China and Taiwan: The ‘Punch’ Is Coming Sooner Rather Than Later

CommentaryCommunist China always telegraphs its punches—even if you don’t quite know when they’re coming.Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping told U.S. President Joe Biden last November in San Francisco that talking about Taiwan is well and good, but he won’t wait forever.Before Taiwan’s election in January, Beijing warned that it was a choice between peace and prosperity or war and decline. So vote for the KMT. But most Taiwanese didn’t.The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Joint Sword-2024A exercises in May were intended to “punish” Taiwan for the voters’ temerity in choosing their own destiny—and more are reportedly coming.China’s defense minister was uncompromising at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue regarding Taiwan (and everything else). He wasn’t winging it.Related StoriesCommentators offer a range of scenarios for what the punches might look like, including the Chinese regime blockading Taiwan, blustering, squeezing, and isolating until Taiwan folds, seizing Taiwan’s off-shore islands, or an all-out kinetic assault to take all of Taiwan.There are arguments for all of these.But it’s prudent to plan for the worst.What Did the PLA Demonstrate in Recent Drills?The PLA is exercising all “muscle groups” and will do more with Joint Sword exercise phases B, C, and D, which are said to be planned.The Chinese military is honing skills for joint/combined operations and practicing specific capabilities: rockets, naval, air, ground, logistics, cyber, electronic, intelligence collections, targeting, etc. The PLA is tightening operational (and psychological) pressure on Taiwan and gauging Taipei’s and, most importantly, Washington’s reactions.The PLA is at a point where it can move from exercise to “the real thing” in relatively short order—if the political decision is made to do so.These latest exercises seem to have come out of the blue, some have said with only 45 minutes’ notice.Some imagine we’d probably get more than that for the real thing, but not necessarily the months of advance notice.And the idea that we have a “grace period” of 10 years (as retired Adm. James Stavridis claimed a few months ago) before the PLA is ready to fight the United States—as could happen if the Chinese regime attacks Taiwan—is comforting but wishful thinking.Of course, it’s hard to fully ascertain PLA capabilities since the Chinese only report the positive aspects, there’s no foreign or free press coverage, and no friendly foreign military attaches are observing the exercises.But the biggest weakness is that the PLA has never done joint, combined operations for real in modern times, nor fought an actual war. War is always harder than a military drill since people are shooting back, and almost nothing is predictable.So it’s a roll of the dice for the Chinese regime if it decides to start a war over Taiwan.But that’s the case with most wars.Plenty of experts—even some respected ones—said in 2022 that Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t dare invade Ukraine, and they had the “facts” to back it up.They were also wrong.Taiwan’s Defenses StretchedTaiwan’s military faces “more things, in more places, from more directions, closer in, and more often” than ever. That’s a huge problem since Taiwan’s military has not kept pace with the growing threat of the Chinese military. A response that worked for years is now dangerously outmatched while wearing down its military and creating a sense of futility in certain civilian quarters.The military exercises get the attention, but Beijing compliments its efforts with subversion and fifth-column activity directed against Taiwan.The CCP has spent over half a century working on Taiwan and putting assets in place. And the opposition KMT’s recent power grab in the Legislative Yuan was likely done in collusion with the CCP.The subsequent public protests and attendant disruptions make it harder for newly elected Taiwan President Lai Ching-te to focus on defense or improve defense capabilities.Also, if there’s enough domestic chaos, the CCP has a pretext to attack and “restore order,” as it has said it would do if things get out of control in Taiwan.Political unrest in Taiwan recalls the domestic strife in Israel before Oct. 7 or the state of domestic politics in Ukraine before Moscow’s invasion in 2022.Xi might like his chances even more, given that America’s immediate future looks unsettled. The nation is divided and angry.Former President Donald Trump’s conviction and possible prison sentence, and the likely on-demand rioting starting in late summer before the elections, might make problematic a full-throated American response to an assault on Taiwan.Hasn’t increased U.S. military engagement with Taiwan’s military made a difference?Some. But one doesn’t rebuild a nation’s defense at the drop of a hat. And we’re paying for 40 years of isolating Taiwan militarily.Could the US Military Intervene?It could, but it would not be easy. And it would probably be the Americans doing the fighting. J

China and Taiwan: The ‘Punch’ Is Coming Sooner Rather Than Later

Commentary

Communist China always telegraphs its punches—even if you don’t quite know when they’re coming.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping told U.S. President Joe Biden last November in San Francisco that talking about Taiwan is well and good, but he won’t wait forever.
Before Taiwan’s election in January, Beijing warned that it was a choice between peace and prosperity or war and decline. So vote for the KMT. But most Taiwanese didn’t.

The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Joint Sword-2024A exercises in May were intended to “punish” Taiwan for the voters’ temerity in choosing their own destiny—and more are reportedly coming.

