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The incoming and outgoing heads of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command recently warned the U.S. Congress that a Chinese attack on Taiwan could come by 2027 or sooner. The question among policymakers and strategists seems to be not “if” but “when” and “how.”

On Wednesday, June 16 the Center for Security Policy convened a webinar entitled “Taiwan Invasion: How Would China Do It?” to explore these questions, featuring two Center Senior Fellows and experts in the field. Possible scenarios contemplated ranged from a full-scale amphibious assault to a domestic “Donbas”-style insurgency aided by Beijing, to sustained psychological and technological “grey zone” attacks to soften Taiwan’s resolve.

Stephen Bryen, a leading expert in security strategy and technology with 50 years of experience in government and industry, including senior positions in the Department of Defense and on Capitol Hill, led off with a case study of a potential invasion of Kinmen Island, a small Taiwanese possession just 2km from the Chinese coast. Seizing it would be relatively easy for Beijing and could be used as a bargaining chip up to and including for a change of government in Taiwan, or could simply be transformed into a militarized outpost in the style of Beijing’s South China Sea reefs and islands.

Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Colonel with extensive experience in multiple military and diplomatic roles in Japan and Taiwan, and currently a Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, summarized the contents of a paper he wrote for the Center identifying Russia’s unconventional subversion tactics in its seizure of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region as a potential template for China’s designs on Taiwan. He concluded that such tactics were unlikely to be successful on their own given geographic and demographic differences in the two regions, but that mobilization of an internal 5th column could be integrated into an invasion strategy.

The question-and-answer session covered such topics as China’s own vulnerability to internal instability, the role of Taiwan’s chip industry and other economic assets, the possible role of NATO, Japan and Russia in a regional conflict, and whether the United States would come to Taiwan’s aid.

Adam Savit, Grant Newsham and Stephen Bryen

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