Perhaps no where in the world are geopolitical tensions higher today than the Taiwan Strait.
Chinese forces have conducted a number of live-fire drills that appear directed at Taiwan, and Chinese military flights across the median line in the Taiwan Strait and into Taipei’s air-defense identification zone have hit record levels.
The US has sailed warships through the strait at least five times since President Joe Biden took office in January, drawing protests from Beijing. Japan, alongside the US, has expressed support for Taiwan, and Australia is reportedly considering how to help if there is an invasion.
Much of the focus has been on military preparations for deterring or fighting off a Chinese invasion. While essential, that focus misses an important threat short of a full-scale invasion: a blockade.
‘Joint Blockade Campaign’
While it’s not known what an invasion of Taiwan could look like, such an action would almost certainly be extremely difficult and costly for all involved. Whether China actually has the capability to invade is also heavily debated.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense concluded last year that China was not yet able to launch a full-scale invasion. The Pentagon’s most recent report on the Chinese military said such an invasion “would likely strain China’s armed forces” and create “a significant political and military risk” for Beijing.
But both reports acknowledge that China is capable of blockading Taiwan. This blockade, identified by the Pentagon as the “Joint Blockade Campaign,” would cut off Taiwan’s air and naval traffic and its information networks.
“Such a blockade could be the main effort, eschewing an attempted landing altogether, or it could be part of a larger invasion campaign,” Lonnie Henley, a retired US intelligence officer who twice served as Defense Intelligence Officer for East Asia, told the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in February.
The Joint Blockade Campaign could also include “large-scale missile strikes and possible seizures of Taiwan’s offshore islands,” like the Pratas Islands in the South China Sea, according to the Pentagon.
Invasions of Taiwan’s Kinmen and Matsu islands, both populated, are also “within China’s capabilities,” the Pentagon said.
A tough blockade
The effects of a blockade could be disastrous, in large part because no one knows how long Taiwan could hold out.