Variable 3: How is the economy of China doing?

Now, the Chinese economy has been on a tear for the last three decades. This graph cribbed from Wikipedia nicely shows this trend:

It was doing double-digit growth rates and is still growing 6-7% a year. As I point out in my previous blog posts, the Chinese armed forces are not really ready to invade a defended Taiwan, especially their air force and navy. This is going to take some time and money to build up. 

Such a build up sort of means that the economy needs to keep growing. Hard to justify lots of nice new shiny expensive high-tech airplanes when the economy is in the doldrums. As the economy has been steadily growing at 6% or more a year for 30+ years, their definition of doldrums may be pretty slanted. 

Now, relatively speaking, the Chinese have not been putting as much into defense as either Taiwan or the United States. Their defense budget is between 1.3% to 1.7% of their GDP. In contrast, the U.S. defense budget is between 3.4% to 3.7% of its GDP. Taiwan’s defense budget is around 2.3% of their GDP. As the Chinese economy grows, so to will their defense budget; I suspect we will know they are serious about changing the status of Taiwan if and when their defense budget expands to 2 or 3% of GDP.

But, the big question is whether the Chinese economy is actually going to keep expanding at 6% a year. A lot of people have been questioning that for a while, some people have been predicting that China is heading for an economic crash, some people have been claiming that the economy is artificially boosted, and other people are claiming that their economic statistics are artificially boosted. Regardless, they are facing a changing economic environment with India and other countries taking over the “cheap manufacturer” role. The transition to a more developed and growing economy could be a little fraught. 

There is one big ticking time-bomb the Chinese are facing, which is their demographics. I have blogged about this before (see below). The birth rate of China is below replacement rate, so the population is aging and the number of new young workers is declining. Old people are less productive and because of their health problems, sometimes more expensive. This is an economic drag with all aging populations unless one comes up with a Logan’s Run type solution. But, even a bigger problem will be the declining young work force. This is in part, a problem created by the one-child policy of China, which had good short-term benefits but has now created a long-term problem. Most likely the Chinese population will experience negative population growth by 2030. The population for China for 2021 is estimated at 1.44 billion. The United Nations predicts the Chinese population will be 1.36 billion by 2050. The real shortfall will be in the number of new workers.

Now, China is reacting to that with a new three-child policy. An article on that is below. China abandoned is one-child policy in 2015 (much too late in my opinion), went to a two-child policy and now have upgraded to a three-child policy. What is next: do they all become Mormons? This does look like an exercise in desperation. But, regardless of what the Chinese government does, I don’t think we are going to see a sudden sea-change in Chinese demographics over the next twenty years.

So, if the population starts declining by 2030…then does the economy decline with it? I think it will slow economic growth down. Hard to imagine they can maintain their 6% growth rates in that environment. They appear to have no quick and easy fix.

Now, a slow growth, stagnant or declining economy creates all kind of new problems. First, it is hard to increase or justify defense expenses when the economy is stagnant. If they are serious about creating the modern air forces and navy that they need to invade Taiwan, then they need to go on a spending spree for a decade or so. Chinese is looking at the population starting to decline by 2030. In 2020 they only had 12 million new births. By 2025 they will have over 300 million people over the age of 60. Does this mean that they have already “lost the bubble” for the chance to build up their military so as to take Taiwan?

Second, invading Taiwan is going to have a big negative economic impact. I have discussed this before, with perhaps a loss of 60-80% of their trade, 60% of their oil and a decline in their economy of 30-40% (just a guess). See the post below.

Third, stagnant or declining economies tend to lead to demands for political reform. This leads to either governmental reforms, leadership changes, civil unrest or even overthrow of the government. It was the extended period of economic stagnation that set the stage for the overthrow of Communism in Russia. We did go from a world in 1991 that had 16 Communist governments to a world with only four (China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea). Is this the final stage of that movement? One cannot rule it out. Hard to imagine the leadership of China is going to be focused on invading Taiwan if they are facing another Tiananmen Square (1989)

That said, there is a risk here in the danger to the government. Argentine invaded Falklands Island in part due to concerns about unrest in Argentina. In a sense, it was an invasion conducted for the sake of trying to bolster the government. This may not be a good example for China to follow, for not only did Argentina loose the war, but the government was overthrown and the leaders were arrested. The head of the Argentine junta was sentenced to a dozen years in jail. 

