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A Chinese attack on Taiwan is approaching
Beijing sent the largest ever incursion by Chinese jets into Taiwan’s air defense zone last Friday. The country’s defense ministry said it would no longer mess up its own planes in response. These flights through Taiwan’s ADIZ are now essentially a regular occurrence and part of a broader Chinese “gray area” campaign against the country that includes everything from banning pineapples to economic pain to shipping a fleet of civilian sand dredgers eroding the coasts of Taiwan’s peripheral islands. Scrambling its own jets to intercept the People’s Liberation Army planes has only depleted valuable resources at one precarious time, so Taipei instead trains its missile systems on the PLA jets every time an incursion occurs. US defense planners warn that Beijing is softening the ground for an attack – one that could come in the not-too-distant future. At two separate Senate hearings last month, the current head of the US Indo-Pacific command and the candidate who was supposed to replace him warned of a growing threat of Chinese attack. It could be “in the next decade, actually within the next six years,” said Admiral Phil Davidson. His future successor, Admiral John Aquilino, made a similar assessment a few weeks later: “There are periods from today to 2045. In my opinion, this problem is much closer to us than most think.” Your grim assessments are borne out by the facts . First, consider the extent of the buildup of the Chinese military over the past few decades. Not only has the People’s Liberation Army embarked on massive modernization over the past 30 years, but those efforts have been backed by a comprehensive nationwide initiative to gather the exact resources needed for an eventual cross-strait invasion. Even one of the largest Chinese ferry companies has built ships to PLA specifications that can carry equipment and personnel during an amphibious assault. Crucially, that build has focused on undermining US deterrence through the development of anti-entry / denial-of-territory capabilities that would impose significant costs on US forces coming to Taiwan’s defense. These are the types of weapons that could sink American ships, neutralize critical surveillance systems on the battlefield, and threaten more distant bases. The modernization offensive was so successful that the USA repeatedly lost to China in hypothetical conflicts over Taiwan in Pentagon war games. Underlying the Chinese drive for military advantage is a relentless national determination. The “reunification” of the island with the mainland has long been understood as a core interest of the party state and as a question of the survival of the regime. US officials believe Xi Jinping sees reunification as the key to consolidating his rule. When Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-wen president of the independent Democratic Progressive Party, the mainland cut off all diplomatic and cooperative channels and stepped up its coercive efforts, leading to today’s gray area campaign. In the event of an invasion, the CCP could use other irregular tactics such as cyber attacks and disinformation operations to cut the island off from the rest of the world. This would directly imply US interests. A successfully conducted invasion would wipe out the US stance in the Pacific and potentially drive US allies into Beijing orbit. All American bases in the region would be very vulnerable to attack, and the success of the Taiwan invasion would confirm the CCP’s thesis of a declining West and encourage it to make further gains. A communist takeover could mark the beginning of a China-led order in East Asia and perhaps beyond. To prevent this nightmare from becoming a reality, Congress must work with the Pentagon to fully fund defense modernization efforts and overhaul US defense capabilities in the Pacific. This, as Admiral Aquilino advocated, should include the multi-billion dollar Pacific Deterrent Initiative, which aims to fund the new weapons and technology needed to combat Chinese capabilities. The only way to prevent a direct military confrontation is to convince the Chinese that success is next to impossible. Beijing knows the US can impose high costs on the PLA, but if it sees an opportunity to succeed, it will likely act anyway. While the Biden administration continues to build on the work of the Trump administration to strengthen ties with Taiwan, it should work with American allies on defense deals for contingencies related to Taiwan. Such a pact with Australia was recently announced, and the Japanese government has also cemented an agreement directly with Taipei. More needs to be done. The assumption that guides these efforts and creates a sense of urgency must be that Beijing can begin its attack almost anytime.