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Taiwan’s ideal New Year resolution a fresh approach to cross-strait deterrence

Academic paper on making China think twice before invading Taiwan provides plenty of food for thought

Taiwan’s ideal New Year resolution a fresh approach to cross-strait deterrence

(Wikimedia Commons photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — As we enter 2022, there is more focus than ever on cross-strait relations and the perceived risk of China invading Taiwan sooner rather than later.

Much of the discussion has centered on how the U.S. and its democratic allies around the world would respond to such an invasion. Would the U.S. send troops to defend Taiwan, potentially kicking off a war between the world’s two dominant superpowers?

There has been an equal amount of talk about what Taiwan can do to defend itself in the event of an invasion. What chance does it have of keeping a People's Liberation Army (PLA) invasion force at bay, and what tools and hardware are needed to achieve this?

These are all valid, important, points for discussion. This is why the recent academic paper "Broken Nest: Deterring China from Invading Taiwan" by Jared McKinney and Peter Harris in the U.S. Army War College Quarterly is so timely.

The headline was undoubtedly the suggestion that Taiwan should develop a plan to destroy TSMC and other semiconductor plants across the country if and when an invasion force arrives. However, this suggestion has been derided by some observers as self-defeating since it would take away one of the principal pillars of Taiwan’s economic success.

Furthermore, taking this view is to presume that a communist invasion would result in a change in government and a crackdown on human rights but not much more. It presumes that life, business, and the economy, would continue as usual.

That is unlikely to be the case. The idea that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would allow Taiwan to keep the spoils of its economic success after invading is simply not credible.

Profit motive

It is far more likely that the intellectual property, the manufacturing capacity, and certainly the profit, would end up in China. It would be made to work for the benefit of the CCP to increase global dependence on the regime.

The CCP, and indeed the rest of the world, is already dependent on Taiwan’s semiconductor output, so making plain that an invasion would see an end to this is an eminently sensible idea. It would also increase the incentives for the U.S. and its allies to be more vocal in their support for Taiwan.

There are plenty of other ideas in the policy paper that set out how to deter China from mounting an invasion. All of these deserve more attention than they have so far received.

These include a promise to frustrate the CCP’s other policy priorities, including economic stability. The "scorched earth" approach to semiconductors is one aspect of this, but it should also be extended to other key strategic industries.

The paper rightly suggests that Taiwanese government officials should make it clear, right now, that under no circumstances will they let any of the country's flourishing industries, especially in the tech sector, fall into the hands of the CCP.

This approach could be strengthened still more with a threat to target key industries in China, both militarily and with sanctions. Taiwan has the missile capacity to hit many key sites in China as well as destroy its own industries.

Taking this further, there should be a clear promise from the U.S. and its allies of a complete economic war against China in the event of an invasion.

Complete means more than the hollow economic sanctions we regularly see being handed out to authoritarian regimes for their transgressions. It means cutting off trade entirely and encouraging allies to do the same, using diplomatic and military measures to prevent ships from landing at Chinese ports, and completing the de-sinicization of economies that many Western countries are already working on.

Blockade response

Other options to consider include seeking to disrupt or cut off energy supplies from the Middle East and closer military ties between the U.S. and allies such as South Korea, Japan, and Australia. The paper even suggests giving these countries nuclear arsenals.

One possible approach the CCP might take to dealing with Taiwan is to blockade the nation to force its submission. Therefore, there also needs to be a clear strategy to keep Taiwan supplied in the event of a CCP blockade, modeled on the approach that kept West Berlin functioning during the Cold War.

Also, Taiwan’s terrain is ideal for a long, drawn-out, costly, and damaging guerrilla war. This is the last thing the CCP wants, but Taiwan needs to have a strategy in place to implement just that.

A recent survey showed that more than 70% of Taiwanese are willing to fight for their country in the event of an invasion. The government needs to ensure they have the skills and equipment available to do that.

The current status quo strategy is largely based on deterrence. However, this form of deterrence is based on the prospect of U.S. military intervention and a war China could not hope to win.

This assumption is changing, and if things continue as they are, it will not be too long before China will be confident of winning any military conflict with the U.S. over Taiwan.

As Jared McKinney and Peter Harris make clear in the conclusion to their paper, there is no guarantee that this new approach to cross-strait deterrence will work. The CCP sees "unification" with Taiwan as sacrosanct and may choose to invade regardless of the consequences.

Even so, these deterrents are a powerful tool in Taiwan’s arsenal and would incentivize the West to support Taiwan every bit as much as they will discourage communist China from invading.

Updated : 2022-05-20 07:03 GMT+08:00