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Military Power of the People's Republic of China

Chapter Six
PRC Force Modernization and Security in the Taiwan Strait

"Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes
a major incident of 'Taiwan independence,' the Chinese people and armed forces will
resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost."
- China's National Defense in 2004


China's economic growth, growing diplomatic leverage, and improvements in the PLA's military capabilities, contrasted with Taiwan's modest defense efforts, have the effect of shifting the cross-Strait balance in Beijing's favor. Chinese air, naval, and missile force modernization is making it increasingly critical that Taiwan strengthen its defenses with a sense of urgency.

Despite this need, Taiwan defense spending has steadily declined in real terms over the past decade. Taiwan has traditionally acquired capabilities, some asymmetric, to deter an attack by making it too costly, while buying time for international intervention. The growth of PLA capabilities is outpacing these acquisitions.

The U.S. Government has made clear that it supports peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences in a manner acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and opposes unilateral changes to the status quo. Yet Beijing's sustained military buildup in the area of the Taiwan Strait risks disrupting the status quo. Accordingly, and consistent with the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act, Public Law 96-8, (1979), the United States is taking steps to help maintain peace, security, and stability in the region by offering for sale to Taiwan defensive systems to correct imbalances in the areas of air and missile defense, and anti-submarine warfare. These systems - Patriot PAC-III air defense systems, P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, and diesel attack submarines - were included in the original Special Budget (the PAC-IIIs have since been removed), which remains before the Taiwan Legislative Yuan, as it has since 2004. Simultaneously, the Department of Defense, through the transformation of U.S. Armed Forces and global force posture realignments, is maintaining the capacity to resist any effort by Beijing to resort to force or coercion to dictate the terms of Taiwan's future status.

China's Strategy in the Taiwan Strait

Beijing appears prepared to defer unification as long as it sees the tendency of events to advance that goal, or the costs of conflict as outweighing the benefits. The mainland employs all instruments of power - political, economic, cultural, legal, diplomatic, and military - at its disposal in a coercive strategy aimed at resolving the Taiwan issue in its favor. In the near term, Beijing's focus is on preventing Taiwan from moving toward de jure independence. However, China is unwilling to rule out the use of force to achieve this objective.

China continues to offer a peaceful resolution under the "one country, two systems" framework that would provide Taiwan a degree of autonomy in exchange for its unification with the mainland. China's military expansion and ongoing deployment of some 710-790 short range ballistic missiles, enhanced amphibious warfare capabilities, and modern, long-range anti-air systems opposite Taiwan are reminders, however, of Beijing's unwillingness to renounce the use of force. China sees the threat of force as an integral part of its overall policy to dissuade Taiwan from pursuing independence and pressuring it to unite with the mainland. Beijing, in its March 2005 "antisecession law," codified this threat and attempted to legitimize it through legal instruments, as part of what some Chinese military strategists refer to as "legal warfare."

China's "Legal Warfare"

Chinese military strategists are taking an increasing interest in international law as an instrument of policy in a confl ict. Some PLA thinkers believe law can be used as a weapon to deter adversaries prior to combat. For example, in a Taiwan Strait context, China could launch a concerted information campaign to portray third-party intervention as illegitimate and outside of international legal norms.

China is also pursuing a global effort to shape international opinion on issues related to interpretation and application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. By a series of scholarly articles and organized symposia, China has sought to shift scholarly opinion and the perspective of national governments away from interpretations of maritime law that favor freedom of navigation and toward interpretations of increased sovereign authority and control over the full 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the airspace above it. This is an assertion of claims and rights in the maritime domain that could enhance the legitimacy of coercive Chinese operations at sea.

The circumstances in which Beijing has historically claimed it would use force against the island include: a formal declaration of independence by Taipei; undefined moves "toward independence;" foreign intervention in Taiwan's internal affairs; indefinite delays in the resumption of cross-Strait dialogue; Taiwan's acquisition of nuclear weapons; and internal unrest on Taiwan. These circumstances are not fixed and have evolved over time in response to Taiwan's declarations about its political status and other actions, changes in China's own military capabilities, and Beijing's view of other countries' relations with Taiwan. China's "red lines" are vague, which allows Beijing to determine the nature, timing, and form of its response.

Beijing's Options for Action against Taiwan

The PLA is developing capabilities that will enable it to pursue several courses of action against Taiwan, allowing Beijing to apply pressure more flexibly against the island and, it believes, minimize the risks of confrontation with the United States. The PLA is simultaneously developing the capability to deter and/or slow third party, including U.S., intervention to assist Taiwan; to defeat such intervention in an asymmetric, limited, quick war; or, fight to a standstill and pursue a protracted conflict.

Persuasion and Coercion. With increased economic links, Beijing enjoys increased influence on Taiwan. It seeks to attract Taiwan investment in the mainland, while emphasizing that peace in the Strait will bring prosperity. At the same time, accelerating economic integration with the mainland also makes Taiwan increasingly subject to Chinese economic leverage. Beijing is Taipei's largest trading partner, Taipei's largest destination for exports and foreign direct investment, and the production site for many of Taipei's most profitable information technology exports. Beijing is attempting to exploit these ties to press Taiwan businessmen operating on the mainland to refrain from openly supporting "proindependence" parties or individuals on Taiwan.

