2023-0713: China’s Blockade of Taiwan Would Be a Mistake; Taiwan Provisions in FY24 NDAA

Blockading Taiwan Would Be a Mistake for China: Ex-Pentagon Official

An attempt by China to take Taiwan through a blockade would be a mistake for Beijing, as U.S.-led coalition forces would be able to eventually foil the attempt, a former U.S. Department of Defense official said on July 7.

Tony Hu, the first Pentagon senior director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia, said in a media interview that the perception that China could cause Taiwan to collapse by blockading it for three weeks did not reflect reality.

“First, they can’t blockade Taiwan for three weeks,” Hu said in response to a question of how coalition forces would react if Chinese warships and planes surrounded Taiwan to prevent foreign military assistance.

If China conducted a blockade without firing weapons, it would still be an “act of war” under international law, and “coalition forces could conduct anti-blockade operations by escorting supplies into Taiwan,” he said.

It would also not make sense for Beijing to use the tactic if its goal is to take Taiwan, he said.

“China hopes to take Taiwan in a quick victory,” and “a blockade is not going to give them a quick victory,” Hu added.

“If China does a blockade, it would give coalition forces so much time to build up and to move forces forward that the chance of them ever winning a conflict with Taiwan would be nil,” he said.

Hu also said that the current lack of joint military exercises between Taiwan and the U.S. is a “hindrance” for Taiwan in preparing for a potential war in the Taiwan Strait.

He hoped that this would soon change, given provisions passed by the U.S. Congress last year and in 2021 that called for Taiwan-U.S. joint military training.

Even without joint exercises, however, Taiwan’s military is moving in the right direction by pursuing a joint C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platform that is also used by the U.S. military, which would improve the interoperability between the two forces and facilitate joint training, Hu said.

On countering China’s “gray zone” activities — an extension of Chinese military short of outright military engagement, Hu called for the free world to define clearly who should be considered “combatants” and who should be considered “non-combatants,” a line that China has deliberately blurred.

For instance, entities operating under the command of a semi-military organization such as the Chinese Coast Guard should be classified as “combatants” and responded to accordingly, he said.

Similarly, Chinese civilian hackers commissioned by the Chinese government to attack other countries’ financial systems or Internet infrastructure should be also regarded and dealt with as “combatants,” he added.

The world needs to redefine the gray areas that China has been exploiting to gain an advantage over the rest of the world, including the information warfare that China is waging by planting disinformation in the media of other countries, he said.

[1] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202307080014
[2] Taipei Times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2023/07/10/2003802966

U.S. Senate Committee Files Annual Defense Bill with Taiwan Provisions

On July 11, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee filed its draft of an annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24 NDAA) (S.2226), containing provisions to bolster defense and cybersecurity cooperation with Taiwan.

The draft FY24 NDAA, which the committee approved in a bipartisan 24-1 vote on June 23, would authorize a topline of US$876.8 billion for military and national defense programs at the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Energy.

The bill is to be debated in the full Senate.

Regarding Taiwan, the bill directs the U.S. Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the U.S. Secretary of State and in consultation with appropriate officials of Taiwan, to establish a “comprehensive training, advising, and institutional capacity-building program” for the military forces of Taiwan.

The program would be aimed at enabling a “layered defense” of Taiwan by Taiwanese forces, including through the use of an asymmetric defense strategy, and would also boost interoperability between Taiwan and U.S. forces and encourage information sharing, the bill says.

The legislation would also require U.S. officials, including the Secretary of Defense and the heads of the U.S. Cyber Command and U.S. Indo-Pacific command, to engage with Taiwan on expanding military cybersecurity cooperation.

Aside from these initiatives, the draft NDAA would instruct the U.S. Department of Defense to provide an assessment to the U.S. Congress on how Taiwan has integrated the military capabilities it has received from the U.S. over the last 10 years.

It would also mandate the completion of a “comprehensive analysis of the risks and implications of a sustained military blockade of Taiwan” by China. This report would be carried out by the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence.

Specifically, the analysis would include an assessment of how China might execute a blockade, its possible precursors or warning signs, its potential impacts on Taiwan and the U.S., and military and non-military options for countering a blockade, the bill says.

In addition to the draft FY24 NDAA in the Senate, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee passed a separate version of the legislation late last month.

Typically, after the full House and Senate have passed their own versions of the NDAA, they would negotiate a reconciliation of the bill to send to the U.S. President to sign into law before the end of the year.

[1] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202307120008
[2] Taipei Times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2023/07/13/2003803117