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Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the Peoples Republic of China 2012 - Cover

Annual Report to Congress:
Military and Security Developments Involving the Peoples Republic of China 2012

Chapter 4: The PRC's Taiwan Strategy


Since the election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in March 2008 (Ma was re-elected in January 2012), the PRC and Taiwan have significantly improved cross-Strait relations. The two sides have strengthened trade relations and initiated direct links for shipping, passenger flights, and mail delivery across the Taiwan Strait. These links have reduced tension and built momentum for a positive cross-Strait atmosphere. The PRC has made clear that it intends cross-Strait economic and cultural ties to promote progress toward eventual unification. Simultaneously, the PRC is developing military capabilities to give it the ability to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms. However, Beijing still lacks these capabilities and recognizes the costs and risks associated with a decision to escalate the dispute to the point of conflict.

Beijing and Taipei have taken little action to develop political and security confidence building measures. Although Beijing wants to further develop these ties, it takes into account political sensitivities in Taiwan. Beijing appears to be comfortable with current initiatives and hopeful that, over the long term, economic, social, and cultural integration will dilute proindependence sentiment in Taiwan and will make the prospect of peaceful unification a more attractive proposition.

The PRC’s 2010 Defense White Paper – released in March 2011 – is indicative of Beijing’s increased confidence in the trajectory of cross- Strait developments. It states, in part:

“Significant and positive progress has been achieved in cross-Strait relations…[The] two sides have enhanced political mutual trust, conducted consultations and dialogues, and reached a series of agreements for realizing [cross-Strait] exchanges … as well as promoting economic and financial cooperation. [This] accords with the interests and aspirations of compatriots on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait.”

Notwithstanding four years of measured improvement in cross-Strait relations, Taiwan public opinion toward cross-Strait ties remains mixed. In a 2011 poll conducted by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, more than 60 percent of respondents expressed a positive view of the pace of cross-Strait exchanges, characterizing it as either “just right” or “too slow.” At the same time, more than 50 percent of respondents characterized Beijing’s attitude vis-à-vis Taiwan as “unfriendly.” This suggests that any near-term attempts by the two sides to address more sensitive political and military issues will be diffcult.

China’s Approach To Taiwan

Beijing employs a mix of incentives and threats that increases the benefits that accrue to Taiwan as the latter deepens ties to China, while also seeking to deter Taiwan from pursuing policies that Beijing views as provocative. Beijing strives to integrate the two economies, advance social and cultural ties, strengthen outreach to Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang Party, isolate Taiwan political actors that take pro-independence positions, and emphasize its preference for achieving peaceful unification – all while maintaining a fundamental opposition to Taiwan independence or any initiative that would undermine its “one China” principle.

Since President Ma’s election in Taiwan, the two sides have largely maintained an unof- ficial “diplomatic truce” in the competition to persuade countries – usually through economic incentives – to switch diplomatic recognition from Beijing to Taipei, or vice versa. Beijing has taken small, but important steps to demonstrate its tacit consent to the truce, including dropping its long-standing opposition to Taiwan being granted observer status at the World Health Assembly and refraining from courting El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, who has expressed publicly a desire to switch ties from Taipei to Beijing.

Although the mainland’s focus is on sustaining positive momentum in cross-Strait relations, Beijing has never renounced the use of force to compel unification. In his December 2010 essay, State Councilor Dai Bingguo captured the central leadership’s policy on Taiwan:

“The Taiwan question is related to the reuni- fication and territorial integrity of China. It concerns the core interests of China and touches on the national sentiment of 1.3 billion Chinese people....On the Taiwan question, we pursue the fundamental guideline of “peaceful reunification, and one country, two systems.” [But] we will absolutely not allow Taiwan to be separated from China and will definitely make no promise to give up the use of force.”

Beijing has made clear (through words and military actions) that it seeks to deter Taiwan from taking any steps toward independence. The military component of Beijing’s Taiwan strategy is an integral part of this. Beijing appears prepared to defer the use of force as long as it believes unification remains possible and the costs of conflict outweigh the benefits, but it almost certainly views the prospect of using force as an important point of leverage in cross- Strait relations.

