Can China successfully invade and conquer Taiwan?


I think the answer is “Yes, provided China is prepared to pay the price.”  Two articles suggest that the price may be very heavy.

Jonathan LaForce is a friend of mine.  He’s written a guest post at William Lehman’s blog examining the practical difficulties involved in an invasion.  Here’s a brief excerpt.

I will admit upfront, I don’t have certain pieces of knowledge. I am not an expert on amphibious doctrine in all its multifaceted glory. I am not a graduate of any service school which directly addresses such matters, though I do own and have read copies of the course material. What I am is a serious student of history, a veteran of the USMC who put my time in uniform to good use learning, and a man who has paid attention to those more educated than me on these topics over the last 20 years as I have sought to be educated on martial matters. War was my profession, war is my preferred topic of study at all times and in all places, and the lessons from this rich field are highly instructive.

There are three options of invasion available:

Option 1) airborne. 

Option 2) amphibious.

Option 3) a combo of the above. 

All have serious risks involved. 

Option 1

There exist four international airports on the island of Formosa capable of receiving and launching aircraft. Which is what you’ll need to rapidly deploy enough troops to hold those positions. Each airport is a large, complex structure, with a perimeter measured in the thousands of meters. A battalion is not going to cut it, especially since they’ll quickly be facing stiff resistance. You’ll need an infantry regiment for each, so assume 3,000 men per site. 

Either all your infantrymen are jumping out the door of a cargo plane as it flies through the air, or try to come busting out of an Airbus hold as it taxis to a stop near the terminal. We’ll assume you packed the hull to max capacity, that you safely delivered 100 men and their gear on target. Thirty aircraft will be necessary, just to deploy one regiment. Overall, you’re looking at 120 cargo planes, packed tighter than a Japanese subway car, flying in formation to their drop zones. Certainly, nobody will notice that moving eastward through the sky. Not at all.  

Congrats, you’ve now got your grunts on the ground. You were limited on the weight you could bring over, which means they’ve got personal weapons and ammo, but limited crew-served weapons on hand. All of which will be necessary to maintain an established position when anything with more steel than Elvis Presley’s Cadillac rolls up and starts shooting at you. Please let me know how well you think grunts on bare tarmac are going to fare when the ROC Army starts serving air bursts in 155mm portions overhead? 

Capturing the airports alone is not enough. I know you didn’t want to hear that. You’ve got to reinforce those positions and maintain an air bridge. Your cargo planes, if you’re smart, will have enough fuel for the return trip, and yes, they must leave. If they are sitting on the tarmac, they are targets. Unless you want those grunts to stop defending the perimeter and play firefighter, get the planes gone immediately. 

*sound of intercom clearing*

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. If you look out either window, you’ll have a front-row seat to the largest air engagement since the Battle of Britain. And I severely doubt the ROC Air Force is going to let us peacefully fly west, back to Western Taiwan. Please assume the upright seated position, put your head between your legs and prepare to kiss your ass goodbye.”

Realistically, assume you’re going to lose half the aircraft assigned to each airport. Expect those losses, plan as if 1 in 2 of those planes is not coming back. Otherwise, you’re lying to yourself. 

Now that we’ve covered the Taipei Turkey Shoot, let’s have a look at the Formosa Strait Shark Festival.

There’s more at the link.

Francis Turner read Jonathan’s article and commented there, then developed his comment into a post on his own blog titled “Taiwan – The Map Is Not The Territory“.

To invade, the PRC has to get an army across the ~200km (100 nautical miles /125 miles) separating Taiwan from the mainland (see map above) and defeat the government and military once it has done so. Mr La Force concentrates on the journey, which is challenging – and seasonally limited (see below) – I’m going to talk more about the destination. I’m also assuming that, at least initially, Taiwan is on its own and the US and Japan do not get overtly involved, his article explains the wet dream that a Taiwanese invasion fleet would be to US Navy surface and submarine assets.

To start with the obvious. Taiwan is a lot smaller than the mainland. It is some 80-90 miles wide at the widest point and 230 miles long. Taiwan’s GDP on a PPP basis is a twentieth of the mainland’s and it’s military budget (US$17 B according to wikipedia) is less than a tenth that of the PRC – US$229.4 B (again according to wikipedia). It has a population of some 23 million and the male population in the key 20-50 age range is under 5 million. This means that there are far more PLA active and reserve force members (2.5M active 5M reserve) than there are Taiwanese who could be sensibly recruited to fight. The Taiwanese military has an active force of some 165,000 and a reserve force of about ten times that so trained personnel numbers are even more in favor of the mainland. The same goes for ships, aircraft and so on. In other words at the top level, the invasion looks like a slam dunk because the difference in sizes of the two nations economically and militarily is so overwhelmingly in favor of the mainland.

