Small Wars Journal

Into the Gray Zone: China’s Paths Towards Reunification with Taiwan

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 10:56am

Into the Gray Zone: China’s Paths Towards Reunification with Taiwan


By Matthew Egger


            Between September 2020 and the end of August 2021, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) (中国空军) made 554 intrusions into the Taiwanese air defense identification zone (ADIZ).[1] The Communist Party of China (CCP) (中国共产党) carries out these sorties to wear down the Taiwanese Air Force, intimidate the island’s inhabitants, and shake their belief in the feasibility of an independent Taiwan. The intrusions are part of a broader effort on behalf of the CCP to operate in the gray zone (灰色地带), which encompasses “intense political, economic, informational, and military competition more fervent in nature than normal steady-state diplomacy, yet short of war” to achieve unification with Taiwan.[2] The CCP operates in the gray zone because actions below the threshold of war are less costly and less likely to trigger international reprisals.

            The CCP has officially pursued unification with Taiwan since 1979, when the National Peoples Congress published a document that used the word reunification” for the first time.[3] The document provides legitimacy to the CCPs drive toward reunification, stating Taiwan has been an inalienable part of China since ancient times.”[4] Chinas efforts towards annexing Taiwan have intensified in recent years, and unification is a key milestone toward achieving the Chinese Dream 2049, a series of ambitious goals that President Xi Jinping hopes to accomplish by the Chinese states one-hundredth birthday.[5] The rise to power of Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing Wen (蔡英文), a vocally anti-unification politician, has exacerbated tensions between Taiwan and China and has contributed to a newfound sense of urgency within the CCP to pursue unification.2

            This essay will outline several possibilities available to the CCP as it pursues Taiwanese unification. The first is a largescale conventional amphibious invasion of the island. China could also blockade Taiwan into submission or seize small islands belonging to Taiwan such as Kinmen (金门) or Matsu (马祖列岛) to gain leverage over Taipei. Finally, the CCP could continue to use options within the gray zone to degrade Taiwan’s autonomy and eventually achieve unification. While this essay should not be read as a prediction of the CCP’s course of action vis-à-vis Taiwan as forecasting human behavior is notoriously difficult and often futile[6], it argues that the gray zone, for the time being, provides China the most cost-effective way of pursuing unification.

The essay first outlines the pros and cons of launching a conventional invasion of Taiwan, arguing that, presently, the costs of such an invasion outweigh the benefits, although modernization within all branches of the Chinese armed forces paired with the poor state of Taiwans military could eventually render an invasion a rational decision. The essay then describes how China could seize smaller Taiwanese islands or pair a blockade of the main island of Taiwan with missile strikes, cyberattacks, electronic warfare attacks, network attacks, and information operations to subdue Taipei. The essay then provides a deeper understanding of what gray zone activities are and how China has become increasingly adept at using them to achieve its domestic and international political goals in recent decades. Finally, the essay details the myriad gray zone activities China has used against Taiwan and will likely continue to use to achieve unification.

The costs and benefits of a conventional invasion of Taiwan

            The most ambitious and aggressive yet risky and costly option available to China as it pursues Taiwanese unification is a conventional amphibious invasion of the island. Amphibious invasions are one of the hardest military operations to win, requiring the offensive force to have air and maritime superiority, a rapid buildup and sustainment of supplies onshore, uninterrupted support[7], and the deployment of at least three times more troops than the defensive force possesses.[8] China currently lacks the number of military vessels required to carry the millions of troops it would need to subdue Taiwan. Until its navy grows larger, China either cannot invade or would have to use a fleet of civilian vessels to carry its invading force across the Taiwan Strait. A conventional invasion also risks rendering China an international pariah similar to Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. Kinetic action against Taiwan could also trigger Western intervention on behalf of Taiwan.6 While the U.S. maintains a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding its response in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the policy has come under scrutiny in the U.S. recently as the threat of invasion looms larger and the argument in favor of Washington declaring its support for Taiwan gains popularity. Richard Haas, a former senior State Department and national security official who is currently the president of the Council on Foreign Relations believes that the policy is outdated and that it is time to change from strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity.”[9] Chinas calculus regarding an amphibious invasion will likely reflect the growing calls for the U.S. to come to Taiwans aid in the event of Chinese aggression. Taiwans geography would further complicate a Chinese invasion. Taiwans rugged coastline would complicate amphibious landings, and its mountainous and urban regions would provide excellent cover for Taiwans military and an insurgency. Its population is intimately acquainted with its geography, putting them at an advantage against the Chinese military.

