The many signals China is sending with its Taiwan flyovers

“We’ve got a couple different signaling audiences.

There’s Chinese domestic politics. National Day was October 1. It’s often a day for the Chinese government to emphasize their nationalist credentials and project hope for the future about reunifying China, whether that means Taiwan or suppressing the Uyghurs or that kind of thing.

There’s a Taiwanese politics component, specifically an attempt to demoralize the public that China is stronger and you can’t win. The quote-unquote pragmatic choice is just to unify with us. Those tend to backfire. In 1996, China launched a couple missiles across the Taiwan Strait. It ended up — there was an election in Taiwan at the time — boosting the less pro-China candidate. And recently, with the protests and the crackdown in Hong Kong, going into this most recent election the current president, Tsai Ing-wen [of the pro-Taiwan independence Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP], was looking a little bit shaky, especially among youth. But when all that happened in Hong Kong, it was like, “Nope, we don’t want this to happen to Taiwan.”

It also feeds into Taiwanese party politics. The Kuomintang Party [Taiwan’s other major political party, which favors closer ties with mainland China] talking point is to say things like, “Well, the DPP can’t stabilize Taiwanese-Chinese relations. This is clearly an example of that — look at China’s belligerence, we’re better caretakers of the cross-strait relations.”

Then there’s international politics. The US, the UK, and four other countries are doing military exercises in the East Philippine Sea. So it’s partly as a demonstration of, “Stay out, we have a dog in this fight as well, we have the ability to strike too.””

“I think recently — not just this October, but the previous few months — has been a response to the broader tightening of US alliances in the region. The Joe Biden administration has, kind of surprisingly to me, quickly coalesced a coalition against China and tightened those alliance relationships that have been atrophying a bit under the Trump administration.

A lot of the countries in the region — Japan, South Korea, Philippines probably — they look at Taiwan as a litmus test for US commitment and Chinese assertiveness, which just puts China’s back up.”

“the US has a really tricky job here. It has to reassure Taiwan and take the lead in solidifying this coalition, but it has to do so in such a way that China doesn’t think “better strike now, or else we’re going to lose this thing forever.” And then the US has to kind of moderate its own policies toward China so it doesn’t jumpstart a war on its own for some other issue area, like the South China Sea. It’s a really tricky balancing act.”

Why there’s talk about China starting a war with Taiwan

“No American president has had to choose whether to go to war to defend Taiwan against a Chinese military invasion. President Joe Biden might have the decision thrust upon him.

The outgoing commander of US forces in the Indo-Pacific region, Navy Adm. Philip Davidson, told US lawmakers in March that he believes Beijing will attempt a takeover of the neighboring democratic island — which it considers part of mainland China — within the next six years. Davidson’s successor, Navy Adm. John Aquilino, expressed a similar concern days later.”

“The four-stars’ predictions aren’t wholly shared by everyone in the administration. “I’m not aware of any specific timeline that the Chinese have for being able to try and seize Taiwan,” said one senior US defense official, who, like others in the administration, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive foreign policy issue.”

“Experts I spoke to also felt Davidson and Aquilino’s claims are too alarmist and may be in service of trying to boost defense spending for operations in Asia.

But all agree that China is a more credible threat to Taiwan today than in the past. Beijing flaunts it, too. In recent weeks, China sent 25 warplanes through the island’s airspace, the largest reported incursion to date, and had an aircraft carrier lead a large naval exercise near Taiwan.”

‘We’re going to lose fast’: U.S. Air Force held a war game that started with a Chinese biological attack

“in September in the midst of the war game, actual Chinese combat aircraft intentionally flew over the rarely crossed median line in the Taiwan Strait in the direction of Taipei an unprecedented 40 times and conducted simulated attacks on the island that Taiwan’s premier called “disturbing.” Amid those provocations, China’s air force released a video showing a bomber capable of carrying nuclear weapons carrying out a simulated attack on Andersen Air Force Base on the U.S. Pacific island of Guam. The title of the Hollywood-like propaganda video was “The god of war H-6K [bomber] goes on the attack!”

In case the new U.S. administration failed to get the intended message behind all that provocative military activity, four days after President Biden took office, a large force of Chinese bombers and fighters flew past Taiwan and launched simulated missile attacks on the USS Roosevelt carrier strike group as it was sailing in international waters in the South China Sea.

Little wonder that many foreign affairs and national security experts believe the global pandemic has accelerated trends that were already pushing the United States and China toward a potential confrontation as the world’s leading status quo and rising power, respectively. This month the Council on Foreign Relations released a special report, “The United States, China, and Taiwan: A Strategy to Prevent War,” which concluded that Taiwan “is becoming the most dangerous flash point in the world for a possible war” between the United States and China. In Senate testimony on Tuesday, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Phil Davidson, warned that he believes China might try and annex Taiwan “in this decade, in fact within the next six years.”

Meanwhile, a leading Chinese think tank recently described tensions in U.S.-China relations as the worst since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and it advised Communist Party leaders to prepare for war with the United States.

What many Americans don’t realize is that years of classified Pentagon war games strongly suggest that the U.S. military would lose that war.

