The classic Chinese military strategy book, “Thirty-Six Stratagems,” was written over 1,500 years ago. The first strategy, to “deceive the heavens to cross the sea,” was designed for countries in a superior position. This strategy intends to lull or condition one’s adversary into relaxed vigilance.
Responding to the 2016 and 2020 Taiwanese presidential electoral victories of Tsai Ing-wen and the shocking events in Hong Kong and Ukraine, 80 percent of Taiwanese people polled want to keep the status quo or move toward declaring independence from mainland China.
Their growing sense of independence and fear of severe consequences of being under the CCP’s autocratic and kleptocratic subjugation have galvanized them. The CCP hoped that Taiwan would commit democratic suicide and join other captive regions (Tibet, East Turkestan, Inner Mongolia, and Hong Kong).
Due to the Taiwanese public preference for independence, the CCP is examining military options to achieve Taiwan’s “unification” with China.
The CCP has demonstrated at least three types of behaviors that align with an aggressive strategy.
First, it conducts political warfare and military action against countries, companies, and individuals that deviate from the CCP’s desired path. Most recently, the CCP tested political warfare weapons in its toolkit against Lithuania with some of the most severe “mafia-like” measures to date.
Second, the CCP uses Vladimir Lenin’s dictum, “You probe with bayonets: if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw,” in the South China Sea (SCS) by taking over small islands and converting them into People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military bases.
Examples of the CCP’s aggression include taking the Paracel Islands (1974) and south Johnson Reef (1988) from Vietnam; and massing commercial, maritime militia, and Chinese Coast Guard ships around the Philippine’s Scarborough Shoal (2012) and Whitsun Reef (2021).
Comparing the U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy (PLAN), the number and capabilities of the ships are often used to show that the PLAN is trying to match the U.S. Navy. Rarely discussed is the comparison of the Chinese Coast Guard to its neighbors’ assets.
In 2015, the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence published (see below) a comparative analysis of the Chinese Coast Guard, showing the stark Chinese power regional imbalance of the respective coast guards.
Third, the PLA conducts many types of aggressive military maneuvers in and around Taiwan. The most blatant of these is the unannounced flights of PLA aircraft into the island’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the southeast, south, and southwest.
PLA Air Envelopment
Less reported by the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense (MND) are the PLA flights into Japan’s ADIZ that bracket Taiwan to the northeast, north, and northwest.
In 2020, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) published a rigorous analysis of the PLA’s flights in and around South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. The PLA air provocations against Taiwan had three patterns:
- Circumnavigational flights of Taiwan (most common provocation).
- ADIZ intrusions (second most common provocation).
- Violations of the cross-strait median line (viewed as the most provocative action and, as a result, are rare).
The circumnavigational flights are probably not reported by the MND since it appears that the PLA Air Force skirts around the Taiwan ADIZ. However, the MND has reported dramatic increases in PLA intrusions into Taiwan’s ADIZ since the fall of 2020.
An example of multiple PLA aircraft ADIZ intrusions occurred on Nov. 28, 2021, with 27 aircraft and longer flight profiles.
A comprehensive map (here) shows PLA incursions on Taiwan and Japan’s ADIZ, detailing the PLA aircraft enveloping Taiwan by air.
PLA Naval Envelopment
The Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) have reported PLA Naval deployments between Japan and Taiwan into the western Pacific. These trends are depicted by the most recent Japanese Defense White Paper (2021).
Page 18 of the document contains a map depicting the various PLAN deployments in red arrows. Like the PLA aircraft encirclement of Japan and Taiwan (yellow arrows), the PLAN is training for the equivalent maritime encirclement operation (subsurface, surface, and above surface).
What Are the Implications?
These civil and military actions prepare the CCP for many possible lines of effort. The sheer number of possible actions makes it difficult to identify and assess the likelihood of any particular action. In effect, the CCP is disguising what it plans to do while leaving open several possible courses of action. These actions are designed to lower the vigilance of Taiwan, Japan, the United States, and others. These actions provide China with at least three main options—the last of which appears to be the most likely.
Option 1: Taiwan Invasion
The first option, and the most obvious, is that the CCP is preparing its forces for an invasion of Taiwan. Much has been written on this and how the Chinese will invade. Ian Easton’s book, “The Chinese Invasion Threat,” provides an excellent analysis of a full-scale invasion.
This PLA option is its “hard” course of action that it can implement if Taiwan or other countries cross the CCP’s red lines.