There is another example of a booming Asian economy that was going to surpass the United States. This is Japan. I have blogged about this before. To summarize: In 1995 the Japanese economy was 71% of the U.S. economy based upon GDP. In 2017 it was 25%.  I always liked this graph from that blog post:

Does history repeat itself?

 

 

Previous blog posts:

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – the fight? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Proposed Defense Budget for 2022 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Demographics of China | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

“We can’t afford it”: Chinese internet users have rejected Beijing’s new three-child policy

Where Did Japan Go? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

 

P.S. Chinese economy grew 6.7% in 2018, 6.0% in 2019, 2.3% in 2020 and is projected to grow 8.5% in 2021 (source: World Bank and for 2021 IMF). In contrast, the U.S. economy grew 3.0% in 2018, 2.2% in 2019, -3.5% in 2020 (it shrunk), and is projected to grow 6.39% in 2021 (source IMF).

P.P.S.: A recent article on Chinese demographics that repeats what I have been saying: https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-2020-census-shows-slowest-population-growth-since-1-child-policy-2021-05-11/

Variable 2: What is the changing composition of the politburo?

This subject would be best discussed by a proper “China watcher”, vice me. But… let me make a few observations on this. Politburo’s in the Soviet Union and in Red China have traditionally, but not always, been subservient to the leading political figure of the day. This leading figure is usually the Chairman of the communist party, although during the time of Deng Xiaopiing, he was the leading figure even though his official role was the Chairman of the Central Military Commission until 9 November 1989. While he held no official office after that he clearly was still considered the “paramount leader” and was still the senior leader in China up until his death in 1997 at the age of 92. Still, politburo’s sometimes have a significant role. The next leader invariably comes from it, and they are involved to some extent in choosing the next leader. The nature of the politburo does matter as they often reign in leadership and sometimes even try to overthrow leadership. So usually their operations are low-key and behind the scenes, until such time as they are not.

The current politburo of Chinese Communist Party consists of 25 people. But the power of the politburo has been further centralized in the Politburo Standing Committee of seven members. They are Xi Jinping (President of PRC and General Secretary CCP, aged 67), Li Keqiang (Premier, aged 65), Li Zhanshu (Chairman of National People’s Congress, aged 70), Wang Yang (Chairman of Political Consultative Conference, aged 66), Wang Huning (First Secretary CCP, aged 65), Zhao Leji (Chairman Dicipline Inspection, aged 64) and Han Zheng (Vice Premier, aged 67).

This is a pretty homogenous crowd, all aged between 64 and 70. Mostly likely, as Xi Jinping ages and retires, none of these people are going to be his long-term replacement. Over the next decade or two there will a rising generations of new leaders pulled up into the politburo. So the generational replacement for Xi Jinping is not in place yet, or at least he/she is not currently sitting on the Politburo Standing Committee.

This, of course, just reinforces my impression that the Politburo and therefore the leadership of China will be fairly cautious and deliberate for the next decade and perhaps for the next two decades. Potentially adventurous and risk-taking leaders are currently not in place, and they can only rise to the top as positions are opened. This may take a while.

Variable 1: Who is the leader of China?

This is a pretty straightforward discussion. Xi Jinping is 67 years old. It is not unusual for leaders to remain in power in dictatorships until they are well into the 80s. It is also possible that leaders in China can retire (it has happened recently). So, the four options are:

  1. Xi Jinping remains in power for the next 20 years.
  2. Xi Jinping is retired after 10-15 years (or sooner).
  3. Xi Jinping is marginalized or replaced (this does not look likely now, but could happen a decade from now, although still not likely).
  4. Xi Jinping could be gone from power tomorrow due to health reasons.

As outlined in a previous post, there are lots of reasons to believe nothing significant will happen in Taiwan as long as Xi Jinping remains in power. See: Will China take the risk and actually invade Taiwan? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

So, the question is, will he be gone from power anytime soon (probably not likely) and if he is gone from power, then who will replace him. Lets say he is gone from power in the next 10 to 15 years. Then, what we are looking at:

  1. He is replaced by another cautious and deliberate Chinese leader, which means Taiwan will not be on the front burner (i.e. more of the same).
  2. He is replaced by a leader that actually just doesn’t care much that Taiwan is an independent entity (after all this is an issue that now dates back over 70 years).
  3. He is replace by more adventurous, nationalistic, risk-taking or radical leader who is willing to take on such an invasion and the politburo is willing to go along.
  4. He is replaced by a more adventurous, nationalistic, risk-taking or radical leader who is willing to take on such an invasion and the politburo is not willing to go along.
  5. The politburo is packed with people more adventurous, nationalistic, risk-taking or radical and will push the leadership (who may not be able to say no) into such an effort.

