In an August 12 Wall Street Journal report, Chinese sources contend that in their July 28 phone call, United States President Joe Biden was told by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping (習近平) that “he had no intention of going to war with the US” over House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s then upcoming visit to Taiwan.
However, there should be global alarm that Xi did use that visit to begin the CCP’s active war against democracy in Taiwan and globally, and that the Biden Administration’s response has been insufficient.
To hear CCP officials, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) spokesmen, and a plethora of CCP controlled state media outlets and Chinese “experts,” the PLA’s unprecedented missile, space, air, and naval blockade exercises against Taiwan were a justified response to the August 2-3 visit of United States House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, third in line to the Presidency, and the first Speaker to visit Taiwan since Newt Gingrich in 1997.
As usual, the CCP is peddling its Big Lie. Pelosi’s demonstration of US support for Taiwan was for the CCP merely an excuse for triggering megaphonic hatreds and threats, such as poster-boy threat-monger Hu Xijin’s (胡錫進) July 29 threat to shoot down Pelosi’s plane.
The CCP attempt to bully the world into accepting its war against a democracy served only to highlight the regime’s nature as a corrupt dictatorial enterprise — one wholly incapable of the “peaceful rise” as “responsible global stakeholder” that its Western “engagement” dupes have for decades used to excuse the CCP’s increasingly non-status quo behavior.
Since its rise to power in 1949, the CCP’s dictatorship has rested on its murdering of real and suspected opponents, 70 to 90 million of its own citizens by some estimates, and the totalizing intimidation of the rest, and of many of its neighbors. Now the survival of its dictatorship requires the murder of Taiwan’s democracy as the first step to subordinating all democracies and opponents under the CCP’s global hegemony.
Far from a response to Pelosi, the PLA’s six-day blockade exercise was the latest display of the fruits of four decades of double-digit military modernization and buildup, started in the early 1980s. Its goal, then as now: to build a “mechanized and informatized” military by 2027, and a “modernized” military by 2035, conquering Taiwan, and then challenging the US globally — all before the CCP’s 2049 centennial.
Xi’s goal is to advance that date, realizing the essential victories during his lifetime and rulership, periods he hopes to make co-terminous at the CCP 20th Party Congress in November. So: two decades or less remain.
This first blockade exercise was a logical step in the PLA’s buildup of coercive exercises against Taiwan: five years of PLA Air Force (PLAAF) coercive flights that have peaked at 50 to 60 aircraft in a day, now joined with joint PLAAF-PLA Navy exercises first practiced East of Taiwan in May.
Most important for the PLA, the August 4 to 10 blockade exercise was a key waypoint testing many recent developments: testing its new theater command structure by running this exercise through its Eastern Theater Command, with later contributions from the adjacent Southern Theater Command, and testing new joint force operations by employing coordinated use of missile, space, cyber, air, naval and army forces.
A key political-psychological achievement was to put its force much closer to Taiwan in six exercise zones surrounding the island, flying scores of missions over the hard-won 1950s “mid-line” of the Taiwan Strait, sending aircraft and warships within visual range of Taiwan.
Its willingness and ability to violate Taiwan’s territory and security was driven home by the opening August 4 missile demonstrations, 11 missiles by the count of Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), 9 by the Japanese Ministry of Defense. Up to four of the missiles flew over Taiwan, apparently high enough to exceed the reach of existing Taiwan missile interceptors. Up to five landed in Japan’s Economic Exclusion Zone, according to Japanese Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo.
While the short-range DF-15B and medium-range DF-16B missiles were said to simulate strikes against ships at sea, the PLA Army on August 4 also fired its cheaper Norinco PHL-191 370mm precision artillery rockets, a system that could vastly increase the number of missiles to attack Taiwan.
On August 5, likely under the control of the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) that controls military space operations, the second orbital mission of the PLA’s small space plane flew over the exercise zone (its 2020 suborbital mission likely having practiced a space bombing operation). The PLASSF also unleashed cyber attacks against Taiwan.
PLAAF daily sorties for the first four days of the blockade exercise may have approached an average of 50 to 60, then dropped to an average of 40 for the final three days. They included 12 H-6K bomber sorties on August 4, indicating a potential to launch 72 Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACMs).
Chinese sources claim the stealthy J-20 5th generation fighter saw its coercive exercise debut, and the Taiwan MND noted daily large numbers of Su-30MKK, J-16, and J-10 strike fighters, supported by Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) radar aircraft, and new Y-20U large refueling aircraft.
PLA Navy contributions included an average of 13 to 14 warships, with at least two new large Type 055 cruisers, new Type 052D destroyers and smaller Type 054 frigates, Type 056A corvettes and possibly one nuclear powered attack submarine.
