China's so-called "Parliment" passed a law yesterday, authorizing the use of force to "reunify" Taiwan with the mainland, in the event Taiwan declares its independence.
Beijing has made these threats for years, but the measure marks the first time the PRC government has given them legal standing. It underscores China's willingness to use military force to bring Taiwan "into the fold," if Taipei ever crosses the independence threshhold.
China's threats are more than just talk. Buoyed by a booming economy, PRC military spending has increased dramatically over the past decade. Beijing is investing in all types of advanced military hardware, including new fighter jets (Russian-made SU-27/30 FLANKERS), advanced submarines, modern surface-to-air missiles, and (most ominously) large numbers of surface-to-surface missiles.
A few years ago, China vowed to have "hundreds" of ballistic missiles opposite Tawian in just a few years. And Beijing has lived up to its promise. Various Pentagon estimates suggest that the PRC now has more than 500 short-range ballistic missiles (mostly CSS-6 and CSS-7) aimed at Taiwan, which it regards as a "renegade province." These missiles, capable of carrying chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads, could easily overwhelm Taiwan's PATRIOT surface-to-air missiles, killing millions of its citizens, and making resupply/reinforcement of the island extremely difficult.
Along with missile strikes, the PRC would also use its growing submarine force to cut sea lanes to the island, and its modernized fighter force to control the skies over the Taiwan Strait. Collectively, these measures would result in an air and sea blockade of the island, slowly pounding and starving the island into submission. True, China lacks the amphibious forces to mount an effective invasion of Taiwan (wags have likened it to a "million-man swim"), but as Beijing improves its missile, air and naval forces, that capability becomes less important.
And that creates an interesting dilemma for the U.S. As you'll recall, the U.S. Congress passed a measure in 1979, vaguely promising support for Taiwan if it is ever attacked by the PRC. The Taiwan Support Act is not a mutual defense treaty, so there's no guarantee of military support. But it is difficult to imagine the U.S. standing idly by and allowing the PRC to attack Taiwan. Indeed, students at various U.S. military war colleges have "war gamed" the PRC-Taiwan scenario many times in recent years. Those students under the difficulties associated with defending Taiwan, particularly in light of China's recent defense build-up.
War between Taiwan and the PRC isn't inevitable. But China clearly hasn't abandoned the military option, and they're acquiring the muscle required to back up their resolution. In that regard, the measure passed by Beijing's Parliment is hardly an empty threat.