It is pretty hard to determine what are the odds of this, but we will probably be staring at a leadership change in the next 15 to 20 years. I am no China expert, but my sense that there is at least a 50/50 chance that Xi Jinping will be replace by someone similar, or option 1 above. There is also at least a 50/50 chance that the politburo will remain cautious. They may serve to reign in a more adventurous leader. I think the odds of getting a risk-taking adventurous leader who has the backing from an acquiescent or supportive politburo is probably less than 25%. Again, I am no China expert and there is really no way to estimate the odds. This is a “guesstimate” shall we say.

On the other hand, a useful survey would be to examine what percent of Sovietologists who predicted that someone like Khrushchev would replace Stalin and heavily reform the Stalinist state? Also what percent of Sovietologists predicted the Brezhnev would replace Khrushchev and the reforms of Khrushchev would be reeled in? What percent of Sovietologists predicted that Gorbachev would rise to power and so radically change the Soviet state that it would collapse? I have never seen such a survey done, but I think I know generally what is the answer to this.

But based upon the patterns we have seen in Chinese leadership and the politburo, most likely nothing will significantly change in the next 20 years. On the other hand, it can…..

This leads us to Variable 2: What is the changing composition of the politburo?

Will China invade Taiwan in the next 20 years?

I did three posts recently looking at the claim by retiring Admiral Phillip Davidson of the Indo-Pacific Command indicating that he thought China might invade Taiwan in the next six years: “I think the threat is manifest…in the next six years…” I ended up concluding (in bold) that “I do find the idea that mainland China will invade Taiwan in the next 6 years to be somewhat loopy.” I was surprised that I did not receive any comments about that characterization.

Now, it is possible that China may invade Taiwan, not in the near future, but over the next decade or two. Let us say in the next 20 years. So what would have to change to make this option viable in the next 20 years when it is really not likely in the next 6 years?

I think the following will influence this:

  1. Who is the leader of China?
  2. What is the changing composition of the politburo?
  3. How is the economy of China doing?
  4. Is there a problem with internal turmoil and unrest in China?
  5. What is the degree of U.S. commitment to Taiwan?
  6. What is the size and capabilities of the Chinese Armed Forces?

 

I will have to address each of these variables one blog post at a time. As I don’t like to do particularly long blog posts (unlike my books), I will address each of these variables in a separate blog post, maybe every other day, if I am so focused.

In this case, I am looking at a conventional amphibious operation, as I think that is the only approach over the next 20 years that will actually bring Taiwan under control of China. There are other options and operations that China can do that may intimidate or coerce Taiwan and modify their behavior, but these do not bring Taiwan under the direct control of China. To control Taiwan without an amphibious invasion is a much longer, complex and more difficult process, and I am not going to discuss that here.

Keep in mind that right now, in a conventional warfare scenario, if Taiwan has military support from the United States, the most likely outcome would be a failed invasion. The political and economic cost of a failed invasion would be very significant, possibly resulting in the collapse of the ruling party of the People’s Republic of China.

 

Past three blog posts on the subject:

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – wherefore and why? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – the fight? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Will China take the risk and actually invade Taiwan? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

 

P.S. Today is the 77th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Related blog post: The Dupuy Institute on Youtube | Mystics & Statistics

Proposed Defense Budget for 2022

The president has proposed his defense budget for 2022. The budget has not gone down, which may not have been what some people expected. The Department of Defense (DOD) budget is $715 billion. This is an increase in the budget of $10 billion from 2021, or about 1.6 percent. Inflation in 2020 is estimated to be 1.5 percent. The overall budget for “national defense” is $753 billion, with expenditures for the Department of Energy and other federal agencies included.

Don’t have details of the budget. It may be out there, but I have not chased them down yet. So, I don’t know what the Army’s share of the budget is. Budget for 2021 included supplemental spending bills and funding transfers and the expenses for combat operations were separately funded. For this proposed budget, these are included in this budget and are $18.4 billion. This is apparently a drop of 21 percent from last year.