Beijing has also intensified its campaign to further constrain Taiwan's international profile. It competes with Taiwan in the developing world for diplomatic recognition and prioritizes its activities in these regions to erode support among Taiwan's 25 remaining diplomatic partners. In October 2005, Senegal became the latest nation to switch recognition to Beijing. China simultaneously employs diplomatic and commercial levers, including its seat on the UN Security Council, to increase pressure on other states to limit their relationships with Taiwan and discourage it from making any moves toward de jure independence.

The sustained military threat to Taiwan serves as an important backdrop to the overall political, economic, and diplomatic campaign of persuasion and coercion. Exercises, deployments, and media operations all contribute to the creation of an environment of intimidation.

Limited Force Options. A campaign employing limited force options could include computer network attacks against Taiwan's political, military, and economic infrastructure to undermine the Taiwan population's confidence in its leadership. PLA special operations forces infiltrated into Taiwan could conduct acts of economic, political, and military sabotage. Beijing might also believe that it could use small numbers of coordinated SRBM, special operations forces, and air strikes against air fields, radars, and communications facilities on Taiwan as "non-war" uses of force to try to push the Taiwan leadership toward accommodation. Beijing might erroneously view such "non-war" uses of forces as a complement to non-military coercion and believe that such strikes would not trigger a response from either Taiwan or third parties. Resort to such uses of force could quickly risk escalation to a full-fledged military conflict.

Air and Missile Campaign. Surprise SRBM attacks and precision air strikes could support a campaign designed to degrade Taiwan defenses, neutralize its military and political leadership, and break its will to fight before the United States and other nations could intervene. To attempt these effects, China could employ SRBMs to saturate Taiwan's air defense system, including air bases, radar sites, missiles, and communications facilities.

Blockade. Beijing could threaten or deploy a naval blockade either as a "non-war" pressure tactic in the pre-hostility phase or as a transition to active conflict. On one end of the spectrum, Beijing could declare that ships en route to Taiwan ports must stop in mainland ports for inspections prior to transiting on to Taiwan. Alternatively, China could attempt the equivalent of a blockade of Taiwan ports by declaring exercise or missile closure areas in approaches and roadsteads to ports to divert merchant traffic, which China did with its 1995-96 missile firings and live-fire exercises. Chinese doctrine also includes activities such as air blockades, missile attacks, and mining or otherwise obstructing harbors and approaches.

More traditional methods of blockade would increase the impact on Taiwan, but also would tax PLA Navy capabilities and raise the potential for direct military confrontation. Any attempt to limit maritime traffic to and from Taiwan, whether loose or more restrictive, would likely violate international law, trigger countervailing international pressure, and could lead to a more protracted conflict and the serious risk of military escalation. Although such restrictions would have an immediate economic impact, they would take time to realize decisive political results, diminishing the ultimate effectiveness and inviting certain international reaction.

Amphibious Invasion. Publicly available Chinese writings on amphibious campaigns offer different strategies for an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. The most prominent of them describe what it called the Joint Island Landing Campaign. The objective of a Joint Island Landing Campaign is to break through or circumvent shore defenses, establish and build a beachhead, and then launch an attack to split, seize and occupy the entire island or important targets on the island. To achieve the final objective of the Joint Island Landing Campaign, a series of sub-campaigns, such as electronic warfare, naval, and air campaigns - including the underlying logistics and mobilization - must be executed.

Amphibious operations are logistics-intensive and rely for success upon air and sea superiority in the vicinity of the operation, the rapid buildup of supplies and sustainment on shore, and an uninterrupted flow of support thereafter. The Joint Island Landing Campaign would tax the lift capacities of China's armed forces and maritime militia, posing challenges to those charged with providing sustainment for, and the commanders charged with leading, this campaign. Add to these strains the combat attrition of China's forces, and an amphibious invasion of Taiwan would be a significant political and military risk for China's leaders.

The PLA's prospects in an invasion of Taiwan would hinge on establishing persistent air superiority over the Strait and Taiwan, the availability of amphibious and air lift, attrition rates, interoperability of PLA forces, the ability of China's logistics system to support the necessarily high tempo of operations, Taiwan's will to resist, and the speed and scale of international intervention.

Factors of Deterrence

China is deterred from taking military action against Taiwan on two levels. China does not yet possess the military capability to accomplish with confidence its political objectives on the island, particularly when confronted with outside intervention. Beijing is also deterred by the potential political and economic repercussions of any use of force against Taiwan. China's leaders recognize that a war could severely retard economic development. Taiwan is China's single largest source of foreign direct investment. An extended campaign would wreck Taiwan's economic infrastructure, leading to high reconstruction costs. International sanctions against Beijing, either by individual states or by groups of states, could severely damage Beijing's economic development. An insurgency against the occupation could tie up substantial forces for years.

According to the Intelligence Community, China would have difficulty protecting its vital sea lines of communication while simultaneously supporting blockade or invasion operations against the island. Confl ict with Taiwan also could lead to instability on the mainland. Maintaining internal security in wartime appears to be an important consideration in PLA planning - refl ecting leadership concerns about political stability. A confl ict also would severely hurt the image China has sought to project regionally and globally in the post-Tiananmen years. If Beijing chose to use force against Taiwan prior to the 2008 Olympics, China would almost certainly face a boycott or loss of the games. Finally, Beijing's planning must calculate the virtual certainty of U.S. intervention, and Japanese interests, in any confl ict in the Taiwan Strait. It views the United States, especially in combination with Japan, as having advantages over China in many scenarios involving the use of military force. China's leaders also calculate a confl ict over Taiwan involving the United States would give rise to a long-term hostile relationship between the two nations - a result that would not be in China's interests.

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