“More than a decade ago, our war games indicated that the Chinese were doing a good job of investing in military capabilities that would make our preferred model of expeditionary warfare, where we push forces forward and operate out of relatively safe bases and sanctuaries, increasingly difficult,” Air Force Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview. By 2018, the People’s Liberation Army had fielded many of those forces in large numbers, to include massive arsenals of precision-guided surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, a space-based constellation of navigation and targeting satellites and the largest navy in the world.

“At that point the trend in our war games was not just that we were losing, but we were losing faster,” Hinote said. “After the 2018 war game I distinctly remember one of our gurus of war gaming standing in front of the Air Force secretary and chief of staff, and telling them that we should never play this war game scenario [of a Chinese attack on Taiwan] again, because we know what is going to happen. The definitive answer if the U.S. military doesn’t change course is that we’re going to lose fast. In that case, an American president would likely be presented with almost a fait accompli.””

“Part of the problem is that China advanced its A2/AD strategy while the Pentagon was largely distracted fighting counterterrorism and counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two decades. Beijing is also laser-focused on Taiwan and regional hegemony, while the U.S. military must project power and prepare for potential conflict scenarios all around the globe, giving the Pentagon what Ochmanek calls an “attention deficit disorder.” Finally, there is the complacency of the perennial winner that makes it hard for senior U.S. military officers to believe that another nation would dare to take them on.”

To stop a Chinese invasion, Taiwan has to first fight the stigma of military service

“If Taiwan is to fend off a Chinese invasion, it will need reluctant recruits like Roger Lin to summon the patriotism that inspired older generations but these days doesn’t burn as passionately in the young.

The 21-year-old French-language major regards his upcoming mandatory four-month military service as an unnecessary burden, even as complaints persist that such stints are too short to protect the nation compared with the two to three years that previous generations served.

Weeks of flaring tensions between China and Taiwan, which has been buzzed by dozens of Chinese warplanes in a disquieting show of force, have not emboldened Lin or changed his mind. If China and its much larger military decides to invade, the island’s devastation would be a fait accompli, he said, even with the outside chance the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense.”

“Lin’s fatalism and indifference are somewhat expected among the young. But they come at a perilous moment. Fraught relations between Washington and Beijing are, more so than in any other flashpoint, raising the possibility of war in Taiwan, a self-governed democratic island of 24 million — roughly the size of Maryland — that China has regarded as a breakaway province since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

The stakes for Washington are high. Losing a democratic Taiwan to China would probably signal the end of American power in the Pacific, freeing China’s military to project its strength in the region and beyond to the detriment of U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea.

Led by an increasingly nationalistic Xi Jinping, China has in recent weeks flown military sorties deeper into Taiwanese airspace and beefed-up military exercises aimed at invading the disputed territory. The best hope for preventing a conflict that would probably draw in the U.S. is Taiwan’s willingness and ability to deter China’s aggression, experts said.

But the Taiwan government has struggled to instill the same sense of urgency found in other countries with national service requirements such as South Korea, Israel and even Singapore, which faces no immediate threats.”

“Taiwan’s active duty military has shrunk to 165,000 from 275,000 three years ago. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army numbers 2 million.

Under public pressure to move to an all-volunteer army, Taiwan began phasing-out conscription in 2013.”

“a debate within U.S. foreign policy circles over whether to revise its stance toward defending Taiwan. The current policy, known as strategic ambiguity, leaves China and Taiwan guessing if the American military will respond to an attack on the island. The approach is credited with maintaining the peaceful status quo since 1979, when Washington cut official ties with Taipei to launch diplomatic relations with Communist China.

Now, leading voices — including the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass — are arguing that a more powerful and hawkish China must be countered with an explicit warning of U.S. force if it were to move against Taiwan.

“Such a policy would lower the chances of Chinese miscalculation, which is the likeliest catalyst for war in the Taiwan Strait,” Haass co-wrote”

“Some experts fear that could undermine Taiwan efforts to rebuild its military: “I worry [it] would potentially confuse this work that Tsai is trying to do and allow people in Taiwan to say: ‘We don’t need to do this military spending. We don’t need to beef-up our military because the U.S. is coming to our aid,’” said Shelley Rigger, a Taiwan expert and political scientist at Davidson College in North Carolina.”

“It’s also unclear whether the U.S. could successfully defend Taiwan given deficiencies in American forces in the region and Chinese weapons designed to thwart the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers.”

““Soldiers get more respect in places such as America, but we still don’t have that climate in Taiwan,” said Lai, who has yet to complete his four-month required service. “Military camp culture isn’t that strong, and our sense of patriotism isn’t as keen.”

His reluctance is partly due to the fact he and many other young Taiwanese don’t believe China would ever strike; they’ve spent their entire lives in peace. Only if the island were actually invaded would Lai volunteer to fight — with our without the U.S.”

Sorry, Bernie Sanders: Taiwan’s Single Payer System Isn’t an Argument for Medicare for All

“Sanders’ Medicare for All bill calls for no copays and no premiums and effectively outlaws private insurance as we know it. It is substantially more generous than Taiwan’s system, which means it would be substantially more expensive.”