There is a renewed focus on conventional war against near-parity opponents. We are now looking at a 296-ship fleet vice a 355-ship fleet envisioned by the previous administration. The 355-ship fleet was kind of a wasteful pipedream that was not easily achievable. It harkened back to the movement for a 600-ship fleet that was envisioned in the 1980s. This was briefly attained before it was cut back. They are also decommissioning two Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), which always struck me as a bizarre expenditure of money. Then there is the controversial F-35 program, which has been reduce from 60 new planes this year to 48. They are retiring 42 A-10s, leaving the Air Force with 239. Artillery is back in fashion with $6.6 billion to develop and field long-range fires. Overall, they are spending a lot on R&D, the “largest-ever” R&D spending according to the SecDef (I have not tested statement against inflation). There was $107 billion R&D requested in 2021. For 2022 it is higher (but I did not see an exact figure).

By the way, the budget for the State Department and international programs is proposed as 63.6 billion.  

This is a proposed budget. It is a recommendation sent to congress and congress can choose to do whatever they wish with it. As it is a Democratic controlled House and a bare Democratic majority in the Senate, it may be passed close to as is, but probably will not be unscathed. Most likely, if it is significantly changed it will be to reduce it in general or to maintain or restore hardware (LCS and A-10s) that DOD is trying to reduce. I don’t expect the final figures to be much lower than what is proposed.

The total active and reserve component of the military is planned to be 2,145,900, which is a slight reduction (4,475 less) than last year. Chinese active personnel is 2,185,000 in 2021. Russia’s active personnel is 1,454,000.

In contrast the estimated defense budget for the Chinese armed forces for 2020 or 2021 is given as $193.3 (IISS-2020), $209.4 billion (Wikipedia-2021) or $252.0 (SIPRI-2020). This is between 1.3% to 1.7% of GDP. In contrast the U.S. defense budget is 3.4% to 3.7% of GDP. The Chinese budget in purchase parity (PPP) figures I gather would be some 1.6 times higher.

The defense budget for Russia is given as 61.7 billion in 2020. This is around 3.9% to 4.3% of GDP (as of 2019). The Russian budget in PPP figures is probably around 2.5 times higher.

 

See: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-look-at-what-s-inside-biden-s-6-trillion-budget-request/ar-AAKuAdi?ocid=msedgntp

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/28/pentagon-asks-for-715-billion-in-2022-defense-budget.html

https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/2639101/dod-budget-request-boosts-research-nuclear-modernization-and-includes-27-pay-ra/

https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2021/05/27/pentagon-budget-will-shake-up-legacy-systems-lawmakers-are-shaking-back/

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2021/5/28/air-force-proposal-would-shift-funding-to-new-aircraft

https://breakingdefense.com/2021/05/secdef-rd-spending-to-skyrocket-in-22-budget/

Older related blog posts:

GAO: “We’re 26 ships into the contract and we still don’t know if the [Littoral Combat Ship] can do its job.” | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The Challenge of Getting to a 350-Ship Fleet | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The Saga of the F-35: Too Big To Fail? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

U.S. Army Invests In Revitalizing Long Range Precision Fires Capabilities | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Status Update On U.S. Long Range Fires Capabilities | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Will China take the risk and actually invade Taiwan?

One of our commenters asked the question “So what if the PRC President for Life takes a gamble?”

Invading Taiwan is a high risk operation as discussed in our previous posts:

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – the fight? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – wherefore and why? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The potential cost of such an operation is a loss of 60-80% of trade, a loss of 60% of their oil and a temporary decline in their economy of 30-40% (just a guess). It is unknown how long this economic decline would be, but it could last for several years. The resulting economic decline could also result in civil unrest, protests and even the overthrow of the government. The invasion could also fail. We will discuss some of these examples of failed gambles in a later post.

Still, one cannot rule out the leadership of a nation doing something risky, or pushing the limits or simply making a mistake. There is more than enough historical examples of mind-boggling idiocy by senior leadership of nations.