But let’s not forget that not all islands are the same and it gets better (or worse if you are the PRC) when you get into the details of geography and meteorology.

Taking the latter first, there are certain times of the year when you don’t want to invade lest your fleet imitate that of the Mongols almost 800 years ago when they tried to invade Japan. Typhoons are not as dangerous to modern shipping as they were to the wooden ships of the 13th century, but they can still ruin the loading and unloading of military equipment and seasick troops are unlikely to be at their prime either. Plus even if you land before a hypothetical typhoon, if one shows up while you are invading it’s going to put a major crimp in your logistics. So you’ll want to avoid invading during typhoon season – late June to early October – and probably it makes sense to skip the immediately prior “rainy season” because large chunks of military logistics are far better done in the dry. Since you probably also want to avoid winter storms that means you only have late October, November and mid-March to mid May as suitable times to invade. The preferred time of the year is almost certainly late October to November because you can prepare around the typhoons and launch as soon as you are sure you have no typhoons for the rest of the year. Now this sort of limitation doesn’t necessarily impact the overall success of the invasion, but it does mean that the defenders have periods when they can safely take equipment off line for maintenance and replacement and so on.

That leads to a related point, there is no way that in these days of ubiquitous satellite observation a maritime invasion is going to be a surprise. The build up of ships in the ports of Fujian is going to be completely unmistakable, but you can’t avoid doing it by splitting up the starting locations. A 200km crossing is 5 hours at 20 knots and 10 hours at 10 knots. That’s a long time for soldiers to be in the ships but trying to disguise the invasion by staging some of it from further away is to run the risk that your troops will be unable to go into action when they arrive (or even disembark successfully). The only way to compensate for this is air assault in the first waves but that too has issues. In order for the majority of your air assault troops to survive to start their assault you have to have achieved air superiority over the entire flight path and, while the required preparations to achieve that are not quite as obvious as gathering hundreds of ships, it is also highly likely to be spotted by satellites. The lack of surprise means that the defenders will be able to mobilize fully and to prepare surprises for your invasion force. That mobilization and those surprises are going to be assisted by the geography of the island which limits avenues of attack.

Again, more at the link.

I recommend both articles to your attention.  However, I suggest they don’t necessarily take into account all the factors involved.

To start with, there’s the question of whether an invasion force will be necessary at all.  China is a master of the indirect approach.  Just look at how it’s spread its influence in the USA – bribing and suborning our legislators, installing “Confucius Institutes” at most of our major universities, using its economic muscle to buy many US companies and a great deal of property, and so on.  In a very real sense, China doesn’t have to fear the USA because it already owns much of the USA.  That’s a nasty thought, but it happens to be true.  Do the research for yourself, and tell me I’m wrong.  The same can be said of Taiwan.  A vast proportion of that nation’s earnings come from its trade with China, and many of its top businessmen know that their own economic future is utterly dependent on their more powerful neighbor across the Taiwan Strait.  Their destinies are so intertwined as to be effectively inseparable.  Given that, would China use those business ties to undermine and eventually nullify opposition to its taking possession of Taiwan once more – without the need for a military invasion?

Then there’s the question of technology.  Many leading military nations are working hard on developing unmanned systems that will not put lives at risk (their people’s lives, at any rate) during an assault.  If I were China, I’d be doing precisely that when it came to a potential assault on Taiwan.  I’d precede any actual invasion with a fleet of lower-cost unmanned systems that I could use to draw the enemy’s fire, exhaust its supply of missiles and “smart” munitions, and prepare the way for a manned assault once the enemy could no longer defend itself adequately.  That may not be technologically feasible today, but such capabilities are being developed.  Why not wait until they’re deployable?  It won’t be long.

There’s also the aspect of demographics.  China’s population growth has peaked, and now appears to be in decline.  There may not be enough warm bodies in uniform, in a future army, to be able to take such losses and fight on.  The calculus may be that China could afford such losses now, in order to boost its standing in the rest of the world as a conqueror and military power.  Is that right?  I don’t know, and neither does anyone not party to what’s going on in the CCP’s collective and individual thinking.

