From the beach on the island of Little Kinmen, you can see the silhouette of the Chinese million-dollar city of Xiamen, where a number of modern skyscrapers rise above the shoreline. At its closest, the island is only a few kilometers from the mainland.
Many people on Lille Kinmen and the slightly larger neighboring island of Kinmen have relatives on the mainland. Several say that they are impressed by the economic development and modernization China has undergone in recent decades.
– Life on both sides is quite similar, and habits and traditions are also like ours, says Chinese Pei-qin, who has moved from the mainland to marry a Taiwanese man in Kinmen.
It was on these islands that the last battle was fought between the Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists. The Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, but in August 1958 mainland forces attempted to capture one of the Kinmen Islands. They were beaten back.
Kinmen is full of memories from the civil war. A wall of loudspeakers facing the mainland still plays propaganda songs at full blast at regular intervals. Old fortifications line the beaches.
Today, the battles are illustrated through a short theatrical performance for tourists, where actors in military uniforms handle an old cannon placed in a cave on the coast. If China were to make another push, the battle would probably look quite different, although Taiwan still bases part of its defenses on heavy artillery built into the mountain. An invasion would most likely involve a landing on Taiwan’s beaches.
Tzu-yun Su, researcher at the think tank INDSR.
– I believe that the People’s Republic of China is more than capable enough to start a war. So the threat is serious, says Tzu-yun Su, researcher at the think tank INDSR.
Whether an attack will be successful, he is less convinced. The researcher believes that Taiwan is in a better position than Ukraine was when Russia invaded in February 2022.
– For example, Ukraine has a long border with Russia. The Russian army can invade on foot, or even by bicycle. The People’s Liberation Army, on the other hand, must send its soldiers by ship or plane. It gives Taiwan ample opportunity to defend itself. The Taiwan Strait is further than the British Channel. I think Taiwan can defend itself with modern missiles, especially defense missiles, says Su.
In January, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank in Washington DC published a report describing the results of war games that simulated attacks on Taiwan. The main scenario in the war game involves the US participating in the defense of the island.
According to the simulation, the invasion starts with China bombarding most of Taiwan’s navy and air force. China’s navy then surrounds Taiwan, to prevent ship and air traffic to and from the island. China will then attempt a landing with tens of thousands of soldiers, and at the same time release paratroopers further inland.
In the main scenario, it was assumed that Japan allows the use of American bases in the country, and will participate actively in the war if China attacks Japanese territory, while the Philippines will remain neutral. Another assumption is that two of four squadrons from the US Air Force stationed in South Korea will take part in the fighting.
The outcome of the war game was, in most cases, that after the first attack, China met greater resistance, both from Taiwanese forces that beat back the gangways and from American ships, submarines and aircraft.
– We ran the game 25 times with a dozen different scenarios. In most scenarios, the US could maintain an independent and democratic Taiwan, but at a very high cost. The US and its allies will lose dozens of ships, hundreds of planes and thousands of soldiers within three to four weeks, says Mark F. Cancian, one of the researchers at CSIS who participated in the project.
Overview of air and naval bases in and around Taiwan. That the symbol is faded means that the airbase is in a country that might want to stay neutral in a conflict between China and Taiwan. The US also tends to have aircraft carriers in the waters around the island.
The outcome of all versions of the main scenario – the versions of the war game with assumptions that the researchers believe are most likely – is that the US loses two aircraft carriers, while Taiwan loses half of its air force. The losses on the Chinese side are also very extensive.
– The Chinese losses will be so great that it could probably affect the Communist Party’s future, says Cancian.
The war game shows that Taiwan’s navy and air force are vulnerable to attack. According to Cancian, Taiwan can advantageously prioritize land-based anti-ship and anti-air systems in the future.
He singles out long-range and precise missiles as China’s greatest advantage in a possible war. A weakness is that the country has no experience with large, complicated military operations, nor with landings.
