China’s Super Marines Could Invade Taiwan, But What Does That Mean?

Meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj / Photo via The Kremlin

China’s Marines would be key in a Taiwan War: Tensions between China, the U.S., and Taiwan have risen following a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the self-governing island. Renewed attention has fallen on the question of China’s ability to seize the island in a D-Day-like amphibious invasion.

Rampant speculation that a surprise invasion could occur any day now is off base. The time and effort needed to assemble an adequate force would make preparations quite obvious, as they were in the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, China’s military has unquestionably devoted much effort to improving its capability to undertake such a risky and costly campaign if ordered to.

One important element of those plans is the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps, or PLANMC, which has more than doubled in size since 2017. This article will review key findings from a study by Connor Kennedy for the China Maritime Studies Institute regarding the organization, mission, and methods of China’s revamped Marine Corps as well as how that related to Taiwan.

The PLANMC was formed from the Army’s 85th Division in May 1952. A company of this division saw action repelling a Nationalist landing force from Dongshan island in 1953. This corps was eventually disbanded, but after island skirmishes with Vietnam, two new Marine brigades were formed, one in 1980 and another in 1998. These totaled 12,000 personnel, stationed mostly at Zhanjiang to support the South China Sea Fleet in anti-piracy and island garrison missions.

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