China is Readying for War Today, Part II: What Can America Do?
In the first part of this series, I outlined how and why China’s autocratic president, Xi Jinping, is preparing his nation for a major war against his democratic neighbor of Taiwan (and, therefore, the United States and its allies) set to occur well before the year 2027, when the Pentagon believes China will be able to launch an attack.
Clearly, these are troubling developments.
In this part, I will discuss what the United States can do and what the Americans should do, if the Chinese decide to launch an attack on Taiwan before the Pentagon’s preferred timeline of 2027. You can see part I of this series here.
The notion exists in the halls of power that the Chinese military is both incapable and unwilling to launch an attack—especially an amphibious invasion—on Taiwan anytime soon.
While there may be limited will to do this amongst China’s military leadership, as has been evidenced in recent years, President Xi has no qualms about removing those military officers and defense officials he believes would oppose his iron will.
Xi did this most recently with the commander of China’s powerful nuclear weapons forces. It is feared that he removed the general in charge there out of concern that he’d not follow Xi’s order to initiate a nuclear attack on China’s various enemies (possibly even the Americans).
Indeed, replacing “deviationist” military leaders and replacing them with more ideologically compliant cadres has been a hallmark of Xi Jinping Thought since he first took power in 2012.
As for the capabilities, most skeptics hone into the fact that China’s amphibious warship capability is underwhelming. For the scale and size that an amphibious invasion of Taiwan would require, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) requires far greater numbers of amphibious warships than what China presently possesses.
But if one were to look at the fleet of civilian roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) ferries, and how, since 2012, these massive vehicle carrying ships have been modified to comply with military specifications, one begins to understand that China presently possesses the capability to launch an amphibious invasion of neighboring Taiwan.
Indeed, China’s military has practiced deploying Ro-Ro ferries as amphibious landers during mock invasions conducted by the PLAN.
And if China’s military is training with these civilian amphibious craft, they are definitely planning to use them in actual conflict. So, the notion that China lacks the amphibious capacities—or the will to use alternative amphibious methods, such as civilian craft in lieu of military ones—is ignorant, to say the least.
Xi Jinping is likely preparing to do just that–at a time when Washington least expects it.
We know that China would absolutely deploy civilian assets for military missions, such as their large fleet of capable Ro-Ro ferries. All one need do is look to the Chinese concept of “Military-Civil Fusion” (MCF, 军民融合) for greater proof.
MCF is a strategic concept that fuses the civilian and industrial bases of China together in ways that few other nations, such as the United States, merge their military and civilian industrial bases together.
For over a decade, China has deployed their Coast Guard far from their coastline and into the contested waters, where these units have been used in aggressive military maneuvers directed against foreign vessels, in an attempt to solidify China’s territorial claims on contested areas of the South China Sea.
Similarly, fleets of Chinese fishing vessels have been launched to harass other nations’ ships, military and civilian alike in these areas, because Beijing knows that most militaries—notably the US Navy—will hesitate to use force against civilian ships.
Thus, there is ample evidence showing that China already has the amphibious capabilities needed to invade Taiwan, due to their massive civilian Ro-Ro fleet.
Then there are the various high-technological capabilities that China could bring to bear.
As noted in the previous part, China has extensive counterspace capabilities, that is the ability to deny the Americans access to the strategic high ground of space by preemptively attacking American (and allied) satellite constellations to render US and allied forces on Earth deaf, dumb, and blind.
Meanwhile, China has already demonstrated a remarkably sophisticated cyberspace capability that can do immense damage to American units and infrastructure.
Plus, China has the capacity to disrupt the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum to such a degree that most American military equipment can be rendered useless.
And as for the Chinese ballistic and hypersonic missile capabilities, they are truly challenging to the Americans. China has invested much time and effort into building an arsenal of missiles that can be used to damage and destroy US Navy forces deployed to stop a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Beyond that, there are no known reliable defenses against the growing Chinese arsenal of hypersonic missiles (these can travel up to 3,800 miles per hour and penetrate even America’s homeland air defenses).