– The other weakness is that Chinese forces will be very exposed during an invasion. They have to cross the strait, they have to support the forces on land, which makes their ships vulnerable to attack by American long-range missiles, says Cancian.
The geography is also in Taiwan’s favor. The interior consists of high mountains, while the towns in the lowlands lie on open plains with many rivers.
– Most of Taiwan’s military capabilities are in the north, to defend the capital. In our war game, the Chinese usually landed in the south, which means they had to fight their way to the north of the island. And it is very difficult, says Cancian.
Taiwan’s survival will largely depend on how other countries react to the war. Without American support, Taiwan’s chances are significantly less.
– Taiwan will manage for a while, but will not succeed, says Cancian.
Official name: Republic of China
Inhabitants: 23.9 million
Area: 36 179 square kilometers
Official language: Chinese (Mandarin)
The Chinese Civil War between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party (KMT) and Mao Zedong’s Communist Party ended with the Nationalists being driven to Taiwan in 1949.
Taiwan has never declared itself an independent state. Until 1971, Taiwan represented China in the UN, before the place was taken over by the People’s Republic of China. The US switched from recognizing Taiwan to the People’s Republic in 1979.
From 1949 to 1988 there was a state of emergency in Taiwan, a period known as the White Terror. The ban on opposition parties was lifted in 1989.
Source: Great Norwegian Lexicon
China may also decide that an invasion would be too costly or risky, and instead choose to surround and isolate Taiwan. 70 percent of Taiwan’s food is imported, according to the TV channel Taiwan Plus. In addition, almost all of Taiwan’s energy use is based on imported fossil fuels. Taiwan has oil reserves for five months, coal for 39 days and gas for eleven days.
In April this year, China held an exercise with ships and aircraft off Taiwan, where they practiced a blockade of the island. Should such a plan be put into action, the US could respond by escorting cargo ships in and out of Taiwan with military vessels.
There are very busy trade routes in the waters around Taiwan, and a blockade of the island would have major consequences for other countries in the region, including China. Taiwan is the world’s largest producer of semiconductors, a necessary component for making microprocessors. China is the largest importer of semiconductors from Taiwan.
– An isolated Taiwan is an enormous challenge, not only for Taiwan, but for the international community, says Su at INDSR.
According to Su, a smarter strategy from China’s point of view would be a quarantine of the island.
– Just like the USA did with Cuba. The quarantine means that trade routes on the sea are kept open and ships with food or other non-military cargo pass through, but that China examines the cargo, to show Beijing’s sovereignty, says Su.
To meet a possible blockade or quarantine, Taiwan is working on developing modern submarines. The two the island now has are from the 1980s.
A war over Taiwan will not only be felt in East Asia. It will have global consequences. China is the world’s second largest economy after the US, and is a significant customer of Western products, from iron ore to designer handbags. The West’s imports of goods from China are even greater. If semiconductors from Taiwan disappear from the world market, it will lead to a halt in much of the world’s production of electronics.
– The oil fund weathers the day there is a war over Taiwan. The stock market will plunge and should it also happen that the USA and China start shooting at each other, it is not the case that the world economy will get back on its feet the following year. Then you face a completely new period of time, where trade must be diversified completely away from China, you must create completely new production centers and so on, says Øystein Tunsjø at the Norwegian Defense Academy.
The security policy repercussions will also be enormous.
– If the war goes on for a long time, there may also be a danger of this escalating into a nuclear war between China and the United States. And if China’s invasion were to fail, which is also a distinct possibility, then it could quickly lead to the fall of Xi Jinping and an acute crisis in China that could perhaps also affect the entire Communist Party, says Stein Tønnesson, Asia researcher at the Peace Research Institute Prio.
The People’s Republic was beaten back after the attack on Kinmen in 1958. Some will probably find a certain irony if another attack on Taiwan ends in the fall of the Chinese Communist Party.
Fikser i Taiwan: Su-chen Ava Kuo
Read the other articles in the Defense Forum’s Taiwan special here:
#allies #lose #thousands #soldiers