            While a conventional amphibious invasion of Taiwan comes with many risks and costs, the balance of power appears to be shifting in Chinas favor, and China may eventually find itself in a strong position to invade the island. The Taiwanese armed forces are notoriously understaffed and poorly trained. The country has struggled to find enough men willing to fill the 188,000-strong armed forces and those who fill its ranks are poorly trained. While Taiwan maintains a draft, the service period was cut from a year to just four months in 2013, a period too short for useful training to occur, according to conscripts and former officers. Throughout four months of training, for instance, a navy conscript surnamed Lin spent a total of forty minutes on warships and fired sixteen rounds from a rifle on one occasion and only after its magazine was loaded for him. Lin also said that only half of his intake cohort of four hundred conscripts could swim the required fifty meters. Furthermore, the countrys 2.31 million-strong reserve force, according to Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine colonel who is now a researcher at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, is pretty close” to useless. Reservists called up for refresher training said there were no realistic exercises or explanations of what would be required during a crisis. One reservist surnamed Lee said, Im certainly not trained properly to fight in a war.”[10]

While Taiwans military lacks a sufficient number of well-trained personnel, Chinas in contrast is modernizing and becoming more capable. It has developed better missiles and missile defenses, built up its navy, air force, and nuclear stockpile, and has a growing defense budget that is the second-largest in the world and triple that of number three and four, India and Russia. Chinas new ballistic and cruise missiles threaten U.S. military bases in the Pacific, and it is attempting to gain an edge by developing hypersonic missiles, which are launched from rockets orbiting the earth and travel at over 6,110 kilometers-per-hour at a low trajectory, making them very maneuverable and potentially impossible to detect and defend against. Furthermore, China will double its number of nuclear warheads from two hundred to four hundred within the next decade, and Beijing has built two hundred J-16 fighter jets and J-20 stealth jets in the past six years.[11] As a result, American defense experts argue that China is becoming an increasingly worthy foe, with RAND warfare analyst David Ochmanek saying that in wargames against the PLA, the U.S. gets its ass handed to it” adding that American forces lose a lot of people and equipment and fail to achieve their objectives.[12]

Nonetheless, China has not fought a war since the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war and is thus inexperienced in warfighting relative to the U.S. and other western militaries that may intervene on behalf of Taiwan. Its troops are poorly trained and have minimal experience operating their weapons. The military is also rife with corruption and has an outdated command structure that would undermine its combat effectiveness. Some analysts also believe that Chinas one-child policy, which was repealed in 2015, has left soldiers hesitant to fight as doing so would risk leaving their parents without descendants. By contrast, the U.S., which may come to Taiwans aid in the event of a Chinese invasion, maintains by far the worlds biggest and most experienced military as well as its strongest nuclear arsenal. The U.S military gleaned invaluable warfighting experience during the nearly two-decades-long Global War on Terror. The U.S. defense budget is twelve times that of Chinas, and Americas military, according to the U.S. Air University, is strategically, tactically, and operationally superior to the Chinese armed forces.[13]

The superiority of the U.S. military will likely make China think twice about invading Taiwan until its military becomes a more worthy match. In the meantime, however, China can impose a blockade on Taiwan and seize Taiwans offshore islands. It could invade small Taiwan-occupied islands in the South China Sea such as Patas or Itu Aba. It could also invade medium-sized, better-defended islands like Matsu or Jinmen. Doing so would demonstrate Beijings strength and political resolve and achieve gains while showing restraint. However, invading these islands comes with potentially prohibitive political risks because doing so could galvanize pro-Taiwanese independence sentiment and generate international opposition.6 China could also blockade Taiwan. Given that the island is just roughly one hundred miles off the coast of mainland China, it would not be difficult for the Chinese navy to do this. PLA reports describe a Joint Blockade Campaign” option in which Beijing would accompany a blockade of maritime and air traffic with missile strikes, seizures of some of Taiwans offshore islands, network attacks, electronic warfare, and information operations to control the narrative about the conflict.7 Blockades, however, take a long time to succeed, and China hopes to avoid a protracted war. A blockade would also further tarnish Chinas image in the international community, with Beijing already being scrutinized for its hardline approaches to handling the Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues.[14]

With a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, island seizures, and a blockade of Taiwan all coming with prohibitive costs and risks, the gray zone provides China with the most cost-effective avenue towards unification for the time being. The rest of the essay is devoted to describing the relatively low-risk and low-cost gray zone tactics China has developed and how it has and will continue to use them against Taiwan.

Chinas adoption of the gray zone

            While China’s position in the international arena rose along with its rapidly developing economy during the late twentieth century, the strength of its military lagged behind those of its adversaries in the West, especially the United States. Chinese tacticians consequently felt a need to confront China’s militarily superior adversaries indirectly via non-violent measures. In 1999, two colonels in the People’s Liberation Army (中国人民解放军) (PLA), Qiao Liang (乔良) and Wang Xiang Sui (王湘穗) published a book titled Unrestricted Warfare (超级战) detailing how broadening traditional definitions of war could allow China to defeat its more powerful enemies. The authors write all boundaries lying between the two worlds of war and non-war, of military and non-military, will be totally removed,”[15] and one stated in an interview after the books publication that the first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules”[16] Acknowledging that direct engagement with the U.S. and its allies would likely result in a resounding defeat for the Chinese military or ensue in nuclear war, yielding no benefits to either party, the two colonels called on Beijing to use gray zone measures including political action to promote global changes favorable to the CCP, economic pressure on adversaries and allies, cyber and network attacks, and to use of non-state actors as instruments of statecraft.[17] The authors advocate, for instance, creating slush funds to influence foreign governments and buying shares of foreign media companies to influence their reporting and turn them into tools of media warfare.7

