Editor’s Note: This article is part of our 2023 Writing Contest called The Taiwan Offensive, which took place from March 1, 2023 to July 31, 2023. More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.
Andrew Segal is a U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer that has served in combat zones and multiple U.S. embassies in the Middle East and Africa. He has a M.A. in Business and Organizational Security Management from Webster University and a B.S.M in Accounting from Tulane University. Throughout his career, he has attended several Marine and joint training courses. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessing the People’s Republic of China’s Multiple Ongoing Offensives Against Taiwan
Date Originally Written: June 12, 2023.
Date Originally Published: July 10, 2023.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is a military officer with experience serving overseas in combat zones and U.S. embassies. This article draws on author’s experience studying China’s irregular warfare efforts abroad.
Summary: The People’s Republic of China has already begun shaping operations to “reunify” Taiwan, using diplomatic, information, and economic offensives. In the coming years, the PRC could take over Taiwan without ever having to use military action.
Text: While the United States government is focused on a military response to a cross-strait invasion of Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has already begun shaping operations for an offensive that could, if executed correctly, ”reunify” Taiwan without a shot being fired.
The PRC is focusing on economic, diplomatic, and information offensives against Taiwan that will likely happen concurrently and over an extended period rather than at a single moment. The objective of this offensive would be to inject several senior level pro-China, pro-reunification actors into the Taiwanese government, resulting in Taiwan rejoining the PRC.
To attack Taiwan economically, the PRC government could focus on Taiwan’s largest imports to the island: energy resources. Taiwan imports 98% of its energy resources to meet demand. Although Taiwan has two nuclear reactors, the current Taiwan administration has a policy of phasing out nuclear power by 2025. If China wanted to economically disrupt Taiwan’s energy supply, it could do so through diplomatic and paramilitary activities using its maritime militia.
This year, 2023, the PRC government increased its economic and diplomatic engagement with Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member countries Saudi Arabia and Iran, brokering the reinstatement of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The PRC continues to engage with other OPEC member countries at senior levels of those governments. The PRC could use its strengthened diplomatic influence to request, either overtly or covertly, that these OPEC member countries reduce their sales of oil to Taiwan, eventually requesting that OPEC cease to allow Taiwan to purchase petroleum. This lack of petroleum flow would immediately throw Taiwan’s economy into turmoil.
For any countries that continue to sell energy resources to Taiwan, the PRC could use its maritime militia fleet to block those ships from accessing Taiwan. The PRC fishing vessels could be used to disrupt shipping lanes which would impose costs on companies delivering resources to Taiwan. Companies would likely determine that it is too costly to continue importing products to Taiwan. These gray-zone operations would likely draw condemnation from the U.S. government. In response, the PRC government could use diplomatic pressure through its Belt Road Initiative (BRI) relationships to reduce international condemnation of the maritime militia’s actions. The PRC government will convey the diplomatic message that this is a regional issue and countries should stay out of regional conflicts, as the PRC has done in BRI countries.
The PRC’s economic offensive against Taiwan’s energy resources would be accompanied by an information campaign to influence the world’s opinion of Taiwan and to influence Taiwanese citizens’ opinion against their government. The PRC government would likely accompany the diplomatic effort to reduce energy imports by emphasizing that PRC does not seek to affect global markets; the PRC would likely amplify the talking points about Taiwan being a rogue nation. The PRC would also influence Taiwanese citizens against their government while promoting Chinese ability to keep shipping lanes open and maintain its energy resources for one of the largest populations in the world.
The PRC’s informational offensive would be further aided through control of undersea communications. In March 2023, the PRC demonstrated its ability to cut undersea cables to Taiwanese islands; this action was generally underreported with no overt diplomatic response by the U.S. government. This cable cutting is further evidence of the shaping operation by the PRC government: the PRC is using the undersea cable disruptions to test the international response, and level of international condemnation of its disruptions. PRC cyber activities could disrupt the Taiwanese government from promoting a positive, coherent message to its own citizens, thus appearing unable to meet the needs of the average Taiwanese citizen. Covert Chinese cyber offensives could be used to affect Taiwan’s critical infrastructure, which will further denigrate Taiwanese citizens’ opinions of their government, and its ability to provide key services.
These gray-zone campaigns, combined with increased economic turmoil through disruption of energy resources, could ultimately result in Taiwanese citizens protesting their current government. The PRC injection of pro-China messaging could ultimately bring forth Taiwanese politicians that promise strong relations with China, like the relationship China maintains with Hong Kong. If these things happened, the PRC’s takeover of Taiwan would be inevitable and accomplished without firing a shot.
There are actions that Taiwan could take today to combat these economic, diplomatic and information offensives by the PRC. First, Taiwan could adopt a strategy of mutually assured destruction in the event of major disruptions to Taiwan’s economy due to outside influences by China or other countries. China and the rest of the world are dependent on Taiwan’s semiconductor production. The Taiwanese government could implement a policy that if they are attacked economically, they will reduce semiconductor exports to offending countries, including China.
Second, Taiwan’s Navy could increase its patrols of sea lines of communications with a stated policy of detaining, prosecuting, and destroying any vessels or crews that disrupt Taiwan’s infrastructure. Undersea cables and energy resource imports are strategic assets, and the PRC needs to understand the consequences to disruption to Taiwan. Third, Taiwan’s government can redouble its efforts of strengthening/building diplomatic relations with countries around the world. As the PRC’s selfish policies become less popular in certain countries, and countries realize their substantial debt to the PRC, Taiwan can find a way to establish diplomatic relations and trade partnerships. These expanded relations will make it harder for countries to ignore Taiwan diplomatically when Taiwan and the U.S. condemn China’s offensives at the United Nations.
China has already begun shaping operations for an economic, diplomatic, and informational campaign against Taiwan. Based on the minimal response to date by the Taiwanese government, U.S government, or the rest of the world, it is increasingly likely that China will take over Taiwan in a matter of years, under the noses of the whole world.
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