Sunday, July 10, 2005

China vs Taiwan in the blogs: MeiZhongTai rebuts my post.

China vs Taiwan in the blogs: MeiZhongTai rebuts my post.

Recently several of the blogs have been chatting about the possibilities of war in the Taiwan Strait. My response to the responses to Bill Gertz's article is here. Asiapundit's original blog roundup is here.
MeiZhongTai rebuts my earlier post on cross-strait warfare.

MZT writes:
It is correct that a 5:1 formula need only apply to the defenders at the point of attack. Considering Taiwan's 3.8 million man reserves could be rapidly mobilized to such locations (especially considering the ample advanced warning and the predictability of where they will land), China would likely need more, not less than the number originally cited by Shambaugh to get a significant foothold.
There are several problems here. Taiwan's 3.8 million man reserve will take weeks to get going.
There are a million Taiwanese in China, mostly male, and many in the reserve. There isn't a surplus of officers, as GlobalSecurity notes:

The ratio of officers to NCOs is currently 1:2.4, while that to enlisted men is 1:2.6. Thus, the ratio of officers to soldiers as a whole in the ROC Armed Forces is around 1:5, which is close to the 1:6 ratio of the US Armed Forces, and almost equals that of the Japanese Self-Defense Force (1:4.98).

Noncommissioned Officers

NCOs constitute the backbone of basic units of the Armed Forces, and are increasingly depended upon to train troops and develop their combat performance. In recent years, however, most senior NCOs have retired, leaving the current proportion of career NCOs too low and the percentage of NCO reservists in service too high. Reservists are on active duty for a very limited period of time, making it difficult for them to keep up with changes in the operation and maintenance of ever-more sophisticated weapons and equipment. Solutions to this problem lie in reconfiguring the NCO organizational structure and recruiting new NCOs.

The idea that Taiwan's reserve will charge like white cells to the point of infection is certainly reassuring, but may not materialize in reality. GlobalSecurity summarizes what little is known here. The key to whether the reserve will be able to function is control of the air over Taiwan. And that is going to be a serious problem as time goes on.

MZT writes: The ROCAF's air superiority is due to a significant qualitative advantage over the PLAAF (and PLANAF). While China maintains an overall quantitative advantage, that counts all Chinese aircraft, not just those stationed in the Taiwan theater (defined as the Nanjing and Guangzhou Military Regions). According to Shambaugh, only about 1,600 of the PLAAF's 2,748 fighters are located within 500 nm of Taiwan (MCM, 154). Any attempt to reposition other fighters closer to Taiwan ahead of time would certainly give away China's intention long before hand. Thus while China could theoretically acquire air superiority days or weeks into a war with Taiwan, it will certainly not have it at the initiation of conflict.
The reality is that no such clear-cut qualitative advantage exists. As a poster commented on MZT, when it comes to advanced fighters, the two nations are equal in number. At the moment Taiwan has 421 fighter aircraft. These include:

F-16: 146
Mirage 2000: 57
IDF: 128
F-5 90
Over half of Taiwan's aircraft consist of obselescent F-5s or the untested IDF. The Mirage 2000 and F-16 are export versions, and there are just 203 of them in all. By comparison, China has 180 Su-27s and 200 Su-30s, which are on paper superior to anything flown by the ROC air force, not to mention over 2,000 other aircraft.

China may have "only" 1,600 fighters in areas close to Taiwan, but that number should have no problem attaining air surpremacy over the Taiwan Straits. MZT alluded in his comments to the fact that Taiwan's fighter pilots get more air time. How good are those pilots? When the F-16s were first introduced, there was a rash of crashes and the introduction of the aircraft had to be postponed. Who can forget the incidents two years ago when two F-16s were lost when trainers attempted to punish trainees. It appears that there are a lot of writers out there who nurture fantasies of the Bekka Valley in 1982, when the Israeli F15 and F-16 fighters downed 89+ Syrian MIGs in an airborne battle for no losses of their own. That will not be the case in the Taiwan Straits. During the time that the fighters are operating above the Taiwan Strait, their airbases will also be under attack, while it is unlikely that the Taiwanese will be able to do much to airbases on the other side of the Strait. Even granting significant human superiority, pilots still need to sleep and eat, and aircraft need servicing. I cannot find any good data on sortie rates, but intuitively, when one is outnumbered 5-1 in airframes, prospects for rest are not good. It will not take China more than a few days to achieve control of the air.

MZT writes:
That China will employ fishing boats is a common claim of those that feel China can invade Taiwan despite its pathetic power projection capabilities. This has been tried on Kinmen Island (Quemoy), which is only two kilometers from the closest Chinese soil. As the PLA learned in 1949, improvising can be a bad idea. Conventional wisdom says you should invade with a sizable numerical advantage at the point of attack (as mentioned above) and should soon be reinforced by heavy infantry and armor. China, however, had no need for such conventional wisdom and saw fit to invade the tiny island with light infantry brought over on fishing boats.
The result of the aforementioned Battle of Kuningtou: Kinmen Island is still very much part of the ROC and the PLA invaders that survived the brief battle surrendered en masse to the ROC Army forces. (For those seeking a list of excuses as to why the Communists lost, see this article cited by Turton.) The communists were able to take Hainan the following year because they followed the old paradigm more closely. They, unlike all of the pundits that argue fishing boats will make the difference, learned their lessons.
I was not arguing that "they will come over on fishing boats" but that significant use can be made of civilian craft, of which there are a great variety. Certainly the initial landings will be made by dedicated amphibious units, once the air is controlled. Today it is generally conceded that China could take Kinmen any time it wanted. It refrains from doing so because it wants Taiwan to have a connection to the mainland. To take the offshore islands would be to sever the ROC from China, a fact which only supports Taiwan independence. It is politics, not military considerations, that keeps Kinmen in Taiwan hands.

MZT: If a significant number of China's landing craft and troop transport craft survive a trip across the strait (and this is a big 'if'), resupply and reinforcement will be so far apart that the ROCA will have plenty of time to slaughter the first wave before the second wave has even left the mainland. In addition to falling prey to the ROCAF, they will have to cruise by Kinmen, Matsu, and Penghu, where they will certainly come under attack by ROC forces stationed there.
Of course they will survive. What will Taiwan hit them with? The air will be under PRC control, and the neither the Navy nor the Taiwan AF will be able to interdict any invasion.

Turton asserts:
China can get troops across in hours -- the Strait is only 100 kms wide. What would happen if China got troops across, in good organization, and supported by air power, and kept them there for a few days?
MZTL This hypothetical is implausible since China wouldn't have air superiority (see above) and the troops wouldn't be in very good shape considering the sea sickness (mentioned in the China Defense article) and disorder caused by putting troops haphazardly on confiscated fishing boats. The answer to this question, however, is Kuningtou (the name of the battle on Kinmen previously referenced). The Chinese troops would come ashore underarmed and be slaughtered en masse before reinforcements could arrive.
MZT has made too much of my "fishing boats" comment. The answer is that the Chinese would establish a beachhead in an area of their choice, with the Taiwan AF suppressed or destroyed, and their own now free to ravage incoming Taiwanese units.
MZT: That puts 20 hours (best case scenario) between wave one and wave two (which will be smaller than wave one due to attrition of vessels). I wouldn't bet much on there still being any remnants of wave one alive by the time wave two arrived, especially since the invaders will have no artillery or naval gun support (the former due to distance and the latter is rightfully ruled out in the China Defense article cited above).
Actually, the attackers will have artillery in the form of large 120mm mortars, mentioned in the
China Defense article cited above. But that is a minor point.

MZT: Anyone planning to throw caution into the wind and 'improvise' would be well advised to study previous improvised battles like Kuningtou. Heavy infantry and armor have always defeated light infantry and as there aren't too many fishing boats that can hold even China's lightest tank (the T-99), China would once again be limited to light infantry. One could argue that a huge numerical superiority in favor of the invading light infantry could overturn that heavy-light paradigm but Turton has already ruled out invading with such a force. Likewise, saturation by land or naval artillery could help to overcome a small numerical inferiority, but PLA invaders will have neither.
MZT's focus on the 'fishing boats' has obscured the problems I raised with this scenario. The PRC controls the air and thus no ROC heavy units can operate, at least by day. Taiwan is heavily urbanized and combat is likely to result in significant civilian population flight, impeding military operations. The reserve call-up will not take place smoothly but will be a chaotic mess. There is a chronic problem with drills and training in Taiwan society, nicely put by this fireman discussing firefighters training:

In Taiwan, unfortunately, drills have become a form of drama, aimed at presenting a perfectly run show to government leaders and the media. In terms of drill preparation, the most important part is perhaps whether an exercise is exciting enough, how to show off the functions of newly-purchased equipment and how to create a tense atmosphere. As for the loopholes in disaster handling and technical difficulties, drill organizers make them disappear by changing the plot.

Everything is way too perfect. A drill always ends with some officials' lectures and praise. What flaws are there in the drill? No one knows. Who knows that the height of firefighting ladders is limited and the water can hardly reach higher? Who knows that it takes time to conduct such exercises if rescuers wear protective suits and even more time to set up emergency tents on the spot? Who knows that all the locations or buildings where drills take place are specially selected? Who knows that it takes complex procedures to gather those emergency units in real life?

Since everything is perfect in the drills across the nation, no wonder the reality is miserable!

A similar point was made last year by a soldier sent to train in the US (quoted in the Aug 04 TECR0 Taiwan update):

Cadet Hung Wan-ting of Hsintien in Taipei County is enrolled at the USMA at West Point. Like every foreign exchange student, Cadet Hung had to adapt to a different culture to survive in her new surroundings. To her, two of the biggest differences between Taiwan's military education system and that of the United States are the physical demands placed on cadets and the U.S. army's focus on realistic training in the field. "Here, they stress tactics like marksmanship and land navigation. The USMA also teaches cadets about infantry tactics, such as squad movement, platoon movement, conducting raids, and defense in the field environment," whereas the Taiwan military focuses more on military discipline and seldom allow cadets to practice using live ammunition.
Just to toss out ideas randomly, another issue not often discussed is Taiwan's nuclear plants. Incredibly, the KMT government built two of them near Taipei (and is putting another one there). Destroying them would require evacuation of the city of Taipei (to where?) and effectively paralyze government action. Alternatively, if they were seized in the initial phases of the invasion, how could heavy weapons be used against any pocket containing them? Destroying the nuke plant in Kenting may well render airbases on the tip of the island useless as well.

We will now turn to MZT's remarks in the second rebuttal.

He further elaborates on each point and I will hold off and address each specific point as he does...
In the event of a cross-strait conflict, would Taiwan's military fight? Maybe, and maybe not. The military rank and file are Taiwanese, but the officer class remains mainlander and therefore, in its heart, pro-China. I'd imagine there would be some outright defections if the Chinese actually moved, and there would be quite a lot of sabotage one way or another.
One of the commenters on Turton's site labeled this ethnic determinism, calling it
cheap stereotypes of "He's ethnically Taiwanese, so he's a proud defender of the motherland" or "He's ethnically mainland, so he's a Red Book-waving surrender-monkey."(source)
I also don't agree with ethnic determinism and feel it is quite unfair to say that just because of one's ethnicity (or more specifically, because of the nationality of one's parents) they are more or less likely to defend their country or surrender to aggression by the People's Republic. Based on the Iraq-related comments Mr. Turton has made lately, I am reminded of those opposed to the Iraq War saying that Americans would not be welcomed as liberators from their oppressive leader by the Iraqi people because no one likes to have their home country conquered by outsiders. The same applies in this situation. No one wants to be conquered, whatever their skin color or ethnic heritage.
The comments of MZT and the other poster reveal an erroneous conception of Taiwan's society.

Readers will first note that MZT does not actually rebut my point: will the mainlander officer corps fight? He simply rules the question out of bounds "quite unfair to say that just because of one's ethnicity (or more specifically, because of the nationality of one's parents) they are more or less likely to defend their country".

Let us begin by noting something odd about mainlanders and that is precisely that mainlander is not an ethnicity. It is a political identity created by the KMT out of a variety of ethnic groups who happened to come across in 1949. It had two basic functions: to suppress local political, social, and cultural identities, and to nurture a political class whose identity revolved around a return to the mainland. MZT has completely mischaracterized the entire question of where the loyalties of the mainlander officer class might lie as a question of the "nationlity of one's parents." In reality, it is a question of the political identity of the officer class. In other words, when MZT claims that they will defend "their country", this simply begs the question of what those officers consider their country.

This is not an idle question. The interested reader will note that I did not make an unsupported claim. I pointed to two salient facts. First, that there is a steady flow of retired ROC military officers to China, where they go to work for the PRC military, and second, that senior military officers bluntly said they would not defend the island in the case of a declaration of independence. If a China-Taiwan war occurred in a context in which mainlanders felt that independence had been declared, where would the officer classes' loyalties lie? Lawrence Eyton, one of Taiwan's most perceptive foreign observers, writes:

It also follows the release of an alarming statistic by the Ministry of National Defense according to which more than 3,000 former Taiwan military officers are now either doing business or working in "consultancies" in mainland China. There is an overwhelming impression that Taiwan is in the midst of a security crisis. Is it?

Certainly the loss of political power of the pro-unification mainlanders who staff the civil service, the officer corps and the intelligence services, their feeling of alienation in a regime that stresses Taiwan's de facto independence and the interests of ethnic Taiwanese, has been traumatic. They find themselves in the position of a colonial administrative class which, now that their colony has achieved independence, find themselves unwelcome and yet have no "home" country to return to.
I hope in the next cycle of posts MZT will come up with something concrete to say about the issue, rather than simply ruling out the discussion as "unfair."

MZT writes: I don't claim to know if there are any Chinese spies in the military but I am curious to hear more about this assertion and the basis of the claim. I have seen some reports of the odd soldier or civilian on either side of the strait being arrested and accused of spying for the other. Does the PRC have more or less spies in the ROC military than the ROC has in the PLA? Does anyone really know?

As to the senior military officers, the officers that sat atop the hierarchy in 2000 when President Chen was inaugurated are not the same ones that command it today. As is ROC tradition, the President has a significant role in the selection of general officers. I seriously doubt he will pick officers for senior positions unless he is confident in the general's willingness to fight.
MZT is right here, in that Chen has slowly been promoting more Taiwanese to top spots. Military reform is one of the most urgent needs of Taiwan. In another decade I think we will be able to relax on that score.

MZT: I didn't see this poll, so I can't evaluate their method of sample selection, survey size, or wording of the question. Since half of Taiwan's young people are females and wouldn't be expected to serve anyways, it doesn't surprise me all that much though. Show me a (properly conducted) survey of graduates of the country's military academies or of able-bodied men doing their mandatory military service saying they won't fight and I will find it much more alarming.
The poll is online here, along with an anti-independence commentary on it.

I agree that Taiwan has been treated by the militaries of the world as an unwanted stepchild for many years. The military as a whole has participated in no significant military exercises with foreign powers in many years. If China was regularly participating in multi-national exercises with first-rate powers, this would be worrying by comparison. But China has not. (One exercise involving a two foreign warships doesn't count for much, especially when that foreign country is France.)

Sure, China is probably just as behind as Taiwan. But that simply makes my point for me. MZT wants to imagine that Taiwan is vastly ahead of China. It's not. Both states are probably behind the world curve, and not much different from each other. But such a situation does not favor the smaller power.

MZT: Agreed. Taiwan is not Israel. Taiwan's neighbors cannot march to invade it. This is important because power projection in East Asia, unlike the Middle East, cannot be attained by simply purchasing comfortable shoes. Israel was forced to react to a planned invasion with only a week or so notice in the 1967 War. It is completely inconceivable that Taiwan would ever face an invasion force (even one of the size Turton offers) with that little advanced notice.
Actually, the Israelis had plenty of advance notice in the 1967 war, more than two weeks. But that's a side issue. I agree that preparations for an all-out assault on Taiwan would be difficult to mask and that Taiwan would have significant advance notice, all moot anyway because the initial air phase would give Taiwan several days of advance notice, minimum.

MZT: Firstly, who says the war will be short? Seems to me we are making a lot of assumptions in favor of China. War planners who think that every advantage will fall their way tend not to perform well in real conflict. A China expecting mass desertion and a short war will be quite surprised by what they find on this beautiful island.

Secondly, China's trade with Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South America would be dependent on their opponents not imposing a blockade of some kind, as would the 5.56 million barrels per day that China imports. More importantly though, China's top two trading partners are Japan and the US, and Taiwan is number seven (with the EU being considered as one trading bloc). Even if China was not subjected to a blockade, I suspect that significant losses of trade due to conflict and the loss of one's biggest trading partners would result in much more than a 'blip on the development radar.' Trade with all of the locations mentioned by Turton is a blip on the GDP screen compared to the combined economic forces of the US, Japan, and Taiwan. Additionally, Japan, the US, and Taiwan all rank in the top five as sources of FDI. (For a great country-by-country analysis of trade with, and investment in, China, see 'China's Foreign Trade and Investment' in China and World Economy (vol. 13 no.3), which is the source of the above data but sadly isn't available online.)
These are very solid points, reasons why China is busy diversifying away from these destinations. The major problem will be keeping a war short.