In the 2020 Department of Defense annual report to Congress, the DOD assessed that the CCP has seven red lines:
- Formal declaration of Taiwan independence.
- Undefined moves toward Taiwan independence.
- Internal unrest in Taiwan.
- Taiwan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
- Indefinite delays in the resumption of cross-strait dialogue on unification.
- Foreign intervention in Taiwan’s internal affairs.
- Foreign forces stationed on Taiwan.
In the 2021 DOD report, the seventh red line, “foreign forces stationed on Taiwan,” was removed, probably because the First Special Forces Group released a video on its Facebook page showing personnel training Taiwanese forces in June 2020.
In October 2021, President Tsai acknowledged the presence of U.S. military personnel in Taiwan as part of the U.S. assistance to “increasing our [Taiwan’s] defense capability.”
Option 2: Psychological Warfare—Deterrence
The second option’s focus is the threat of invasion (psychological warfare—designed to deter Taiwan supporters) rather than an actual invasion. The CCP wants to remind Taiwan and the rest of the world to maintain the CCP’s “One China” policy and not provide Taiwan diplomatic recognition and create fear of providing “too much support” for Taiwan.
In effect, the second option is designed to deter the rest of the world and Taiwan from going outside the CCP’s “red lines” and allow maximum flexibility for the CCP: psychological blockade.
Option 3: Total Taiwan Blockade With Options
The third, and the most likely option, is a total blockade of Taiwan and its islands. Why is a blockade the most likely scenario?
Under normal circumstances, a blockade would be an act of war, and the resulting starvation of a country’s population would be categorized as a war crime for international armed conflicts.
Yet, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), blockading a country’s “province” is not an act of war, and starving one’s own population is not categorized as a war crime.
Since Taiwan is not recognized as a sovereign country (not a United Nations member), international law does not consider a blockade of Taiwan to be an act of war. The resulting suffering would be difficult to pursue in the ICC since it does not address cases of non-international armed conflicts.
The CCP’s use of lawfare in a blockade protects the CCP against international legal tools; a blockade and associated actions are consistent with viewing Taiwan as a rebellious Chinese province.
Media attention would be minimal if the PLA does not conduct active kinetic operations against Taiwan. In contrast to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a blockade option probably would not motivate international action against the CCP.
Beijing has indicated that any foreign nation’s interference in its operations against Taiwan would be considered interfering with its internal affairs. The CCP has threatened the use of nuclear weapons to counter such interference, thereby establishing another red line before it initiates any operation against Taiwan.
Beijing would coerce countries, companies, organizations, and individuals to comply with its demands. Moreover, by blocking shipping and aircraft from arriving to and departing from Taiwan and its associated islands, the CCP would seek to force the population to “bend the knee” and accept CCP rule. A blockade is classic siege warfare, and Mao Zedong encouraged siege warfare in his book, “People’s War.”
The CCP would escalate its operation against Taiwan and would conduct a total blockade once it is confident of minimal international opposition. Ukraine provided the CCP with useful insights on global punishments against a superpower. China has more leverage based on its world trade and its experiences than the Russian government. The CCP will prepare accordingly.
The Taiwanese government and people should prepare against this likely siege warfare scenario. The Taiwanese should have in place a food supply reserve capability to mitigate critical dependencies such as possible fishing restrictions. The military should make similar preparations if a blockade were implemented, including ensuring that Taiwan has sufficient stored supplies to conduct a protracted war.
In addition to an air and sea blockade, the CCP might attempt to implement a communications blockade—denying Taiwan the means to communicate with the outside world by disrupting satellites and sea cables. The 2022 Russia-Ukraine war shows that commercial satellite alternative options are viable and can maintain necessary communications.
In his book “On Protracted War,” Mao argued that “[t]here can never be too much deception in war.” Following his injunction, the CCP uses deception to disguise its preparations to conduct a total blockade: “deceive the heavens to cross the sea.”
Taiwan and its allies should recognize the deception and prepare accordingly for a total blockade. Once a blockade is functioning, additional options to subjugate Taiwan become available to the CCP.
Communicating the CCP’s blockade threat to Taiwan’s whole of society could mobilize the population to enhance its resilience. Communicating the CCP threat to Taiwan’s allies could help deter the CCP’s plan of assimilating Taiwan through siege warfare.
The CCP is using deception to prepare its battlefield for the effort to subjugate Taiwan. The Taiwanese should heed an ancient Chinese proverb that provides useful advice about the necessity of being prepared for the current situation: “Dig the well before you are thirsty.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.