BY MONTE R. BULLARD AND JUDITH NORTON | IN-DEPTH PIECE
Several incidents occurring over the past decade suggest that military ties between China, Taiwan and the U.S. are experiencing an increased pace of strategic evolution. The most recent incidents happening between the U.S., China and Taiwan, particularly in July and August of 2017, demonstrate more clearly that a pivot point has been reached in strategic warfare planning. The incidents show that the U.S. needs to study the potential impact of cyberwarfare and the use of EMP weapons as well as integrate them into U.S. strategies at a higher than prior priority.
In the U.S., there are hundreds of middle level and senior officers in the Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth, the Navy Postgraduate school, the Army War College, Navy War College, National War College and others who are in class to learn how to plan for war. The officers study operations plans that try to take into account potential enemy activity. Usually, their description of the threat of the enemy is based upon the previous war, not the next one. Presently they are trying to figure out how to win Afghanistan, how to prevail in the Middle East and how to deal with China. At the same time, they have already started to study the potential impact of cyberwarfare and the use of EMP weapons, which need to be totally integrated into our strategies. The recent events show a reluctance to press on some forms of confrontation by all three countries because they understand that the nature of warfare is changing rapidly. Three major types of warfare – political warfare, kinetic warfare and cyberwarfare – require greater study now to find the balance between them that is evolving due to new technological innovations. While some military officers get educated in civilian universities and understand the political consequences of modern warfare, more experts in the civilian academic community need to examine the political consequences of modern warfare in more detail. Having a greater number of civilian academics more aware of some of the military thinking that is evolving in the U.S.-China-Taiwan relationship and getting involved in analyzing the evolving process would be useful to overall U.S. strategy in Asia.
A Series of Turning Points
Several turning points punctuate the strategic evolution of China, Taiwan, U.S. military relations, One turning point occurred in 2007 when China conducted an anti-satellite test. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, an anti-satellite weapon can destroy or interfere with satellites that in turn can limit a country’s ability to collect intelligence and conduct attacks. As CFR points out, China’s test demonstrated its military’s capability to target U.S. military vulnerabilities, specifically the U.S.’s heavy reliance on satellites to gather intelligence and use precision guided missiles in a conflict. This type of weapon most likely would be used in a conflict between the U.S. and China over Taiwan. According to interviews with Chinese experts and government officials conducted by one author of this paper, the test was carried out by the Chinese military and, in large part, was conducted in order to make a point to the U.S. and Taiwan about its capabilities to disrupt foreign military operations around Taiwan. China has continued to develop anti-satellites capabilities, because it considers the role of satellites in modern warfare to be “irreplaceable” or "without alternative" (无可替代).
The strategic evolution evolved further when the Bush Administration announced a US$6.5 billion arms in 2008 that included a fleet of 30 AH-64E Apache helicopters and when the Obama administration delivered the first batch to Taiwan in 2013 and the second one in 2014. The Apache helicopter is a variant of one of the world’s most powerful attack helicopters. Prior to the delivery of the helicopters, the Obama administration also agreed to upgrade Taiwan’s ageing fleet of 145 F-16 A/B Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft, which was part of a $US3.8 billion arms package approved by the U.S. Congress in September 2011.
A major turning point occurred in November and December of 2016 that demonstrated the strategic evolution in U.S., China and Taiwan strategic relations. For example in November China declared that its aircraft carrier Liaoning and the aircraft carrier-based J-15 fighter jets were combat ready. In a similar vein, in December 2016 China demonstrated the military’s growing capabilities to project power by sending the Liaoning and carrier-based J-15 fighter jets into the western Pacific Ocean between Okinawa and Miyakojima Islands to conduct blue water drills. It was the first blue-water drill for the carrier group. The live-fire drill also included the launch of missiles from the Liaoning’s ship-to-air missile system, as well as from the J-15 that launched air-to-air missiles and air-to-ship missiles.
China's Changing Perceptions of U.S. Intentions
On December 2, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on the telephone. The conversation was the first between a U.S. president or president-elect and the President of Taiwan since the U.S. severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979 at the request of Beijing leaders. From 1979 on the U.S. government has adhered to a “one China” policy that recognizes only ‘one China’ and Taiwan is part of China. Although China downplayed the call, it helped to shape the Chinese leaders’ perception of the current administration’s intentions.
