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US unsure how China could take over Taiwan without invading it, experts say

As the United States and its allies focus on what a Chinese invasion of Taiwan might look like and how U.S. forces could defend Taiwan if necessary, they are missing a glaring alternative strategy that China could used to capture Taiwan, new report claims.

Defense experts say an aggressive campaign of Chinese coercion, short of war but nonetheless threatening, is more likely than a full-scale invasion and that the United States must prepare for such an event.

A new report co-authored by war experts from the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War explores a scenario in which China would be subjected to a “campaign of coercion that falls far short of ‘invasion but nevertheless places Taiwan under Beijing’s control’, identifying such a scenario. this event constitutes a “significant gap in American strategic thinking”.

Elements of such a campaign are already underway and include Chinese military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and around the island, which are gaining momentum and raising concerns of escalation. The economic and diplomatic pressure is notable, and Chinese disinformation operations and the possibility of slowly establishing a blockade of Taiwan are also concerning.

According to the report, China’s growing military presence around Taiwan could exhaust and overwhelm the Taiwanese military and fuel a narrative that it is incapable of defending the island, thereby diminishing “confidence in the military and sense of security of the Taiwanese population.


Taiwan's AAV7 amphibious assault vehicle maneuvers across the sea during the Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) invasion of the island, July 28, 2022 in Pingtung , in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s AAV7 amphibious assault vehicle maneuvers across the sea during the Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invasion of the island, July 28, 2022 in Pingtung , in Taiwan.

Annabelle Chih/Getty Images



The report identifies four essential elements for resisting Chinese coercion. The first is a strategic relationship between the United States and Taiwan that abandons fears that “cooperation directly precipitates further escalation, while peace and prosperity are upon us if this partnership is disrupted.”

Second, Taiwan’s government must function despite Chinese efforts to undermine it in the eyes of the Taiwanese people through things like “economic warfare, cyber warfare, sabotage, rigorous (and pseudo-legal) inspections of ships carrying goods to Taiwan, air and sea closures. , electronic warfare and propaganda criticizing government mismanagement.

These efforts include significant degradation of Taiwan’s essential services, such as clean water and electricity.

The third point is that the Taiwanese people must resist China’s “cognitive and psychological campaigns” aimed at breaking down their rejection of the Chinese government, including “intimidating resistance supporters, sowing doubt and fear among the population and by generating demands for the exchange of political concessions for peace.” “.

And finally, we must resist “widespread information campaigns” that “aim to diminish the willingness of American public opinion and political leaders to support Taiwan.” Such campaigns are already taking place, sparking concern that the U.S. public and government might view getting involved in the defense of Taiwan as increasing the risks of war, at great cost and with little gain. Experts from the AEI and ISW say this is not the case.

The report states in part that “Taiwan is strategically vital to the broader U.S.-led coalition to contain” China, arguing that a U.S.-friendly Taiwan connects America’s allies in the northwest of the Pacific with the partners and allies of the United States to the south.

However, a Chinese-controlled Taiwan “would become a springboard for further PRC aggression and seriously undermine the ability of the U.S.-led coalition to operate cohesively.”


A US-made AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter launches flares during an annual exercise at the military base in the eastern city of Hualien, January 30, 2018.

A US-made AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter launches flares during an annual exercise at the military base in the eastern city of Hualien, January 30, 2018.

MANDY CHENG/AFP via Getty Images



The authors of the new report outline coordinated actions China could take to pressure Taiwan and its partners to accept reunification, calling it a “coercive action plan short of war.”

Some of Beijing’s biggest problems are Taiwanese resistance to China, which continues to grow, particularly after the historic election of Democratic Progressive Party candidate Lai Ching-te, currently vice president, in January, and continued support of the United States and its regional governments. allies.

New report examines hypothetical situation a timeline that begins with Lai’s inauguration this month and runs through 2028, imagining how China and Taiwan might, at that point, reach a “peace” agreement. China could ultimately succeed in such a campaign, the authors argue, if the United States and its allies fail to recognize Beijing’s coercive tactics or plan strategically to deter them.

The United States must clearly “recognize the possibility and danger of a far more intense campaign of coercion than that currently underway against Taiwan and develop means to prevent the isolation of Taiwan by means other than war,” they write. -they.

The report’s authors assert that “increased information efforts will be essential to ensure that the U.S. government and friendly international public do not fall prey to (Chinese) information operations intended to reshape the way of think of the Americans and the main international actors.”


CM-11 tanks fire artillery during a two-day live-fire exercise, amid growing military threats from China, in Pingtung County, Taiwan, September 7, 2022.

CM-11 tanks fire artillery during a two-day live-fire exercise, amid growing military threats from China, in Pingtung County, Taiwan, September 7, 2022.

Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images



U.S.-Taiwan relations and concerns about an aggressive China in the Pacific region are often at the forefront of U.S. officials and experts’ minds, but the focus is often on hard power elements, even whether some of the coercive aspects of this policy are recognized. Chinese behavior.

In March, U.S. Navy Adm. John Aquilano, then-commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, noted that China was pursuing a massive military buildup unprecedented since World War II and that “all indications” were that it would “met the demands of President Xi Jinping.” directive to be prepared to invade Taiwan by 2027.” He also told the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services that China’s actions indicated that it would be prepared to unify Taiwan by force, if necessary.

Aquilano urged lawmakers to step up U.S. military development and military posture in the Pacific to deter such combat.

And, earlier this month, more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers wrote to U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall expressing concerns about to ongoing preparations to strengthen the American presence in the Pacific and deter military action by China.

Chief among lawmakers’ concerns appears to be the lack of active and passive defenses protecting U.S. bases in the region, particularly in Guam and Japan. “We are concerned by the alarming lack of urgency on the part of the Department of Defense in adopting such defensive measures,” they wrote, adding that “it is evident that the Pentagon is not pursuing urgent the passive defenses necessary” to reinforce American bases and airfields. vicious, pre-emptive strike from China’s menacing missile force.

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