American Enterprise Online
August 1, 2005
By Alan W. Dowd

It’s late in the autumn of 2008. The Beijing Olympic Games are over, a smashing success for the Peoples Republic of China. Billions of viewers watched the games on television, and tens of thousands poured into the PRC to witness the spectacle firsthand, bringing with them billions of dollars and opening the way to countless new business ventures for Beijing’s hybrid economy.

Beijing sacrificed much to host and hold onto the Games, especially after Taiwan cleverly timed its declaration of independence to coincide with the summertime preparations and preliminary events. China held its fire, held its tongue and held its breath for more than six months. But with the Games behind it, Beijing has had enough.

And so, on an evening in November, the vanguard of China’s army strikes Taiwan—but not with bombs or bullets. Instead, information warfare specialists flood Taiwan’s technology-dependent government and military with computer viruses and worms, disabling communications facilities all across the island. Later that evening, commandos from the Peoples Liberation Army, dressed as merchant seamen, strike power plants and communications towers inside the Taiwanese capital.

Citing concerns about the spread of terrorist activity from Taiwan to the Mainland, Beijing declares a protection zone around Taiwan and offers to escort Taiwan-bound ships to Mainland ports for “safety inspections.” Japan and Washington protest what appears to be a blockade of Taiwan. But their protests are drowned out by news that a Taiwanese ship has rammed a Chinese fishing vessel. No one is aware that the Taiwanese ship is under the control of PLA commandos.

Before Taipei or anyone else can piece together the PRC’s plan, a torrent of missiles begins raining down on Taiwanese airfields and ports. In the first four hours of the attack, Taiwan is battered by an estimated 400 missiles. Taiwan’s government is paralyzed by the attacks. Its air force is obliterated, its navy decimated by hundreds of mines secretly sown by a fleet of PLA submarines.

With US Naval forces in the Pacific committed to peacekeeping operations in the Philippines, it will be days before a carrier taskforce can make its way from the Persian Gulf to the Taiwan Straits.  By then it will be too late, at least for an independent Taiwan.

As the missiles fall, Beijing warns nearby nations not to allow US aircraft to use their airspace or facilities. The Chinese promise lucrative new trade deals to nations that fall in line “after our internal problems pass”—and they warn that providing assistance to the US will be considered an act of war.

As smoke rises over Taiwan’s key military installations, Beijing sends a terse message to Taiwan’s president, demanding that he first renounce the declaration of independence and then accept a delegation from the PRC to coordinate the arrival of a new governor from the Mainland. Should he refuse, the PRC will go forward with an all-out invasion.

Left with little choice, Taiwan’s leader agrees to Beijing’s demands and capitulates. The so-called Four Day War ends with the red flag of China flying over Taipei—and PLA commanders hailing China’s “peaceful reunification.”

Initially ordered to defend Taiwan from invasion, US commanders tell the president that they will likely have to retake the island by force.  

* * *

It sounds like the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel, but it might come as a surprise that I borrowed the basic premise of this grim scenario from a most unlikely source—a report penned by Pentagon bureaucrats.

As required by law, the Pentagon delivers a report on Chinese military power each year. The reports have been coming out since 2000. The most recent was released this month. (To read it, click www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2005/d20050719china.pdf.) As before, the report offers a picture of Beijing’s booming defense spending, growing missile strength, leap into space and overall military modernization. It also spends a good deal of time addressing the powder keg that is Taiwan. “The PRC appears focused on preventing Taiwan independence or trying to compel Taiwan to negotiate a settlement on Beijing’s terms,” the report explains. “A second set of objectives includes building counters to third-party, including potential U.S., intervention in cross-Strait crises…China has not renounced the use of force.”

What’s a bit different this time, it seems, is the care the authors took to explain how Beijing might go about conquering Taiwan before anyone can come to the island’s aid. It’s no techno-thriller, but it’s still compelling, and it apparently touched a nerve in Beijing. According to published news reports, Chinese officials responded to the Pentagon review by lodging a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.  

War is not inevitable in the Pacific; but as the Pentagon reminds us, nor is it improbable.