A Gradual Escalation of Tensions Around Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait
Against this backdrop, 2017 saw the gradual escalation of tensions between China, the U.S. and Taiwan. In January 2017 the Liaoning and its carrier group carried out high-profile” maritime regional exercises around China’s periphery, including the South China Sea. When the Liaoning along with its carrier battle group returned from the drills in the South China Sea, it transited through the Taiwan Strait. Although the carrier group did not enter Taiwanese waters, it crossed Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Beijing labeled the maritime drills as “routine”, whereas Taipei called them “part of a rising threat from the mainland”.
Subsequently in April, amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula over the North Korean regime’s nuclear and missile programs, the U.S. and South Korea deployed some elements of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), such as launchers, intercept missiles and a radar, to a site in Seongju County, approximately 300 kilometers south of the capital Seoul. THAAD provides the South Korea military with the “rapidly-deployable capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight”.
China’s government actively opposes the deployment of THAAD. In an interview with CNN Christiane Amanpour, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai stated that the deployment of THAAD will not help reduce tensions or prevent dangers on the Korean Peninsula; rather it will “very much undermine the mutual trust and confidence between us, and pose a serious threat to China’s own security”. In a similar vein, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs contends the deployment of THAAD goes against efforts made by all parties to settle issues through dialogue and severely sabotages China’s security and strategic interests. At a news briefing, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Geng Shuang asserted that, “China will firmly take necessary actions to safeguard its own interests”.
In May China’s rocket forces tested the DF-26B, an anti-ship ballistic missile. China aims to advance the rocket forces to combat U.S. carrier forces which China perceives most likely would be involved in an outbreak of hostilities between China and the U.S. over Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait (other missile advancements include the DF-31, see here and here).
On June 1, 2017 the Chinese government enacted the Cyber Security Law (CSL). The law requires both information on Chinese citizens and issues related to national security to be stored on domestic servers. According to the China Daily, the law’s primary purpose is to safeguard national cyberspace sovereignty and security. According to one legal expert at The Lawfare Institute, CSL is part of “China’s evolving cyber governance system” that aims to establish the broad “legal framework for security controls in cyberspace”. In his speech on cyber defense, Xi Jinping stated that , “without cybersecurity there is no national security, without ‘informatization’ there is no modernization” (没有网络安全就没有国家安全，没有信息化就没有现代化). An inextricable link exists between cybersecurity and national security so securing control over information (informatization) is directly tied to the advancement of the Chinese state.
On June 28, China launched a new class of naval destroyers, the Type 055 guided missile destroyer. It includes new air defense as well as anti-submarine and anti-ship capabilities. According to the Chinese, it is “the most advanced and largest warship in Asia”. The Type 055 naval destroyer is similar to the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. According to one Chinese expert, the Type 055 class “has more firepower, higher information capacity and better reconnaissance and early warning capabilities”, and it “will extensively improve the Navy’s long-range operational capability” and “will play a major role in the country’s carrier battle groups”. According to another Chinese expert, the Type 055 destroyer could serve as a “missile-defense platform because it can carry and launch China’s advanced missile interceptors”, which expands “the country’s missile defense network”. China also announced the launch of a new guided-missile destroyer, the Type 052D destroyer, while later in September China commissioned for service the CNS Hulun Lake, the first of the Type-901 class. It is a ‘new generation, world-class resupply ship’ that “has a displacement of more than 45,000 metric tons with a maximum speed of approximately 25 knots”. It will provide the Liaoning carrier battle group with ‘long-range operational capabilities’.
Also on June 28 the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) announced details of its markups to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The SASC stated that the bill reestablishes regular ports of call by the U.S. Navy at Kaohsiung or other suitable ports in Taiwan, provides the foundation for the creation of a program to assist Taiwanese efforts to develop “indigenous undersea warfare capabilities”, as well as advocates for the advancement of U.S.-Taiwan strategic cooperation. Specifically the markups to the NDAA:
Reestablishes regular ports of call by the U.S. Navy at Kaohsiung or any other suitable ports in Taiwan and permits U.S. Pacific Command to receive ports of call visits by Taiwan; directs the Department to implement a program of technical assistance to support Taiwanese efforts to develop indigenous undersea warfare capabilities, including vehicles and sea mines; and expresses the sense of Congress that the United States should strengthen and enhance its long-standing partnership and strategic cooperation with Taiwan.
