There is No Coming Invasion of Taiwan
Everyone Needs to Calm Down
Thomas Peter, Reuters
There is no imminent threat of a mass of PLAN marines seizing the beaches of Taiwan. There’s honestly barely any indication that the PLA has even begun to take seriously the prospect of invading Taiwan at all.
Let’s actually stop for a second and consider the behaviors of the Chinese government over the past few years okay?
Starting on the domestic front, one of the most distinctive initiatives by the CCP was implementing the longest and most dedicated lockdown effort of any country during the COVID pandemic. I'm not suggesting that the American COVID shutdowns in 2020 were misguided here—vaccines were not available at that time.
However, the CCP continued to enforce city-wide lockdowns into 2022, even after effective vaccines had been introduced. The obsessive commitment to the "Zero-COVID" approach contradicted practically every reasonable approach to pandemic response, which would have primarily focused on widespread vaccination. It wasn't until protests erupted across China, during which rioting demonstrators dismantled COVID barriers and openly clashed with police, that the policy was finally discontinued in December 2022.
This incident neatly ties into the CCP's fixation on internal security. Their intricate system of surveillance and law enforcement is singularly aimed at quashing even the slightest hints of domestic unrest. While there's a common misconception that protests never occur in China—in reality, they are quite frequent—the CCP has consistently and swiftly suppressed any form of protest or expression that could potentially pose a threat to their rule.
Another facet of their emphasis on domestic stability is their economic policy, which can best be summarized as "there will never be a recession, and there will never be a shortage of liquidity." Despite the continuous stream of articles over the last ~20 years predicting the imminent collapse of the Chinese economy, Chinese authorities have consistently intervened decisively and early in response to perceived market instability.
The consequences of this will probably be felt someday with the looming aging Chinese population crisis, but it goes towards my point about an institutional culture in China, namely that absolutely nothing will ever go wrong under any fucking circumstances.
Now, let's consider foreign policy.
The closest thing to a “conflict” that the PLA has been engaged in since the 1979 war against Vietnam (and the intermittent skirmishes that followed into the 80s) has been a carefully orchestrated series of clashes involving sticks in the Himalayas. China is so acutely aware of the escalatory risk in this conflict with India that the absurdity of soldiers re-inventing the phalanx is the most notable aspect of these clashes.
The South China Sea has obviously been an area where China has engaged in malign and aggressive behavior in seizing disputed territories…but their actions aren’t exactly the stuff of 1930’s Europe either. They are finely calibrated uses of force that fall well short of the threshold that would produce a high-end war. Even the most serious incidents in the 2012 standoff over the Scarborough Shoals with the Philippines and the 2014 oil rig standoff with Vietnam never came close to an actual shooting war.
Looking directly at Taiwan the series of military shows of force certainly raise concerns. Missiles fired, ships (maybe) moving into Taiwanese waters, and routinely sending PLAAF aircraft into the ADIZ. I don’t want to downplay this too much, it’s all highly visible and meant to send a message. But it should be noted that it hasn’t been since 1958 that Chinese and Taiwanese forces have actually fought each other. This is far off from being the same as when Putin was using his proxies in the Donbas to exert violent pressure on Kyiv.
These are pressure campaigns. They’re frequently coupled with economic coercion—the most serious being the THAAD boycott against South Korea—that is designed to elicit limited concessions. China has done this to Taiwan since the moment that Chaing sailed his KMT holdouts to Taipei in 1949, it’s not exactly new.
As for the actual military capacity for China to invade Taiwan? They don’t really have that either.
There’s been more than enough ink spilled on this topic by people much smarter than I am, but I’d tell you to just go read Crossing the Strait and the China Maritime Report #22 instead of summarizing it all here. They don’t have the lift capacity or logistical capacity to actually do this.
Moreover, we haven't even touched upon the immense attritional toll that the Taiwanese would exact upon any PLA force attempting a crossing. As the USAF launches LRASMs and JASSMs from every available B-21, spanning from Anderson AFB to South Dakota, the scenario is akin to attempting an even more resource-intensive Operation Overlord in 1941 after the Wehrmacht had fortified the beach for 70 years in anticipation. The PLAN has yet to even conduct a single practice landing.
All of this is far from an exhaustive set of reasons why the uber-hawk line on China makes essentially no sense. I didn’t even mention the dozens of other foreign strategic priorities China has instead of Taiwan or their economic interests.
However, let's be clear: this does not imply that China is not a formidable competitor to the United States. Nor am I suggesting that they lack nationalistic and revanchist claims over the SCS and Taiwan. They operate under a repressive regime that warrants opposition, and their treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang is nothing short of atrocious.
We should take their ascent seriously in terms of American grand strategy and how we should invest our military capabilities, our posture, and in the relationships we have with partners and allies in the region. But can we please do this without losing our fucking minds?
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