Emulating Russian plan not easy for China as Taiwan invasion poses several challenges

The smooth invasion of Ukraine by the Russian forces, which did not see intervention by the group of western nations led by the US, has escalated the fears about China readying to occupy Taiwan with the use of military force. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has recently reiterated that Taiwan is an integral part of mainland China and it would be reunified. At the same time, he warned the western block to stay away from interfering in the Taiwan matter. Amid the military aggression by China in the Taiwan Strait, new reports suggest that Beijing may attack the tiny island country soon. However, it is not as simple or easy as it appears or is thought. There are strategic, geographical and tactical issues that make it difficult for Chinese forces to enter Taiwan and annex it.

China has refused to join the world in condemning Russia for attacking Ukraine. Rather it drew a parallel between the Ukraine fight for independence and the Chinese claim on Taiwan as the issue of preserving sovereignty.Addressing the annual meeting of China’s parliament, Li said China opposed any efforts that seek Taiwan’s efforts for independence and reiterated the plans of reunification. “All of us, Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, should come together to advance the great and glorious cause of China’s rejuvenation,” he said. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said US support to Taiwan would be futile. “The will of the Chinese people to defend our national sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering,” Wenbin said Amid Ukraine’s invasion, there are strong intuitions that China would emulate Moscow’s plans. Even US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director, William Burns has warned that Beijing’s determination to invade Taiwan should not be underestimated.  

There are fears that China is preparing its military forces. But there are little chances that China would enter into a direct armed conflict. Rather it would prefer coerced unification. US National Intelligence Director, Avril Haines said China’s plans have always been stepping up diplomatic, economic, and military pressure on Taiwan, so it is isolated and Taiwanese lose confidence in democratically elected leaders. “China would prefer coerced unification that avoids armed conflict. At the same time, Beijing is preparing to use military force if it decides this is necessary,” she said.

Attacking Taiwan means China will have to face several challenges. The most crucial one is confronting the militarily superior US. The US has had no duty to protect Ukraine. But Taiwan and the US signed a defence treaty in 1954. Also, the US is the main arms supplier to Taiwan. So China will have to face the US and even other allied nations such as Canada, the UK, Australia and France if it decides to invade Taiwan. The US has deployed its troops in Taiwan amid reports of potential Chinese aggression.  And US warships conduct routine patrolling in the Taiwan Strait. France is assisting Taiwan in upgrading its Kang Ding-Class Frigates.

Japan and Australia too have extended their support to the sovereignty of Taiwan and declared that it would not stand by if China attacks the island nation. “We have to protect Taiwan, as a democratic country,” said Yasuhide Nakayama, Japan’s deputy defence minister. Japan knows independent Taiwan was important for its security and for the peace in the Taiwan Strait as it is in conflict with China over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands. Japan and the US have already drawn up a plan in case China tries to invade Taiwan. Australia has announced that it would extend full support to Taiwan if China dares to conduct military action. “I think we do whatever we can to deter China from acts of aggression in our region,” Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said.

Taiwan is surrounded by the sea from all sides and is around 161 km from mainland China. This means China will have to carry out an amphibian attack, unlike Ukraine invasion in which Russian forces could easily cross the border. The amphibian attack would be resource-consuming and difficult to gauge real progress. The presence of major military powers from the Taiwanese side would make it further problematic. The 2019 US Pentagon Report said China lacked equipment for a direct assault on Taiwan such as large amphibious assault ships and medium landing crafts.