On June 29 Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) established the Information and Electronic Warfare Command to oversee all cyber defense operations. The operations are expected to integrate cyber defense in the military, while serving as the first tier of the military’s multi-layer deterrence strategy. Taiwan’s government might aim to emphasize cyber defense in response to China’s increasing focus on cybersecurity and ‘informatization’.
Also on June 29, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan successfully passed pension reform bills for civil servants, public school employees and political appointees. The bills called for significant cuts in retirement benefits in order to avert a bankruptcy in the pensions system. On June 30, President Tsai applauded the passage and gave a statement on pension reform. In her statement, the President contended that the reforms thwarted a pension system crisis. But from the viewpoint of some Taiwanese affected by the reforms, particularly retired military officers, the cuts allow the current, independence-leaning Taiwan administration to constrain the activities of retired Taiwanese military officials who want to visit as well as participate in government-led activities in China.
Furthermore on June 29 the Trump administration notified the U.S. Congress of its intention to authorize the sale of US$1.42 billion in arms to Taiwan. The arms package includes MK-48 torpedoes, AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles, AGM-154 joint standoff precision-guided missiles as well as upgrades to the 2011 Fighter F-16 A/B. Taiwan wants to acquire missiles and submarines. For Taiwan, submarines are the ultimate defensive weapon because they can sink invading fleets and, more importantly, break a naval blockade imposed by China, which most likely is the first thing China would do. But currently, because no government will authorize the sale of attack submarines to Taiwan due to China’s active enforcement of the One China Principle, Taiwan’s government initiated an indigenous program to upgrade existing subs acquired from the Netherlands in the 1980s, as well as develop new models. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs voiced strong opposition to the arms sale, stating that it wants “the U.S. side to honor its solemn commitments in the three China-U.S. joint communiqués, cancel its arms sales plan, and stop its military contact with Taiwan, so as not to cause further damage to China-U.S. relations and bilateral cooperation in major areas”.
Following the announcement of the U.S. arms deal to Taiwan, China escalated its show of force. On July 2, for example, China sailed the aircraft carrier, Liaoning, through the Taiwan Strait en route to Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover. The carrier group entered Taiwan’s ADIZ. According to media reports, Taiwan scrambled military jets ands ships to monitor the transit, and Taiwan’s military also conducted air and sea exercises involving seven Navy warships, anti-submarine helicopters as well as P-3C anti-submarine aircraft off the Penghu coast. Taiwan’s military announced the exercises only after the transit of the Liaoning took place, and avoided providing details of when Taiwan’s exercises took place. Also on July 2, prior to the G20 summit in Germany, where the U.S. and China were due to meet, the two countries were involved in an incident in the South China Sea. According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the USS Stethem – a guided missile destroyer – made an ”unauthorized entry” into China’s territorial waters, specifically Xisha (Paracel) Islands. According to the South China Morning Post, it passed less than 12 nautical miles from Triton Island, part of the Xisha Islands, claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. China dispatched three warships, which included the Luoyang and Suqian missile frigates, as well as two J-11B fighter jets to warn off the USS Stethem. This freedom of navigation operation is the second one conducted by the Trump administration in the region. The first one was conducted in late May when a U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, part of the Spratly Islands and claimed by China as well as Taiwan.
On July 11, the U.S. military conducted a successful test of THAAD. According to a Lockheed Martin release, “the THAAD system, located at Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, detected, tracked and intercepted a threat representative intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) target”. ‘It was the first IRBM intercept for THAAD’. In response to the test, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson reiterated China’s opposition to THAAD deployment. He stated that, “China's stance on the anti-missile issue has been consistent and unequivocal”. China hopes that the “relevant parties can act cautiously on the anti-missile issue so as to avoid any negative impact on global and regional security and stability”. Regarding the THAAD deployment in South Korea, China’s “firm opposition is consistent and clear”.
