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With No Good Options, China’s Xi Jinping Turns Up The Temperature In The Taiwan Strait

Taiwan needs to stand up a local defense force system that could immediately mobilize to defend nearby key points.

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China’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping, can’t be happy right now with his mounting troubles at home and abroad.

The nation he rules is under increasing economic pressure, much of it made worse by his Bigfooting into both domestic and foreign businesses; it appears uninvited Chinese Communist Party interference is both unwelcome and bad for business.

Internationally, the “wolf warrior” diplomacy he encouraged his ambassadors to unleash on their host nations has backfired spectacularly. Instead of cowing countries in its immediate neighborhood, being bellicose has had the opposite effect, driving South Korea and Japan to work together, and pushing Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia away from Beijing. The Philippines is even working militarily with America once again.

Regarding Taiwan, China’s constant military drills around the island appear no longer able to influence public opinion on behalf of the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, the old party of Chiang Kai-shek, which is, paradoxically, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) favored party in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s next presidential election is slated for Jan. 13, 2024. The candidate of the party Beijing loathes the most, William Lai of the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and Taiwan’s vice president, just wrapped up a successful trip to the U.S. on Aug. 19. The reaction of China’s armed forces, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), was unexpectedly muted — until a week later, when it sent nine naval vessels and 32 combat aircraft aloft in the vicinity of Taiwan, 20 of which crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

A military jet flying at 900 mph would reach Taiwan’s coastline only three minutes after crossing the midway point between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to decide as to whether an actual attack is starting.

More ominously, one of China’s six nuclear-powered attack submarines was said to have sunk with the loss of all of its crew in the Taiwan Strait around the same time Lai flew home. This may have accounted for the delayed PLA reception for Lai.

Despite, or because of, China’s constant saber-rattling, Taiwan’s ruling party — the party that tilts the furthest toward de facto independence from China — keeps gaining in the presidential polls. Should Lai win in January, it will mark the third consecutive election victory for the DPP.

Taiwan’s Ability to Fight

Further, polling of Taiwanese citizens shows them to be drifting ever apart from communist China. Today, some 70-80 percent of Taiwan’s 24 million people consider themselves Taiwanese. A generation ago, the majority of the islanders viewed themselves as Chinese or both Chinese and Taiwanese. In addition, almost three-quarters of Taiwanese say they would be willing to fight if communist China invades.  

But saying you’re willing to fight and actually taking up arms are two different things. Due to longstanding distrust of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party toward indigenous Taiwanese and those with roots in the mainland whose ancestors arrived centuries earlier, combined with a general lack of respect for military service, Taiwan never developed a serious army reserve system — the sort of territorial army or National Guard found in the United States, the United Kingdom, and even Ukraine. This means that if Chinese forces gain air superiority, sink most of Taiwan’s small navy, and manage to get soldiers ashore in an amphibious assault, there won’t likely be much in the way of backup for the outnumbered army.

China’s constant practice runs against Taiwan present a huge risk to this Taiwanese weakness and reluctance to increase its mobilization by potentially reducing warning time. 

Taiwan’s 2.2 million reservists look impressive on paper. But prior to 2022, they only drilled four or five days a year — mostly sitting around listening to lectures and filling out paperwork. Last year, training was increased for some reservists to 14 days. By comparison, the minimum an average U.S. National Guard or Reserve member drills is 39 days a year, with schools for additional specialty or leadership training typically added to that total.

This national reluctance to seriously develop a nation-in-arms in the face of a totalitarian threat, in contrast to Ukraine’s near-total mobilization, leaves Taiwan vulnerable to Chinese psychological warfare.

China’s Possible Plans

Since Taiwan is an island, China will have a far easier time cutting Taiwan off from the outside world, unlike Ukraine, which was able to communicate its story to the world, as well as receive overland supplies of food, fuel, ammunition, and equipment from friendly nations.

In the early stages of a conflict, China is likely to sever Taiwan’s undersea communication cables, as it did last April to Matsu, one of Taiwan’s small islands less than six miles from the mainland and 106 miles from Taiwan. China will also likely put effort into jamming satellite communications on Taiwan, perhaps even using a nuclear-driven electromagnetic pulse bomb to damage electronic and electrical systems.

Then there’s China’s massive missile force. When then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in April of last year, China conducted live-fire missile drills around Taiwan. It has thousands of additional missiles at the ready to pound Taiwan’s airports, as well as key military installations and civilian infrastructure.

But just as important as the physical damage these missiles are capable of wrecking is the psychological. If China manages to cut off communications and rain missiles down on population centers, even if Japan and the U.S. start to intervene on Taiwan’s behalf, Taiwan’s defenders may not know it. Standing alone against the Chinese communist colossus, some Taiwanese units may lose hope and surrender.

This is why Taiwan needs to stop dallying and immediately stand up a local defense force system. Retired Taiwanese tech billionaire Robert Tsao is leading the way, pledging $33 million to start raising a force of 3 million Taiwanese Minutemen that he calls “Black Bear Warriors.”

Of this, he’s spending $13 million to train 300,000 marksmen on an island not known for its weapon ownership. Such a local force has the advantage of being able to immediately mobilize to defend nearby key points — something that may not be possible with the current system until the reserve force is mobilized well in advance. Which, given Taiwan’s politics and the political and economic consequences of mobilization, is not likely to happen — even with ample warning of an impending Chinese invasion.


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