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This is what would happen if China invaded Taiwan

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Cover of the book A world on the brink of the abyss

At the end of March, A Taiwanese data analyst posted on social media about a strange satellite image: It appeared that the Chinese military had erected in one of its remote military bases in Inner Mongolia a series of roads that perfectly recreated the roads around the presidential palace in Taipei. The revelation only seemed to underscore the seriousness with which Chinese officials are carrying out President Xi Jinping’s directive to be prepared to invade the independent island in the late 2020s. As part of research for his new book, The world on the brink: How the United States can beat China in the race for the 21st century, Dmitri Alperovitch traveled to Taiwan, spoke with several high-level officials and national security planners in Taiwan and the United States, and walked the potential invasion terrain to imagine how such an invasion could occur. His scenario, excerpted here and which he imagines taking place on November 13, 2028, serves as a prologue to the new book.

Courtesy of Hachette Book Group

The winter season in Taiwan, which lasts from November to March, is ideal for surfers. It’s not Bali or Hawaii, as wave size and consistency can vary, but the northeast monsoon, which brings cold water from the China Coastal Current to the Taiwan Strait, where it meets the warm branch current. of Kuroshio who comes from the south. It is known to make some major waves. The Taiwan Strait is only about a hundred meters deep, shallow enough that during the ice ages and glacial times the island of Taiwan was physically connected to mainland China; But even in the modern era, the 200-mile-long passage, which varies in width from about 100 nautical miles to just 70 nautical miles and is one of the world’s most important shipping routes, is known for frequent storms, high swells and fog. blinding and is ravaged by annual summer typhoons from approximately May to October. Between summer typhoons and the stormy winter high-wave season, there is no predictably perfect and easy time to launch a large-scale amphibious invasion of Taiwan, especially when the strait sees about 150 days a year of winds exceeding 20 knots. rough seas for amphibious ships and landing craft. Any landing on the windy, shallow and rocky beaches of Taiwan during that time is complicated and risky. That is why, in the end, China decided to forego a beach landing and attempt an air assault on the island’s port and airfield, the capture of which would allow the rapid arrival of follow-up troops and logistical supplies to facilitate a successful occupation. .

The People’s Liberation Army’s operations planners had had years to deliberate their invasion strategy, adjusting it year by year as China’s own military capabilities grew and advanced. In the end, due to the unpredictability of the choppy waters of the Taiwan Strait and the heavy fortifications the Taiwanese had built around potential beach landing sites, the PLA devised an innovative invasion plan, the initial stages of which they had practiced repeatedly as They unfolded in the late 2020s. For several years, China had engaged in large-scale military exercises: loading vast armadas of military and civilian ships with tens of thousands of troops, equipment and materiel and heading toward Taiwan, always stopping just before of 12 nautical miles. limit that marks the beginning of the territorial waters of the island. They thought they could practice with some impunity, because they knew that Taiwan could never afford to respond aggressively. One of the island’s greatest defense dilemmas had long been its inability to respond with force to hostile provocations and threats, lest it be accused of instigating conflict. American officials had warned Taiwanese leaders for years that under no circumstances could they fire the first shot: They had to take the Chinese hit before retaliating. Portraying China as the aggressor would be a critical step in building the international argument that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is solely responsible for starting any war. The stakes could not have been higher: after all, even if the Taiwanese fired on the PLA navy first after it crossed Taiwan’s territorial border, Beijing could still dispute the shooting as unprovoked and claim it occurred in international waters, muddying the geopolitical waters. such that Taiwan risked losing key moral and diplomatic support around the world. Too many countries wanted that excuse: They would be too eager to continue trading with China, the world’s second-largest economy, regardless of the conflict. If Taiwan wanted to survive and rally the world to its cause, it could not afford to offer that excuse.

The Chinese PLA’s final plan featured precisely such Taiwanese restraint as Chinese ships entered Taiwanese waters and approached the vital northwest coastal port of Taipei, a modern facility completed in 2012 that boasted 4,500 feet of so-called docking space, a substantial amount of space available for cargo unloading. There, the PLA planned to take advantage of existing infrastructure to quickly offload hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, heavy engineering equipment, weapons, ammunition, and the logistical supplies necessary for the conquest of the island. While Taipei was not Taiwan’s largest port, the rapid capture of its docks was essential to the success of the operation, as other Taiwanese port facilities were too far from the capital city. That distance and Taiwan’s extensive range of rugged mountains and winding rivers made rapid transportation of a large PLA armored force from any other port or beach to the capital nearly impossible.

The operational plan called for moving eight modern Type 075 Yushen amphibious assault ships, each displacing more than 30,000 tons, to Taiwan’s maritime border, while protected by PLA Navy (PLAN) guided missile destroyers. Xi Jinping’s regime had quickly built the Yushen ships specifically with this mission in mind; each was a highly capable delivery platform for air assault operations, carrying a combination of up to 28 attack and heavy transport helicopters and 800 troops. Early in the morning, once the final order was given, 200 Z-8 and Z-20 transport helicopters, all supported by Z-10 attack gunships, would take off from the landing docks and head to the port of Taipei, as well as Taoyuan International Airport, 10 miles to the south, and the smaller Taipei Songshan Airport, located right in the center of the capital city, just three miles north of the Zhongzheng government district. The plan called for the helicopters to make the trip in 10 minutes. (Ironically, these aircraft were built based on legally acquired Western technology: the Z-8 came from an original French-licensed design and the Z-20 from the UH-60 Black Hawk, which the United States had sold to China in the 1980s. The Z-10 was built with Pratt & Whitney engines and assisted by European rotor and transmission installation designs from Airbus and AgustaWestland).

PLA Air Force Airborne Corps (PLAAF) heliborne brigades, the Chinese equivalent of the US 101st Airborne Division, would assault, capture and secure port and airport facilities, in preparation for follow-up forces with armored vehicles landing at the airfields of Chinese Y-20 and Russian-made IL-76 troop transport aircraft. As those transport planes descended, dozens of large roll-on-off-load (RORO) ferries and vehicle transport ships, all built to “national defense requirements” and appropriated from Chinese industry by the PLAN, would hurtle towards the captured port and would unload. tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of additional tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Anticipating that the Taiwanese could destroy port infrastructure before the Chinese landing, the PLA has spent years practicing rapid unloading of these vessels at ports with minimal cargo-handling infrastructure, such as a lack of dock ramps or support for tugboats. At the same time, PLAAF missiles, rockets and land-based bombers, along with attack aircraft deployed from two Chinese aircraft carriers located off Taiwan’s eastern coast, would hit Taiwan’s air bases in an attempt to knock the relatively The island’s small air force before it could enters the fight, destroying runways, fuel depots and maintenance infrastructure and targeting the island’s prized fleet of F-16 fighter jets. Mainland-based precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles, along with truck-mounted PHL-16 long-range multiple rocket launchers and kamikaze drones, would target stationary radars, fixed weapons platforms, critical command, control, nodes communications and naval facilities. , energy infrastructure, and radio and television transmission towers to wreak havoc and impede the Taiwanese military’s highly centralized decision-making. American-built Patriot air defense batteries, as well as Taiwan’s locally developed Sky Bow systems, troop barracks, and anti-ship batteries, were also high-priority targets.

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