The following analysis is strictly a logistical perspective of why China is unable to invade Taiwan militarily present-day or in the far future.
The Hysterical Hype
During the past several months the media has gleefully bombarded the public with the ever-increasing possibility that China will have the capability to invade Taiwan in the near present, if not the near future.
Undoubtedly there has been a dramatic increase and intensity of Chinese air force incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in 2021 as articulated in the following chart entitled Taiwan’s Airspace Sees Increase in Chinese Military Incursions provided by the R.O.C. Ministry of National Defense (Taiwan).
China’s military flights into Taiwan’s ADIZ are intimidation tactics meant to make Taiwan “feel” China’s shadow in its long-term objective of “reunification” while at the same time garnering generous western media attention.
Increased Chinese aerial incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ captivates the media’s attention who in turn compound the threat to sell the news. Besides, aerial intimidation particularly with its trophy hypersonic missile, is far “sexier” headline grabbing news than artificial island building or maritime incursions into the fishing areas of neighboring countries.
It’s also a public relations coup for China because the hysterics and over-estimation of China as a rapidly emerging omnipotent military power within sight of world domination contradicts the reality that they are a still a paper tiger in projecting their military might offshore.
Furthermore, in addition to the aircraft carrier killing exotic weapons, articles have appeared with respect to China’s mock-up of US carriers in western China serving as targets for bombing runs. Rarely mentioned is that fact that China has been conducting these exercises for decades since becoming an economic juggernaut.
Every country has a mock-up of their enemies’ critical targets for simulation training purposes in case of a conflict. For China, if there was to be a offshore military clash, the most obvious targets would be American aircraft carriers and nearby military bases.
Narrow Window of Opportunity
The principal driving factors for these media hysterics are:
· The present-day distractions of the rampant Omicron variant
· Buildup of and Russian troops poised on the Ukrainian border
· Large Russian-Chinese joint military exercises
All of the above create the illusion that an opportunistic, autocratically led Russia and China, are loosely collaborating to invade, within the same timeframe, their respective sovereign neighbors because the US is too divided, distracted, stretched to the limit of resources and political will to repel a two-front military aggression.
In reality with respect to Russia, the probability of an invasion of the Ukraine is high while a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is remote.
Taiwan’s Perspective & Reality
Leveraging China’s escalating aggressive and perceived military bellicose intentions, the media presents a vulnerable, if not helpless Taiwan, who the US will be compelled to “rescue”. One such article on Taiwan’s lack of and readiness was published by the Wall Street Journal 26 October 2021 is entitled Does Taiwan’s Military Stand a Chance Against China? Few Think So.
Through selective surveys and interviews the article focused on the under-funded, low morale and lower military service requirement (4 months present-day from 2 years) of the 187,660 active soldiers (down from 275,000 in 2011) and 2.2 million Taiwanese reservists.
Reality | Not Your Father’s “Saving Private Ryan”
All of the aforementioned has been grossly exaggerated and misinterpreted as a prelude to an imminent Chinese invasion.
For starters there haven’t been any reports, let alone rumors, of Chinese military mobilization whether it be land forces, vessels, equipment & materiel unlike the Russian military-buildup which has been confirmed and supported by satellite images. There has merely been bombastic political rhetoric from the Chinese leadership concerning Taiwan.
If there was to be an invasion, the build-up would take place at the major Chinese naval ports specifically Qingdao, Ningbo and Zhangjiang all of which are located much further than the launch sites during D-Day.
Logistically the shortest geographical distance between China and Taiwan is 100 miles with the aforementioned naval launch bases another 100-plus miles away.
The shortest distance during the D-Day invasion in June 1944 was 26 miles. However Allied landing craft and supporting vessels had to depart from naval bases up to 100 miles away.
Furthermore the Allies had the luxury of landing 156,000 troops at multiple wide and flat beaches with air & sea domination and was able to concentrate their efforts exclusively on Nazi Germany’s beach and inland defenses. After several years of planning and wartime experience the Allies were able to successfully undertake the interoperability of various armed services (army, navy and air force) with an endless flow of supporting materiel post-landing.
On the other hand even after being exposed crossing an open sea, Taiwan has an unforgiving topography with few suitable landing sites with China grossly lacking the support vessels and aircraft to supply and sustain their troops in hostile territory.
It’s been decades since China has undertaken large scale military operations all of which those were land-based with no history of an amphibious assault. Any attempt of such an operation against Taiwan would be even far more complicated and challenging than the D-Day version with stealth and surprise practically impossible.
Despite China’s high-profile, high-tech trophy weapons, even in the 21st century military conflicts are ultimately decided by the soldier with the bayonet. This is what happened with the American invasion and occupation in Gulf War II and Afghanistan where ultimately it was the American foot soldiers’ arrival that secured key parts of the country before it was deemed secure.
Beyond Mission Impossible
Let’s debunk the gross numbers with the following chart entitled The Military Imbalance In The Taiwan Strait provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.
This chart represents an estimated totality of China’s military in a geographically huge country, not all of which can be used in an amphibious invasion or even moved to invasion launch sites in China itself. China would still require large numbers of personnel and material against Indian aggression in the west as well as to support law enforcement in case of overwhelming domestic social unrest.
Finally of the above totals for each category, military and media expert sources rarely provide an estimate the amount of “combat ready” Chinese military hardware versus those which are designated to be cannibalized for spare parts.
Taiwan is a small island with limited favorable landing sites whose defenses, well-hidden in their mountainous topography, are concentrated exclusively for a Chinese invasion.
This and similar comparative charts from credible sources are accurate but whose information is not translated to their suitability to real-life operational use for an amphibious operation on the scale required.
In sum, the Chinese leadership is well aware of the fact that their last military conflict occurred in 1979 against the Vietnamese, a land battle just across the border, which was logistically far more simplistic, versus the enormously difficult interoperability to various armed forces in an amphibious assault, inland movement and subsequent capture of military bases, cities and utilities.
21st Century Invasion Tactic
For China there are a myriad of non-military ways to achieve the goal of reunification that would almost eliminate casualties, collateral damage and political blowback, specifically loss of face for President Xi.
Politically this may involve creating and stoking a socio-political environment within Taiwan through the Kuomintang (KMT), Taiwan’s largest opposition political party who still maintains the idea is that Taiwan and the mainland are one China. Without a doubt this tactic has probably been a long-term, on-going operation for decades.
According to the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University, voters identifying with the KMT is 19% vs 31% for the ruling Democratic Progressive party. The KMT figure is low but even within many democracies, circumstances have reversed public sentiment in strange ways.
The Chinese leadership is leveraging the media hysteria that is creating the illusion of a militarily powerful and operationally competent giant.
The purpose of this alarmist hysteria is pure sensationalism one in which, in my opinion, particular political and military leaders worldwide are using to push their own agendas whether for additional funding or misdirection and distraction from more urgent matters.
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The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.