – perhaps withdrawal from US bases in Japan, or an unstable government in the US – could lead China to conclude, however rightly or wrongly, that it could get away with an invasion without US opposition. And if Chinese forces ever managed to land in Taiwan, would the US seriously consider trying to kick them out?

    On the mainland, China manages independence movements with a heavy hand. I’m sure Beijing considers the domination of the Taiwanese population to be a manageable problem. I think we’re a good few years off yet, but China’s on its way.

  2. mareo2 says:

    I agree with Brian Black’s analysis of the Taiwan situation. It can be attractive to minimize the fact that there is a trend of shift the military balance of power in West Pacific. But is not wise comfort in the feeling that a conflict is unlikely because is dangerous and costly. Patience is an asian virtue, China is preparing, all they are doing is wait the right time. If you lower your guard, you invite a strike like Pearl Harbour. Japan war with Russia was very costly in blood and money but the political benefits in Japan and the international circles was quite intoxicating. What some westerners need to understand is the feelings of the people, China like Japan or many other asian countries have a big inferiority complex, it duel on the past and perceived present humiliations (real or imagined). Most germans dont wanted to dominate the world and kill jews when they started the WWII, they just wanted some revenge from the humiliating surrender conditions on WWI.

  3. me says:

    Japan with an inferiority complex???pfffff please think before you speak…japan has always been a prideful nation, has overcome history’s
    Challenges that no country has faced and most important, they managed to
    Become the second world’s largest economic power without using the military force after wwII…in the other hand we got china who aquires his economic power using opressive mecanism over it’s population, stealing foreign technology or in other words making a copycat of every single product developed in other countries..they’re the only ones who have an inferiority complex so big that they wont let it’s economy run by it’s own populatio but instead the government rules everything giving no choice to chinese people to rise for themselves…..please don’t you dare to compare chinese people to japanese people or any other asian country cause it is extremely offensive to be compared to a country like china that brings no good for a modern world

  4. chris says:

    Well said Brian.With the recent attack on South Korea form the North.I think this is a great possibility of a huge war in that region.China at some point soon will take Tawain by force dragging us into another conflict.China is vary dangerous and should be consider to be a great risk of American interest..

  5. Danno says:

    Political risk aside, the real risk of an invasion of Taiwan is military failure. The Straits of Taiwan are 100 miles wide and the ports from which an amphibious invasion would have to be launched are further away yet. The goatfuck factor for amphibious operations is just about off the charts, and The Chinese have no experience with amphibious landings. At present they have precious few landing craft capable of putting a military force on a distant beach, and they will need a LOT of them. Taiwan’s ground forces are large, well equipped, and highly motivated.

    Also, any landing force will require complete air superiority. Without it, a significant portion of any invasion fleet will end up at the bottom of the ocean. And even if the Chinese did make a successful landing and were able to establish a beach head, the invasion force must still be supplied by sea. Air supply won’t cut it. Hostile aircraft can wreak havoc with shipping and the Taiwanese have a lot of modern and very hostile aircraft, manned by well trained and equally hostile pilots.

    I’m not saying that it will never happen, but don’t expect it anytime soon. In order to pull this off, the Chinese will have to build, train, and rehearse a very large force, and then plan on a long campaign of taking small, outer islands to establish closer staging areas, and at the same time winning air superiority and eliminating Taiwan’s navy. Otherwise, the operation is likely to end in a costly embarrassment.

  6. [...] at the front line of an invasion of Taiwan, say. That is, if China could conceivably launch one. But probably not. Since 2008, China has launched four Yuzhao-class, or Type 081 amphibious assault ships. The lead [...]

  7. [...] at the front line of an invasion of Taiwan, say. That is, if China could conceivably launch one. But probably not. Since 2008, China has launched four Yuzhao-class, or Type 081 amphibious assault ships. The lead [...]

  8. [...] be at the front line of an invasion of Taiwan, say. That is, if China could conceivably launch one. But probably not. Since 2008, China has launched four Yuzhao-class, or Type 081 amphibious assault ships. The lead [...]

  9. Danno says:

    Good find, Mr. Axe. Airborne Sapper is right.

    The purpose of China’s “Green Pearl”, that spanking-new transport ship, is pretty clear. Taiwan take note.

    To military planners, however, this is what’s known as a big, fat, high value target.

  10. [...] at the front line of an invasion of Taiwan, say. That is, if China could conceivably launch one. But probably not. Since 2008, China has launched four Yuzhao-class, or Type 081 amphibious assault ships. The lead [...]

  11. [...] at the front line of an invasion of Taiwan, say. That is, if China could conceivably launch one. But probably not. Since 2008, China has launched four Yuzhao-class, or Type 081 amphibious assault ships. The lead [...]

  12. […] missile test, at least initially. For now, the Taiwanese government might actually be happy to appear weak abroad, in order to speed up delivery of the American weapons it needs in order to appear […]

Leave a Reply