Growing indications of China’s Military Preparations to restore Taiwan

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General Mark Milley‭, ‬of the US Army‭, ‬warned in November 2021‭ ‬that China was working‭ “‬clearly and unambiguously‭” ‬to develop its military capabilities to invade Taiwan in the near future‭. ‬This statement came in the wake of another statement by US President Joe Biden‭, ‬in which he stressed that his country has a clear obligation to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion‭. ‬This comment infuriated Beijing‭, ‬whose State Department responded to Biden by assuring that it would not concede or accept any settlements on issues of core interests and sovereignty and territorial integrity‭, ‬in reference to Taiwan‭.‬

Both statements reveal a real concern about China’s tendency to enhance its military capabilities in a way that would qualify it‭ ‬not only to invade Taiwan‭, ‬but to neutralize US military countermoves during this invasion‭.‬

China’s growing military capabilities‭:‬

According to US assessments‭, ‬the PLA’s advanced capabilities and concepts aim to enhance China’s ability to‭ “‬fight and win wars‭”‬‭ ‬against a‭ “‬strong enemy‭”, ‬a possible reference to the United States‭, ‬to force Taiwan’s annexation‭, ‬as well as to force countries with territorial disputes with China to abandon their regional demands‭, ‬in addition to confronting the interference of any third party in a conflict along the edges of the People’s Republic of China‭, ‬and finally projecting its military power at the global level‭.‬

Beijing has recently tended to carry out military experiments and moves and possess advanced weapons systems‭, ‬indicating that Beijing is seeking to possess the appropriate military capabilities to restore the island militarily‭. ‬These moves can be detailed‭ ‬in the following‭:‬

A remarkable hypersonic missile test‭:‬‭ ‬In August 2021‭, ‬Beijing launched a Long March missile‭, ‬a hypersonic missile capable of flying at five times the speed of sound‭,‬‭ ‬a development that‭ “‬surprised US intelligence‭”. ‬Beijing also managed to launch a projectile from a hypersonic missile last July‭. ‬Although the Chinese missile missed its target by about 32‭ ‬kilometers‭, ‬the test was advanced‭, ‬and revealed that China is nearing the end of the testing phase‭, ‬and the start of manufacturing hypersonic missiles for its army‭.‬

China’s development of this type of missile represents a noticeable threat to Washington from four connected angles‭.‬

First‭,‬‭ ‬is that the United States‭, ‬and other countries‭, ‬have developed anti-ballistic and winged missile air defense systems‭, ‬but no anti-hypersonic missile air defense systems capable of shooting them down have yet been developed‭.‬

Second‭,‬‭ ‬that the United States failed for the third time in a row to test a new hypersonic missile model‭. ‬The last test came on December 15‭, ‬202‭, ‬the launch of AGM-183A missile from a B-52‭ ‬Stratofortress was unsuccessful‭.‬

Third‭,‬‭ ‬China’s test of a hypersonic missile that can launch a projectile into the air in July is a technology that neither the United States‭ ‬nor Russia currently possess‭, ‬which reveals‭, ‬according to US officials‭, ‬that this step shows that China’s capabilities are greater than what is known so far‭. ‬That is‭, ‬while Washington failed to develop a hypersonic missile‭, ‬similar‭ ‬to Russia’s and China’s‭, ‬Beijing took an additional step on this path‭, ‬by launching a projectile from a hypersonic missile‭. ‬Experts at DARPA‭, ‬the Pentagon’s research agency‭, ‬revealed that they do not know how China was able to launch a projectile from a vehicle flying at hypersonic speed‭, “‬more than five times the speed of sound‭. ‬They also do not know the nature of the projectile that fell into the sea‭.‬‭ ‬The Americans experts are still divided about the nature of the projectile‭, ‬as some see it as an air-to-air missile‭, ‬while others believe that its function is camouflage to protect the hypersonic missile in the event of a threat‭.‬

Fourth‭,‬‭ ‬the Chinese experiment took place in conjunction with the escalation of tension between the United States and China due to the‭ ‬latter’s intensification of its military activities near Taiwan‭, ‬which indicates that Beijing aims to develop this type of missile to assure Washington of its technological development‭, ‬and its possession of capabilities that limit Washington’s military superiority over it‭. ‬

Beijing continues to develop its military capabilities‭:‬‭ ‬The Taiwanese Ministry of Defense confirmed in a report issued in November that Beijing is strengthening its capabilities to direct air‭, ‬sea and land strikes against Taiwan‭. ‬The report added that these capabilities include imposing a‭ “‬blockade on Taiwan’s‭ ‬vital ports‭, ‬airports and foreign flight routes to cut off air and sea lines of communication‭. ‬The report also warned that China is capable of striking all of Taiwan with its missile arsenal‭, ‬including ballistic and winged missiles‭, ‬as it enhances its ability to launch amphibious attacks on the island‭.‬

Gray war tactics‭:‬‭ ‬Beijing has used gray war tactics to threaten Taiwan‭, ‬for example‭, ‬by conducting almost daily campaigns of military exercises‭, ‬patrols‭, ‬and intimidating surveillance that do not rise to the level of armed military confrontations‭. ‬Beijing has recently increased the number of warplanes it sends into the airspace around Taiwan‭. ‬In the air defense identification area southwest of Taiwan‭, ‬Beijing carried out a record number of 149‭ ‬sorties in four days during China’s celebration of its National Day‭. ‬China also used sand to fill waterways and encircle the remote islands of Taiwan‭.‬

Enhancing military nuclear capabilities‭:‬‭ ‬During the past months‭, ‬Beijing has built two nuclear missile sites‭. ‬Satellite images from Xinjiang Province showed that the site could accommodate about 110‭ ‬missile silos when it was completed‭. ‬It also built 120‭ ‬missile silos in a desert area site in Yumen in Gansu Province‭.‬