A likely under-reported embarrassment for the PLA was a sortie of the PLAN carrier Liaoning in late July that quickly returned to its base avoiding the exercise, perhaps a shortage of parts for its Ukrainian-built engines?
In addition, there were no reports of PLAN conventional submarines in the exercise, while there was only one Chinese report of anti-submarine exercises on August 7, which weakens the credibility of the CCP’s blockade threat.
Overall, the PLA’s first blockade exercise established a first baseline upon which it will have to build. The numbers of PLA aircraft and ship sorties were simply insufficient to impose a real blockade; perhaps the PLA was only willing to risk as many aircraft and ships as it was willing to lose.
Though Taiwanese, Japanese, and US forces were able to closely monitor the PLA exercise, it is likely that the CCP and PLA will be encouraged, claim they “deterred” Taiwan and the U.S, inasmuch as the PLA did not lose any forces.
Promised future blockade exercises will include much higher numbers of aircraft/ship sorties, approach closer to Taiwan territory and even include “violent” attacks against isolated islands like Kinmen, the Pratas, and Taiping Island, all as part of the CCP’s “new status quo.”
But there was an even more insidious threat on August 3 from China’s Ambassador to France, Lu Shaye (盧沙野), who said a possible PLA invasion would “not be against the population,” and “after reunification, we will do reeducation,” which points to a likely Gulag system for Taiwan’s government and the Democratic Progressive Party.
In the face of potential reeducation detention and death camps for Taiwan, redolent of the CCP’s Uyghur pogrom, the treatment of Hong Kong’s democrats; and a CCP war against Taiwan that promises to engulf Japan and US forces in Asia, the response of the Biden Administration has been cringing, lacking in conviction, and provocatively weak — insufficient, to be kind.
In the first place the Biden Administration’s closeted efforts to convince Pelosi not to visit Taiwan, starting with leaks to the press in April, demonstrated weakness which the ever-feral CCP predictably seized upon.
The CCP used its military threats to further divide Washington, and to turn Pelosi — a career-long opponent of CCP oppression and a supporter of Taiwan’s democratic evolution — into the “bad guy”. The Administration should have publicly denounced the CCP’s barrage of threats against the US, Taiwan, and Pelosi as the paroxysms of a petulant power.
Further weakening the US position, on August 4 Bloomberg reported that the Biden Administration was trying to cancel legislation that enjoys bipartisan support in the US Congress, that would help Taiwan finance weapons purchases up to US$4.5 billion.
Then on August 5 the Administration again postponed a long-scheduled US Air Force Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile test, which CNN reported as a US concession to “increased military activity by the People’s Republic of China around Taiwan,” according to an unnamed US official.
All of this reminds that while the CCP side excels at the manufacture and exploiting of crises, the US side remains incapable both of anticipating and managing them, falling instead into the CCP’s semantic, diplomatic, political, and military traps, and being reduced to reaction.
The CCP has made clear that its first blockade exercise is the first of many on the way to its invasion of Taiwan, itself the vital stepping-off point for the second and third island chains, thus strategic in the most essential sense, across the Indo-Pacific — a point often lost on those not used to thinking in terms of strategic geography and history.
Accordingly, the United States should be leading a multi-national military and diplomatic, political, economic and informational response that isolates the CCP and makes immediately clear the costs of any such promised aggression toward Taiwan and beyond.
Instead of fighting against legislation that would ease Taiwan’s timely acquisition of weapons required for its defense, per the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the Biden Administration should right now be airlifting masses of air-to-air, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, anti-ship and long-range land attack missiles to Taiwan. Also: upgrading interoperability, communications, and planning across the range of contingencies, not least to mitigate against error and miscalculation.
Washington should offer an emergency shipment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile interceptors able to shoot down very high trajectory PLA missiles.
The PLA needs to know that its missiles, aircraft, and ships seeking to impose a blockade will be destroyed by Taiwan’s defenses.
Instead of tolerating the PLA’s firing of missiles into our most important Asian ally’s EEZ, the US should be working with Tokyo right now to turn its Sakishima Islands near Taiwan into bases for anti-aircraft, anti-ship, and land-attack missiles.
On August 3 the Group of Seven (G-7) foreign ministers stated their “shared and steadfast commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” As the G-7 includes Germany and France, which sold ship and submarine engine technology to the PLA that are continually used against Taiwan, each now should be urged to transfer conventional submarines to Taiwan to redress the imbalance.
As the CCP’s blockade exercise signals the beginning of its active war against Taiwan’s democracy, and by extension also against regional and global stability, the United States should urgently be leading its democratic allies to: strengthen Taiwan’s defenses; improve their own military capabilities and interoperability with each other, and with the United States in Asia; and, complicate and deter CCP hegemony, forcing it to face internal contradictions and domestic pressures without the steam valve of war.
Richard D. Fisher, Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
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