[By Charlie Lyons Jones, Elena Yi-Ching Ho and Malcolm Davis]
As tensions rise over China’s recent aggressive air patrolling across the Taiwan Strait, and concern mounts that Beijing may stage a provocation to coerce Taipei and test the mettle of President Joe Biden and his administration, how might the Chinese government employ the People’s Liberation Army in a crisis involving Taiwan?
Would China move decisively to a full-scale invasion, while relying on its anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities to raise the cost of US intervention to unacceptable levels? The goal would be to present a fait accompli to Washington and prevent US military intervention by threatening unacceptable losses.
Alternatively, might China use a coercive strategy of graduated increases in military pressure with the aim of forcing the government of Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei to bend to China’s demand for unification with the mainland on Beijing’s terms? That could involve a series of limited operations: seizure of Taiwan’s offshore islands, such as Kinmen and Matsu, as well as Itu Aba and Pratas islands in the South China Sea; a naval and air blockade around Taiwan; an air and missile campaign; and offensive cyber operations against Taiwan’s critical infrastructure.
But those aren’t the only options. If China decided on a more graduated path of escalating pressure, it might seek to use military force in the grey zone first, below a level that would automatically generate a US military response but strong enough to test the resolve of the Biden administration, while exploiting the deterrent potential of A2/AD to insure against any US intervention.
Facing such Chinese actions, Biden would need to consider whether intervention, perhaps in response to a Chinese landing on Pratas Island in the South China Sea or large-scale cyberattacks on Taiwan’s critical information infrastructure, would be worth the potential cost in lives lost, ships sunk and bases destroyed. China might be betting that Biden wouldn’t risk a major military crisis, with huge potential for rapid escalation, over a limited action by the PLA.
Yet, any failure by the US to intervene might encourage Beijing to push further by grabbing a more significant territory such as Kinmen or Matsu while imposing an air and naval blockade on Taiwan. A graduated campaign of escalation would ensure that China maintains the initiative. It would be matched by coercive economic and political pressure on China’s neighbours, and even US allies such as Australia, not to support any US military response. The use of ‘sharp power’ would coincide with the use of hard power in the form of military force directly against Taiwan’s interests.
So, when might Xi Jinping issue an order to the Central Military Commission and China’s political warfare agencies to launch a campaign of graduated escalation? According to a recent China Matters policy brief by Linda Jakobson, the Chinese Communist Party promulgated a policy in January that might offer us a hint. Jakobson noted that the Plan to build the rule of law in China (2020–2025) openly calls for ‘advancing the process of unification under the “One Country, Two Systems plan for Taiwan”.’ She argues that Beijing will rely on grey-zone tactics or the measures it used to absorb Hong Kong via the national security law. That said, the period between now and 2025 is likely to be one of heightened strategic danger.
With that five-year period in mind, it’s worth noting that there only so many times of the year in which China could reasonably conduct large-scale military operations against Taiwan. As Ian Easton of the Project 2049 Institute has noted, conditions in the Taiwan Strait are only suitable for PLA amphibious operations between March and May, and April would be the best time of year to launch an invasion. We can thus expect the US military to be at heightened levels of readiness between March and May from now through to 2025.
That said, there are reasons to doubt that the PLA will be prepared to launch an amphibious assault against Taiwan in the next five years. For instance, the PLA has serious doubts about its ability to think through, train for and launch complex naval operations. A recent article in the PLA Daily quoted the results of a meeting on naval operations held by the PLA Navy’s submarine training centre (???????????) in which the participants claimed that ‘research into maritime tactics isn’t deep and lacks [insight into] methods of tactical command’.
Another finding of the meeting was that the PLAN was overly risk-averse and that ‘battlefield training gives much consideration to safety, but gives little consideration to the enemy’s circumstances’. Senior PLAN leaders clearly believe that the fleet isn’t capable of planning for the myriad contingencies that could eventuate during a naval operation as complex as an amphibious assault. To meet Xi’s ambitious timetable, it’s likely that the CCP will be placing serious pressure on the PLAN to resolve those issues as soon as practicable.
Ultimately, the PLA’s doubts about its own combat capability might not be enough to dissuade Xi’s Central Military Commission from taking some sort of coercive action against Taiwan. Recent reports from Reuters and from Wen Li on 9 Dash Line have shown that China is mounting various grey-zone operations, such as land reclamation and the proposed construction of water, electricity and gas pipelines near Kinmen and Matsu.
Further actions geared towards Beijing assuming administrative control over those islands are to be expected before 2025. Beijing probably has the capability to launch a Scarborough Shoal–type annexation of Kinmen and Matsu in the near term. And, given that control of those islands would be a prerequisite for a successful amphibious assault on Taiwan, it appears likely that Beijing may seek to seize control of them before 2025.
Key events in Taiwan also need to be considered, as they could well alter Beijing’s strategy and timeline for any coercive measures against Taiwan. For instance, Taiwan will hold its nine-in-one local government elections in 2022, followed by a presidential election in 2024. Beijing could try to capitalise on Taiwan being preoccupied with its domestic politics and calculate that further grey-zone or military operations would have a higher probability of success. Those are contingencies that the Biden administration will need to think through carefully.
Charlie Lyons Jones is a researcher, Elena Yi-Ching Ho is a research intern and Malcolm Davis is a senior analyst at ASPI.
This article appears courtesy of ASPI and may be found in its original form here.
Go to Source
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The naval forces of the US and Bahrain recently staged a joint force training exercise which showcased the interoperability between coalition warships operating I the Arabian Gulf. Coalition Task Force Sentinel executed combined exercise Sentinel Shield supporting Sentry and Sentinel patrols in the coalition’s area of operations. The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones and […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
Global commercial aviation charter company Albion Aviation Group is reporting that it is seeing a considerable uptake in its professional cargo broker training courses from the current global pandemic crisis and surge in charter demand. “We have completed a number webinar courses for a whole of host of companies, looking to manage their own cargo […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Network Airline Management and TAAG Angola Airlines are pleased to announce the renewal of their long-term freighter aircraft contract by an additional 12 months, sealing an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future. Operating a regular weekly scheduled service from Liege, Belgium, to the capital of Angola, Luanda, Network Airline Management provides a Boeing 747-400F aircraft […]
Qatar Airways Cargo transported 56 SkyCell containers with vaccines from one of the largest vaccine manufacturers worldwide on its scheduled freighter and belly-hold cargo flights for its customer, CEVA Logistics. The 54-tonne shipment consisting of pneumococcal and varicella vaccines were flown from Brussels to Mumbai via the carrier’s hub in Doha on two separate flights. […]