The final question is geopolitics.  China might calculate that it can prevent, or block, or nullify intervention by other powers on the side of Taiwan.  (Given its long-standing financial relationship with President Biden, who’s to say China is wrong?)  That factor, coupled with China’s notorious disregard for the value of human lives as such (the individual doesn’t count – only the Party is important), might be enough to overcome any reluctance to face the obstacles pointed out by both authors above.  If one side is ruthless enough, and willing to pay the price – no matter how high – to achieve its ends, that changes the probability equation.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.



  1. The Chinese do not have to invade Taiwan. They just have to blockade it, which would be much easier.

  2. As you note, the Chinese are the undefeated masters of the indirect approach. They can wait, rebuild their population, and continue taking over Tiawan economically. At the same time, the US is in decline, making our intervention less likely and less powerful with every passing year.

    Another 10-20 years and we'll be unable to stop them at current rates, and Tiawan will be more likely to just welcome them. Unless Xi and company let their egos overcome their sense, China will continue as it has been doing.

  3. And in 0.2 seconds after that blockade, you'd see the dawn of the Bright White Light Of Knowledge over key combatants in the PLANavy,and Taiwan would announce "We regret to inform you of our sudden withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which we never signed…"

    Followed by a decided lack of any blockade.

    Look, China is still having trouble with Hong Kong.

    Which has 100 miles less moat between it and ChiComia than Taiwan has.

    Xi can yap all he wants. He hasn't got the chops for this, and probably won't ever have. Wanting and getting are two different things, as Xi's buddy Putin is finding out about now.

    Total number of successful Chinese amphibious invasions, from 1000 B.C. to present: 0.

    We had four years of wartime practice to get up to speed with Normandy by 1944, including 8 or so lesser affairs.

    And ChiComia can't afford the political or economic fallout (not to mention the possible radioactive kind) such an attempt would entail.

    If China does it anyways, the bloodbath will be epic.

  4. "They can wait, rebuild their population, and continue taking over Tiawan economically."


    I have yet to see an example of any nation pulling out of the fifth stage of the demographic transition, where the fertility rate drops to well below replacement levels. And China has given itself an extra handicap by losing so many girls to abortion during the years of the one child policy. I'm not at all sure they can rebuild their population.

  5. What everyone fails to realize is that West Taiwan/Commie China can only push forth maybe 10% of their armed forces, if that, on a potential invasion of Taiwan.


    Simple. The only thing holding Beijing's control over the rest of all of West Taiwan/Red China is the military. Suck more than 10% and you lose the ability to put down popular revolts, round up dissidents and stomp on Urghars.

    Not to mention all of the countries around West Taiwan/Red China that would love to get them some. Like India, who would love to push to and into the Himalayas. And Outer Mongolia, which would love to get back Inner Mongolia. Vietnam would love to push a tad northward also. And who can trust North Korea not to want to push north if given the opportunity.

    As to the naval situation, well, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan have all got some serious stake in keeping the sea lanes clear, along with every other country touching the South China Sea, or with ships going through the South China Sea. Like, well, India…

    Yeah, right now I am sure that Siberia is looking as a better prospect for invasion than Taiwan.

    Not the least of which is we just found out how not-good Soviet/Russian stuff is. Which West Taiwan/Red China has a lot of. Taiwan? They're equipped with Western Nations mil-stuff.

    And they probably have a couple of God's Flash Bulbs on the ready, too.

    Yes, West Taiwan is a huge bully. But it has some very serious internal issues right now. Like all the big cities are causing some serious internal strife (what, you think it was Covidiocracy that is getting cities shut down?) Xi is or has lost the ability to effectively self-govern without the military's boot on everyone's neck. How soon before the military realizes they are the tail that wags the dog?

    Not to mention… does anyone actually believe in the Potemkin that is the People's Liberation Army? The very same army that got beotch-slapped out of India, that got kicked out of Vietnam?

  6. You are correct Beans that serious unrest is a problem with the CCCP (west Taiwan LOL).

    That's also a bit of danger to the rest of us just like the Socialist-Democrats in the USA using the proxy war in the Ukraine for money laundering AND a distraction about their failed "Progressive ideas" like defund the police and such.

    China also needs an outside "event" or even better success story to subdue some of the internal unrest.

    Personally, China has no reason to invade Taiwan. They would lose a lot of expensive equipment, and likely get a lot of their scarce young manpower killed and likely LOSE FACE for lack of success.

    Not to mention get the Golden Goose of the worlds Chip manufacturing destroyed.