Now, there is not a lot history of military adventurism on the part of China. Their armed forces have operated in country and only on the edge of their borders for most of their history. The current head of the Peoples Republic of China, XI Jinping, has been in charge since 15 November 2012. He came up through the communist party and the communist system, although his parents were suppressed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). He is a “princeling” or a “Party’s Crown Princes” meaning a descendent of prominent and influential senior communist officials who, not surprisingly, often also rise of prominent positions in the Chinese hierarchy. He spent much of his career as a politician. Various descriptions of him tend to reinforce his image as pragmatic, serious and cautious. He is also very much the dictator.

He does report to a politburo. So while the head of any communist party system has significant power, these politburos are not without influence. They have been known to occasionally replace heads of the party that have had repeated problems. For the Soviet Union this includes Khrushchev in 1964 and for China, the list is longer: Chen Duxiu in 1927, Xiang Zhongfa in 1931, Qin Bangxian (or Bo Gu) in 1935, Zhang Wentian in 1943, Hua Guofeng in 1981, Hu Yaobang in 1987, and Zhao Ziyang in 1989, Jiang Zemin in 2002, and Hu Jintao in 2012. So, it is not like Xi Jinping can wake up one morning and decide to invade Taiwan. This almost certainly has to be discussed with and supported by the Politburo. So even if Xi Jinping was a risk taker, which he does not appear to be, then is debatable if the majority of the Politburo will be risk takers. Usually Politburo’s tend to be conservative. For example, the “Khrushchev thaw” from mid-1950s to the mid-1960s was reeled in by Brezhnev and the politburo, as were the economic reforms of Alexei Kosygin that were initiated in 1965. By the same token, the coup that was conducted in the Soviet Union in August 1991 was for the sake of getting Gorbachev to restrict or restrain the degree and extent of reforms. In the case of China they have their own complex history wrapped up around the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. I can’t think of any examples of a politburo forcing the leadership to be more adventurous and less conservative. They traditionally serve as a brake to adventurism.

So, Xi Jinping is 67 years old. He could easily be there for another 20 years. He is not a risk taker and politburo’s tend to not be risk takers. So, my suspicion is that China would not take the risk of invading Taiwan any time in the near future, and probably not at any time when Xi Jinping in charge. I suspect that any scenario that endangers Taiwan will only come about once Xi Jinping has retired or expired.

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – the fight?

So, the question is, what are we really looking at for an invasion of Taiwan?

A few caveats: 1) I am no China expert, 2) I have never been involved in gaming or analyzing the defense of Taiwan, and 3) I have no real “insider” knowledge of the subject at hand.

The armed forces of Taiwan consist of (according to Wikipedia) 163,000 active personnel and 1,657,000 reserve personnel. Their defense budget is $13.1 billion in 2020 and that makes up 2.3% of their GDP. That last figure is very interesting, for the United States spends 3.4% of our GDP on defense (2019). So, if there is a imminent threat of invasion (like in the next six years). then why are they not spending more? Does Taiwan discount this threat or are some people outside of Taiwan overrating the possibility of it occurring? Do some people sitting in the United States understand the threat and possibility of it occurring better than the people sitting in Taiwan?

Now, Taiwan is 81 miles off the coast of China at the narrowest part. There are also a few smaller islands controlled by Taiwan in between them.  So, what we are looking at is:

  1. Operations to seize some of these outlying lslands like Kinmen (Quemoy), Wucious and Matsu. Kinmen (Quemoy) is only 1.5 miles off the coast of Red China. 
  2. Some fifth column or hybrid warfare arrangement to seize the main island. Unless there is some large armed fifth column currently located in Taiwan that is strong enough to seize port facilities, etc., I don’t think this is a practical possibility.
  3. An amphibious invasion of Taiwan across the 80+ miles of the Taiwan Strait.

Needless to say, China is probably not interest is taking the economic hit for taking a couple of small islands and I don’t think any form of warfare less than an actual amphibious invasion will actually take the main island… so, I think the scenario we are looking at is invariably a “hot war” scenario of a conventional amphibious invasion.

So, how big would such an invasion force have to be?

Well, the Taiwanese Army is around 130,000. It is estimated that 80% is located on Taiwan, while the rest are stationed on the various smaller island. The forces consist of 4 armor brigades, 5 mechanized infantry brigades, 3 air cavalry brigades, 9 active infantry Brigades, and 24 reserve brigades (to be activated in time of war), and lots of other odds and ends and support troops. This is a modern, well-developed armed force. It does not have any combat experience, but neither does the Red Chinese Army (unless you count getting your ass handed to you by the Vietnamese Army in 1979). 

