The U.S. Department of Defense has released its annual report to Congress on the military power of China.
Force Modernization for a Taiwan Contingency
China appears prepared to defer the use of force as long as it believes that unification over the long-term remains possible and that the costs of conflict outweigh the benefits. China argues that the credible threat of force is essential to maintain the conditions for political progress and to prevent Taiwan from making moves toward de jure independence. China has refused for decades to renounce the use of force to resolve the Taiwan issue. Simultaneously, China’s leaders proclaim their desire for peaceful unification under the principle of “one country, two systems,” most recently as part of President Xi Jinping’s address opening the CCP’s 19th Party Congress.
The circumstances under which the mainland has historically warned that it would use force have evolved over time in response to the island’s declarations of its political status, changes in PLA capabilities, and China’s view of Taiwan’s relations with other countries. These circumstances have included:
- Formal declaration of Taiwan independence;
- Undefined moves toward Taiwan independence;
- Internal unrest on Taiwan;
- Taiwan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons;
- Indefinite delays in the resumption of cross-Strait dialogue on unification;
- Foreign intervention in Taiwan’s internal affairs; and
- Foreign forces stationed on Taiwan.
Article 8 of China’s March 2005 Anti-Secession Law states that China may use “non-peaceful means” if “secessionist forces … cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China,” if “major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession” occur, or if “possibilities for peaceful reunification” are exhausted.
The ambiguity of these conditions preserves China’s flexibility. In December 2017, Chinese Embassy official Li Kexin, in response to U.S. Congressional language recommending the U.S. Navy explore visiting Taiwan, stated that such a visit would prompt China to take Taiwan by force.
Key takeaways listed in the report include:
- While China advocates for peaceful reunification with Taiwan, China has never repudiated the use of military force, and continues to develop and deploy increasingly advanced capabilities needed for a potential military campaign.
- Circumstances that would prompt the use of force remain ambiguous, preserving China’s flexibility.
- Multiple military options exist for a Taiwan campaign, ranging from an air and maritime blockade to a full-scale amphibious invasion to seize and occupy some or all of Taiwan or its offshore islands.
- China could engage in a deliberate force buildup to signal an imminent military campaign or conduct a surprise campaign to force rapid military and political resolutions before other countries could respond.
- Should the United States intervene, China would try to delay effective intervention and seek victory in a high-intensity, limited war of short duration.
- The PLA aims to increase its ability to conduct complex joint operations.
- Although ongoing reforms may decrease near-term readiness, in the long-term they should enable better planning and preparation for joint military operations across the Taiwan Strait. PLA services and support forces continue to improve training and acquire new capabilities for a Taiwan contingency.
- Although the PLAN seeks to achieve maritime superiority within the first island chain and to deter a third party from intervening in a Taiwan campaign, there is no indication it is significantly expanding its landing ship force necessary for an amphibious assault on Taiwan.
- Taiwan’s advantages continue to decline as China’s modernization efforts continue.
- Taiwan’s transition to an all-volunteer force by 2019 will be costlier than anticipated, straining the limited defense budget and diverting funds from defense acquisition, training, and readiness.
- To counter China’s improving capabilities, Taiwan is developing new concepts and capabilities for asymmetric warfare.
- The PLAA and PLANMC continue to equip, plan, and train for sustained amphibious operations.
- The PLAN did not make significant additions to its amphibious fleet in 2017 but launched a YUZHAO LPD that could enter service in 2018.
Source: Taiwan Defense
Read More: 2018 – Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China