    No profit for them. Money and FACE are the twin God's of China.

    As I've mentioned before Rich Chinese Families from Mainland China and Tawain intermarry each other. They run their countries and once China can offer those Rich Families a business deal (like between Mafia Families) One China will be real world.

    Xi isn't going to kill that Golden Goose and Lose FACE doing a attack.

  7. What Aesop said. Also, Blockades are NOT simple to do. And China couldn't manage it.

    Another comment by Peter Zeihan, when talking about Ukraine and Taiwan. The sanctions that have blown the doors off of Russia (Russia and Czar Putin don’t care but eh) and are accelerating. Before the Ukrainians shut down the pipeline putting a billion a day back into Russia, currently on going. We’ll see how much longer those pipelines stay on in Ukraine before they turn those off. Or Germany does etc.

    Peter, you found Zeihan for me, been interesting to watch his stuff of late. Col. Kratman has had some interesting thoughts on it as well.

    Rough quote: Ukraine had about 8 years to prep for this. And are not a rich country. Taiwan has had 75 years. Rich country. And have known what is up with that Chicom crap far far better than we do about this kind of thing. One comment he made that stuck with me as well (aside from the massive demographic implosion that is most likely very much on the way). Sanctions that have been unpleasant for Russia would shut down China immediately. Hell the “personal sanctions” that the Chicom don’t even acknowledge exist as a force would have done tremendous damage to them already.

    They import just about everything. Two destroyers in the Indian ocean… no oil makes it to China. Trucks stop rolling in 3 months, 6 months the power goes out. 500 million die in a year from famine. And the list of countries with a couple destroyers that could do that… is long. China cant sail a warship 1000 miles from their shores. Lot of that is here: Demographics start at about 11:00 minutes, really recommend watching.
    Highly recommend.

    Taiwan most likely has agents through out all of ChiComm in spades. Small countries with larger nasty neighbors tend do very well at that sort of thing because they have too. You think they wouldn’t know long before any of this started?

    On the EMP side, yeah, that would be unpleasant as all heck for the civilians. EMP is not all that simple to do either, right height, tune the warhead right etc etc.

    Remember the rich country thing? Doesn’t take that much to EMP shield your grid and a hell of lot of it pretty fast. I think the number that was thrown around if memory serves was about 4-5 billion in early 2000’s for all of the US. We didn’t do that because “reasons” or maybe we did and I don’t know. Of course, a small country like Taiwan or Israel would never ever ever want to have nukes to protect itself from 1.4 billion commies, oh wait, maybe that was 1.2 billion? That number is going down faster and faster already. Either way. They could never ever have gotten the materials together to do any of that on the sly to say “EMP me? EMP YOU too!” Japan or Taiwan could be making nukes in about an hour if they have the materials. It’s not rocket surgery anymore. It’s just some optical grade frick’n machining. Read a Tom Clancy book about it if you want more than you ever want to know. Taiwan doesn’t have any good machining CPU foundries/factories etc? /Roll eyes harder. And all that for the low low price of only 500 million ChiCom. Xi might not care, or just might not know. Telling him is kind of a death sentence. He has that kind of cult personality to him that Stalin would say “good job comrade.”

  8. Responses to various comments

    I deliberately avoided discussion of nukes. A nuclear exchange across the strait of Taiwan is almost certainly a precursor to WW3 IMHO and I think that even Winnie the Xi knows that. My guess is that Taiwan has a handful of Israeli nukes and that some of them are in places where they can be launched into West Taiwan without seeming to come from Taiwan. They could even possibly be already positioned IN the PRC. Possibly.

    Blockade. I discussed this. You have 30 miles to Japanese waters. The port of Keelung is another 30 if you hug the coast all the way around. If you just blockade and don't take out land based anti-ship/anti-air assets you will fail because 30 miles is well within range of modern missiles and radars. It's probably not even over the horizon for weapons placed on hilltops.

    The "take over Taiwan economically" thing is a very mixed bag plan. In many ways "West Taiwan" is where Taiwan outsourced the low skill manufacturing from its economy (as did Japan, US, Europe etc.). They can (and are) move that outsourcing to other places, just as Japan is doing.

    So far the Taiwanese have shown considerable ability at developing new stuff. Or at least extending and improving on the developments of others. This is much the same as Japan only 20-30 years behind.

    The Chicoms in West Taiwan are mostly in the steal and copy phase for technology. They do very little new development – and FWIW most of the new stuff they do come up with comes from the part adjacent to Hong Kong. My understanding is that Guangdong (Canton) is not a place that has much respect from the Beijing based leadership.

