TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In part two of Taiwan News' exclusive interview with Ian Easton, author of the new book "The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia," he breaks down China's plans to invade Taiwan in detail, how far it is in its planning, what signs to look for, how it would differ from the Normandy invasion and a glimpse at out how he gathered this secret information.
What do China's plans to invade Taiwan entail?
The Chinese are not just creating plans alone, they are also preparing the forces they need to execute those plans. Early in January of 2016, they began a series of structural reforms of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), including the way it was organized and equipped. If you look at what they've done they are preparing the PLA for the invasion of Taiwan, at every level of organization.
They have new theater commands, new brigade structures in the army. It's very significant what they've done, taking apart the Soviet model and turning it into something that does not look like the American model at all, it's very distinctive and Chinese.
The reason I believe it is so distinctive is that it's tailor made for the invasion of Taiwan. This includes not just the army, but also the joint forces that they are planning to build up. They have done all the studies and they know that if they don't reform their military in a drastic way, they will never be ready for an invasion of Taiwan.
These major reforms in the near term may actually weaken the Chinese military significantly, but in the longer term it's going to be worth it for them because it will give them the military they need to execute this plan that they have.
Is it possible to gauge right now how far along the PLA is now in being ready to invade Taiwan?
I would say they are about 10 percent there. To build a joint force, it takes a very very long time.
Would it not be obvious that China was preparing to launch an imminent large-scale invasion?
In the chapter of my book titled "Signs of Invasion," I list key indicators of invasion that would indicate to Taiwanese, Japanese, and American intelligence that the Chinese were preparing to invade Taiwan. You can tell well in advance when a country is preparing for a massive amphibious operation.
There are 5 categories of signs of invasion, and inside of each of those categories, there are 5 to 50 individual signs of invasion. So everything from readiness, including moving forces, activating reservists, activating militia forces, holding military exercises, and having planning conferences, to logistics, including preparing the fuel, ammunition, and with satellites seeing if Chinese amphibious ship-making factories go into high gear. If they are churning out thousands of small landing craft, that's one indication that they are planning to invade Taiwan.
There's so many things they would do, including intelligence gathering, subversion, financial transactions, stockpiling, and propaganda work in China to get the people of China and the military psychologically ready for the attack.
The chapter shows that while China could surprise Taiwan with a bolt out of the blue missile raid with 50 or 100 cruise missiles or ballistic missiles, China certainly could not surprise Taiwan with an invasion with hundreds of thousands or maybe a million or more troops prepared to float across the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan would start to see indications 90 days, minimum, in advance of the invasion.
For 60 days, it would be ambiguous, they would not be able to guarantee that China's true intention was invasion. But the last 30 days before the war started, it would become very clear with every hour that passed that China's intention was to do a minimal-warning invasion. Of course, the Chinese would engage in lots of acts of deception, but there's no way they could trick Taiwanese intelligence and American intelligence, and the book talks about why that is.
How would the invasion of Taiwan be different than the invasion of Normandy?
It would be very different from Normandy because that was a completely different situation and very different time. There were no satellites back then of course, there were no cyber hackers at that time, and the defending side did not have an anti-ship cruise missile.
Once war starts and the Chinese start marshalling their amphibious brigades across from Taiwan and loading aboard ships, Taiwan at any moment can launch all of its cruise missiles on those port facilities and amphibious staging areas and actually hit the attacker at the origin of attack and then keep hitting them as they move all the way across the Taiwan Strait. And that's very different, we've never seen that in the history of warfare.
We've never seen this type of technology being used. We know it exists now, we see it at military parades and military exercises, but we've never actually seen what a modern war would look like because, thankfully, a modern war has never been fought before. There's never been a massive conventional war with these types of technologies employed.
How do you access these highly secret information on the PLA's war plans?
There's a large PLA studies community in Taiwan and a very large one in Washington D.C., and I'm part of that community. There are channels that we use to get these types of materials from China.
For example, they smuggle books, newspapers, and magazines, and so I went to all the same places as others in my community go to. The Taiwanese research community, especially the military has exhaustively studied the threat facing Taiwan. They know the PLA inside and out.
Most people don't appreciate how good their research is because most people can't read the traditional characters that they use and most people are not familiar with the jargon that they use.
For those readers would would like to read the papers on this topic published by Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense, they can visit their web portal and view lists of professional military journals by the different services (all in Traditional Chinese characters). They have incredible, very detailed studies that they've done and so I draw from that information.
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.