Is China preparing to attack Taiwan?

I’m sure they have the ability. But the consequences of actually doing it would be severe. Not only would they risk an Osirak-style 1981 attack by China but they’d also face heavy international sanctions at a time when they are an export economy.

(They have 3 nuclear power plants, the 4th never got online.)

I’m sure it has been discussed on more than one occasion. There are no doubt a few hawkish members of government that are convinced this is the right answer, especially a few decades ago when the government was pretty much a military dictatorship. Similarly I would be pretty sure that whenever it gets raised the others think “Oh no, he’s on about nukes again!”. Nukes are incredibly risky. Efforts to obtain them would most likely end up with invasion, with near zero backlash against China. Attempts to build them locally would be extraordinarily difficult to disguise. Possession of nuclear reactors is a starting point, but you don’t just magically get weapons grade materials spat out. Attempting a plutonium weapon would be an extraordinary feat of logistics to be able to create enough purified material. Doing so without revealing what you are doing from the extraordinarily evil by-products even more so. A uranium weapon requires industrial scale refining systems, systems with very stringent and specialised capabilities. Again, Iran is a good example of how hard this is to hide.

Down here in Oz I can find you people that are convinced we should have nukes. Back in the 60’s there were members of our government that were actively thinking about ways we might obtain a capability. Given the UK were cheerfully testing weapons in our desert perhaps convinced some that we deserved a slice of the action. The nuclear 5 are pretty clear about their opposition to anyone else getting the bomb. That we now have at least 4 rogue nations that also have it worries them greatly. I would be pretty confident that the US would be actively white-anting any idea in any ally that a nuke was possible, up to and including clandestine efforts to remove them from power. Seriously. If ever there was an existential threat to the US, it is the possibility of an escalating nuclear conflict. If Taiwan pushed the button you would be rolling the dice on whether the conflict could be contained. The first ever use of a nuke by a minor nation and the genie is out of the bottle. MAD doesn’t work until a country has a significant capability. Taiwan couldn’t play MAD. They could only play “make it too expensive.” Nukes only work when everyone knows you have them, and you don’t actually use them.

I agree with this. And if it’s true, we could see actions from China that are very provocative, but stop short of war. Sort of like the stunts they have been tryjng to pull with their manufactured islands in the South China Sea and attempting to control sea lanes they have no roght to interfere with. This forces us to sail ships through there, ignoring their warnings. If we stopped doing that and just accepted their claims, they would see that as a sign of weakness and keep pushing.

So maybe we’ll see them attempt something like a blockade of Taiwan. But ultimately I think China is simply trying to wear down Taiwan until they can get some stooge political party in there who will open the doors for them.

One worrying reason for overflights: If you ARE planning to attack, overflights like this make it harder for the enemy to see an attack coming. During the Cold War the Soviet Union used to regularly fly nuclear-capable bombers into western airspace, forcing fighters to scramble and escort them out. The idea being that if it’s a real attack, no one would really do anything until you were well inside the enemy’s territory.

China has had “stooge” political parties in Taiwan for a long time; there have always been pro-unification parties as long as Taiwan’s been a democracy. But since most such voters are elderly, and dying out by the year, they have no real hope of getting real power anymore. With each new generation of young folks hitting voting age, the nail is hammered into the pro-unification coffin just that much more deeply.

China did have a golden window of 2008-2013 or so when the door was open for them; the pro-unification camp was quite strong at the time. But it didn’t lead to anything meaningful and now the tide of public opinion is squarely with the anti-unification-ers.

Ironically, the biggest pro-Beijing party is the KMT. Which was the original party of the ROC that fought the CCP in the Chinese Civil War. :smile: I mean, there is real irony!

I actually think there is a real possibility that the CCP will pull the trigger on a war. IF…they think they can win and IF…they think the US and Japan will stay out of it. As you note, the window for a peaceful takeover has passed, and the KMT or other pro-Bejing parties are losing support every year. Especially after the events still happening in Hong Kong. The Taiwanese aren’t stupid, and they can clearly see what their future would be if they peacefully rejoined the fold.