    The one thing they do have going for them is that Taiwanese birthrates dropped like a stone about 20 years ago. If they do not recover then Taiwan is going to have as bad a demographic collapse as the mainland (could be worse, could be not quite as bad, depends on who is lying most to the census takers etc.).

  9. One factor that might drive the West Taiwanese to invade someone/anyone, is to look for females, as a large number of them have no home based option due to that idiotic "abort the females", since males need to continue their bloodline.

  10. Peter (and everybody else fretting about the PRC's "indirect approach" mastery), please consult any of the several books examining Japan's exercise of their financial indirect approach mastery in the 1980's. I'll cut to the end (spoiler alert: it's a 35 year old movie :)) and reveal the result, " so they buy up all of our real estate and landmark buildings; so what? What are they going to do with them, take them home?"

    The PRC/CCP demonstrably aren't all that masterful in their approach to their own captive citizenry, who literally have no other option available. Everybody else on the planet has at least some alternative to submitting to CCP whim. No matter how much real estate (or political influence) they buy in the US, it does them no good elsewhere and not all that much good here. At the most, China (which is to say, people within the PRC) is desperately seeking places to put their money that is out of the easy reach of the CCP. The US is certainly as good a place as any for that, and arguably much harder to rob than most places.

    As to the PRC "robbing" us of our technology or what have you, we already know how to prevent that.

  11. As to China's military technology, take note of the date the linked article was published; does anyone seriously want to try to argue that the PRC hasn't penetrated Russian .mil R&D at least as well as they have the USA's? While you're reading, do keep in mind Russian Foreign Minister Lvrov's recent barbed comment to Britain regarding "radioactive tsunamis":

  12. Taiwan’s reserve system is a joke, and has huge issues.

    Taiwans has huge issues with readiness and logistics / spare parts.

    The move from a meaningful draft to the professional military has been undercut by funding. The military is seen as low status.

    The Taiwan military has been severely comprised by the Chinese.

    I doubt the Taiwan Air Force would last long due to to surface to surface Chinese missile advantage.

    The Taiwan military focused on expensive prestige purchases. Bigger and better,

    Taiwan is developing their own diesel subs, which will increase their deterrence a huge amount. 2026 launched hopefully.

    Taiwan has developed cruise missiles, so they can threaten the mainland.

    Taiwan could quickly develop nukes, but with the Chinese infiltration, China would know as soon as that decision was made. Taiwan is not willing to risk that yet. The Taiwan people I don’t think are ready for it yet. They just banned plastic straws for environmental reasons (the ban is widely ignored). Their is still a lot of denial about China, but a lot of focus on what is happening in the Ukraine.

    I’m married to a Taiwanese, that watches Taiwan tv nightly.

    She is much more positive on the Taiwan military than me.

  13. Is it possible that China has purchased the government of Taiwan like they have purchased the government of the US? Perhaps Taiwan welcomes the PPC troops to help deal with their civil unrest.

    1. China had a lot of influence in Taiwan, but it’s more hidden. China has a huge amount of money, influence duecto China’s business, and uses it. There was recently a huge scandal on Chinese influence with some government and military types.

  14. As I understand it the current Taiwanese government is notably anti-mainland. As far as I know they haven't explicitly stated that Taiwan is not a province of China but they have made a number of statements critical of the Chicoms and against any form of reunification. I doubt they would invite PRC troops in for any reason except shooting those troops.

    1. There are two major parties in Taiwan. The Blue Party is the part of the 1949 KMT remnants that ruled Taiwan as a dictatorship and control the major media outlets and have a lot of influence in the military and deep state. They want better a better relationship with China. And mouth the words one China someday.

      The Green Party is the other major party, and is more pre 1949 Taiwanese descended types. The current President, who my wife thinks walks on water, is Green Party.

      The Green Party has been inching towards making things more Taiwan, instead of Republic of China. Their passport now says Taiwan.

      The general populace likes the status quo, has no interest in being part of China after Chinese lies on HK and Covid. But, are afraid of antagonizing China.

      Taiwan is trying to economically reduce its reliance on China, and increase trade with other Asian nations.

  15. Just watched an F-15 delivered 2000 JDAM hit a cargo ship on youtube. I do not think a troop transport would fare any better…..and I doubt the ability of the Chinese Air Force to interdict a squadron of F-15s.

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