The Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis will not vanish like the previous three. While the PLA has not demonstrated its military strategy to take Taiwan, it has eroded a key cross-strait norm: from now until the Politburo takes its next step, the PLA will threaten to bracket and blockade Taiwan. The United States and its allies cannot assume that Taiwan will be continuously accessible. Plans must be made accordingly. The U.S. should ensure that Taiwan has not only the stocks but also the economic and agricultural reserves, to survive Chinese military pressure.
Nancy Pelosi’s visit inaugurated the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis. It ended neither with her departure from Taiwan nor the subsequent bipartisan congressional delegation to Taiwan. Nor did it cease with the expiration of PLA exercise zones around Taiwan. This crisis is distinct from the previous three. Unlike in the past, the PLA is near to fielding the capabilities needed to assault Taiwan.
This is not a matter of missiles alone, no matter how numerous and long-range they may be. Three days of war taught the Kremlin that Ukraine would not submit to optical bullying and the illusion of massed forces. The Zhongnanhai cannot have missed this lesson: Taiwan must be taken physically with the “boots on the ground” that have bedeviled Western strategists for the past thirty years.
Rather, the PLA has a growing fleet of amphibious assault ships and airborne transports capable of delivering some 30,000-or-so soldiers in an initial wave. This figure—it is important to remember—is conjecture. Actual Chinese capabilities remain classified and difficult to assess in the open-source and, even more relevant, insufficient to subjugate Taiwan. Yet by the decade’s end, the PLA will have constructed at least one, quite possibly three, flat-decked amphibious assault ships and another seven large well-deck amphibious warships, adding to the PLA’s first-wave punches by a third or more. Moreover, the PLA can call upon a host of civilian transports that, when combined, equal the tonnage of the entire U.S. logistics fleet, a force with far greater geographical demands than the PLA’s logistics.
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