Gray Zone Conflict – China Aims To Subdue Taiwan Through Exhaustion, Not Invasion

葉 正道 Ben (busy) via Flickr

ANALYSIS While some defense experts are concerned about a possible Chinese invasion or other direct military action against Taiwan, Beijing appears to also be engaged in a more subtle form of Gray Zone conflict with Taipei. The goal? To simply wear down the democratic island’s resistance and deplete its more limited resources.

For now, this is a strategy of exhaustion, not invasion.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Air Force (PLAAF), and Navy (PLAN) have been launching waves of threatening aerial forays against Taiwan while increasing other pressure tactics such as amphibious landing exercises, aggressive naval patrols, cyberattacks, and diplomatic isolation.

Taiwan News reported that this past week has seen eight Chinese military aircraft entering Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), bringing the number of such incidents so far this month to 15. Every time this occurs Taiwanese forces must respond, deploy alert aircraft, and expend resources in fuel and other costs to intercept and escort out the enemy aircraft.

As I wrote earlier, Taiwan’s air force scrambled fighters against Chinese aircraft 2,972 times in the first nine months of 2020, at a staggering cost of nearly one billion U.S. dollars NT$25.5 billion (US$903 million).

Admiral Lee Hsi-ming, the commander of the Taiwanese military until 2019, told Reuters that these constant encroachment tactics are “super effective. You say it’s your garden, but it turns out that it is your neighbor who’s hanging out in the garden all the time. With that action, they are making a statement that it’s their garden and that garden is one step away from your house.”

However, other defense experts note that increasing its military capability to actually invade is also part of China’s pressure against Taiwan.

Admiral Lee believes the only thing holding back the PLA is that it hasn’t yet achieved the overwhelming firepower needed to overrun the island. But China’s massive military build-up over the two decades means it is now “far ahead” of Taiwan, he said.

“Time is definitely not on Taiwan’s side,” he added. “It’s only a matter of time for them to gather enough strength.”

Meanwhile, as I have also noted, the U.S., under President Trump, has significantly ramped up the sale of advanced weapons to Taipei, including offensive missiles for the first time in 40 years. As part of these sales, the U.S. expects Taiwan to boost its own defense spending and fortify its weakened defenses.

President Tsai is also coming under pressure at home to buff up the island’s forces. Her government is now planning to increase defense spending by more than 10% next year to T$453.4 billion ($16 billion), according to Reuters.

Turning Taiwan into a fortified island ‘porcupine” able to incur heavy losses on any invading Chinese force is only the first step to combatting China’s Gray Zone attacks. Beyond that, Taiwan, and its U.S. ally must formulate a more comprehensive Gray Zone counter-strategy to keep Taiwan free and democratic in the face of growing Chinese aggression.

Understanding the Gray Zone is key.


Paul Crespo

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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Cindy Piazza
Cindy Piazza
3 months ago

Where is the UN? Why is this allowed to happen?

Keith Myatt
Keith Myatt
3 months ago
Reply to  Cindy Piazza

The UN doesn’t care.

Joey Baloney
Joey Baloney
3 months ago
Reply to  Cindy Piazza

the UN is owned by the Chinese

Bob L.
3 months ago

Some of the $700 billion in foreign aid in the Covid relief bill should have gone to Taiwan to pay on their defense budget.

Barbara
Barbara
3 months ago

WE CAN NOT ALLOW TAIWAN TO FALL INTO THE CCP HANDS. THEY ARE DICTATORS OF THE WORST KIND. AND TO FIND OUT THAT SOMEONE DESTROYED THE FACTORY THAT WAS PRODUCING THE HCQ—- THAT TRUMP SAYS WAS GOOD FOR DEFEATING THE VIRUS. NOW THE QUESTION DID CHINA DO THAT OR THE GLOBALIST OR GATES AND FAUCI —– DID THE GLOBALIST USE THEIR WEATHER WEAPON TO DESTROY THE BUILDING. DON’T FORGET IT IS A PRECISION WEAPON.! JUST LIKE THEY CONTROL OUR WEATHER.—– THE FIRES OUT WEST AND THE HURRICANES IN THE SOUTH., IT IS TIME TO HAUL IN THE GLOBALIST AND SEND THEM TO PRISON FOR GOOD. HOW DARE THEY INTERFER IN OTHER COUNTRIES BUSINESS——– THEY ARE JUST ANOTHER SET OF DICTATORS.!

fabian
fabian
3 months ago

Interesting. They should let them fly but if they fly through the national airspace, shoot them down. In the long run, Taiwan will return to China. Strictly speaking, Taiwan is a separatist province. We support them for ideological reason but we would never tolerate Texas to split for instance. Or we can see how Western “democracies” react when one member wants to split; Catalonia is the latest example.

JohnS
JohnS
3 months ago
Reply to  fabian

China never owned Taiwan but simply claimed it as their own. This was a civil war where the ROC occupied a terrotory much like Israel did. Iti s recognized by 17 countries but many more do not simply for economic reasons where The PRC provides a much larger market. The PRC wants the islands as their own simply because thet would then control all of the SE Asia and all ofthe trade routes. They then can oust the US and become the military and trade power for the entire region.

JohnS
JohnS
3 months ago

With Biden as a accolyte of China, he will do nothingto stop this. What we need to do is firmly express that we will support Taiwan and provide advanced equipment. Any incursion into Taiwan territory will be met with a call to leave and if not answered assume it is an invasion to shoot them Down.

Chuck
3 months ago

Shoot one of their encroaching aircraft down and maybe they will stop doing it for a time. If they don’t prepare for all out war and the U.S.A. will back you up.

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