Now, the Taiwanese armor and offensive assets are significant. I gather their plan includes counterattacking any establish beachheads with their armor forces. This forces included 460 M60A3s, 450 CM-11s, 100 CM-12s, 50 M48A, and even around a hundred M41s. Some of these are with reserve forces. They also have 414 CM-32 IFVS, 300 V-150s and a spare thousand M-113s. This is a pretty significant force. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_equipment_of_the_Republic_of_China_Army

Their supporting helicopters included 29 AH-64 Apaches, and 62 AH-1 Supercobras. So, mixed in with 9 armored and mechanized brigades and 3 air cavalry brigades, there is some real offensive punch here.

So, how big of a force would Red China have to send across? Well, I think it would have to be a well-sported force of tens of thousands to initially establish a beachhead. On D-day (6 June 1944) the Americans, British and Canadians landed 156,115 men. This is the largest invasion in history. So, we are looking at something here of at least 20,000 to 40,000 on the first day, and having to be reinforced heavily over the next few days. It will have to be a force capable of defeating the fully mobilized 1.8 million man Taiwanese Army. This is a major undertaking. 

Now… invading is one thing, but invasion forces have to be sustained. They will have to build up an army of 100,000 or more across the straits. Each person needs at least 10 to 20 pounds of food, water and fuel a day. If it is a mechanized force, it will be more. So, probably a thousand or more tons of supply that have to be transported across the strait every single day. The ships carrying these are targets. This can be intercepted by air or sea forces.

So, there is the Taiwanese air force. Their main fighter force consists of 113 F-16s, 46 Mirage 2000, 103 AIDC F-CK-1 (their own multirole fighter made in Taiwan). So, 262 fighters, plus trainers (another 62 fighters) and support aircraft.

This air force I assume will be supported by the U.S. Navy and the U. S. Air Force. That is some 40 to 60 fighters per carrier committed (I am guessing at least three) and however many fighters we choose to fly over there (we have around 1,700 fighters). Of course the Chinese have a load of fighters also, around 1,300 but lot of them are J-7, which are Chinese variants of very obsolete Mig-21s. Their more modern fighters include around 700 planes, most of them being J-10s and J-11/16. They are certainly not superior to the planes used by Taiwan or the United States. So we are looking at an air battle of maybe on the Taiwanese side of 262 + 62 + 180 (carriers) + 200 (USAF) = 704 vs 700 Chinese fighters. So this will certainly be a contested air fight and the U.S//Taiwanese aircraft will probably have the advantage. I recall only one amphibious invasion that occurred during an extended contested air fight (Falklands). I can’t recall any successful amphibious invasions that occurred where the defender had air superiority. Will the Chinese be able to establish air superiority? Will Taiwan and the U.S. be able to establish air superiority?

Needless to say, the air situation is not particularly positive for mainland China and argues against them attempting such an invasion…and that is before looking at the naval assets.

Naval assets are pretty one-sided. The Taiwanese fleet consists of 26 frigates and destroyer and 4 subs. I assume it would be supported by the U.S. Navy, which is in whole different league in size and seriousness. I don’t even need to do a “net assessment” comparison here on this one, the data is below, and it is pretty lopsided.

See: The Size of Fleets in the South China Sea, Part 1 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

And: Size of Fleets around the South China Sea, Part 2 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The U.S. Navy is here: U.S. Navy Compared to Russian Navy | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

This does not address any support provided by the U.S. allies in the region, Japan, South Korea, Australia, etc. They may well provide additional air and naval assets.

Finally, if this did grow into a “hot war” scenario then the United States would certainly maintain control of the seas away from the Chinese coast. So in addition to being able to intercept almost all seaborne trade and oil going to and from China, they could easily take control of Chinese facilities and bases at the Spratley islands. Nothing China could do about that. So, any “hot war” scenario would include a loss of 60-80% of their trade, a loss of 60% of their oil, the loss of the Spratly Islands (perhaps handed back to the Philippines and Vietnam) and the other resulting long term economic impact. This is not a cheap or convenient effort. It is not the same as Russia taking Crimea.

