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As tensions continue to escalate between Washington and Beijing, the U.S. military has raised newfound concerns over the threat of growing Chinese military capabilities.
Reports have emerged that the U.S. Air Force simulated a large-scale Chinese biological weapons attack against U.S. assets and military infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region.
Held last fall, the scenario posited a Chinese invasion force deployed under the guise of conducting a military exercise. The attack involved a missile saturation strike against local U.S. forces, along with an amphibious assault on the island of Taiwan. Highly classified, the war game was not made public until last month.
Far from an outlier, this exercise is the latest affirmation of a longstanding trend suggesting that the regional balance of power has shifted in China’s favor. “More than a decade ago, our war games indicated that the Chinese were doing a good job of investing in military capabilities that would make our preferred model of expeditionary warfare, where we push forces forward and operate out of relatively safe bases and sanctuaries, increasingly difficult,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote told Yahoo News. “At that point the trend in our war games was not just that we were losing, but we were losing faster,” Hinote added. “After the 2018 war game I distinctly remember one of our gurus of wargaming standing in front of the Air Force secretary and chief of staff and telling them that we should never play this war game scenario [of a Chinese attack on Taiwan] again because we know what is going to happen. The definitive answer if the U.S. military doesn’t change course is that we’re going to lose fast. In that case, an American president would likely be presented with almost a fait accompli.”
Much of China’s military planning against the United States involves what Hinote called a “Taiwan scenario,” also noting that “Taiwan is what they think about all the time.” And Beijing isn’t just thinking. Chinese officials and state media have adopted an unprecedented degree of belligerent rhetoric vis-à-vis Taiwan. “We warn those ‘Taiwan independence’ elements: those who play with fire will burn themselves,” Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in January. “Taiwan ‘independence’ means war,” he added. China’s People’s Liberation Army has made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in 2020. In late March, Taipei reported the largest-ever Chinese encroachment into its ADIZ; as many as twenty Chinese aircraft practiced what some experts believe to be a wide bomber encirclement of Taiwan.
Where does the United States fit into all this? According to Beijing’s military doctrine, China need not decisively defeat U.S. forces in the Pacific; it simply needs to preempt, contain, and delay them long enough to fully occupy Taiwan. This is the core thinking behind China’s emerging anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) approach—namely, a constellation of overlapping Chinese air, sea, land, and space capabilities working in tandem to constrain the ability of U.S. assets to operate effectively in the Pacific. China’s growing military might in the Indo-Pacific region augurs a grim future for Washington’s ability to deter and, if need be, defeat a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest. This article was first published earlier this year.