China will not attempt an invasion of Taiwan yet despite the current escalation in the Taiwan Strait, a Greek-Cypriot expatriate in Taiwan opines.
By Alex Matsangou
Last week, Beijing finally ended its military drills around the Taiwan strait but announced that they would be a regular occurrence. The exercises were China’s furious response to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island, which China believes is a breakaway province.
Since its foundation, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) has made it its mission to one day unify Taiwan with mainland China, if possible, without military action. Still, if that fails, force could be necessary.
Although it has always been the Communist Party’s agenda to reunite Taiwan, the general secretary of the party and chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi Jinping, has made it his personal goal to make Taiwan part of China during his leadership. This has led many to believe that an invasion would be coming sooner rather than later.
Last week’s drills have been unprecedented in their size and proximity to Taiwan’s territorial waters, leading much of the media to write alarming headlines that an invasion is just around the corner. However, to the Taiwanese, these drills are a continuation of a series of intimidation and saber-rattling that have been ongoing since the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang lost the civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949. The Republic of China (the official name of Taiwan) has grown accustomed to these threats and rhetoric from its noisy Communist neighbors.
Since the civil war, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) adamantly follows the One China principle, a position that maintains that there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of China. Any country, organization, or company that the PRC feels undermines the One China principle automatically faces threats and boycotts. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was construed as an attempt by the US to challenge the status quo; however, it was anything but. It was an unofficial visit that was still in line with the One China principle.
Despite the current escalation in the Taiwan Strait, there is still room for optimism that an invasion won’t likely happen any time soon.
Taiwan, a leading semiconductor and chip manufacturer
Taiwan is the world-leading producer of microchips and manufactures two-thirds of the world’s semiconductors. TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), the world’s largest and most advanced chipmaker, has over fifty percent of the world’s market share in semiconductors, including chips for the latest Apple products.
In the event of an invasion, the chipmaker’s factory would not be able to operate during a blockade because it relies heavily on global supply chains.
The world is already suffering from a shortage of microchips. Technological advancement means that chips are required in almost all products from a microwave oven or car to the latest military equipment. The increase in demand for microchips and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging to attain chips. Any invasion or blockade will further exasperate the issue. Like every country, China relies heavily on chips made from Taiwan, damaging their manufacturing capacity and economic development and making the CCP think twice before any invasion.
Currently, China produces only five percent of the global share for microchips and will likely wait until its production capacity allows them to become more self-sufficient; however, this process could be a long way off. Until then, just like the oil in the middle east, any attempt to disrupt or control Taiwan’s semiconductors will likely involve third-party countries of which the CCP is aware.
China’s economic and property crisis
China’s economic growth in the last few decades has been nothing short but extraordinary, from becoming an agricultural society to an industrial juggernaut almost rivaling the United States. Yet, China’s growth shrank for the first time in twenty-eight years. Due to the CCP’s strict COVID-19 policy, whole cities have been in lockdown, affecting their manufacturing capacity. It is one of the contributing factors to China’s slow growth.
The COVID-19 lockdowns are not the only reason for China’s slow growth; China’s property sector is on the cusp of financial ruin. Its property sector covers thirty percent of China’s economic output, and repeated lockdowns have impacted savings and investment. Evergrande and other real estate companies have already missed foreign debt payments. Last year, Evergrande defaulted on a $300 billion debt, and there is a real risk that other companies will follow suit.
Real estate amounts to about two-thirds of personal wealth in China, and China is unique because investors and home buyers often pay in advance for unfinished projects. Due to COVID-19, mismanagement, and corruption, many real estate companies failed to meet their obligation in finishing their construction projects, thus resulting in protests and mortgage boycotts. The CCP would need to step in and pick up the financial burden, or the collapse of China’s property market would be catastrophic to its economy.
Furthermore, because of China’s insistence on its decades-long one-child policy, every soldier in the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), the armed wing of the CCP, is a single child. Male children have always been favored because parents want their sons to carry on the family name. Going to war risks many families losing their bloodline. With an aging population, it reeks of even more economic disaster for China, as it would find a substantial financial drain to support the elderly with fewer working adults covering the cost of pensions.