Now, there are some relevant links I can point you too. They are below. Some of these I question. Mainland China can certainly get a significant force across the straits, but may not be able to maintain air superiority and may not be able to maintain control of the Taiwan Straights. Nothing like sending a 100,000 people across the straights and not being able to feed them. I do find the idea that mainland China will invade Taiwan in the next 6 years to be somewhat loopy.

For mainland China to seriously consider invading Taiwan, it is going to take another decade of two of serious development of their air force and particular their fighter arm. They only have about 50 modern “stealth fighters.” It will also need to have a naval force at least capable of securing the Taiwan Straights. Can’t envision they will have a naval force in the next 20 years large enough to protect the Spratley Islands from the U.S. or secure their overseas trade and oil.

 

——-Other Articles and blog posts———–

https://www.realclearinvestigations.com/articles/2020/08/17/the_scary_war_game_over_taiwan_that_the_us_loses_again_and_again_124836.html

http://theglitteringeye.com/wargaming-a-china-u-s-war/

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2020/09/01/what-war-with-china-could-look-like/

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/skeptics/can-america-successfully-repel-chinese-invasion-taiwan-166350

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2020/12/09/if-china-invades-taiwan-taipei-plans-to-throw-a-thousand-tanks-at-the-beachhead/?sh=be8a96a6f93b

https://nypost.com/2021/03/11/us-war-games-over-china-threat-warn-of-likely-defeat-report/

https://topics.amcham.com.tw/2021/04/taiwan-defense-asymmetric-indigenous-capabilities/

https://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1217.html

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – wherefore and why?

Last month Admiral Phillip Davidson, Indo-Pacific Command, said that “I worry that they’re [China] accelerating their ambitions to supplant the United States and our leadership role in the rules-based international order. They’ve long said they want to do that by 2050, I’m worried about them moving that target closer. Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions before that, and I think the threat is manifest during this decade. In fact, in the next six years.”

Now, I don’t know exactly what he meant by that statement, but I now see some buzz about China invading Taiwan in the next six years. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7TbBZlCTdg. Note that Gen. Jack Keene does not actually say that they will be invading Taiwan in six years.

Also see:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/10/china-could-invade-taiwan-in-next-six-years-top-us-admiral-warns

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/23/taiwan-china-threat-admiral-john-aquilino

Note that Admiral John Aquilino “…disagreed with the outgoing Indo-Pacom commander Adm Philip Davidson’s recent comments that China could attempt to attack and take over Taiwan as soon as six years from now.”

Anyhow, is this really likely? I am going to briefly discuss the subject in two posts, this post focused on the “wherefores and why” of such an operation and a later post on the doing an actual invasion. 

A few caveats: 1) I am no China expert, 2) I have never been involved is gaming or analyzing the defense of Taiwan, 3) I have no real “insider” knowledge of the subject at hand, and 4) I am not an economist. 

I do find it a little difficult to believe that the Chinese, whose economy is heavily dependent on trade, is going to do something that would seriously disrupt this trade. The economy is 20 percent dependent on “Exports of good and services.” Their five major trading partners are the U.S., EU. Japan, S. Korea and Taiwan (!!!). The 2018 figures show total trade of 4,107.1 billion. Of that the U.S. makes up 583.3 (14%), the EU makes up 573.08 (14%), Japan makes up 303.0 (7%), Hong Kong makes up 286.5 (7%), South Korea makes up 280.2 (7%), Taiwan makes 199.9 (5%), Australia makes up 136.4 (3%) and Vietnam makes up 121.9 (3%). Other trade partners account for around 40% percent of the total. Almost all of it must be transported by sea or air. Overland trading partners to China are limited primarily to Russia (84.2), North Korea and Mongolia, and places like Vietnam (121.9), Laos, Thailand, Burma, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and nominally Afghanistan and of course, the subcontinent of Pakistan, India and Nepal via Tibet (India is 84.3). Only three of these places is listed as among their top 20 trading partners (Vietnam, India and Russia, which make up 7% of their trade, assuming they were doing it all overland).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_largest_trading_partners_of_China

Now, the question is whether or not their would be a full economic blockade. The international response was tepid when Russia seized Crimea. But seizing Taiwan is a whole lot bigger bite (24 million vice 2.4 million). Certainly they will loose the trade with Taiwan and the trade with the U.S., and maybe South Korea, Japan and EU. As taking Taiwan is almost invariably a “hot war” scenario, hard to see how things would continue as business as normal. Added to that, the U.S. Navy has absolutely superiority in the deep seas, so the U.S. could establish an effective blockade (See: U.S. Fleet versus Chinese Fleet | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org))

So as a minimum, we are probably looking at China losing 60% to 80% of its trade. This is at least 12-16% of its economy. As things in economies tend to ripple (like local consumer spending and services) then the potential economic impact on China is very significant.  

