Unification of China?
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Issue Vol. 26.3 July - Sept2011 | Date : 28 Sep , 2011

China’s economic growth, growing diplomatic leverage, and improvements in the PLA’s military capabilities, contrasted with Taiwan’s modest defence efforts, have the effect of shifting the cross-Strait balance in Beijing’s favour. Chinese air, naval, and missile force modernization is making it increasingly critical that Taiwan strengthen its defences with a sense of urgency.

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Despite this imperative, Taiwan’s defense spending has steadily declined in real terms over the past decade. Taiwan has traditionally acquired capabilities, some asymmetric, to deter an attack by making it too costly, while buying time for international intervention. The growth of PLA capabilities is outpacing these acquisitions.

The Chinese Doctrine

Unsurprisingly, official Chinese views on potential conflict scenarios with Taiwan are difficult to come by. There is, nonetheless, a substantial body of writings produced by prominent Chinese thinkers and strategists. A recent RAND Corporation study analyzed these doctrinal writings, with their findings falling under five main strategic principles that Chinese military strategists lay out for engaging in any conflict with Taiwan that could potentially involve the United States.

Due to US Military superiority, Chinese strategists call for avoiding directs confrontation between sets of forces. This is consistent with the Chinese belief in the principle of limited strategic aims.

Seize the initiative early: The Chinese believe that surprise is important to maintain the initiative by forcing an adversary to react to China’s moves. The chances of achieving surprise are, in turn, greatly increased by preemptive action. Preemptive action, if it can produce a decisive outcome quickly, will also prevent superior US Forces from being brought to bear. Because China believes that the United States will inevitably intervene in a conflict on Taiwan’s behalf, Chinese planners see an advantage in attacking US Force prior to engaging in such a conflict. Whatever the historical examples to the contrary, some Chinese military strategists believe that a preemptive strike that causes many US causalities and high economic costs will dissuade the United States from further engagement, because the costs restoring the status quo ante will be high

Pursue Limited Strategic Aims: China believes itself still inferior to the United States militarily, and thus calculates that its best chances of winning and securing Taiwan lie in presenting the United States with the fait accompli that avoids harming any of the United States main interests. The speed required for such an invasion thus involves the use of covert operatives and special forces to attack such critical targets as aircraft; air bases, command and control facilities communications links, fuel storage distribution, and dispensing facilities and repair and maintenance facilities.

International sanctions against Beijing, either by individual states or by groups of states, could severely damage Beijings economic development. An insurgency against the occupation could tie up substantial forces for years.

Strike “key points”: The need therefore is to focus on striking five key points: command systems, information systems, i.e. weapon systems, logistic systems and the linkages around these. Massive destruction in these areas might be able to prevent the United States from bringing all of its fighting strength to bear in a timely fashion and discourage it from continuing the conflict.

Avoid direct Confrontation: The Chinese believe that they stand to gain more from defeating a handful of critical defenses, such as the “key point” enunciated above, than in directly confronting US and Taiwanese troops. Due to US Military superiority, Chinese strategists call for avoiding directs confrontation between sets of forces. This is consistent with the Chinese belief in the principle of limited strategic aims.

Utilize High Technology: Chi Haotian, a former state councilor and minister of defense said: “Our strategic principles must be based on the scenario of military intervention by United States at the deployment level. We should fight a high-technology war and more importantly be prepared against the military intervention by a bloc of countries led by the United States and fight modern, high-technology war of considerable scale.”

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen Sheru Thapliyal, PhD

served in the Regiment of Artillery and was awarded a Doctorate for his research & thesis on "Sino-Indian Relations".

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