Taiwan Tension

United States and China caught in a Taiwan Strait jacket

Beijing might use the Falklands War playbook to invade but then hold the island democracy

China and the United States have very little wriggle room after being caught in a Taiwan Strait jacket.

The buckles were tightened even further after President Xi Jinping’s government announced this week it would conduct carrier-based naval “combat drills” near the island democracy.

They will take place just hours before former US Senator Chris Dodd and former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg arrive in Taipei on Wednesday.

Earlier, a White House official called the Taiwan trip a “personal signal” of President Joe Biden’s commitment to “Taiwan and its democracy.”

The island of nearly 23.6 million people is rapidly turning into the ultimate hotspot in the Sino-American New Cold War as Xi’s ruling Communist Party ramps up pressure on what is regarded as a “renegade province.” 

“The People’s Liberation Army’s combat exercises in the Taiwan Strait are a necessary action to safeguard national sovereignty,” Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Tuesday as reported by the Reuters news agency.

The facts:

  • Up to 25 fighters and bombers from the PLA Air Force entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Monday.
  • Taiwan’s Air Force scrambled fighter jets to intercept and warn the Chinese aircraft, the Ministry of Defence in Taipei said.
  • China has stepped up “exercises” around the island in the past nine months.
  • Beijing has also increased operations in the Taiwan Strait and the broader South China Sea.
  • The Communist Party of China has threatened to reunite the island with the “motherland” by force if necessary.
  • Taiwan has become a bastion of democracy with a high-tech economy centered around a cutting-edge semiconductor or chip industry.

What was said: “The PLA’s military exercises are a signal that we are determined to stop Taiwan independence, and stop Taiwan from working with the US. We also oppose the US exaggeration of the so-called Chinese military ‘threat argument,’ and oppose the US playing the ‘Taiwan card,’” spokesman Ma said.

Dead end: Ma went even further with the “Wolf Warrior” rhetoric when he insisted: “Taiwan independence is a dead end and [Taiwan’s] ruling Democratic Progressive Party are trying to use arms to seek independence. That is to drink poison in the hopes of slaking one’s thirst, and will only push Taiwan towards disaster.”

Red menace: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned China’s Communist Party against invading Taiwan. “What is of real concern is [the] increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the Strait … In that context, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change that status quo by force,” he said in an interview with the NBC network last week.

Lessons from history: China’s military has been carefully studying the United Kingdom’s campaign to retake the Falkland Islands or Islas Malvinas in 1982. At the time, Argentina’s hugely unpopular junta launched a surprised attack and occupied the British overseas territory.

What happened next: A Royal Navy carrier task force then sailed 8,000 miles from Portsmouth in England before retaking the islands in a matter of months. What made the victory even more remarkable was that the Falklands or Malvinas were just 400 miles east of Argentina, which gave the South American nation a logistics edge.

Why that matters: The distance between China’s mainland coast and Taiwan is roughly 100 miles. If the PLA invaded the island, a US carrier naval task force would need to travel thousands of miles to retake Taiwan from a highly sophisticated miltary adversary. 

China Factor comment: Even with allies, the US would face a logistics problem rivaling the D-Day landings in World War II. But with the possibility of a very different outcome.

Nightmare scenario: “The casualties that the Chinese could inflict could be staggering. Anti-ship cruise missiles could knock out US carriers and warships; surface-to-air missiles could destroy our fighters and bombers,” Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the Rand Corporation and formerly a China analyst at the US Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, said as reported by RealClear Investigations last year.

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