LIke I said earlier, I think the CCP has kind of painted themselves into a corner on this. They have promised a reunification. They have stoked the nationalist fires. They have told their people that the US is a paper tiger, and won’t fight for Taiwan. They have done the same wrt Japan. They have a small window to do this…if they don’t do this within, IMHO, the next 5-8 years it just isn’t going to happen. If they don’t do it in that time frame I think there is a good chance the CCP is going down, however. So, to paraphrase from Speed…what do you do, what do you do??

Having the scientists and the technical capabilities to build a bomb doesn’t necessarily equal having the bomb. Japan, South Korea, and probably a host of other countries have the technical expertise and capacity to build nukes by the hundreds – they haven’t.

There are reasons for Taiwan not to build bombs, just as there is a case to build them. If Taiwan builds nukes, then China, which is a nuclear power, has more incentive to justify launching a preventative/preemptive war, which is hardly in Taiwan’s interest. Merely having nuclear capacity by itself isn’t a shield against regime change and Taiwan knows this.

But to be candid, I’m really wandering down an unbeaten trail by speculating in that direction. I go back to the fact that most nuclear powers want potential adversaries to know that they have them. Moreover, Taiwan wouldn’t stop at having a single bullet in the chamber; they’d be interested in developing a range of capabilities – all of which would have antagonized China a long time ago.

Taiwan could have nukes on its islands but if they do they’d be in the form of US umbrella protection, and the US isn’t interested in making other countries so powerful that they’re independent of US protection. We provide tripwires and deterrence by way of our potential to get involved in the conflict, which most sane nations, including China, don’t want.

I realize all of this seems contradictory and all over the place. It’s complicated.

I think all of that reunification talk is just shit talking – a lot of it anyway. The real value in invading Taiwan is that they shut down another Sinitic speaking democratic influence in the region, and they can take over their industrial and technological capabilities, like their chip making capacity, for instance.

I don’t entirely dismiss ideologically-inspired invasions, but most countries invade other weaker powers because there’s a calculus that justifies doing so – not a moral one but an economic and political calculus.

Well, that is a valid opinion. I will say that, usually, ‘shit talk’ doesn’t include building a military (at great expense) that is specifically focused on a single (and pretty narrow) goal just to talk shit though. If the Chinese weren’t spending basically over $100 billion a year, increasing year on year on a military to do this I’d be more convinced. If they were building a more generalist military, say, and talking shit about an invasion I’d be more convinced. But looking at what they actually spend money and orient their doctrine on, it looks a lot like THEY at least are taking it seriously enough to spend a vast amount of money and time on it.

That said, the CCP is pretty well known for shit-talking and also trying to overawe or intimidate anyone and everyone, so it’s definitely a possibility. But like I said…I come back to what they are spending their money on and what their training has oriented towards, and what they have told their own people and it sure looks like this is what they are doing.

That military at great expense wasn’t built to invade Taiwan; it was built for regional, and ultimately global, supremacy – far beyond Taiwan. China’s just doing what budding empires do.

Why emphasize amphibious operations then? Why build mock facilities that mimic cities or buildings in Taiwan and actually bother to train in them? Why the short and medium-range ballistic missiles, especially the carrier-killer ones that are obviously oriented towards pushing US carriers back? Why the mix of helicopter forces and their attack/fighter mix? Why the fleet mix they have chosen? Why the plan to use civilian hulls…and this isn’t a paper plan, but one they have actually tested. Why the bases and logistic dumps right off the Taiwanese coast? And this isn’t an exhaustive list, just what I can think of off the top of my head while sitting in an airport. :wink:

Sure, any of these in isolation COULD be what you say…but there are a lot of things that don’t make sense in the aggregate…unless they are planning such an invasion. If they were thinking of regional domination…well, they have that already, but honestly, what they would be orienting towards is a large ground, well-trained, and well-equipped ground force. China doesn’t need a navy or amphibious capabilities to dominate its region. Just look at how they have historically oriented and you’ll see that, while they did have a decent navy in different periods it was never the most important or most emphasized part of their military. They don’t need it today as there is just no way they can use it to assert any sort of global supremacy…except wrt to Taiwan, and perhaps if they are really thinking down the line Japan and the Philipines.