Therefore, Beijing has striven to make the South and East China Seas, as well as the environs surrounding Taiwan nearly impenetrable by US forces. With the exception of submarines, US naval forces will have difficulty operating against China, should they go full bore with an invasion of Taiwan.
Lastly, the Chinese navy is larger than the American navy, particularly in the all-important arena of submarines. It is widely believed that submarines would play a key role in any war over Taiwan. American subs are more sophisticated and, generally, US submariners are better trained than their Chinese counterparts.
Yet, the fact that the US would be fighting so close to Chinese territory and China has a quantitative advantage over the American submarine fleet, the loss of even one American submersible—without the industrial strength required to replace those lost subs—would be devastating for US forces.
What Can America Do?
The best thing the United States could do would be to avoid the kind of fight with China that appears to be shaping up (even as the Pentagon buries its bureaucratic head in the sand on the matter).
Washington’s leaders, regardless of political party, should declare that any Chinese attack or blockade against Taiwan will be met with the full force of the US military.
American leaders should insist that Beijing respect the “One China, Two Systems” paradigm that both Washington and Beijing’s leadership agreed to way back in 1979 (the English version, of course), which effectively allowed for the CCP to be recognized as the only official government of China but protected the sovereignty of Taiwan, allowing for the island to continue its development according to the wishes of the Taiwanese people independent from those of the mainland.
Such a message would show the world that Beijing, not Washington, is acting as a revanchist power when it comes to Taiwan. America would be behaving as the protector of stability in a region that culturally prizes stability whereas Beijing’s rulers were upending the status quo for their own selfish purposes.
This message should be firm, simple, and consistent from American leaders and political candidates, regardless of political party.
The primary reason for why China is even contemplating a conflict against the United States is because Beijing’s rulers believe that the Americans are poorly led, weak, and could be caught by surprise so much that China’s forces would have time to run roughshod over Taiwan’s defenses, conquer the island, and then force the confused and recalcitrant Americans into negotiating a settlement over Taiwan.
Beyond these political stances, the Americans must not only continue their current tech war against China, but Washington must expand the move to decouple the American economy—no matter how painful in the short-term it could be—so that China can never again threaten America in the trade domain.
Not only must Washington maintain and expand its tech war on China, but it also must commit to massively funding indigenous high-tech research, development, and production here in the United States, to keep ahead of the ingenious Chinese.
In the military realm, China’s biggest threats reside in their military’s ability to launch disruptive, devastating attacks on the United States in space, across the EM spectrum, and in cyberspace.
By shoring up these areas of weakness and embracing a more forceful doctrine—particularly in cyber and space—against China, deterrence can be restored and a Chinese surprise attack on Taiwan can likely be prevented.
In the nearer-term, Washington should also direct resources into the United States Coast Guard and possibly even Merchant Marine, so as to match China’s “gray zone” operations in the South China Sea and elsewhere with some of our own.
This will buy the US military (and wider American society) the time it needs to execute its larger strategic plans vis-a-vis China.
In the medium-term, Congress must authorize a crash course for rapidly expanding the US Navy’s shipbuilding capabilities, particularly as it relates to enhancing the ailing and dangerously small submarine fleet.
The US Navy should be prepared to rely heavily on their submarine fleet in any contested environment against China.
More than that, the US must be prepared for using submarines to surreptitiously supply embattled Taiwanese defenders and landing covert US forces on Taiwan, should China decide to attack.
Even then, there would be limits to what the Americans could do.
In the long-term, unless America gets serious about decoupling from China and rebuilding its dormant industrial base, China will defeat America and rise to become the world’s dominant superpower by 2049, regardless of whatever economic or sociopolitical headwinds that China is facing today.
But this can only occur if the near-term threat of a Chinese surprise attack on Taiwan between now and 2025 is deterred–which, presently, deterrence against China is dangerously weak.
A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (Encounter Books), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert occasionally serves as a Subject Matter Expert for various organizations, including the Department of Defense. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon. He is an opinion writer for 19FortyFive.