Monday, May 22, 2017

China War - Taiwan Seizure

I’m on record as saying that the first act in any Chinese War will be the seizure of Taiwan.  Why is that?  Well, two reasons:

  1. Taiwan has long been a sore point for ChinaTaiwan belongs to them, in their view, and its “hostage” status to the West (the US) is an affront to China’s national pride.  China has vowed to reclaim Taiwan, the only question being when.  If China is going to enter a war anyway, it may as well seize Taiwan in the process even if Taiwan is not the main purpose of the war.

  1. Taiwan is too close to China for the Chinese to allow it to possibly be used as a military base of attack on China.  Thus, Taiwan must be seized at the outset of hostilities.

So, having recognized the fact that Taiwan will be the first objective (in terms of land seizure) of any war, how will China go about accomplishing it?  ……  I have no idea but for the sake of filling up some post space, why don’t we speculate.

If you had decades of time to plan for the seizure of a major piece of land, and an island to boot, how would you go about it?  Ideally, you’d slowly secure surrounding pieces of land so that once you initiated the seizure of your target, you’d already have fully equipped bases surrounding the target and protecting your invasion force.  Does this sound familiar?  The Chinese have seized various islands in the surrounding first island chain and militarized them.  Where islands are not physically available, the Chinese have built artificial ones.  You’ve got to give them credit for some outstanding creativity and initiative.  Would we have thought to build artificial islands?  I doubt it and, if we did, we’d have subordinated our military needs to ecological concerns, the welfare of coral reefs, the protection of endangered species, and abandoned the idea.

Instead, the Chinese have constructed numerous bases to the south of Taiwan with the Paracels and Scarborough Shoal protecting the area to the south and the Spratleys protecting approaches to the South China Sea in the far south.

Further, China is moving to co-opt the Philippines into their sphere of influence via a combination of state sponsored emigration, veiled threats, and political maneuvering.

China is also looking to seize and construct island bases to the north and east of Taiwan in the Senkaku and Ryukyu Island groups.

“Chinese authorities in the spring of 2013 brazenly challenged Japan’s sovereignty of the islands with a concerted campaign that included an article in a magazine associated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; a widely publicized commentary in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper and therefore China’s most authoritative publication; two pieces in theGlobal Times, the tabloid controlled by People’s Daily; an interview of Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan in the state-run China News Service; and a seminar held at prestigious Renmin University in Beijing.

At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to affirm that China recognized Okinawa and the Ryukyus as Japanese.

The close timing of events indicated these efforts had been directed from the top of the Chinese political system.

Over the last decade, Beijing has been moving in on Okinawa step by step, almost island by island. It has regularly dispatched its ships and planes to the Senkaku Islands, often entering sovereign water and airspace, in a campaign to wrest from the Japanese those small and uninhabited specks in the ocean. The provocations around the islets, which China first claimed in 1971 and now calls the Diaoyus, spiked upward in 2012 and then noticeably declined the following year.” (1) [emphasis added]

Here’s the statement from PLA General Luo Yuan.

“’Let's for now not discuss whether [the Ryukyus] belong to China, they were certainly China's tributary state,’ Luo said in an interview with China News Service. ‘I am not saying all former tributary states belong to China, but we can say with certainty that the Ryukyus do not belong to Japan,’ he added, in comments translated by the South China Morning Post.” (2) [emphasis added]

To understand the geographical and, therefore, military perspective, the Senkaku Islands lie about 100 miles to the northeast of Taiwan.   The Ryukyu Island chain begins about 100 miles to the east of Taiwan and arcs to the northeast up to the Japanese mainland.  The two groups of islands would form natural barriers and military strongpoints isolating and shielding any Chinese military actions involving Taiwan.

The presence of the surrounding island bases allows the Chinese to seize Taiwan without worry about US counterattacks.  The island bases represent the line in the ocean that the US must cross in order to come to the aid of Taiwan.  We must be willing to engage and destroy Chinese territory just to get to Taiwan.  There’s a major difference between going to Taiwan’s aid and destroying Chinese sovereign territory.  Will we be willing to destroy Chinese territory?  I suspect not.  For all practical purposes, the seizure of the first island chain and the construction of bases has sealed Taiwan’s fate.  For all those Chinese apologists who tried to argue that the islands were of no value and not worth contesting, there’s your answer.

The islands also present a speedbump in the road to aiding Taiwan even if we want to.  The time and material required to neutralize the surrounding islands are likely to be enough to allow China to consolidate its seizure of Taiwan and present the US with a fait accompli.  It’s one thing for the US to come to the aid of an ally that is actively resisting attack but it’s another to step into a situation in which the attack is over and the invasion has been accomplished.  The latter requires a good deal more fortitude on the part of the US and may present an insurmountable threshold for the US geopolitical calculation.

So, not only do the island bases represent a “line in the ocean” that we would hesitate to cross, they also represent a significant speed bump in the path of our response – one that would render the attempted rescue moot.

Even if war with China never comes, the slow and steady seizure of surrounding island bases (or construction of artificial ones) will eventually put the Chinese in a position of being able to dictate their desires to Taiwan under threat of blockade.  The geopolitical implications of this are obvious.  China can simply “starve” Taiwan into submission and reunification.

