Chinese Military Exercises Demand Expedited Arming of Taiwan

August 10, 2022 Updated: August 10, 2022


China’s blockade exercises to practice isolating Taiwan from the rest of the world and from rescue by America and its allies suggests that war could be on the horizon. Some analysts contend that Chinese leader Xi Jinping will not risk war before his reconfirmation to an unprecedented second 10-year term at the 20th Party Congress later this year. Once the Congress ends and Xi gets his anticipated reconfirmation, all bets are off.

The Chinese view Taiwan’s conquest as inevitable. Xie Feng, vice minister of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declared the path was “irreversible and public opinion cannot be violated. Playing with fire will surely set yourself on fire. Taiwan is China’s Taiwan, and will eventually return to the embrace of the motherland.”

The window that Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned about last year is closing fast. Davidson warned the invasion might be in six years, but the exercises during which Taiwan’s commercial air traffic and sea traffic to its major ports was cut suggest Taiwan may not have that much time.

The exercises call for dramatic actions by the United States and Japan to reinforce their forces in the Ryukyus and to ramp up the transfer of anti-ship and anti-missile technologies to Taiwan. As former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld noted in a 2020 webinar sponsored by the Center for Security Policy, the start of hostilities will commence at China’s discretion.

Everything needs to be there on “Day Zero.” We already saw in Ukraine that the administration and its NATO allies waited too long to begin the delivery of HIMARS rockets and other equipment to the Ukrainian army that could have made the Russian invasion more challenging. Unlike Ukraine, Taiwan is an island, which precludes the direct smuggling of new weapons into the conflict zone once the invasion has begun.

The Biden administration should learn from the lessons of Ukraine and plan as if China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will begin hostilities with Taiwan, which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) considers an “integral part” of the People’s Republic of China, in the next year. The speed with which the PLA announced and executed its blockade exercise shows that time is not on the side of slow and steady diplomacy, especially considering that the CCP shut down communication in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

A PLA invasion will be swift and without warning and could possibly begin under the guise of military exercises that have become increasingly routine. Repetition has a way of lulling the target into complacency and not anticipating the real attack.

Deterring such aggression is exactly what the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act was written to defend against.

The law states, “The United States shall provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character and shall maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or social or economic system, of the people of Taiwan.”

The PLA already has its own equivalent of HIMARS that it hopes to use to suppress Taiwan’s defenses, which were deployed to Fujian Province opposite Taiwan in southeastern China. Transfer of HIMARS rockets to Taiwan should be expedited to ensure that PLA bases of operations are just as vulnerable to counterattack. The Trump administration approved a $1.8 billion weapons sale in late 2020 that potentially included HIMARS rockets.

The Biden administration should consider transferring several of the soon-to-decommission Ticonderoga-class cruisers to Taiwan for use as anti-aircraft and anti-missile batteries. It must hasten the upgrade of Taiwan’s air defenses because a massive aerial barrage from cruise and ballistic missiles will be the tip of the spear of the Chinese military as it works to suppress Taiwan’s defenses in preparation for a ground invasion.

The island can expect saturation from thousands of PLA ballistic and cruise missiles targeting critical infrastructure. It still operates 1960s vintage Chapparal missiles that are mostly useless against modern missiles and aircraft.

The PLA has thousands of missiles of various types that it can use to destroy Taiwan’s airfields. Air superiority will be critical for the PLA to be able to safely drop paratroopers in the invasion. A layered defense could buy Taiwan crucial time to repel the invasion.

Taiwan currently has its indigenously developed Tien Kung 3 air defense designed to counter short-range ballistic missiles. Overall, Taiwan’s air defenses comprise aged and lacking equipment. A massive investment is needed to dramatically improve Taiwan’s air defense in a short period of time. Israel’s Iron Dome should be looked at to knock down Chinese cruise missiles and the inevitable barrage from China’s long-range rockets. The U.S. government currently underwrites Israel’s defenses against Palestinian rockets. It should do likewise for Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act.

Building a robust air defense for Taiwan over the next 24 months would severely dent Beijing’s ability to take the island because it would put a dent in a key element of the PLA’s offensive strategy.

An invasion of Taiwan likely would be rapid. A retired high-ranking NATO intelligence figure told me that China already has thousands of operatives in place on the island to engage in sabotage activities should Xi Jinping give the word.

The Pentagon should expedite the permanent forward deployment of a carrier battlegroup to Guam. Increased submarine operations are also needed to target Chinese warships with missiles, mines, and torpedoes.

Japan and the United States must also work together to formalize their military alliance and move toward a shared military headquarters and operations.

The message of last week’s PLA exercises is that Japan is also squarely in Beijing’s sights. With Beijing vowing regular exercises going forward, it’s only a matter of time before the PLA uses confusion surrounding its exercises to launch the planned all-out invasion.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Rossomando is a senior analyst for defense policy at the Center for Security Policy and served as senior analyst for counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years.