No matter what Taiwan does, China continues invasion plans: researcher

Author of 'The Chinese Invasion Threat' says attack is not likely in 2020, but it is important to be aware such plans are in the works

Chinese ZTD-05 Light Tank.

Chinese ZTD-05 Light Tank. (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- After Taiwanese media went into a frenzy earlier this month reporting that a new book by Ian Easton was revealing the details of China's plan to invade Taiwan in 2020, the author made it clear that he did not actually make this assertion in the book during an exclusive interview with Taiwan News.

Not long after Easton's book "The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia" was released on Oct. 3, the Washington Free Beacon released a review of the book titled "China's Secret Military Plan: Invade Taiwan by 2020, which spawned a media storm in Taiwan. Based on the Free Beacon article, many Taiwanese Chinese language news outlets misconstrued Easton's book to be saying that China had indeed fully finalized its plans to invade Taiwan in just three year's time.

In part one of our interview with Easton, the author sets the record straight on the contents of his book:

Will China be ready to invade Taiwan in 2020?

This was a misunderstanding. It is true that China has a 2020 plan that they have had since 2010, maybe even before that, which was first reported 2011 in a Taiwan Ministry of National Defense (MND) white paper. In the book I cite the Chinese version of the MND defense paper published in October 2013.

At the time it was a big deal when they rolled the defense paper out and when international media got a hold of it, they were saying "goodness the sky could be falling soon." But actually the book, "The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia," makes no prediction as to when an invasion could actually come or if it could ever come at all. Obviously, my hope is that it never will.

I think there is much the U.S. and Taiwan can do to make sure that China never invades. China may have these invasion plans, it may have these goals to be ready to invade Taiwan by the year 2020, but I make no suggestion at all in the book that they will actually be ready, and even if they were ready in their own minds, that they would actually do it. 

Where did the Free Beacon get the impression that China is ready to invade in 2020?

I think the Washington Free Beacon saw the line that I have in the book that quotes the MND white paper that China has the goal of invading Taiwan in 2020. The reporter at the Free Beacon was just citing that and it got sensationalized.

If you read the whole story, I think it becomes more clear that it is actually not possible for China to invade Taiwan by 2020 and have any reasonable prospect for success. And I think the Free Beacon made that very clear. I think the misunderstanding is because a lot of people read the headline "China’s Secret Military Plan: Invade Taiwan by 2020" and they didn't read the rest of the story.

I was very very surprised last week that this happened, that certainly wasn't my intention. But I am also very glad in a way, if nothing else, this misunderstanding at least has drawn more attention to the issue.

I think it's an issue people should be debating, thinking about and discussing. It has been kind of taboo, certainly here in Washington D.C. it has been very taboo to talk anything Taiwan-leaning, especially a full out Chinese invasion of Taiwan and what that would mean for everybody, for China, Taiwan, the region, and the U.S.

What it inspired you to write this book?

When I lived in Taiwan in graduate school, my buddies and I would talk about an invasion by China. But nobody really knew much about it, because no one had done any research on what an invasion of Taiwan might actually look like.  

Most of the people I knew in Taiwan, my Taiwanese friends and teachers, were very uncomfortable to talk about this topic because it is so horrific. You start to think about what it would really look like in the unlikely event were it to occur; it would just be a nightmare. And so I think people were too scared to think about it in an organized way, that's what the book tries to do. 

What was the thrust of Chapter One: Why Invade Taiwan?

The Taiwanese government under Ma Ying-jeou has shown a tremendous amount of good will to China that the relationship between the two sides is at an all-time high in terms of trade deals, people to people exchanges, economic cooperation, investment and political good will. And yet the Chinese military is still planning an invasion of Taiwan, they still are continuing to document their intention to do so, and there is actually an increased amount of Chinese study detailing exactly how each unit in the Chinese military will participate in this campaign -- what their key missions would be, what their benchmarks for success would be. Incredibly detailed studies, tactical studies, strategic studies, on how they are going to invade Taiwan. 

That is what really struck me, Taiwan is doing everything it possibly can to maintain peace and stability and the Chinese were apparently seeing this as a sign of weakness and may have actually accelerated their planning for an eventual invasion of Taiwan. The goals of Taiwan and America are very different from China's. The goal of Taiwan, the U.S., Japan and other democracies in the region is simple, it is to maintain the status quo and keep the Taiwan Strait peaceful.

China's goal is not to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. China's goal is actually to conquer Taiwan piece by piece, peacefully if possible, but if that's not possible, then by military force. Their end goal is to annex and occupy Taiwan, it's very clear in all the Chinese internal military writings that this is their goal.

It's also very clear looking at Beijing's behavior over the past 10 years that no matter what Taiwan does, not matter what the United States does, they continue preparing for the invasion of Taiwan. That was my major point that particular chapter. It wasn't to make any predictions, because I don't make any predictions or a timetable. 

Click here for part two and part three of Taiwan News' exclusive interview with Easton. 

About the author

Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, where he conducts research on defense and security issues in Asia. During the summer of 2013 he was a visiting fellow at the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. Previously, Ian worked as a China analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) for two years. Prior to that, he lived in Taipei from 2005 to 2010. During his time in Taiwan, he worked as a translator for Island Technologies Inc. and the Foundation for Asia-Pacific Peace Studies. While in Taiwan, he also conducted research with the Asia Bureau Chief of Defense News. 

Ian holds an M.A. in China Studies from National Chengchi University in Taiwan and a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He also holds a certification in advanced Mandarin Chinese, having formally studied the language at Fudan University in Shanghai, and National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei.