Military helicopters carrying large Taiwan flags do a flyby rehearsal on October 5, 2021, ahead of National Day celebrations amid escalating tensions between Taipei and Beijing. Photo: AFP / Ceng Shou Yi / NurPhoto

Beijing has been employing “gray zone” tactics that range from overflights of Taiwanese air space to cyber warfare, in order to increase pressure on the Taiwanese military – all in accordance with its goal of “seizing Taiwan without a fight,” according to a Taiwanese Defense Ministry’s biennial report.

Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said in the 200-page report that Beijing was rapidly building up military capabilities while the world was preoccupied with the pandemic. The report said there was a “grave threat” to security in the Taiwan Strait and warned Beijing was conducting “cognitive warfare” to sway Taiwanese public opinion.

A survey compiled by a Taiwanese non-government organization showed that the percentage of people who believed that the Communist Party of China would “attack Taiwan sooner or later” increased to 28.1% this year from 16% in 2019. Nevertheless, a majority of interviewees believed that a war in Taiwan Strait wouldn’t happen.

Taiwanese military experts have said the Taiwanese army should prepare to react to six potential attack scenarios by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), according to a November 5 Reuters report. They said Taiwan should also beware of mainland China’s electronic warfare and cyber attacks.

In early October, the PLA sent about 150 fighter jets to Taiwan’s southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ) ahead of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s speech in Taipei on October 10 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Republic of China.

On October 28, Tsai confirmed to CNN that US troops were on the ground training Taiwanese soldiers. She said Taiwan faced a rising threat from China but that she was willing to talk with Xi and that the two sides could “co-exist peacefully” as “two countries.”

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense released a biennial military strategy report outlining the island’s plans to counter Beijing’s “gray zone threats,” which include warplane incursions in Taiwan’s southwest airspace, military drills near the Pratas Island, the use of speedboats to ram the island’s coast guard vessels and the deployment of sand pump dredgers near Taiwan.

Taiwanese soldiers on an armored vehicle in Taipei during a National Day Celebration following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vow to unify Taiwan by peaceful means. Photo: AFP / Ceng Shou Yi / NurPhoto

“These actions have a nature of ambiguity. They cannot be called wars but can gradually increase threats against Taiwan,” said the report, adding that Beijing was using “cognitive warfare” to sway Taiwanese public opinion.

“China’s intimidating behavior does not only consume our combat power and shake our faith and morale but also attempts to alter or challenge the status quo in the Taiwan Strait to ultimately achieve its goal of ‘seizing Taiwan without a fight,’” the report said.

“The first and foremost defense undertaking is to prevent war and deter any external military threats, and our overall defense power shall be employed to defend our homeland, magnify the costs and risks entailed by China’s invasion, and ultimately protect the lives and properties of the people.”

The report also warned that the PLA had increased its combat power on the Internet in recent years and would attack Taiwan’s key infrastructure and systems to disrupt social order on the island during wartime.

According to a survey published on November 2 by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, 28.1% of surveyed Taiwanese people believed that Beijing would invade Taiwan sooner or later, while 64.3% said a war in the Taiwan Strait was unlikely to happen. The remaining 7.6% said they had no opinion.

The survey interviewed 1,075 people by phone between October 18 and 20, the foundation said. The younger generation and more educated people tended to believe that China would launch an attack against Taiwan.

In 2019, a similar survey showed that 16% of participants believed that a war in the Taiwan Strait would happen while 77.4% of participants said it would not.

On November 5, Reuters published a special report titled “T-Day: The Battle For Taiwan” after interviewing 12 military experts and 15 incumbent and former officers in Taiwan, the US, Japan and Australia.

The report suggested six case scenarios of China’s actions: a blockade of the Matsu Islands, an invasion of Kinmen, a customs quarantine, a full blockade, an air and missile campaign and an all-out invasion.

The report projected that Beijing would first extend its campaigns of “gray-zone warfare” against Taiwan and an ongoing blockade of Matsu in order to force the Taiwanese government to hold unification talks. Beijing would then lose its patience and launch a customs quarantine or a full blockade of Taiwan, it predicted.

A woman holds a Taiwanese flag as she joins others at a rally to mark Taiwan’s National Day on October 10, 2019. Photo: AFP / Philip Fong

After the PLA launched an air and missile campaign and an all-out invasion without warning, a major war would be raging in East Asia within hours, the report projected.

In the air and missile campaign, the PLA would deploy missile, naval and air forces to keep the US and its allies from sending forces to assist Taiwan, said the report. In the all-out invasion, the Chinese army would attack US bases in Japan and Guam with air and missile strikes in a bid to paralyze American forces and delay any intervention, it said.

The report noted that Chinese control of Taiwan would give Beijing a foothold in the so-called “first island chain”, the line which runs through the string of islands from the Japanese archipelago to Taiwan, the Philippines and Borneo, and allow the PLA to project power into the Western Pacific.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense spokesman Shih Shun-wen said the Taiwanese army had prepared to react to different scenarios of possible PLA attacks against the island and would continue to increase its defense abilities through military drills.

Shu Hsiao-huang, a scholar at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan, said many of the scenarios suggested in the Reuters report were still far from reality because any Chinese blockade of Taiwan-held islands such as Matsu and Kinmen would definitely trigger a big response from the US and West.

Shu said it was also impossible for Beijing to selectively impose a snap customs quarantine of Taiwan as many international ships passed through Taiwan Strait. Shu believed that the PLA would probably launch a massive attack with different strategies at one go, instead of only an air and missile campaign.

However, Shu admitted that the PLA might use armed fishing vessels, which belong to the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia, to disrupt Taiwan’s surrounding islands. He said the PLA might also cut energy supplies to Taiwan by detaining the island’s tanker ships.

Speculation of a Chinese invasion try of Taiwan is rising. Photo: Facebook

He also said Taiwan currently lacks the defense ability to protect itself from mainland China’s electronic warfare and cyber attacks. He said Taiwan could use more unmanned vehicles to fight against the PLA.

Chieh Chung, a research fellow at the Association of Strategic Foresight, a think tank in Taiwan, said that should the PLA invade Taiwan, it would try to end the war as fast as possible – so that the Taiwanese army would not have time to replenish its resources and the US would not be able to intervene.

Chieh observed that such an approach would be different from the step-by-step invasion suggested in the Reuters report. Citing the opinions of some mainland academies, Chieh said Beijing’s military goal was to completely occupy the Taiwan island and destroy the organized resistance of the Taiwanese army in the shortest possible time.

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