China’s defense minister was uncompromising at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue regarding Taiwan (and everything else). He wasn’t winging it.

Related Stories

Chinese Ex-Navy Captain Arrested for Illegally Entering Taiwan in a Speedboat
US-China Relations Strained by Mounting Tensions Over Taiwan

Commentators offer a range of scenarios for what the punches might look like, including the Chinese regime blockading Taiwan, blustering, squeezing, and isolating until Taiwan folds, seizing Taiwan’s off-shore islands, or an all-out kinetic assault to take all of Taiwan.

There are arguments for all of these.

But it’s prudent to plan for the worst.

What Did the PLA Demonstrate in Recent Drills?

The PLA is exercising all “muscle groups” and will do more with Joint Sword exercise phases B, C, and D, which are said to be planned.

The Chinese military is honing skills for joint/combined operations and practicing specific capabilities: rockets, naval, air, ground, logistics, cyber, electronic, intelligence collections, targeting, etc. The PLA is tightening operational (and psychological) pressure on Taiwan and gauging Taipei’s and, most importantly, Washington’s reactions.

The PLA is at a point where it can move from exercise to “the real thing” in relatively short order—if the political decision is made to do so.

These latest exercises seem to have come out of the blue, some have said with only 45 minutes’ notice.

Some imagine we’d probably get more than that for the real thing, but not necessarily the months of advance notice.

And the idea that we have a “grace period” of 10 years (as retired Adm. James Stavridis claimed a few months ago) before the PLA is ready to fight the United States—as could happen if the Chinese regime attacks Taiwan—is comforting but wishful thinking.

Of course, it’s hard to fully ascertain PLA capabilities since the Chinese only report the positive aspects, there’s no foreign or free press coverage, and no friendly foreign military attaches are observing the exercises.

But the biggest weakness is that the PLA has never done joint, combined operations for real in modern times, nor fought an actual war. War is always harder than a military drill since people are shooting back, and almost nothing is predictable.

So it’s a roll of the dice for the Chinese regime if it decides to start a war over Taiwan.

But that’s the case with most wars.

Plenty of experts—even some respected ones—said in 2022 that Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t dare invade Ukraine, and they had the “facts” to back it up.

They were also wrong.

Taiwan’s Defenses Stretched

Taiwan’s military faces “more things, in more places, from more directions, closer in, and more often” than ever. That’s a huge problem since Taiwan’s military has not kept pace with the growing threat of the Chinese military. A response that worked for years is now dangerously outmatched while wearing down its military and creating a sense of futility in certain civilian quarters.

The military exercises get the attention, but Beijing compliments its efforts with subversion and fifth-column activity directed against Taiwan.

The CCP has spent over half a century working on Taiwan and putting assets in place. And the opposition KMT’s recent power grab in the Legislative Yuan was likely done in collusion with the CCP.

The subsequent public protests and attendant disruptions make it harder for newly elected Taiwan President Lai Ching-te to focus on defense or improve defense capabilities.

Also, if there’s enough domestic chaos, the CCP has a pretext to attack and “restore order,” as it has said it would do if things get out of control in Taiwan.

Political unrest in Taiwan recalls the domestic strife in Israel before Oct. 7 or the state of domestic politics in Ukraine before Moscow’s invasion in 2022.

Xi might like his chances even more, given that America’s immediate future looks unsettled. The nation is divided and angry.

Former President Donald Trump’s conviction and possible prison sentence, and the likely on-demand rioting starting in late summer before the elections, might make problematic a full-throated American response to an assault on Taiwan.

Hasn’t increased U.S. military engagement with Taiwan’s military made a difference?

Some. But one doesn’t rebuild a nation’s defense at the drop of a hat. And we’re paying for 40 years of isolating Taiwan militarily.

Could the US Military Intervene?

It could, but it would not be easy. And it would probably be the Americans doing the fighting. Japan might play a limited role in the background, but that’s all. The Philippines might allow U.S. forces to operate from Philippine territory but can’t do much more. It’s having a hard time even just defending its own territory.

Would the Biden administration be willing to act if a full-blown war—and potentially a nuclear war—might result?

Maybe. But it’s not a sure thing even if President Biden has said at least four times that he would defend Taiwan.

Ask what the United States has done to respond or impose punishment for the PLA “punishment drills” against Taiwan—nothing much beyond expressing deep concern.

Even more, consider the last three-plus years. Chinese aggression and assertiveness have continued unabated. Nothing the United States has done—limited sanctions, threats of further sanctions, engagement, talks, sending aircraft carriers to the region, and the like—has slowed down the Chinese regime.

Beijing seems to have turned Kim Jong Un loose. And it is unabashedly supporting Russia against Ukraine and doesn’t seem to care who knows. And it supports and eggs on its proxies: Hamas, Iran, and Venezuela.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.