Monday, May 23, 2022

Why Would China Even Consider "Invading" Taiwan Rather Than Simply "Encircling" It?

warontherocks  |  If China really intends to invade Taiwan, it is going to have to make a massive investment in amphibious capability that dwarfs even its current buildup. While it is impossible to accurately assess the condition and organization of their logistics and support forces using open sources, it is entirely possible to look at their capacity instead of making assessments of capability. Using Operation Husky as a baseline to characterize the execution of a successful amphibious assault on an island, it is possible to make some degree of comparison that goes well beyond lists of fielded equipment.

All told, it’s entirely clear that China lacks the capacity to match the American assault wave against Sicily, to say nothing of the entire Allied effort that included British and Canadian forces. While an analysis of the carrying capacity of the commercial vessels belonging to China (and Hong Kong) is beyond the scope of this paper, these ships are next to useless in an assault phase and come into play only if adequate, intact port facilities are captured.

Furthermore, the degree of fire support required to deal with counterattacks against the beachhead is illustrated well by the successful American fire support off Gela, which today is impossible to replicate by any navy; even airpower lacks the capability to deliver the necessary volume of fire, particularly over time. And of course, the enemy gets a vote. The Americans landed among small towns manned by weak garrisons with a population that did not muster significant opposition and was unsympathetic to their own government. In Taiwan, as in Ukraine, invaders should realistically expect an aroused and angry population with a sizable and modern military willing to contest every inch of heavily urbanized territory. It’s here where the comparison to Sicily breaks down, and capacity questions aside, the idea of landing into an urban area and expecting any other result than an early and bloody defeat seems ludicrous. China would be lucky were it in a position akin to Allied forces when they assaulted Sicily.

This assessment is focused on the ability of the People’s Republic of China to execute a successful assault, but there is no question that they could launch an unsuccessful one. Absent the disaster at the French port of Dieppe in 1942, Western military forces have few examples of amphibious operations that failed at the shoreline; there is room for Beijing to create one. What one side views as military reality may not be perceived as such by the other side, a truism that we are seeing play out graphically in Ukraine right now. Chinese involvement in Korea and later in the Sino-Vietnamese war illustrates that Party political imperatives may well override sound military advice, at least until the level of military failure becomes too high to paper over. The Chinese Communist Party believes, as an article of faith, that the superior morale, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice that they expect in the PLA will carry the day against an adversary that might be more capable on paper. Given the differing assessments of the actual correlation of forces, the PRC may well assess that they could avoid Russia’s mistakes and carry out a successful assault.

The Republic of China has been planning to resist a PRC assault for more than 70 years. Jeff Hornung writes that in the same way that the United States and NATO bolstered Ukrainian defenses before the 2022 Russian invasion, it would be possible to bolster Taiwan’s defenses with a tailored mix of hardware and training, backed with a newly-discovered economic stick that might reasonably act as an additional, non-military deterrent. The defense of Taiwan is not a burden the Republic of China need shoulder alone, and an expanded, overt, American advisory effort might well provide both an improved deterrent and a much more lethal defense, should deterrence fail.