Chinese Blockade of Taiwan Would Likely Fail, Pentagon Says

'There is absolutely nothing easy about a PLA invasion of Taiwan,' Army Major General Joseph McGee tells lawmakers.
Chinese Blockade of Taiwan Would Likely Fail, Pentagon Says
Assistant U.S. Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner listens during a hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Dec. 8, 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Eva Fu

The Chinese military would likely fail if it tries to blockade Taiwan, senior Pentagon officials told Congress on Sept. 20, noting that there'll be “nothing easy” for the regime in invading the self-ruled liberal democratic island.

“It would likely not succeed," Ely Ratner, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee. "It would be a huge risk of escalation for the PRC [People's Republic of China], where it would likely have to consider whether or not it was willing to ultimately start attacking commercial maritime vessels."

Mr. Ratner argues that a blockade would be so devastating to the international economy that an international coalition would be mobilized against the regime's actions. Taiwan, he added, also would receive industrial resources, raw materials, energy, and other critical items from international allies, dimming Beijing’s chances of success.

“This would be a monster risk for the PRC and a huge miscalculation,” he said.

Army Maj. Gen. Joseph McGee, who handles strategy, policy, and planning for the Pentagon’s joint staff, agreed that a blockade isn’t very likely in light of the hurdles.

“I think it is an option but probably not a highly likely option,” he told lawmakers. It’s “much easier to talk about a blockade than actually do a blockade.”

Mr. McGee noted that Taiwan takes the threat of being cut off seriously and “takes a responsibility to keep their nation provisioned with enough food to be able to survive a blockade of a fairly significant amount of time.”

Over the past few years, the regime in Beijing has escalated military pressure on Taiwan, the island it has long vowed to control since the communists took over mainland China in 1949. CIA Director William Burns in February warned that Chinese leader Xi Jinping has ordered his troops to be ready to mount an invasion by 2027. While the year may not represent the actual timing of a military attack, it’s a sign of the regime’s "seriousness" in pursuing the goal, Mr. Burns said.
In the 24-hour span that began at 6 a.m. local time on Sept. 17, the Chinese Communist Party sent 103 fighter jets around the island, a provocation that prompted Taiwan’s defense officials to criticize the “destructive” actions.
Mao Ning, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters on Sept. 18 that there’s no “'median line' in the Taiwan Strait.” Beijing has never formally recognized the unofficial line, which marks the halfway point between the Chinese and Taiwanese coastlines, although it has mostly acted in accordance with U.S. pressure not to cross the line, which was established during the Cold War in connection with the 1954 U.S.–Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty.

Historically, there have been only four reported Chinese military incursions across the line, with China respecting the line when cross-straight relations are good, but challenging it when relations turn for the worse. Since September 2020, Beijing started sending many airplanes across the line as well as into Taiwan's self-enforced air defense identification zone, which overlaps Chinese airspace.

In a report released on Sept. 12, Taiwan’s defense ministry said that Beijing has been ramping up military activities along the coastline facing the island by permanently stationing fighters and drones there. The regime also has deployed weather balloons and civilian aircraft for spying purposes, according to the ministry.

Still, carrying out a frontal attack on Taiwan would be no easy feat, Mr. McGee says.

A surprise attack will not happen, as "they would have to mass tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of troops on the eastern coast, and that would be a clear signal,” the Army general said.

Launching a combined amphibious and air assault operation would be “incredibly complicated,” not to mention that the Chinese military would be traveling a distance of 90 to 120 miles in crossing the Taiwan Strait, “susceptible to all the fires that could be brought upon an invading force that was already telegraphing their intentions,” he said.

“They would also encounter an island that has very few beaches where you could land craft on mountainous terrain, and a population that we believe would be willing to fight,” he said. "So there is absolutely nothing easy about a PLA invasion of Taiwan."

Beijing's Maximum Pressure Campaign

Military aggression isn’t the only way that China’s ruling regime exerts pressure on its democratically governed neighbor.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, in a recorded address to the Concordia summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, noted that every day, Beijing “initiates millions of cyberattacks as well as frequent military exercises and other forms of gray-zone activities as a way to apply maximum pressure on Taiwan and its friends.”

Responding to concerns about China using artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies to carry out influence operations, Audrey Tang, the island’s digital minister, said that the National Institute of Cyber Security that he oversees has devoted significant resources to detect foreign threat actors with spontaneity.

 Audrey Tang, Taiwan's minister of digital affairs, at the Concordia summit in New York on Sept. 19, 2023. (Richard Moore/The Epoch Times)
Audrey Tang, Taiwan's minister of digital affairs, at the Concordia summit in New York on Sept. 19, 2023. (Richard Moore/The Epoch Times)
In August 2022, in response to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) trip to Taiwan, Chinese state hackers breached Taiwan's government websites, paralyzing their operations. The hackers also infiltrated the ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience stores to display a message telling Ms. Pelosi to “get out of Taiwan.”

“It’s no longer a cyberattack in the traditional sense,” the digital minister told The Epoch Times, describing that operation as a “warning bell.” “There are elements of information manipulation,” and there’s “considerable room” for malicious maneuvering.

Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s representative to the United States, told a Concordia summit panel that Taiwan has to “constantly refine” its democracy in a way that it's “resilient to coercion,” in part by investing in defense capabilities, deepening partnership with the United States, and involving other global partners to preserve the status quo.

 Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan's representative to the United States, speaks at the Concordia summit in New York on Sept. 20, 2023. (Richard Moore/The Epoch Times)
Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan's representative to the United States, speaks at the Concordia summit in New York on Sept. 20, 2023. (Richard Moore/The Epoch Times)

“Hong Kong is a tragic reminder that we need to do more to preserve the freedoms and the democratic system that we have worked so hard to build,” she said at the summit.

Taiwan hasn’t been part of the U.N. assembly since 1971, when the international body recognized the mainland regime as the legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.

The exclusion, Ms. Hsiao said, was part of the “unreasonable and unfair effort to isolate Taiwan.”

Paraguay, the last South American country with formal relations with Taiwan, on Sept. 19 signaled support for Taiwan’s return to the United Nations, and G7 leaders in a statement the same day also advocated for Taiwan’s “meaningful participation in international organizations.”

Ms. Hsiao said that overcoming such challenges requires “innovation and creativity.”

“The peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait isn’t just the hope of the people of Taiwan," she told The Epoch Times, noting that she expects the topic to be a key component of Taiwan’s diplomacy going forward. "It also aligns with the interests of the international community.”