Video Above: Roundtable's Rob Nelson Interviews Kris Osborn on China and Taiwan tensions, and what it means for the U.S.
It is possible that China could attempt an air and maritime blockade around Taiwan as part of a broad strategy to pressure the country into surrender, according to a new DoD report on the People’s Republic of China.
Certainly many potential contingencies and scenarios regarding just how exactly China might seek to take over Taiwan have likely been explored in great depth, yet it seems quite significant that the Pentagon’s annual China report raises concern about a specific possibility. Citing People’s Liberation Army “writings,” the Pentagon report says China may pursue a dual-pronged strategy including a Joint Blockade, missile strikes and a “seizure” of Taiwan’s offshore islands.
Joint Blockade Campaign
“PLA writings describe a Joint Blockade Campaign in which the PRC would employ kinetic blockades of maritime and air traffic, including a cut-off of Taiwan’s vital imports, to force Taiwan’s capitulation. Large-scale missile strikes and possible seizures of Taiwan’s offshore islands would accompany a Joint Blockade in an attempt to achieve a rapid Taiwan surrender,” DoD’s 2021 Report on Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China, states.
Given that Taiwan is only roughly 100 miles from the coast of mainland China, maintaining a large, concentrated Naval force surrounding the island would not likely be difficult for the 320-ship-strong PLA Navy.
Furthermore, Chinese drones and fighters would likely have little trouble establishing air superiority around the perimeter of the Tawianese coastline, particularly if aircraft avoided flying directly over air defenses on the main island.
However, Taiwan’s SkyBow III air defense systems have a reported range out to 200 miles, so it could be difficult for Chinese aircraft performing a blockade to operate outside of the line of fire.
This is likely why the Pentagon report also expects such a campaign would include long-range ballistic missile strikes on Taiwan, attacks which would ostensibly be made on fixed Taiwanese air defense sites. The missile strikes could be both precise and surgical to minimize collateral damage and preserve the Taiwanese infrastructure to a large extent.
The DoD report also expects this kind of blockade strategy would likely involve other technical dimensions such as EW. Perhaps China could use its space assets to jam or disable Taiwanese GPS and communication systems while concurrently launching advanced cyber intrusions into Taiwanese systems.
“The PRC will also likely complement its air and maritime blockade operations with concurrent electronic warfare, network attacks, and information operations to further isolate Taiwan’s authorities and populace and to control the international narrative of the conflict,” the DoD report states.
U.S. and Pacific Allies Reaction
How might the U.S. and its Pacific allies seek to counter such a Chinese strategy? Would there be a way to do it without launching into a major, full scale great power war? Could a blockade be penetrated or disabled or somehow circumvented without a potentially catastrophic major U.S.-China war?
Seems unlikely that a U.S. military response of any kind could avoid leading to an all-out war, as any maritime or air confrontation between the great powers would be almost certain to escalate.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.