Opinion: Taiwan – fantasy island
There is a persistent fantasy amongst the political and military elite in Taipei and Washington that China has too much to lose if it invaded Taiwan...That the US military would ride in like a knight in shining armour to save the maiden from the red dragon...That the danger of China failing to successfully invade the island would result in a crisis of confidence in Beijing that would destroy the Chinese Communist Party.
The problem is that the US has lost much since the collapse of the Twin Towers in 2001 and the economic collapse in 2008. That America, the one capable of airlifting and surface-shipping millions of tons of weapons and equipment and troops halfway around the world, is now gone.
Taiwan’s belief that America will save the day is an old idea, one that is even romantic to some. The belief is old-fashioned, pre-9/11, from a time when America was at the height of its national strength, perhaps the most powerful nation in world history.
There are far more pragmatic reasons for China to invade Taiwan than the simple nationalist jingoism of reuniting Taiwan with Mother China and officially concluding a civil war that China insists never ended. The simple fact of the matter is that China needs the island of Taiwan to break through the first island chain and establish a clear line of sight into the Pacific.
As of now, China must fly between Taiwan and Japan to project power into the Pacific, and this brings about consternation in Beijing over Taiwan’s very existence.
It is what the renowned geostrategic writer Robert Kaplan dubbed ‘the revenge of geography’, and what any real estate agent screams for a successful business enterprise: ‘location, location, location'.
China needs to occupy the island of 24 million, not because it is a ‘rogue province’ or that it is part of China’s ‘manifest destiny', but because to grow as a geostrategic power with real respect, it must be able to project military force into the Pacific and must demonstrate a real military capability with a genuine invasion.
Taking Taiwan by whatever means possible, id est military force, economic coercion or political manoeuvring, will involve the placement of Chinese military bases on the island, perhaps not so much to dominate what would become a garrison state, but to control the sea lines of communication of shipments of Middle East oil to Japan and South Korea and extend the reach of China’s military punch into the Pacific.
Controlling the flow of oil from the Middle East by locking down the Taiwan Strait and a large swathe of sea off Taiwan’s Pacific coast would give China coercive economic power over Tokyo and Seoul. Japan and South Korea would become, in effect, tributary states providing China with gifts that will no doubt serve as a type of taxation and gradually rise to a level of outrageousness.
This could be argued as well for Vietnam and the Philippines regarding the steady tightening of China’s hold on the South China Sea with a spider web of air defence missile batteries, fighter bases, naval bases and radar facilities that are now being established on what were small islets and reefs that have been expanded with massive land reclamation projects.
'China needs to occupy the island of 24 million...because to grow as a geostrategic power with real respect, it must be able to project military force into the Pacific and must demonstrate a real military capability with a genuine invasion.'— Author
There are three bases on Taiwan’s east coast that would make interesting military bases for China: Suao Naval Base, Hualien Air Base and Taitung Air Base.
Suao Naval Base would make for a unique Chinese submarine deployment base into the Pacific. The main reason is that the waters directly off the base drop into the abyss allowing submarines to quickly vanish under thermal layers that inhibit sonar detection.
The US Navy would have a difficult time tracking these deployments. According to the order of battle detailed in Ian Easton’s new book, The Chinese Invasion Threat, Suao is the home of Taiwan’s 168th Flotilla made up of a mix of Knox-class frigates, Perry-class frigates and Kidd-class destroyers.
Farther south along the east coast is Hualien Air Base, home of the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing outfitted with three groups of F-16 A/B Block 20 fighters. Although Hualien is a strategic location and the 401st is a tough fighter group, the intriguing thing is what lies underneath the curtain of mountains against which the base huddles.
The base is basically an appendage of an underground air base inside a hollowed-out mountain dubbed Jiashan. It is big enough to house 200 fighters and is considered Taiwan's second-most important military facility after the Hengshan Command Centre. Hengshan is inside a hollowed-out mountain in Dazhi in the northern part of Taipei. It has been compared to the US military’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center.
Having visited Jiashan in 2001, it is fair to say the facility is reminiscent of a James Bond cliché – the headquarters of the maniacal villain inside a dead volcano. The facility was built to protect Taiwan’s remaining fighters from China’s copious ballistic missiles designed to destroy runways and facilities at air bases around the island.
A second smaller underground facility is located at Taitung Air Base south of Hualien on the coast near the southern tip of the island. This facility is home to the 737th Tactical Combined Wing outfitted with F-5E training fighters. This facility looks like a rabbit’s warren from satellite photographs.
Since the F-5 is an ageing platform, one can assume that the air force will fill these underground shelters with its more advanced fighters. Basically, Jiashan and Taitung would be Taiwan’s last stand for its fighters.
All three facilities would be of great benefit for China to project force into the Pacific and control the flow of maritime traffic flowing north through the Taiwan Strait or around the east coast of Taiwan in the Pacific heading to Japan and South Korea.
The placement of sonar-array buoys in the Pacific and key areas between Japan in the north and Philippines in the south would add to China’s ability to track US and other adversarial submarines.
What else would the US lose in a Chinese occupation of Taiwan? The US National Security Agency would lose key listening posts on the island that monitor Chinese military communications, particularly signal intelligence (SIGINT) facilities co-managed with Taiwan’s National Security Bureau at Pingtun Li on Yanmingshan Mountain just north of Taipei.
There are also major SIGINT facilities in Linkou in the north and Betel Nut Village in the south. Anyone with Google Earth can see these for themselves.
There are also suspicions, but no confirmation, that Taiwan is allowing the US to access its massive surveillance radar facility along the west coast of Taiwan, ironically called Happy Mountain. The Raytheon-built radar, now the most powerful in the world, is capable of seeing deep inside China.
The US would also lose access to intelligence gathered by Taiwan’s network of spies inside China fielded by the Military Intelligence Bureau. Though the network has been severely crippled over the past few years by Chinese counterintelligence, there are still active intelligence collection operations providing useful insights into China’s military activities that cannot be gathered by US intelligence.
US intelligence also cannot match the level of scrutiny achieved by Taiwan’s intelligence analysts who have been watching China like a hawk since 1949.
Taiwan’s belief that America will save the day is wildly misplaced. The US today not only suffers from economic, political and military paralysis, but it also faces further weakening of nation-state patriotism from ‘progressive’ agendas that emphasise group identity politics.
Nothing provided more evidence of this than protests against the movie Dunkirk for failing to include minorities, thus highlighting the ignorance of millennials of basic military history.
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