Surprise attacks would first have to be executed to clear the way for the army to cross the Strait. Operations would include everything from ballistic missile attacks to drone strikes, from cyber infiltration to space warfare, and from commando raids to psychological operations. However, at its core, the invasion of Taiwan would be about putting boots on the ground and tanks in the streets on Taipei. In the words of the PLA field manual, “We must annihilate our (Taiwanese) enemies in large numbers, then conquer and control the entire island.”
Given the gravity of the threat facing Taiwan, it is important that the international community understands China's intentions and plans. Americans need to understand why their country might one day find itself locked in deadly embrace with China over this island nation, and allies need to know what parts they might be asked to play. If a war breaks out between the United States and China over Taiwan, it will change the course of history and produce after effects that reverberate for generations to come.
No one can know with any certainty how such a war would start, how it would play out, and what would follow it. But we can and should do more to understand the drivers of conflict and the assumptions that underpin military plans and preparations for it. No other flashpoint is as potentially dangerous to the national security of the United States.
It is clearly in the American interest to develop a nuanced understanding of the threat China poses to Taiwan, and to cultivate a strategy that takes this into account. Indeed, it is often the case that only by thinking tragically can tragedy be avoided. It is also true that in the absence of understanding many will buy into Chinese propaganda.
Going forward, American policymakers need to realize that North Korea is not the only threat to peace in Asia, nor is it the worst. China is planning to invade a pro-American democracy at the center of the first island chain, something likely to spark World War III. In light of this reality, the sooner the U.S. Navy begins port calls and exercises with Taiwan the better.
Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute and author of The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia.