How to Stop China from Someday Invading Taiwan? Submarines.

Kyle Mizokami

Security, Asia

8, to be exact. 

How to Stop China from Someday Invading Taiwan? Submarines.

The country with perhaps the most dire need for a modern submarine force in the industrialized world actually has the oldest. Fully half of Taiwan’s submarine force consists of World War II–era boats, while the other half is “just” forty years old. The result is a force that is unable to respond to China’s submarine fleet and cannot adequately protect the country from invasion.

The end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 resulted in a split between the People’s Republic of China on the mainland and the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan. The Taiwan Strait, a narrow section of the Pacific separating the two Chinas, is anywhere from 80 to 200 miles wide. Although relatively narrow, the presence of the strait—or “The Black Ditch” as mariners used to call it—has prevented one side from conquering the other and settling the China problem by force.

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From the end of the war to the 1990s, Taiwan enjoyed a slowly ebbing naval superiority that prevented a Chinese Communist invasion. China simply did not have the sealift to transport hundreds of thousands of troops across the strait and conquer Taipei, nor did it have the surface fleet and air force to support an invasion. A consistent double-digit increase in Beijing’s defense spending since 1992, however, has slowly but surely swung the pendulum to the side of the Communists.

While invasion is still impractical, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) grows stronger daily. In its 2017 annual report to Congress, the Pentagon estimates that Taiwan’s military forces are badly outnumbered by regional PLA forces. China outnumbers Taiwan twenty-four to four in destroyers, forty-two to twenty-two in frigates and seventy-five to forty in coastal missile patrol boats. In submarines, China outnumbers Taiwan thirty-four to four.

A powerful Taiwanese submarine fleet would go a long way towards deterring a Chinese invasion. A submarine threat to a ship-bound invasion force would cause considerable unease to a People’s Liberation Army Navy entrusted to delivering tens, if not hundreds of thousands of combat troops across hostile waters onto Taiwanese beaches. China would need to devote considerable resources to…

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