Are they really looking to destroy their trade in the next six years? It will have a big impact on their economy. Trade embargoes tend to drag on for a while. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the trade embargoes were limited, and by the mid-1990s China there was no clear long-term impact. But, the trade impact of directly invading Taiwan would probably be worse than Tianamen Square, and it would involve direct military engagement with one or more of its major trading partners.

Added to that, around 60% of their oil is imported. This is done by sea. We could also interdict that. Now, their neighbor Russia does have oil, so this can be partially compensated for over time.

So, by embargo and even more effectively, by naval interdiction (which is certainly within our capability), we could possibly temporarily shut down 80% of their trade and 60% of their oil. If that was the case, then we are probably looking at something more like a 30-40% decline in their GDP. This depressed economy that could continue for several years.

When economies stagnate or decline, governments often get overthrown. Is this something they are willing to risk for the sake of taking Taiwan?

So the big question is: Is taking Taiwan so important to the current leadership of China that they were willing to take the hit and the risk that goes with it? 

 

U.S. Fleet versus Chinese Fleet

This subject has been addressed in a few cases in our past posts. Let’s dredge up a few:

From January 2020:

The Size of Fleets in the South China Sea, Part 1 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Size of Fleets around the South China Sea, Part 2 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

U.S. Navy Compared to Russian Navy | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

From August 2016:

Chinese Carriers | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Chinese Carriers II | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

To summarize:

………………………….US…China…Size

Aircraft Carriers………..11……………..100,000-106,300 tons

Small Carriers……………0…….2………..54,500-58,600

LHA/LHD (Carriers !)……9 * ……………..41,150-45,693

Cruisers…………………..22………………….9,800

Destroyers……………….69………………….8,315-9,800

Destroyers……………………….36………….3,670-12,000

LCS……………………….20………………….3,104-3,900

Frigates……………………0…….52………….2,000-4,200

Corvettes…………………0…….42…………..1,400

Missile boats……………………109…………..170-520

Submarine chasers…………….94

Gunboats………………………..17

 

LPD…………………………11..,…6……………25,000-25,300

LSD…………………………12…………………..15,939-16,100

LST…………………………..0…..32…………….4,170-4,800

LSM………………………………..31…………….800-2,000

Mobile Landing Platform………….1

Special-purpose……………7……………………895 – 23,000

MCM………………………..11…..20

PC…………………………..13

 

SSBN………………………14………………….18,750

SSBN………………………………..7……………8,000-11,500

SSGN……………………….4…………………..18,750

SSN………………………..48…………………….6,927-12,139

SSN…………………………………12……………5,500-7,000

SSK…………………………………55……………2,110-4,000

 

 

*This excludes the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), which is still on the rolls but because of the fire of 12 July 2020 is clearly never returning to duty.

U.S. versus China (GDP) – update 1

Dredging up our old posts. This one is from 13 November 2018.

U.S. versus China (GDP) | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

As of 2017, U.S. GDP was $19.391 trillion according to the World Bank. The Chinese economy was $12.238 trillion. This was 63% of the U.S. economy.

Now?

Using the World Bank figures for 2019 it is 21.428 trillion for the United States. The Chinese economy is $14.343 trillion. This is 67% of the U.S. economy and these figures pre-date the Covid crisis.

IMF has estimated 2020 figures. I have no idea how relevant or meaningful they area. For the US. it is $%20.807 trillion while for China it is 14.861 trillion. This is 71% of the U.S. economy. Don’t know how much of the Coronavirus issues affected these 2020 IMF figures. China started dealing with Coronavirus in January 2020 while it only became an issue in the United States in March of 2020. China has since brought it under control and are seeing about 200 cases a day. The United States has failed to bring it under control and are looking at something like 180,000 new cases each day. As such, I would expect that China GDP is growing faster than the United States and this will probably also be the case for 2021.

 

P.S.: The U.S. GDP declined 3.5% in 2020. See: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/28/economy/us-fourth-quarter-gdp/index.html