Although the CCP likes to tout the invasion of Taiwan being a priority, they wouldn’t likely follow this route if it would affect their economic prosperity. After all, a booming economy and increasing wealth are what the Chinese population settles for in exchange for living with an authoritarian regime and the belief that that regime would solve any crisis. Their stability, growing development, and becoming the dominant leader in the world are the most principled aspirations for the CCP.
Move on Taiwan could alarm China’s neighbors
Taiwan is not the only territory that China claims as its own. China has land and maritime territorial disputes with sixteen other nations, namely the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Tibet.
Any move on Taiwan would cause alarm and a build-up of military activity on all sides of China’s long border. Japan may even interfere in a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, as it would view any defense of the island as essential to Japan’s domestic and international security. That’s not even mentioning other non-Asian nations like the US, UK, and Australia, who could also provide support in some form or other.
Whether any of these countries will provide assistance to Taiwan is debatable. Most likely, support would be limited. However, it is a massive risk for China to conduct a full-scale invasion if they are uncertain of the scope of military interference and sanctions from the global community.
Taiwan’s natural defense against China
In any invasion attempt, the weather and terrain are critical factors; Taiwan’s best defenses are perhaps its natural environment. The coastline, torrential rains, tides, and mud would significantly deter the would-be invaders.
The western coast of Taiwan is comprised of mud flats that can spread between two to five miles out to sea, and landing force getting stuck in the mud could potentially spell certain death. The tides rise and drop considerably, and low tide can expose the coast to several miles of mud, making military equipment impossible to transverse. This leaves very few landing spots available for a Chinese invasion; these are obviously known to the Taiwanese military and are heavily fortified.
Most formidable is the length of the Taiwan Strait and the effect of the winds on the sea. The strait is around one hundred miles wide and could take up to ten hours to transit. Transport ships and boats will be sitting ducks to missiles and artillery. More importantly, the seas and wind are often very stormy. Taiwan has two rainy and typhoon seasons (August to September and November to April). This limits the window of opportunity for an invasion to just two openings throughout the year that would provide favorable weather conditions. Any troops that survive the barrage across the strait would no doubt suffer from extreme seasickness and fatigue. Then, facing the struggle to subdue a mountainous island nation with a population of 24 million willing to defend their freedom and democratic way of life seems an insurmountable challenge, as well.
This year, Xi Jinping hopes to become ‘Chairman for Life,’ so it is unlikely that he will risk a full-scale invasion across one hundred miles of stormy seas. Due to Taiwan’s natural defense, the scale of the attack would be more dangerous and complex than the D-day landing and require far more soldiers. All this, coupled with the unpredictability of war, could potentially be a recipe for disaster for Xi Jinping and the CCP. They wouldn’t risk such an endeavor before getting their house in order.
Invasion of Taiwan by China unlikely
To sum up, the costs of failure would be immense and possibly be enough to bring down an already fragile regime fraught with paranoia and insecurity. While the costs of “success” would be limited, Taiwan’s infrastructure and semiconductor industry would be ruined entirely, and China’s international image, trade and investment, and diplomatic ties would be devastated. After witnessing the west’s response to Russia’s invasion with sanctions and support for Ukraine, the CCP would no doubt be aware of the consequences of a full-scale invasion or blockade.
For the time being, China will continue putting pressure on Taiwan. They would have done their military exercises sooner or later without Pelosi’s visit. For them, it was an excuse to begin. The CCP will continue to intensify the pressure and intimidation of the island and try to reunite the island through non-military methods. For them, this is the best course of action. However, what China fails to understand is that the more pressure they put on Taiwan, the more the Taiwanese will fight for their home and democratic values.
Although invasion is unlikely, the Ukraine-Russian war has shown that anything is possible. The international community must show a united front to not bow down to China’s unreasonable demands and continue to support Taiwan while maintaining the status quo.