Week in Taiwan Defense 1/2018

Week in Taiwan Defense is a weekly overview of events relevant to Taiwan defense: interesting articles, commentary, and papers. Occasionally introducing older articles on ICWMI (in-case-we-missed-it) basis.

Focus on Taiwan’s defense development, People’s Liberation Army activity in the region, U.S.-Taiwan defense relations, and other political developments with relevance to Taiwan and its defense needs.

Issue 1 (1 January to 7 January 2018)

U.S.-made tracked armored personnel carrier M113 during exercise. Image Credit: CC by 青年日報 Youth Daily News/Flickr.

John Pomfret, former Washington Post bureau chief in Beijing, asks “Can China really take over Taiwan?” in a WaPo OpEd published on 5 January. Few quotes from the piece:

If making nice with Taiwan has failed, could China use its economic leverage to bring the island to heal? China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner and China is Taiwan’s main destination for outbound investment; 40 percent of Taiwan’s exports flow to China and a fifth of Taiwan’s gross domestic product derives from its economic ties to the mainland. But Roy and Beckley both believe that Beijing would have a hard time translating these ties into hard power. If China seized Taiwan’s investments, Roy noted, it would surely be painful for Taiwan. But it would probably backfire and cause more resentment.

This is certainly an important point. Too often it is taken for granted that Beijing could just shut down Taiwan’s economy. However, pundits usually do not elaborate on how exactly would Beijing do it. For example, shutting down Taiwanese factories in China could cause short-term damage, but there are scores of other countries who would welcome Taiwanese investment. Moreover, most of the goods that Taiwanese make in China are exported to markets in Europe and the US. Sanctions against Taiwanese businesses are sanctions against their Western customers. Another popular argument is that China can impose a naval blockade on Taiwan. But that is no guaranteed success either:

In his article, Beckley bores down on the details of a Chinese attack. His conclusion is that neither a blockade, nor an invasion, nor a strategic bombing campaign has much hope for success. Beckley notes that in 200 years of warfare no blockade has coerced a country into surrendering its sovereignty. In the 1940s, Operation Starvation, the U.S. blockade of Japan, cut imports by 97 percent and still it took two atomic weapons to end the war.

If all fails, an all-out invasion is in order. However, despite huge disparities between Taiwan and China militarily-speaking, the amphibious invasion could prove a bridge too far:

As for an invasion, he is similarly pessimistic about China’s chances. By his calculation, China’s ability to put boots on Taiwan’s ground is limited to about 26,000 troops on the first day of battle and 15,000 a day after that, assuming China’s soldiers survive the eight-hour trip across the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait. That’s a big assumption given that Taiwan has an advanced early warning system, along with coastal artillery, state-of-the-art mines and anti-ship missile batteries. Taiwan also has the capacity to rapidly move its force of 150,000 and only 10 percent of Taiwan’s shoreline is suitable for amphibious landings.

And there is a factor of probable U.S. intervention. Among forces already present in the theater are U.S. attack submarines:

Should the United States get involved in defending Taiwan, Beckley cites a study that predicts that 8 U.S. submarines could sink 40 percent of the PLA’s amphibious invasion force while losing perhaps one submarine.

The piece is worth reading in its entirety. Pomfret refers heavily to recent studies of U.S. scholars Denny Roy and Michael Beckley:

Related: Ian Easton’s (Project 2049) book “The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia.” Interview with Ian Easton for The Diplomat:

As long as the Taiwanese people are resolved to defend their democracy, they have a very good chance of coming out on top. And I firmly believe the Taiwanese are capable of mounting a ferocious defense of their homeland. I lived in Taiwan for over four years and saw firsthand how capable and tough the people there are, and I’ve seen the terrain, the beaches, the tunnels — how dug-in they are everywhere.

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) organized a talk on 5 December with Dr. Joseph Hwang on Taiwan’s cybersecurity, titled “Taiwan’s Cybersecurity Environment: Challenges and Opportunities.”

Dr. Joseph Hwang is a Program Director & Assistant Professor, The War College, National Defense University, Taiwan (R.O.C.). Watch the whole talk and the following discussion below.

Taiwan protested the opening of air route M503 for commercial northbound traffic after the announcement by Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on 4 January.

Route M503 was opened by China in March 2015 despite criticism from Taiwan. Initially proposed route was too close to Taiwan’s air force’s training areas and the median line in the Taiwan Strait. China eventually agreed to open the route only for southbound traffic and not open three connecting routes W121, W122, and W123. The new development means China no longer abides by the agreement. Focus Taiwan quotes Presidential Office spokesman:

Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said the National Security Council (NSC) met earlier Friday to discuss the impact of China’s decision to open the M503 and other connecting routes to northbound commercial flights. They concluded that the move contravenes the 2015 agreement between China and Taiwan that opened the M503 to southbound commercial traffic.

Map of the route M503 (and connecting routes W121, W122, and W123) and its position in the Taiwan Strait context. Image Credit: Focus Taiwan/CNA.

Focus Taiwan elaborated on the development in 2015:

China’s decision on Thursday followed a similar pattern as when it first decided to open the M503 route for commercial flights. At that time, China started with an announcement on Jan. 12, 2015 that it planned to launch four new flight routes over the Taiwan Strait, including a north-south M503 route.

Beijing eventually agreed to move the M503 six nautical miles to the west of the median line in the Taiwan Strait and use it only for southbound flights. China also canceled its plans for the other routes.

Taiwan in Perspective’s Michal Thim noted in 2015 in a piece originally published on the Thinking Taiwan:

Regardless of all the implications for ROCAF training, the M503 is still not a threat to national security — at least, not yet. If and when Beijing decides to put pressure on the ROCAF, it will do so overtly. For example, an increased number of patrols close to the median line that might cross into the Taiwan side “by mistake” and regular incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ, similar to the one in August last year, would become the norm. Each of these actions would prompt the ROCAF to scramble interceptors (which would in turn help Beijing learn new information about Taiwan’s air defense response time). If done consistently and on a long-term basis, like Beijing does with Japan and Russia with Europe and with Japan, Taiwan’s capabilities would soon begin to wear down. The effects of the M503-related limitations would then add to the general exhaustion.

Increased number of Chinese military patrols and exercises along Taiwan’s ADIZ is exactly what Beijing has been doing since Summer 2016.

Related: Taiwan may station IDF jets year-round in Penghu: source. Taiwan’s military is open to the option of stationing a squadron of Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) jets year-round in Penghu County, especially in light of China’s recent unilateral action to open new commercial flight routes in the Taiwan Strait, an official from the Air Force said Saturday. UPDATE (7 Jan): Ministry of National Defense denied reports about year-round deployments of F-CK-1s on Penghu.

Related: RAND Corporation study “People’s Liberation Army Air Force Operations over Water” published in December 2017. The study is important reading for understanding the rationale behind China’s encirclement flights around Taiwan and long-range exercises elsewhere.

Other news:




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