Taiwan has taken a number of steps to address gaps in military capabilities, such as expanding its defense industrial base, beginning a transition to an all-volunteer force, and strengthening its noncommissioned officer corps. These improvements have only partially addressed Taiwan’s eroding defense advantages and, in some cases, face significant challenges in implementation. Taiwan’s domestic priorities and other considerations compete with its armed forces for resources and funding. Consequently, the cross-Strait military balance — in terms of personnel, force structure, weapons, and developments in military doctrine — continues to trend in Beijing’s favor.

Cross-Strait Military Options

A comprehensive and sustained military modernization program has increased the range and sophistication of military options Beijing could employ in a cross-Strait conflict. The PLA still faces limitations in its ability to conduct a fullscale amphibious invasion of Taiwan. However, the PLA’s growing capabilities have enhanced its ability to strike economic and military targets on Taiwan, while expanding its ability to deter, delay, or deny possible intervention by third parties during cross-Strait hostilities (Appendix IV, Figures 2 and 3).

Should Beijing decide to use military force against Taiwan, it is possible the PLA would mobilize forces in a manner that optimizes preparation in favor of tactical surprise, with the goal of forcing rapid military and/or political resolution before other countries could respond. If a quick resolution is not possible, Beijing would be likely to seek to:

    > Deter U.S. intervention by highlighting the potential cost to the United States and targeting the resolve of the U.S. public and leadership;

    > Failing that, delay intervention and seek victory in an overpowering, limited, quick war; or,

    > Fight to a standstill and pursue a political settlement after achieving a set of limited goals that could be credibly sold to the PRC public as a “victory.”

Maritime Quarantine or Blockade. Although a traditional maritime quarantine or blockade would have a short-term impact on Taiwan, such an operation would significantly tax PLA Navy capabilities. PRC military writings describe alternative solutions, including air blockades, missile attacks, and mining to obstruct ports and approaches. Beijing could declare that ships en route to Taiwan must stop in mainland ports for inspection prior to transiting to Taiwan. Beijing could also attempt the equivalent of a blockade by declaring exercise or missile closure areas in approaches to ports, effectively closing port access and diverting merchant traffc. There is a risk that Beijing would underestimate the degree to which an attempt to limit maritime traffc to and from Taiwan would trigger international pressure and military escalation. Currently, the PRC probably could not enforce a full military blockade, particularly in the face of third party intervention. However, its ability to execute a blockade will improve steadily through 2020.

Limited Force or Coercive Options. Beijing might use a variety of disruptive, punitive, or lethal military actions in a limited campaign against Taiwan, likely in conjunction with overt and clandestine economic and political activities. Such a campaign could include computer network or limited kinetic attacks against Taiwan’s political, military, and economic infrastructure to induce fear in Taiwan and degrade the populace’s confidence in their leadership. Similarly, PLA special operations forces could infiltrate Taiwan and conduct attacks against infrastructure or leadership targets.

Air and Missile Campaign. Limited shortrange ballistic missile (SRBM) attacks and precision strikes against air defense systems (air bases, radar sites, missiles, space assets, and communications facilities) could be conducted in an attempt to degrade Taiwan’s defenses, neutralize Taiwan’s leadership, or break the public’s will to fight.

Amphibious Invasion. PRC literature describes different operational concepts for amphibious invasion. The most prominent of these, the Joint Island Landing Campaign, envisions a complex operation relying on coordinated, interlocking campaigns for logistics, air and naval support, and electronic warfare. The objective would be to break through or circumvent shore defenses, establish and build a beachhead, transport personnel and materiel to designated landing sites in the north and south of Taiwan’s western coastline, and launch attacks to seize and occupy key targets and/or the entire island.

The PLA is capable of accomplishing various amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan. With few overt military preparations beyond routine training, the PRC could launch an invasion of small, Taiwan-held islands such as Pratas Reef or Itu Aba. A PLA invasion of a medium-sized, defended, offshore island such as Mazu or Jinmen is within the mainland’s capabilities. Such an invasion would demonstrate military capability and political resolve while achieving tangible territorial gain and simultaneously showing some measure of restraint. However, this type of operation involves significant operational and strategic risk. It could galvanize the Taiwan populace and catalyze a strong international reaction.

Operationally, large-scale amphibious invasion is one of the most complicated maneuvers a military can execute. An attempt to invade Taiwan would strain China’s untested armed forces and invite international condemnation. These stresses, combined with the PRC’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. Taiwan’s investments to harden infrastructure and strengthen defensive capabilities could also decrease Beijing’s ability to achieve its objectives.

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