Later in July China became more active around Taiwan. On July 12 the Liaoning carrier group departed Hong Kong and sailed “into Taiwan’s ADIZ” while traveling “north along the west side of the Strait Middle Line”. On July 13 a wing of Xian H-6 strategic bombers from China’s Eastern Military Zone flew through the Bashi Channel off Taiwan’s southern ADIZ and “back to base”. Likewise on July 20, approximately 10 Chinese military aircraft including H-6K bombers flew over the East China Sea. This group of aircraft flew east of Taiwan, entered Taiwan’s ADIZ. Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense fighter jet tailed one of China’s H-6K bombers. On July 24, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) reported that “two wings of 4 Chinese aircrafts, Xian H-6”, flew from China’s Southern Military Zone near to Taiwan’s southern ADIZ, passed through the Bashi Channel to Miyako Kaikyo and then returned to base. Taiwan’s MND observed that China’s ‘use of routes along the western side of the Taiwan’s Strait’s mid-line or passing through the Miyako Strait’ most likely will become a part of the “Chinese military’s long-distance training involving warships and aircraft”.
In August China’s military remained active around Taiwan, executing three long-distance training exercises. On August 5, a wing of Xian H-6K bombers and Y-8 surveillance aircraft were spotted near Taiwan’s ADIZ. On August 12, Taiwan’s MND noted that there were two wings flying near Taiwan. One wing consisted of Xian H-6 and Y-8 while the other wing consisted of KJ-200 and SU-30. Both wings flew on the periphery of Taiwan’s southern ADIZ through the Bashi Channel. Similarly on August 13, Taiwan’s MND reported that two Chinese Y-8 surveillance aircraft flew along the periphery of Taiwan’s southern ADIZ through the Bashi Channel. According to one retired Taiwanese vice admiral, China’s exercises indicate that Beijing is preparing for a “partial, limited and non-nuclear war” “in the Taiwan Strait”.
There have not been any reports of cyber attacks on Taiwan’s military or any special operations missions. But that omission may be important.
China, and the U.S. and its major allies have conducted military exercises off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. According to media reports, since late July China has conducted three military exercises around the Korean Peninsula. From July 27-29 the military conducted a three-day naval exercise, which was held to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the PLA. One week later in early August, the military held a four-day drill. And on September 5 the air force conducted a third exercise that involved the first time use of weapon to shoot down low-altitude targets coming over sea while testing anti-jamming methods along with the units rapid response capabilities and combat levels. The following day China’s Ministry of Defense claimed these were routine exercises occurring within the annual plan. But one Chinese expert stated that the more recent drill was a “warning to the United States and President Donald Trump, who has made repeated threats to stage military action against North Korea”. And during a speech marking the 90th anniversary of the PLA, State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Chang Wanquan stated that, “opposition to Taiwan independence constitutes the political foundation of peace and development of cross-Straits relations”. He also stressed that “any form of secessionist attempt by anyone at any time would surely be opposed by the whole Chinese people and nation”.
Reinforcing Regional Alliances, Increasing Regional Tensions
On August 10 the U.S. and its major allies commenced major military exercises. Military forces from the U.S. and Japan held an 18-day live-fire exercise on the northern island of Hokkaido. Northern Viper is an “annual joint contingency exercise that tests the interoperability and bilateral capability of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and U.S. Marine Corps forces. Subsequently the U.S. and its allies held an annual military exercise near the Korean Peninsula. In a U.S. Department of Defense press release, the DoD stated the Republic of Korea and the United States Combined Forces Command held the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise. The 10-day exercise began on August 21. The computer simulated defensive exercise consists of approximately 17,500 U.S. service members. The U.S. forces joined with the ROK military forces as well as UN Command forces from “seven sending states”, namely Australia, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
On August 24, the Formosat-5 satellite was launched from the U.S. Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Formosat-5 is an earth observation satellite and is the first satellite to be designed by Taiwan’s National Space Organization. Not only will the satellite advance Taiwan’s space technology and scientific research. But it will provide global imagery for natural resource studies, rescue operations, disaster management, and national security.