The US Department of Defense confirmed that the Pentagon in 2020‭, ‬China was about to double its stockpile of nuclear warheads‭, ‬amounting to 200‭ ‬nuclear warheads‭, ‬and refused to enter into any negotiations to limit nuclear arms with the United States or Russia‭, ‬given that the number of nuclear warheads owned by China was much less than what the two countries possessed‭. ‬The United States had about 5,800‭ ‬nuclear warheads in 2020‭, ‬while Russia had 6,375‭ ‬nuclear warheads‭.‬

China’s construction of new silos can be explained on the basis of its desire to expand its nuclear forces to maintain a posture‭ ‬of nuclear deterrence in a way that enables it to withstand a first US nuclear strike‭, ‬and respond in sufficient numbers to defeat US missile defenses‭.‬

Chinese capabilities are not limited to building new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads‭, ‬but Admiral Charles Richard‭, ‬who leads the US nuclear forces‭, ‬indicated before a congressional hearing in April 2021‭, ‬that China is also expanding in building mobile missile launchers that can be concealed‭. ‬The Chinese Navy has also introduced new‭ ‬submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons to its growing fleet‭. ‬And if China manages to do so‭, ‬it will be able to neutralize Washington’s ability to interfere in any military conflict between China and Taiwan‭.‬

On the other hand‭, ‬China is developing a new type of ballistic missile‭, ‬capable of carrying more than one nuclear warhead‭, ‬and each missile can be directed in order to have the ability to hit a potential target‭, ‬in what is known as the‭ “‬Independently Targeted Multiple Re-entry Vehicle‭”.‬

Taiwan-American countermoves‭:‬

In the face of previous Chinese moves‭, ‬and pessimistic American assessments about Beijing’s intentions towards Taiwan‭, ‬Taipei and Washington tended to respond to Chinese moves by taking the following steps‭:‬

Increasing Taiwan’s military spending‭:‬‭ ‬Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen announced an increase in military spending by 240‭ ‬billion Taiwan dollars‭ (‬8.69‭ ‬billion US dollars‭) ‬over the next five years‭, ‬including spending on new missiles‭, ‬considering that it urgently needs to develop weapons‭, ‬as China has increased its military and diplomatic pressure on the island‭, ‬threatening to recover it‭, ‬albeit by force‭.‬

But if the Chinese and Taiwanese militaries are compared‭, ‬in terms of the number of troops and the modernity of the forces‭, ‬Taiwan will lag far behind China‭. ‬Although Taiwan receives regular supplies of weapons worth billions from the United States‭, ‬China‭’‬s official military budget alone is 16‭ ‬times that of Taiwan’s‭.‬

In terms of troops‭, ‬the size of the Chinese army is estimated at 2.2‭ ‬million‭, ‬compared to only about 170,000‭ ‬soldiers for Taiwan‭’‬s army‭. ‬As for the sea‭, ‬China certainly has the upper hand‭. ‬While China is building a third aircraft carrier‭, ‬Taiwan owns two submarines‭, ‬dating back to the eighties of the last century‭, ‬meaning that in the end‭, ‬Taiwan will not be able to stand up to any‭ ‬Chinese military operation to occupy the island without external support‭.‬

American pledges to Taiwan‭:‬‭ ‬Last October‭ (‬2021‭), ‬US President Joe Biden confirmed that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily if China launched an‭ ‬attack on this island‭, ‬statements that China strongly criticized‭, ‬stressing that it will not compromise on an issue related to‭ ‬sovereignty‭. ‬It seems that Biden seeks to avoid strategic ambiguity‭, ‬a policy that characterized US policy toward Taiwan‭, ‬as Washington’s stance will potentially be unclear in the event that Beijing moved to invade Taiwan militarily‭, ‬despite the fact that‭ ‬Washington is the main supplier of arms to Taiwan‭.‬

In the face of Chinese anger‭, ‬Washington was forced to retract Biden’s statements‭. ‬The White House reiterated that the US policy‭ ‬toward Taiwan had not changed‭, ‬and made it clear that‭ “‬the president was not about to announce any change in US policy towards‭ ‬Taiwan‭. ‬The White House stressed that it is still following the law of relations with Taiwan issued in 1979‭, ‬in which Congress demanded that the United States provide arms to the island to defend itself‭, ‬but it remained ambiguous about the possibility of Washington’s military intervention to defend it‭.‬

Doubts are raised about Washington’s ability to defend Taipei in the event of an attack from China‭. ‬David Ochmank‭, ‬a former senior official in the US Department of Defense who is currently working on managing the Pentagon’s war games at the RAND Corporation‭, ‬has indicated that Washington’s chances of success in defending Beijing are slim‭.‬

In these war games‭, ‬the‭ “‬blue team‭” ‬of the United States faced the‭ “‬red team‭” ‬of China‭. ‬In this simulation‭, ‬the Taiwanese air force was wiped out within minutes‭, ‬US air bases across the Pacific were attacked‭, ‬and US warships and planes were neutralized by‭ ‬Chinese long-range ballistic missiles‭. “‬Even when the blue teams intervene in simulation and war games in a resolute manner‭, ‬they do not always succeed in defeating the Chinese invasion‭,” ‬Ochmank emphasized‭.‬

In conclusion‭, ‬it can be said that the Chinese moves clearly reveal Beijing’s tendency to develop its nuclear and missile military capabilities in a way that may neutralize American supremacy in the coming years‭, ‬despite the current American assessments talking about the United States’‭ ‬inability to achieve a decisive victory to deter any possible Chinese attacks to restore Taiwan by military force at the moment‭.‬

‮«‬‭ ‬By‭: ‬Dr‭. ‬Shadi Abdel Wahab

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