- China will likely attack Taiwan in the near future, triggering a broader conflict involving the U.S., experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- The outcome of such a conflict is uncertain, as neither side has experience with or adequate capabilities for the kind of warfare required to win, and threat of escalation is high.
- “Washington and Beijing are caught in a downward spiral of each believing the other side is bent on changing the status quo and each trying to dissuade further movement with shows of force and determination,” Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, told the DCNF.
The U.S. and Chinese militaries will clash over a Chinese campaign to take over Taiwan in the near future, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
China’s unequivocal determination to fully integrate Taiwan with the mainland is compounding U.S. fears of growing Chinese threats to itself and key East Asian allies, setting both sides on a risky path to kinetic conflict, according to experts on defense and China/Taiwan issues. A majority of Americans expect war within the next decade, one that experts said could widen beyond repelling a Taiwanese invasion and test the limits of each side’s naval and aerial capabilities.
“Washington and Beijing are caught in a downward spiral of each believing the other side is bent on changing the status quo and each trying to dissuade further movement with shows of force and determination. There’s a moderate risk of war, even though neither side wants it,” Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, told the DCNF.
China has not put forth clear conditions for invading Taiwan, although a Taiwanese declaration of independence would almost certainly trigger the move, according to David Sacks, a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In 2005, China promulgated the Anti-Secession Law that laid out plans for “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan but also provisioned “vague” circumstances that would justify use of force.
“Peaceful ‘reunification‘ is increasingly a fantasy,” Sacks told the DCNF. Given decreasing appetite in Taiwan to join the mainland, increasing warmongering rhetoric from Beijing and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tightening window as China’s premier, China will not likely relinquish its claim over Taiwan. (RELATED: China Walks Back Promise Not To Use Force In Taiwan ‘Reunification’)
“China wants it more,” Roy told the DCNF.
Tensions have escalated following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan laid bare tensions between the U.S. and China over the island’s status. China staged its largest ever military exercises around Taiwan in response, claiming the visit violated its sovereign claim to the island, while the U.S. deployed a naval carrier group to patrol the same waters.
The PLA told citizens to “prepare for war” ahead of Pelosi’s trip. However, Xi gave a similar order in 2012, giving former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs David Stilwell some reassurance that open conflict could be avoided.
Stilwell told the DCNF that China has not “boxed itself in” to kinetic action against Taiwan. Instead, the most severe challenge from China will stem from its invasion of U.S. media space, “creating friction… division and discontent” within the U.S. Fomenting “civil war” in an adversary is one of the oldest strategies in the Chinese geopolitics handbook.
China “has been conducting political warfare against the United States nonstop since 1979,” said Stilwell. “If we were to do to them what they are doing to us, if we were to actively destabilize the party — which we can do… they would consider that an act of war.”
Furthermore, China lacks “escalation controls,” or the ability to maintain parameters of the initial war effort and keep it from transforming into a broader campaign, Stilwell said.
For example, during the military drills, PLA rockets penetrated Japan’s special economic zone. Experts agreed that the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) would attack Japanese targets as part of the invasion.
While the U.S. maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan and has not guaranteed protection in the event of an invasion, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defending Japan in a meeting with Japanese leaders Friday. A strike on Japanese territory would therefore pull the U.S. into open conflict with China.
Both sides would incur heavy losses in such a conflict, a Center for Strategic and International Studies war game simulating a U.S. and Taiwanese joint attempt to repel a Chinese invasion showed, The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 9.
“Neither military has fought a war with a peer or a near-peer military,” Sacks told the DCNF.
One one hand, the U.S. has a “qualitatively superior” military capability and nuclear primacy, as well as meaningful control over the global financial system, Sacks explained. On the other, China enjoys a home base advantage, the ability to control the narrative and massive munitions stores.
The U.S. also has a geographic disadvantage — the closest U.S. military installments to Taiwan are in Japan, over a thousand nautical miles away — and inadequate munitions stocks, Roy said. Taiwan itself has been slow to address its deficiencies in defense spending and troop readiness.
Much of what the U.S. is able to do in the Asia Pacific is contingent on what Japan will allow the U.S. to do in and near Japanese territory, said Sacks. In addition, the U.S. has worldwide defense commitments, while China can afford to concentrate forces on Taiwan.
After the U.S. ceased arms sales to China in 1989, a reaction to the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese defense ministry began reverse engineering U.S. military hardware, Popular Mechanics reported. China’s J-20 stealth fighters suspiciously resemble the U.S.’ F-22, and their Y-20 transport aircraft is an “almost exact knockoff” of the U.S.’ C-17, according to Stilwell.
China’s longstanding practice of exploiting arms transfers and stealing sensitive technology via widespread espionage networks affords China capabilities beyond what it is technologically capable of — but that’s not totally bad for the U.S., Stilwell told the DCNF.
“They will be able to match what we do best because they don’t understand all the technology or the thought process,” Stilwell explained.
In addition, the rampant corruption hamstrung the PLA’s modernization drive, forcing Xi to ramp up anti-corruption activities and ideological indoctrination, according to Stilwell. PLA soldiers are required to study and test on “Xi Jinping thought.”
“They’re losing hours each day that they’re not spending studying their aircraft, their weapons and their art,” he added.
“If they start something, they probably won’t finish it, but they’re going do a lot of damage,” said Stilwell. “So how do you get the PLA to understand they’re not as good as they think they are?”
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