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Chasing dreams: Chinese troops vow to ‘sacrifice’ themselves to achieve Taiwan unification

The airing of an eight-episode documentary series in China, titled Chasing Dreams, has revealed the confronting lengths the men and women of the People’s Liberation Army are willing to go to “reunify” mainland China and the island democracy of Taiwan.

The airing of an eight-episode documentary series in China, titled Chasing Dreams, has revealed the confronting lengths the men and women of the People’s Liberation Army are willing to go to “reunify” mainland China and the island democracy of Taiwan.

As China’s economic power has continued to grow, translating to increased global and regional clout backed by an increasingly capable and power projection-focused military, the tensions across the Taiwan Strait have continued to deteriorate.

While these tensions have largely been limited to verbose and confrontational language and increased, probing penetrations of Taiwanese air and maritime identification zones, many leading thinkers across the strategic and defence planning community anticipate a direct confrontation by the end of the 2020s.


The most prominent proponent of planning for this concerning contingency, former US Indo-Pacific Commander, Admiral Philip Davidson, articulates the concerns and sets the scene for the challenges facing both the United States and its regional partners, including Australia, saying: “I believe the next six years is going to be a very worrying time for Taiwan, the US, Japan, and all of East Asia.”

Admiral Davidson’s well-documented concern is further reinforced by Jessica Drun, a non-resident fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, who added, “Though I’m not convinced that Beijing has depleted all the options in its toolkit short of a full-out invasion, my concern is that, with the increasing regularity of incursions into Taiwan’s [air space], there is a higher risk of an accident or a miscalculation – one that could compel, or be used by Chinese leadership to justify, further military escalation.”

This grim prospect has only been reinforced in the past week as China’s state broadcaster CCTV aired part of an eight-episode documentary series called Chasing Dreams, which has shed dramatic light on the commitment of the People’s Liberation Army to reuniting mainland China with what it describes as a “wayward, dissident province” in the island democracy of Taiwan.

Ready to fight ‘at any second’

Echoing the repeated requests of Chinese President Xi Jinping for the People’s Liberation Army to step up its readiness and preparations for potential conflict in coming years, the soldiers interviewed in this piece of propaganda were clearly committed to the cause, despite the verbose reference to sacrificing themselves for the motherland, with Li Peng, a J-20 pilot from Wang Hai Squadron, attached to the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, the central force tasked with reclaiming Taiwan, saying, “My fighter would be my last missile, rushing towards the enemy if in a real battle I had used up all my ammunition.”

While this verbose language doesn’t seem to herald a major and costly shift in Chinese combat doctrine, namely a shift towards kamikaze style attacks, it does seemingly signal the commitment to the “centennial goal” of the People’s Liberation Army, something that is repeatedly highlighted through the documentary series.

Going further, Zuo Feng, a People’s Liberation Army Navy frogman attached to a Navy minesweeper unit, said, “If war broke out and the conditions were too difficult to safely remove the naval mines in actual combat, we will use our own bodies to clear a safe pathway for our landing forces,” for any potential amphibious operation to invade Taiwan.

Complicating any potential allied support for Taiwan is the increasing proliferation of advanced military capabilities in the People’s Liberation Army, ranging from fifth-generation fighters like the J-20, through to an increasingly powerful blue water-focused navy supported by aircraft carriers and a formidable fleet of conventional and nuclear-powered submarines and a truly immense arsenal of ballistic and advanced guided missiles.

This is something highlighted in a series of wargames recently conducted by the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) identifying a series of outcomes following a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan and a subsequent US-led, allied response with startling and concerning results.

The CSIS established a “base scenario” which detailed: “this CSIS project designed a wargame using historical data and operations research to model a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan in 2026. Some rules were designed using analogies with past military operations; for example, the Chinese amphibious lift was based on analysis of Normandy, Okinawa, and the Falklands.

“Other rules were based on theoretical weapons performance data, such as determining the number of ballistic missiles required to cover an airport. Most rules combined these two methods. In this way, the results of combat in the wargame were determined by analytically based rules instead of by personal judgment. The same set of rules applied to the first iteration and to the last iteration, ensuring consistency.”

Taiwan will cost some real blood and treasure

In identifying the potential for a “major threat” facing the United States should it intervene in defence of Taiwan, CSIS details the core basis for the proposed invasion, “The invasion always starts the same way: an opening bombardment destroys most of Taiwan’s navy and air force in the first hours of hostilities. Augmented by a powerful rocket force, the Chinese navy encircles Taiwan and interdicts any attempts to get ships and aircraft to the besieged island. Tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers cross the strait in a mix of military amphibious craft and civilian roll-on, roll-off ships, while air assault and airborne troops land behind the beachheads.”

However, based on a US-led intervention to respond to Chinese aggression, CSIS outlines some concerning outcomes for both parties, with key platforms and manpower knocked out either temporarily or permanently, radically reshaping both the regional and global balance of power.

CSIS details, that while “US submarines, bombers, and fighter/attack aircraft, often reinforced by Japan Self-Defense Forces, rapidly cripple the Chinese amphibious fleet. China’s strikes on Japanese bases and US surface ships cannot change the result: Taiwan remains autonomous.”

As a result of the US intervention, CSIS states that this defence of Taiwan comes at a significant material and manpower cost, stating, “The United States and Japan lose dozens of ships (two carriers and between 10–20 large surface combatants), hundreds of aircraft (90 per cent of which are destroyed on the ground), and thousands of servicemembers. Such losses would damage the US global position for many years.

“While Taiwan’s military is unbroken, it is severely degraded and left to defend a damaged economy on an island without electricity and basic services. China also suffers heavily. Its navy is in shambles, the core of its amphibious forces is broken, and tens of thousands of soldiers are prisoners of war.”

Final thoughts

Concerningly for Australia and other regional partners that depend on the US strategic umbrella for ongoing security, such significant losses would present major challenges for global security. While CSIS predicts significant losses for the People’s Liberation Army, diminishing its capacity, a globally weakened US would also present dramatic challenges for Australia’s strategic policymakers.

There is a growing realisation that both the United States and allies like Australia will need to get the balance of its military and national capabilities just right, not just to support the US as part of a larger joint task force, but to ensure that the Australian Defence Force can continue to operate independently and complete its core mission reliably and responsively.

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