I admit I am curious about blockade issues. Taiwan and Japan are both highly vulnerable to blockades both of oil and of food, especially fish. China is now the second largest importer of oil, with Japan right behind. An oil bockade of Japan would have additional repercussions for US forces which must operate out of Japan and Taiwan. China's strategic oil reserve is much smaller than Japan's, and China recently put off starting to fill it as oil prices hit new highs. Would the powers let the war spin out of control, or would they try to keep it confined to the waters around Taiwan and reduce the economic devastation?
YES! Despite Turton's eagerness to declare the Iraq War a victory for the resistance, Coalition forces are performing quite well in Iraq and to date none of America's checks have bounced. I will refrain from further discussion of the Iraq conflict, however, because that is amply addressed by hundreds of other blogs and news sources. As to America's ability to sustain a conflict with China, allow me to offer a quote from Joseph Nye who sums the issue up well:
None of America's checks have bounced so far, partly because no one has any choice but to accept them, and partly by slashing other programs, and partly by running up massive deficits. But there is a limit to how much money the US can borrow to finance its wars, especially given the crucial role China is playing at the moment absorbing our dollars. And now that there is the Euro to flee to.....
MZT:While I admit that relying on France or Germany to aid us would be unwise, I am curious to hear an explanation why anyone can be so sure that Great Britain and/or Australia would not offer some assistance. Turton later clarified here what he meant by Europe supporting China:
Australia has already said it would not get involved. What assistance could the British offer? The major European assistance would be not funding the China side, and not trading it weapons or food. I admit I am extremely curious to see what Europe will do in the event of a US-China war. Will they actually do the right thing?

MZT: The ROC military is much more capable than Mr. Turton implies. That does not mean that Taiwan is Israel-like. It obviously has problems (great article on the subject here), but its problems pale in comparison to those of the People's Republic. America's military is likewise much more powerful than Mr. Turton implies.

A war between China and Taiwan or China and Japan would be close (assuming the war was fought at sea or on the islands, not in China) but a fight against the United States would not be close at all. A fight against the combined forces of those three nations would be over before it began.
I guess we will have to differ on this. A war between China and Taiwan would be a Chinese victory, no problem at all. It is impossible to say what a China-Japan confrontation would look like (everyone running out of gas in about three weeks, no doubt). Whether a war between China and the US/Japan over Taiwan would be a "over before it began" -- I am not so sanguine. The PRC is a tenacious and powerful opponent, willing to take great losses in causes it deems important. A long slugfest would no doubt result in very significant damage to the world economy. Could the US take it? A lot will depend on whether the general population accepts that defending Taiwan is worth it. Perhaps we pro-Taiwan bloggers should be expending our energy on that.


Anonymous said...

Scott Sommers wrote,
I have not read the whole post, partially because I know very little about this topic. I have, however, met a number of PRC citizens who have received training as members of the military. One woman whom I dated in Canada told me that she had been received training as a member of the militia. Her training consisted of firing a shotgun once and riding inside a tank. The wife of one of my best friends was trained as a sniper. Unfortunately, they had no weapons to train with, so her preparation for war consisted of reading Communist Party propaganda.

Anonymous said...

I have been following your debate back and forth, and find it very interesting, as both sides are quite knowledgable and make good points. However, one idea seems to be failing to register. A US navy and Japanese naval blockade would be total and unbrakeable by china, simply because most of China's antiship ability is in its land-based air and simply by sitting 1000 miles out China simply would have the blue water ability to tag those two navies. Nor would china have any ability to more than cause a detour to Japan based trade (Unless SK goes rouge and acts as a Chinese base)

A real conflict over taiwan would see an effective obliteration of the Chinese ability to import food and oil. Chinas population now all lives in the city, and thier enviromental destruction leaves them net food importers now. This is the key weakness of the Chinese, not the actualities of combat on or aroudn the island of taiwan.

Kirby said...

China has more than sufficient caloric output to feed its population. Oil is no problem. 3 million bpd of domestic production is plenty to fight with. Nobody needs to feed taxis or yuppies in a total war.

Kadena is the ONLY USA base in vicinity of Taiwan. Carriers cannot match the operational ability of land based air. USA cannot make China suffer more than China can make Taiwan suffer. When Taiwan gives up, we win.

Kirby said...

The issue about training. China puts everyone through military training, including my 14 year old girl cousin. It is a joke to her as well. Several hundred million people go through with this, which provides the bias "Chinese are not trained"

China trains intensively about half a million troops. These are air force and elite naval, armor, and amphibious units. They do not go to America to sit dinner with you. They do go on UN peace keeping missions, and have the best efficiency and effectiveness in that group.

China gets a lot of crap, some of that is fair as we do have so much crap. Even so, the good ones come in enormous numbers. They come with brains, skills, and a determination to never give up their goal. That's why Taiwan+USA+Japan will be beaten, all together, like we beat 15 nations in Korea.