Viewed from a military strategy perspective, China’s actions in the South and East China Seas are not only understandable but logical and predictable.  We simply need to acknowledge the reality and choose our response.


(1)The Daily Beast website, “Now China Wants Okinawa, Site of U.S. Bases in Japan”, Gordon Chang, 31-Dec-2015,

(2)The Guardian website, “China lays claim to Okinawa as territory dispute with Japan escalates”, Justin McCurry, 15-May-2013,


  1. There is a 3rd reason why seizing Taiwan at the start of any conflict with the US makes sense to Chinese leaders. Seizing Taiwan would be expected to produce an outpouring of patriotic support from the people of China and provide a cover for any negative impact from any conflict with the US or other Asian powers (i.e. Japan or India).

    The political angle of any seizure of Taiwan can not be ignored.

  2. You make an excellent comment. The only thing I can think that would help us counter it is if we could base a fair amount of purchased SSK's in Japan. They could (theoretically) help play hell with an invasion fleet. But beyond that it would be tough to get any sort of aid to the island.

    What I don't understand is why China would go through the trouble of doing this. By being patient and waiting, and appearing to be less aggressive, they likely will get what they want. The Taiwanese population, from what I've read, isn't necessarily completely anti-Chinese.

    Yes, they'd have to wait longer; and 'sell their brand' in Taiwan. But that would be much cheaper both in direct and 'soft' costs than going to war over this.

    1. "What I don't understand is why China would go through the trouble of doing this."

      China is not doing this just for Taiwan. China is aimed at global domination. Taiwan is just a minor piece of the puzzle. The first and second island chains are just stepping stones to much bigger objectives.

    2. What evidence do you have that China's goal is global domination and not regional hegemony and global respect.

    3. I have a copy of their secret global domination plan.

    4. Jim..there is a historical background, as to go-hard or go-soft on small states in between bigs, in the context of multi-bigs competition. (one suggestion to all who wants to understand Chinese geostrategic philosophy, one must digest the historical records/text of the Spring-Autumn-Warring-Period. Not just the Art-of-War, but why such philosophy was born)

      The background: Before Qin was China's first united empire, it was one of 5-7 co-equal kingdoms jousting for superiority (or headship), with a mix of smaller states, stuck among the bigs. When the Qin king asked his advisers on diplomacy: there were two schools of thoughts: 'befriends anear/be hard on afar' and vice versa. The intuitive way was the first route; however, the adviser of 2nd route (befriends afar/be hard on anear) said: the first route gives leeway to the smaller states to play bigs off each other; the 2nd route buys/cuts off other bigs' support (to the smaller states) and forces the small alone to face/yield to Qin's reach. Qin king (and his offspring) took the 2nd route.

      The modern tactical version has a slight alteration, instead of big-stick alone; it is big-stick-with-bigger-carrot to the smaller state.

  3. At Potsdam and in other post-WWII agreements, Japan agreed to give up all of its colonies upon surrender, to include Taiwan and the Ryukyus. Okinawa remained an American military territory until 1972. The USA did not grant independence knowing the locals would kick the US military off these islands, so the US gave them back to Tokyo, over the objections of China, Russia and others because Japan had invaded Okinawa in 1872.

    Invading Taiwan, which only has three landing spots, all well fortified, would require a force larger than ours on D-Day, and China would gain little. It is simply absorbing it economically, and they are now major trading partners.

    No one thinks any nation wants to create a 10 million man force to invade China, to include the USA. What would be gained for a lost American generation with four million dead GIs?

    1. "What would be gained for a lost American generation with four million dead GIs?"

      Who, besides you, is calling for an invasion of China??? Why would you even suggest such a thing? I don't think you've thought this through clearly.

    2. You suggested this in your opening:

      Taiwan is too close to China for the Chinese to allow it to possibly be used as a military base of attack on China. Thus, Taiwan must be seized at the outset of hostilities.

    3. Yeah ... Where in that did you get the idea that we should invade China?

      Are you serious about wanting to invade China or are you making a point of some sort?

    4. China has hundreds of short and medium range surface-to-surface missiles that would, presumably, be used to soften Taiwan's defenses prior to any assault. Plus, China is starting to field a their Y-20, a large 4-engine strategic transport, similar to our C-17. A couple hundred of those would make an airborne assault a credible threat.

    5. Can't remember the source, but I do recall that China had some special requirements for their domestic car carriering fleet that would allow them to transport armored vehicles instead.

    6. You are correct. China is a country preparing for a major war and there are only two potential enemies and only one of those is a near term threat.

  4. If China ever wars on Taiwan, it will be a consolation prize (China-Taiwan unification) of a failed dream (China rise) resulting from long series of failed Chinese statecraft.

    Barring any black swan events (of smalls initiating fights between the US-China), I'm still seeing China's progression (i.e. belt & road) and diffusing of US-China conflict (i.e. Xi-Trump deal) on its path to its goal. There will have to be a myriad of'symptoms' of failed Chinese diplomatic policies long before we see US-China war.


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