Recent exercises by PLA Eastern Theatre Command in the Strait of Taiwan and North China Sea after President Xi’s address, in which he emphasized the need to enhance operational preparedness, have stirred a fresh round of World War III talk around the globe. When one looks at the sheer scale of these most recent maritime encirclement drills by PLAN/PLAAF around Taiwan, the traction of such discourse among strategic minds worldwide becomes completely comprehensible.

According to many Western and American geopolitical experts, President Xi’s government may initiate a Taiwan war due to an array of reasons ranging from China’s growing economic problems to isolation in the region (after losing Vietnam and the Philippines to the US over the dispute Parcel and Spratly islands) to running out of diplomatic options for unification of China which remains the core grand strategic objective of Beijing.  This is how the message sent by Beijing, which conducted aggressive maritime manoeuvres around Taiwan, was received.

The question at the heart of this debate is: Will China attack Taiwan? There are many strategic and operational reasons why China will NOT attack Taiwan, at least not in the foreseeable future.

First and foremost, Chinese war philosophy is based on Sun Tzu’s Art of War, where the real victory is to subdue the enemy without fighting. Chinese actions regarding Taiwan thus far clearly indicate that China is not looking for an armed conflict but is on a path that will exacerbate incessant Great Power Competition unfolding along the Pacific rim of the Indian Ocean.

This perhaps also explains why President Xi never mentioned the use of force in his address during the California Summit in December 2023. He stirred a lot of US reaction by mentioning the unification of Taiwan with China, but he denied the existence of any military plan for this.

Many experts believe that China’s growing maritime power projection capabilities are proving Beijing’s fresh imputes to take the military route to “solve” the Taiwan problem. Though it is true that during the last 3 years, PLAN has become the world’s largest naval force in terms of the number of vessels, it is yet to surpass the US Navy in terms of overall tonnage. Still, many PLAN consist of smaller vessels lacking range and firepower. China only recently began rolling out ships like Type 52-D and Type-55 destroyers, which are in the same class in terms of weight as the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

The scale and pace of PLAN modernization are becoming challenging propositions for the US and allied nations in the region. If we look at aircraft carriers, considered the most effective and prominent measure of the strength of any naval force, China didn’t have any aircraft carriers a little over a decade ago; today, it has three, with the latest one in the sea trial phase. Similarly, the Chinese fleet of conventional attack submarines has increased considerably.

Despite the growing number of PLAN and PLAAF, Chinese forces will require a long time to effectively integrate these new war machines into a strategic doctrine and devise operational plans to achieve optimal performance during a showdown. This is where the US forces excel by miles. US Navy, for example, has a history of using aircraft carriers for over a century. It has learned valuable lessons in multiple wars, including 2 World Wars. It has adapted accordingly to put large ships and aircraft carriers in a theatre of war and conduct successful maritime manoeuvres to overcome opposing naval forces.

The US Navy and US Air Force maintain a considerable military presence in the region. For example, Japan’s Kadena Air Force base is the region’s largest air base. Other bases are in Japan and South Korea, and newly built naval bases /stations are in Vietnam and the Philippines. The US Navy operates 11 aircraft carriers with the same number of landing docks, which can act as aircraft carriers if needed.

The military presence adds to power projection and, with a more assertive US policy on Taiwan, will certainly intervene to deter any Chinese military action.

The US has almost shunned strategic ambiguity over its stance on Taiwan, which it has adopted under the Taiwan Relations Act since 1979. Under President Biden’s rule, the support of One China has been abandoned for all practical purposes. He has reiterated at least four times that the US will intervene militarily if China decides to invade Taiwan. The defence of Taiwan is a major cornerstone of US foreign policy.

So, operationally, military action is not an option for Beijing despite conducting aggressive manoeuvres around Taiwan. Taiwan is no longer a bilateral issue. It is potentially the most dangerous geopolitical hotspot that China and the US want to remain cool about, as both need Taiwan for a very specific technological reason: semiconductors.

Semiconductors are why China and the US want a war over Taiwan. Taiwan produces the majority of military-grade, highly complex, and sophisticated semiconductors used in aircraft like B-2, F-22, J-20, and many other critical industries in both countries. Destroying Taiwan in a war will degrade the industrial base in both China and the US.

So there are many reasons why China will not attack Taiwan, from philosophical to political or military to technological. Having said that, the continuous building of the Chinese military machine indicates a long-term strategy by Beijing to wait for such an opportunity when the US could not intervene. However, the prospects of such opportunities are not very bright in the near to midterms. So, China will continue to project its maritime power in the Strait of Taiwan, while Washington will continue to provide more weapons and political support to Taipei for its defence. In the long term, this status quo might change if political and military power’s flow from the West to the East continues.

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