A US think tank has published a report based on the possibility that China might attempt a military takeover of Taiwan in less than 10 years time. Such a takeover is one of the “principal strategic challenges” the US could confront in the coming decades, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) said.
The paper is aimed at pushing the Pentagon and Congress into discussion and debate on possible longer-term military crises as they decide what weapons systems to buy.
Evan Montgomery, a research fellow at CSBA and writer of the report, opens with an imagined news report dated August 2019.
It says the US faces conflict with China because Beijing has announced a blockade of Taiwan and demanded that Taipei accept incorporation into China as a “special administrative region.”
“Caught off-guard and cognizant that time is not on the side of Washington or Taipei, senior US officials are now frantically attempting to determine whether to intervene and, if so, how,” the paper says.
“The [People’s Republic of China] PRC seems determined to bring Taiwan’s de facto independence to an end and has spent over twenty years developing the means to do so,” the paper says.
The paper predicts that by 2019 China will have over-the-horizon radars, satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles for maritime and aerospace surveillance; thousands of surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles and surface-to-air missiles; large numbers of fourth-generation fighter planes; six nuclear-powered attack submarines; anti-satellite weapons; and cyber warfare and electronic attack capabilities.
Montgomery suggests that China might opt for the blockade — after years of being considered a “responsible and peaceful nation” — as a result of growing internal strain caused by slowing economic growth and an increasingly dissatisfied population. In his scenario, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders in 2017 and 2018 could increase both the frequency and volatility of their nationalist rhetoric as promised reforms are slow to materialize and economic growth rates continue to decline.
The report supposes that in August 2019, China’s president announces a “comprehensive trade enforcement operation” aimed at Taiwan. Any ship or aircraft not explicitly authorized by the Chinese government to enter Taiwan’s territorial waters or airspace “would do so at its own risk.” China says that the policy will continue until Taiwan’s “misguided” leaders accept incorporation into the PRC.
“In effect, China has placed a blockade around Taiwan that threatens its economic lifeline. CCP and People’s Liberation Army leaders appear to have calculated that by offering Taiwan considerable autonomy and placing the onus on others to fire the first shot, neither Washington nor anyone else will intervene,” Montgomery writes.
Faced with economic collapse in a matter of a few weeks, Montgomery speculates Taiwan would appeal to the US for support. Washington would try to solve the situation diplomatically while at the same time it would examine the possibility of breaking the blockade and neutralizing the most threatening of China’s weapons systems.
The Pentagon would also need a plan to defend US bases in the region as well as the territory of key allies while applying pressure on the PRC by threatening its sea-borne energy supplies and commercial exports, the report says.
Montgomery concludes that the US would have only a limited amount of time to prepare options and credibly demonstrate — to both Beijing and Taipei — a willingness and ability to resist China’s coercive efforts before Taiwan capitulated to Beijing’s demands — “a development that could fundamentally alter the balance of power and influence in the region.”
Entitled Defense Planning for the Long Haul: Scenarios, Operational Concepts and the Future Security Environment, the study comes just weeks before the Pentagon sends its Quadrennial Defense Review to Congress next month.
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