Consider…if you are correct and this is all about global supremacy then what they really, really need to push the US back and put Japan up against the wall is…Taiwan. That breaks the first island chain stranglehold that is holding them back. That and they need to basically take the Malacca Straits and to do that last one they need a large ground force, not the navy mix they are actually building.

Again, YMMV, and just because they are building the force they are building doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what they will do. And they COULD use a lot of this for other things, no doubt. I just don’t think you can look at this and not see the possibility or what they are actually orienting towards. It has to be at least acknowledged, IMHO anyway.

I’m not saying Taiwan is off the table, only pointing out that China’s ambitions go far beyond recapturing an island.

Symbolically speaking, does Taiwan matter? Sure.

But I think China’s gone quite a bit past Taiwan in terms of its vision of the future. Yes, Taiwan matters – for one thing, China’s main competitor has a presence there. But so does Korea and Japan – they matter too.

China also wants to snuff out democratic influence in the region. Continental stability and regime protection are indeed legitimate national security interests. That’s why they crushed the Hong Kong resistance, freedom protests, or whatever we want to call it. I deplore what China did in Hong Kong, but if you put yourself in the CCP’s shoes, they were behaving quite rationally in putting down the resistance. And it was an easy movement to arrest and put to sleep.

Taiwan’s a different story – Taiwan is going to fight like a motherfucker for their autonomy and I suspect the US would at least try to enable Taiwan to that end. Whether we want to put ourselves in front of a moving freight train is an open question. But China has to consider the possibility that we would defend Taiwan – unless of course they determine as a result of ‘test’ incursions that our heart’s not in it anymore.

It is, IMHO anyway FWIW, more than symbolic.

Absolutely agree with you on this. I meant to say that when you mentioned it earlier. Like you say, it’s pretty much the reason they basically did what they did in Hong Kong, despite the fact that on the surface it really didn’t make much sense…except it really did and does, to the CCP.

All true. Two things though. Do THEY think the US will support Taiwan? Do THEY think Taiwan will ‘fight like a motherfucker’? I’d say the answer to that is no with caveats. Remember, this is an authoritarian regime of Orwellian proportions. Literally. And the CCP basically expects to get the answers they want to get. And the folks answering those questions know this, and so gives them the answers they want to hear. In addition, we (the US, Taiwan, Japan, Europe, etc) confuse them. We don’t react or do things as they do…and vice versa. What they say and think we hear is often different than what we hear and think they say. And, again, vice versa. There is a ton of misconceptions on both sides and a lot of miscalculation. WE think we are telling the Chinese we will not support a Chinese takeover and will support Taiwan. That’s not what they are hearing though. They think they are signaling that they intend to do this…but that’s not what we hear.

This is similar to Iraq before they invaded Kuwait. They heard us basically saying they could invade and we’d do nothing. We thought we were warning the Iraqis off. And the difference between the US and China is a lot more than the US and Iraq.

At any rate, I definitely think the position that this is all BS and saber-rattling is viable. It could be just what you are saying, and even if some factions in the CCP might be contemplating a move they still could just not do it because of the realization that it will be a fight that they could lose.

Good post.

I’m tired and don’t have the mental energy for another long post. I think the known unknown in my mind, and the great X factor for me, has to do with the internal machinations of CCP politics. If things are as they seem on the surface for China’s politics, I see no reason why China would want to risk disaster with a flubbed invasion of Taiwan – not that such a move is doomed to fail, but that it could fail, and it would be a humiliating defeat if they did.

