China and its approach to war: Why waiting is necessary
There is always an approval factor in engaging in war, although it is often within a time-frame, and within this is the element of waiting and a specific approach to war being able to be acted upon. Taiwan is a vibrant, fiscally-wealthy, independent, liberal-democratic self-ruled country with free and fair elections. These are the realities that need to be expressed and with an astute level of management will be introduced to other actors with the merit of keeping other components as a bulwark against the CCP’s ambition. Persistent advocating of these components will impact upon the EU and NATO and inevitably force a response, and if it happens there will be some activity within the UN that China will not be able to ignore. The EU and NATO will invariably not go to war with China over the retrocession of Taiwan however, they are the best chance of a war not escalating to involve an immense death toll of the population; and a wholesale destruction of civilian and military assets. Based on this principle another decade will generate a more robust and cohesive EU, and it will as an organisation, have been involved in many politico and strategic machinations and moreover, will be concerned to elevate its presence in a globalised world, or in simpler terms, to be of greater relevance. This factor will be of more trenchant concern to the EU if (as alluded to) the US has become exponentially absorbed in isolationist cum latent-xenophobic policies; or is suffering exponentially from migration and immigrant issues. There is also a likelihood that NATO will be creating opportunities to become a force for the growth of good governance rather than being a singular-oriented ‘defence of Europe’ platform that it currently holds. As Russia is unlikely to go to war with Europe as that will decrease in part due to a decrease in its chances of monitoring China’s ascending power; and of having a regional preponderance and presence in the A-P (Asia-Pacific). Taiwan could advocate for the presence of NATO forces in the Taiwan Strait and then eventually in Taiwan proper, as a moderating and transitioning force (with some EU input also), and this would relieve China-US frictions; and reduce the chance of a China-US war—a war which has a high chance of becoming a total war.
As can be observed in numerous ongoing conflicts about territory and territories there are points which the war of rivalry involves an extant of military force: India – Pakistan (Jammu and Kashmir), China – India (Arunachal Prudesh), China – Japan (the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands), Russia – Ukraine (Crimea), England –Spain (Gibraltar), Israel –Syria (Golan Heights) the list is long and borne of historic disputes. China will reach a breaking point in its claims as there is no evidence-base to suggest that this will not happen unless the war of rivalry is moderated—as per Gibraltar. Peaceful restitution without a level of military intervention is an aberration, not the norm. China, therefore, has to play a ‘waiting game’ which has been addressed to some considerable extent although it must have the Taiwan issue settled by 2049. This is due to cultural inculcations associated with the hundred year anniversary of the revolution coming ‘full circle.’ China at the present time and as has been alluded to, does not have the military capacity to extend its preponderance beyond an immediate action. The problem for China’s military strategists is that a single action will not overwhelm Taiwan’s military forces and moreover, Taiwan is currently able to adequately defend its territories with its military resources for months. There has to be other strategies implemented and a significant and one of most value is chronological. China must wait. It is the contention of this thesis that China will in the twenty-first century, wait until 2031. At this point in time, it will set in place a decree: China has the right to forcefully retrocede Taiwan. The declaration will be, however, at the behest and outcome of the following major happenings which are labelled ‘necessities and placement.’
China: Geo-Strategic necessities and placement
- Its military will be highly-disciplined and -professional and able to undertake two mid-intensity conflicts simultaneously if needed;
- The nine-digit line will be firmly geo-strategically understood and more established;
- US isolationism will have increased;
- For the US, Mexico, and the Central and South Americas will have overtaken or be a more dominant focal point of foreign policy;
- Russia’s navy will be stronger in the A-P and will have the propensity to act as a bulwark to the US in the region;
- India will be a mid-level power in the region and will be forcing it’s A-P economic-and strategic-policies which will act as another deterrent to the US;
- Japan will have been threatened with annexation by China and Russia;
- The US presence in Okinawa will have diminished considerably;
- The US will have established it will not come to Taiwan’s aid with a naval presence in the Taiwan Strait, or a boots-on-the-ground presence on Taiwan; and
- Taiwan’s military will have less personnel per capita than 2018.
To be sure, the above reasons are tenuous when taken literally and as linear events. Nonetheless, there is an evidence-base for these reasons to be given and whilst admitting there are many more interweaving and intermingling factors they throw up the enormity of the challenges with which Taiwan will have to come to terms with.
Broadly speaking China’s military is building up its professionalism and its regional intent is reflected in the nine-digit line and moreover, the bombastic irredentist claim it represents has not been disrupted in the region. Furthermore and as has been alluded to, China and Russia have an active friendship and unique suspicion of Japan and thus, are essentially enemies of Japan. Russia continues to build its naval forces and have a sustained presence in the A-P and it is continuing to challenge the US with brinkmanship. Both countries understand the domestic and military challenges Japan will have to come to terms within the third decade of the twenty-first century—an ageing population, lack of immigration, a shrinking military and the recalcitrance of Okinawans regarding the US presence on their home-island. Focusing on the core of the issue for Taiwan is to state that its ties to the US cannot be ignored and moreover, the central issue of the US having been ‘bled dry’ fighting wars of other people’s making and the South Americas and Mexico at the time of writing is much more of a dynamic and problematic for the US. Should ‘Americanism not Globalism’ take hold the non-entry of a war with China looms large and the probability will expand. To wit, as US foreign policy objectives are changed to those of non-sacrifice toward and for others will translate to, unless China directly threatens the US there will be no direct support for Taiwan. Notwithstanding this, the material support will remain strong. An extrapolation of the above-mentioned can now be made.