Due to the growing tensions on the Peninsula, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense announced that it is prepared to complete the deployment of THAAD. According to a media report, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) introduced the "four remaining launchers for its THAAD battery to Seongju”. At the same time, a White House release stated that President Trump gave his approval in principle to “South Korea’s initiative to lift restrictions on their approved missile payload capabilities”. In response, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry stated China perceives “that the current situation on the Korean Peninsula remains highly complex and sensitive” and hopes that “the relevant parties can make efforts to prevent the escalation of the situation”.
The Strategic Evolution of Military Relationships
Military relationships between China, Taiwan and the U.S. are evolving in a direction that excuses some past practices and policies and forgives what used to be grounds for major diplomatic demarches. The highest levels in the militaries of all three sides are increasingly quiet. When the PRC sailed its aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait it was protested, but mostly ignored. Taiwan’s acquisition of 1.4 billion dollars’ worth of new military equipment from the U.S. has caused some complaint from China, but nothing serious and not more than in past arms sales to Taiwan. When the U.S. sailed the USS Stethem near Triton Island, a controversial area in the South China Sea claimed by China, but not recognized by the U.S.; PLA warships and fighter Jets warned off the ship, but no serious incident occurred. Even the policy change that allows U.S. Navy ships to call at Taiwan ports has not raised the noise level.
The salient question is: Why are these incidents, which used to play a larger role in international dialogue, now downplayed? Our interpretation is that we are at a new point in the evolution of military strategies in the planning organizations in all three nations. The newest major factor that contributes to a rethinking of long-range strategies is the entry of cyberwarfare and other still secret programs, such as electro-magnetic pulse (EMP), into the equation.
China continues to push its national interests in the South China Sea not to enable the interruption of sea lines of communication with missiles or other kinetic weapons. The islands do, however, offer useful platforms for cyberwarfare and other intelligence collection activities.
Taiwan’s planners are also looking toward the future. In addition to upgrading current ships and missiles they launched their first satellite. While the satellite does offer assistance in natural disasters and rescue operations, it is by far more useful in cyberwarfare.
U.S. planners are probably a little more sophisticated in that their future goals and strategies are not limited to single opponents (for Taiwan it is China and for China it is the U.S.). The U.S. will continue to develop strategic weapons systems to keep America safe by deterrence or warfighting capability. New secret programs are obviously underway.
The point of this blog is that all three nations, while improving traditional conventional strategic capabilities, are examining the three types of warfare (political warfare, kinetic warfare and cyberwarfare) mentioned earlier. The U.S. is perhaps the weakest in political warfare. Certainly, American planners consider the value of guided missile attacks to make a point (e.g., Syria), sailing a ship through contested waters, or highlighting the efficacy of anti-ICBM missiles. Complicated in-depth political warfare plans and strategies, however, are not usually on the table. All three, however, are involved in political testing by conducting publicized exercises, sailing ships and flying planes through areas claimed by adversaries. The U.S. considers the political consequences of military action while Taiwan and China design military action for the political consequences. In military planning China and Taiwan emphasize intent whereas the U.S focuses on capability.
The planners for traditional kinetic warfare are hard at work fighting the last war as they have learned at mid and high level military schools. They continue to develop the best weapons systems that can be used in fighting such conflicts and they have been extremely successful. China too has made its military forces more efficient and upgraded weapons systems to fight the last (previous, not ultimate) war. China is more attuned to political warfare and plans for the political and economic consequences of future conflict in much more detail than does the U.S. While the U.S. has an operations annex to a strategic military plan, the Chinese have an operations annex and a political/economic annex at an equal level. Although this is a little overstated, the emphasis is accurate. Taiwan understands the value of political/economic warfare, but for now it just has to do as well as it can by obtaining updated equipment from the U.S. and keep the U.S. involved in its defense. In Taiwan planners’ eyes the political/economic ties are probably more important than the military value of the equipment.
Cyberwar and EMP are in the infant stages. All three nations understand the importance of these new forms of warfare in any conflict, but what is needed to manage it (development of weapon’s capability, concepts of deployment, political consequences) are still at a very superficial level. It would behoove the academic community to pay much more attention to the political consequences of all these actions as military strategies are updated if we are to prevent conflict because of misunderstandings.
Citation: Bullard, Monte R. and Judith Norton "The Strategic Evolution of China-Taiwan-U.S. Military Ties." The East Asia Peace and Security Initiative. September 2017.
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