China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has the hardware, weaponry, manpower, and capability to launch an assault across the Taiwan Strait. It has been planning for decades and just might think it can succeed.
The PLA might not do it the way American forces would, but the Chinese do a lot of things differently than the Americans. And they often do them very well.
However, this writer thinks they won’t do it—at least not an all-out assault to seize Taiwan.
They may do something more modest that still humiliates the United States and rattles everybody’s confidence in American might and protection. And, at the same time, demonstrates that China is the dominant military power in the region—not least because of its perceived willingness to use force.
If all Beijing achieves in the short term is publicly neutering the United States in the Pacific, it goes a long way toward moving it to its next step in bringing Taiwan to heel and regional domination.
This is what Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing to U.S. President Joe Biden and the Europeans. Embarrassing the Americans, exposing weaknesses, and sowing doubt. And Putin is exploiting fissures in the NATO alliance that over time can be widened by using military threats, economic pressure, and subversion—possibly leading to the fragmentation or diminution of NATO itself.
Beijing is no doubt taking notes.
So what are some of Beijing’s more “modest” options for Taiwan?
Maybe a move against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands? Or interfering with shipping and aircraft to/from Kinmen or Matsu, or Pratas? Or perhaps force Taiwan and/or other countries’ shipping in the South China Sea to submit to Chinese monitoring, inspection, and approval before entering the South China Sea?
Chinese leader Xi Jinping no doubt has his people giving him even more options.
And they could be including in their calculations that if they make their move too fast and try to grab too much, it may force the Americans into a fight—that will bleed the PLA—and also put China’s overseas assets at risk.
The U.S. forces may have a hard time if a fight is around Taiwan, but they have the advantage beyond that—and can interdict (especially operating with partners) Chinese sea lines of communication and the vital oil, food, and trade that flows along them. The PLA still hasn’t got the global “power projection” capabilities yet.
Another tripwire Beijing may try to avoid triggering is Washington’s economic “nuclear option.” China is still vulnerable to being delinked from the U.S. dollar system or a complete shut off of technology imports—as probably would happen in the event of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan.
All this to say, Beijing might be inclined to wait a while and let its political warfare efforts simmer and thaw potential resistance. Political warfare means using China’s prodigious economic, diplomatic, political, psychological, and implicit military pressure to establish influence in a nation.
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