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China has capability to invade Taiwan now, congressional report says

Marines of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal J.J. Harper)
November 18, 2021

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is either nearing or has already achieved the minimum military capacity to invade Taiwan, according to a new report to Congress by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

“Today, the PLA either has or is close to achieving an initial capability to invade Taiwan—one that remains under development but that China’s leaders may employ at high risk—while deterring, delaying, or defeating U.S. military intervention,” the report states.

While Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation, China maintains that Taiwan is part of its territory. The new congressional report comes as Chinese officials have increasingly alluded to Chinese reunification with Taiwan and to “crush all attempts at ‘Taiwan independence.’”

“The PLA’s development of this capability has involved years of
campaign planning and advancements in anti-access and area denial capabilities,” the report adds. “China has also demonstrated significant improvements in its shipbuilding capacity to bolster amphibious and civilian sealift, both of which the PLA has used in amphibious landing exercises. The PLA will continue to develop all of these capabilities to
enhance Chinese leaders’ confidence that it can successfully execute
an invasion campaign.”

The report said that in the near term, a likely Chinese invasion of Taiwan would still be a “high-risk option” for China and would rely heavily on the PLA to successfully employ cyberattacks, missile strikes and blockades to isolate Taiwan and degrade its defending forces. The report estimated the PLA’s current military sea and air-lift capabilities could allow for them to carry an initial landing force of around 25,000 troops, after which China would have to use civilian ships to land additional Chinese troops on Taiwan after securing a beachhead on the island.

The new report also warned that the means to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan are becoming increasingly uncertain and that China may take advantage of either a lack of U.S. military capability or political unwillingness to interdict in Taiwan’s defense.

“It has become less certain that U.S. conventional military forces alone will continue to deter China’s leaders from initiating an attack on Taiwan,” the report states. “A deterrence failure is most likely to occur if Chinese leaders believe the United States is not militarily capable of or politically willing to intervene, or if they interpret ambiguities in U.S. policy to mean that opportunistic Chinese aggression against Taiwan will not provoke a decisive U.S. response.”

The U.S. policy towards Taiwan has been one of strategic ambiguity. Since the 1970s the U.S. has recognized the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the official Chinese government and has adhered to the so-called “One China Policy” which holds that Taiwan is a part of China. At the same time, the U.S. has continued to interact with Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act. The Taiwan Relations Act doesn’t specifically guarantee that the U.S. will intervene on Taiwan’s behalf against China, but does allow the U.S. to sell weapons to Taiwan.

During an October CNN townhall, President Joe Biden said the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

Within hours of his townhall comments, the White House said Biden’s comments were not meant to indicate a new change in policy toward Taiwan. “There is no change in our policy,” a White House spokesperson told Reuters. “The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”