What I don’t know, what I can’t know, is whether there’s some internal shit disturbance that’s making the Xi Jinping wing of the party threatened, to the point where he might feel compelled to do wild shit. Leaders in any regime - from the most democratic and open to the most autocratic and closed - are capable of making dumbshit decisions if they feel that their legitimacy is being questioned. I have no idea what’s going on internally. For now, I assume that Xi is in charge and while he is unapologetically nationalistic, he’s not reckless. If we assume the CCP is rational, they find different ways to put pressure on Taiwan, to force the US out of the region through economic and political pressure.

Yeah, I think we’ve beaten this dead horse sufficiently, dragged it to the water, tried to make it drink then ridden it halfway across the rivers before changing it then checking its teeth to see if it’s a good deal. :wink:

I hope that both sides really do understand what the other will (and won’t) do. As a poster-up thread mentioned, hopefully, they are better at crystal ball reading than the bunch of us on a message board shooting the shit about this are. Thanks for the interesting and well thought through discussion.

What would the U.S. do?

Apologies if this has already been addressed, or if its an overly ignorant question: if the US does not help Taiwan, would it be overwhelming likely that an invasion would be successful?

Not really, in fact, there is still a high chance such an invasion would fail. Amphibious invasions are highly difficult by their very nature, all the more so when the defender has a lot of antishipping weaponry. There are only a few beaches in Taiwan that are suitable for an invasion and they would probably be immediately fortified with pre-prepared concrete obstacles, etc. if an amphibious landing appeared likely. Furthermore, with Taiwan’s small size, rocket artillery and tube artillery can easily cover all beaches at all times if properly dispersed at various locations. In fact, with current ongoing extensions of range, Taiwan may soon get to a point where it can have rocket artillery from any point on the island strike a beach at any other point on the island.

Taiwan is more than an ‘island’ to China: It is a grave insult, and a reminder to all Chinese that the CCP isn’t the beginning and end of Chinese governance. And so it is a constant threat to a very paranoid and controlling Chinese leadership. The reunification of all Chinese has been a major goal of the CCP since Chiang Kai Shek fled the mainland.

IMO, China would invade Taiwan in a heartbeat if:

  1. They knew the world would let them get away with it
  2. They could do it without destroying Taiwanese infrastructure like their chip fabs and other major manufacturing, which they depend on as much as anyone else.

That’s about it. They don’t care about casualties or anythjng like that. Just the practicalities. If they can’t manage those, they’ll continue to use Taiwan as a foil for domestic consumption, while continuing the long-view program of undermining Taiwan and wearing it down, hoping to eventually grow the reunification movement until they can get a friendly regime in place and take over without firing a shot.

I generally like the AUKUS agreement and the new sub deal. But it has increased short-term danger in the sense that if 12 nuke subs off the Chinese coast prevents them from taking Taiwan or other territory they have their eyes on, the clock just started ticking. That conceivably could force China’s hand, because once the subs are in place China will have a harder time achieving any imperial ambitions at sea.

Maybe, but the US has always been able to send a dozen nuclear-powered subs to Taiwanese waters on short notice, with or without AUKUS. That’s been the case for many years. The situation doesn’t really become different for China with Australian subs in the picture.

I’m not sure about that. First, If America doesn’t have subs in the area they will be too late to stop an invasion. Second, China may count on America not getting involved due to the risk of starting a nuclear war. Australia’s subs will always be,in that part of the world, and may not be as constrained as American subs would be.

At the very least, those subs will complicate any sort or naval action China may be preparing. And those subs can park themselves near Taiwan or any other target and stay hidden for months at a time, unlike the diesel subs they were planning to get from France.

So Imdo think there is now a ‘window of vulnerability’ China may use. Also, I believe they likely think the Biden administration is incompetent, giving them a further opportunity.

A good move might be for the U.S. to announce that until the Aussies get their subs, the U.S. will station a few of their own in the region to cover the gap, and make it clear what the rules of engagement will be if China threatens any allies. A show of military determination and capability might be a good idea.