China and war: From waiting to when
The timeline of 2031 being the disruptor will be used by China as a stimulus to Taiwan’s 2032 elections, which will allow it to monitor the status of the ‘independence vote’ through the prism of the possibility, of a war having manifested into a reality. And moreover, it will create division in Taiwanese society; force politicians’ to declare their position and standing about the China threat; and generate the concerns of allies and potential allies. Notwithstanding these factors, it remains unlikely that the stance regarding independence will remain relatively strong due to the sociological underpinnings of the voting-blocs that wield power and which will in 2032 still have considerable influence—which in a liberal-democracy demands recognition. To be sure, ten years beyond the 2032 Taiwan elections would probably yield a different result as per the voting-bloc as many would be deceased, and from this perspective, it is safe to argue, the younger demographic would have a less-strong independence stance when faced with such the consequences of it producing a war. Therein lies a problem for Taiwan as paradoxically even though the politico-momentum would change in a decade there is within this construct a problem for China that must be confronted: China cannot wait too long in its retrocession and unification ambitions and therefore deferring beyond the early 2030s would mean that it could be at war in the lead up to its 2049 anniversary—this is not a position the CCP would be able to tolerate as all of China must be unified by this time. Based on these principles—albeit, having some prediction elements within them—the CCP must act upon its irredentist policies and its unification intent and bring them to fruition; and within this process, it will attempt to establish its future through increasingly focused anti-independence policies toward Taiwan. China will, therefore, reserve the right at any time from the declaration in 2031 to sink any Taiwanese vessel in the Strait; will demand that all ROC Navy vessels be restricted to harbour and that any and all ROC Air Force aircraft be confined to only overfly its terrestrial territory; will adopt a ‘shoot first’ policy for all aircraft that stray beyond said boundaries; and will reserve the right to seize any and all Taiwanese fiscal, and physical assets on its mainland territories.
These above-mentioned will offer China a ‘space’ to observe how Taiwan will react to the intimidation it delivers and as the catastrophic changes in the political arena come into play it will involve other nation-states which will, in turn, bring pressure to bear on Taiwan—in order to avoid a war breaking out. Paradoxically, and as has been used in other instances such as the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) one belligerent’s hostile overtones are needed to be diminished by a potential adversary. In simpler terms, Taiwan will be expected to deter war by succumbing to China’s mantra. An end result of this type of quasi-gunboat diplomacy is Taiwan will be pushed by others to cede to China’s demands and in turn, the CCP will be commended for not resorting to war, of respecting the Treaty of Westphalia, and of ‘giving Taiwan a chance.’ Whilst China’s presence in the Taiwan Strait and its activities will become more numerous and while a shoot-down accident that engulfs each country in an immediate kinetic and tumultuous exchange cannot be ruled out, the aforementioned actions will nonetheless be designed to exhaust ROC forces—the first phase of a limited-war-of-exhaustion taking place.
To be sure, the PLAN and the PLAAF will attempt to avoid war until a breaking point is reached and should none of the above-mentioned machinations achieve the desired retrocession China will be compelled to initiate a kinetic phase of operations—which will take place after the 2032 elections and before the 2036 elections. The breaking point established and announced in the UNGA, China will then embark upon its ‘indirect strategy’ of having the permission to command a ‘shooting war’ although it will not attack immediately. The threat-of-force will be enough to cause politico-pandemonium in the UNGA and the UNSC as the probability of a limited war—which will have the potential to spiral into a total war—begins to be treated as a certainty in UN forums. Taiwan will, by this time be in a complete and utter panic as the second phase of the strategy evolves as per the ‘attacks on the enemy’s economy and peripheral areas to erode its capacity to resist,’ and aside from a mass exodus of the elite and the upper-middle classes which will have diminished its population somewhat, China will remain present, unrepentant and will consistently retain the unification mantra whilst which will incrementally be backed by increasing threat.
Should Taiwan not put into place a forum that will discuss ceding to China, whether it be through the auspices of the UN or another setting such as ASEAN or the EU, an attack will take place before the 2036 elections. China will not tolerate another election with the possibility of more independence dialogue and unification to keep being stalled. The initial attack will be a shock and awe attack which will destroy vital infrastructure, many bridges and some places of symbolic ‘independence-driven’ importance, such as the presidential palace and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. The PLAN and the PLAAF will take up a blockading presence in the Taiwan Strait and cut off sea-lane trade routes. Ships of innocent passage will be permitted which will be in keeping with China’s tolerance-driven dialogues however, few will take up the opportunity and very few will access the Strait and in keeping with previous positions all ships will have to agree to being inspected by the PLAN should it so desire. A blockade will ensue accompanied by more, although intermittent strikes which will be designed to subjugate the population and allow for elections to take place, in the possibility that candidates will establish platforms of negotiation with China. To be sure and a position that should not be overlooked is that China wants Taiwan intact (as it did Hong Kong) due to its tax-raising and other beneficial fiscal elements it possesses; and as many Taiwanese live on mainland China, the CCP is mindful of the ‘ex-pat’ population becoming belligerent. The aforementioned firmly in place and understood the overall parameters of Taiwan-China cross-Strait machinations can now be addressed in a direct manner.
Continued tomorrow (conclusion) … How will it end?
Previous instalment … Learning from history
 Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory, 34-35.
Strobe Driver completed his PhD in war studies in 2011 and since then has written extensively on war, terrorism, Asia-Pacific security, the ‘rise of China,’ and issues within Australian domestic politics. Strobe is a recipient of Taiwan Fellowship 2018, MOFA, Taiwan, ROC, and is an adjunct researcher at Federation University.
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