            Expounding upon Colonels Qiao and Wang’s work, the Central Military Commission (中央军事委员会) in late 2003 approved a doctrine called the three warfares (三战) that has guided PLA political and information operations throughout the twenty-first century. The three warfares include public opinion warfare (舆论战), psychological warfare (心理战), and legal warfare (法律战). The CCP uses public opinion warfare to gain support for its objectives and to dissuade its adversaries from opposing its actions, psychological warfare to influence its opponent’s decision-making and to create doubt about its adversaries’ capabilities to degrade their will to act, and legal warfare to exploit legal systems to gain the legal high ground, to assert the legitimacy of Chinese claims, and to constrain its adversaries’ operational freedom.[18]

China has accordingly followed Qiao and Wangs prescriptions and operated internationally in the gray zone to achieve its foreign policy objectives. China uses its economic might to influence foreign governments while avoiding direct competition with the West. In 2013, for instance, Chinese President Xi Jinping rolled out the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (一带一路) to construct a network of infrastructure around the world to facilitate trade, investment, and connectedness with China. Encompassing an estimated $1 trillion in infrastructure projects, the BRI has helped the CCP gain international support. While China denies the existence of a direct link between its military and the BRI, the CCP is quick to acknowledge that there is a clear link between development and security. China constructs dual-use ports for civilian and military ships, and PLA officers have stated on record that Chinese companies participating in the BRI have not done enough to ensure that port construction conforms to Chinese defense requirements.[19] China also launches cyber and network attacks against foreign governments and private entities to gain an edge. From March-December 2021, for instance, hackers using malware linked to Chinese state-sponsored groups targeted numerous Southeast Asian countriesnavies, ministries of defense, and ministries of foreign affairs with cyberattacks. Many of the countries targeted were engaged in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. Similarly, Chinese intelligence services targeted the European Medicines Agency in 2020 with cyber attacks and stole documents on COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.[20] These attacks demonstrate China’s cyber warfare prowess and its willingness to use cyber attacks as a non-kinetic means for self-aggrandizement. Finally, China uses non-military vessels such as its coast guard (海警) and supports a maritime insurgency comprised of civilian fishing vessels in international disputes in the Indo-Pacific region to leverage its growing power while avoiding international opprobrium. Chinese fishing fleets and paramilitary coast guard vessels threaten and harass its regional competitors including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan.The maritime militia provides China an asymmetric advantage over conventional navies because the use of even defensive force against Chinas maritime militia by a naval ship would likely give rise to an argument that that ship used excessive force against civilian vessels.20 Having described the characteristics of recent Chinese operations in the gray zone, the next section of this essay will outline the numerous ways in which China has and will likely continue to use the gray zone to achieve Taiwanese unification.

China and Taiwan in the Gray Zone

            Taiwan is the principal target of Chinese gray zone operations.[21] China is operating across the economic, political, military, cyber, and information spaces in a non-violent war of attrition against Taiwan to achieve unification. The strength of Chinas economy coupled with Taiwans asymmetric economic dependence on China put the CCP in a powerful position over Taipei. While both Taiwan and the mainland rely on each other for important economic contributions, Taiwan is far more dependent on China than is true vice-versa. Political and economic reforms taking place during the 1980s on both sides of the strait have driven a rapid growth of economic ties between the two countries. While the value of cross-strait trade was just $950 million in 1986,[22] it reached $166 billion in 2020.[23] China replaced the U.S. as Taiwans largest trading partner in 2001, and in 2020, the value of Taiwans trade with the PRC doubled that of trade with the U.S.[24] This asymmetric economic relationship gives the CCP a powerful bargaining chip; according to Asia analyst Dr. Murray Scot Tanner, if the CCP closed down key sectors of the cross-strait relationship, Taiwan would likely suffer a major recession.22 China is also the number one recipient of Taiwanese foreign direct investment (FDI). Its FDI in China accounts for over half of its total FDI.The scale of Taiwanese investment on the mainland puts China in a powerful position in which it could seize Taiwanese investments to gain leverage over Taipei. The CCP also manipulates Taiwanese businessmen, or Taishang (台商), on the mainland into supporting its policies; those who voice support for its policies receive special treatment while those who do not are cut off from such treatment. Specifically, Beijing uses its relationships with Taiwanese businessmen to pressure Tapei to refrain from enacting policies that bring Taiwan closer to formal independence from the mainland, to make political concessions to Beijing on key issues such as accepting the “one China” policy, and to further expand and deepen cross-strait economic relations to provide Beijing with a greater source of leverage. According to Tanner, the Taishang are the most important conduit through which the CCP transforms its economic power into political influence.22    

Chinas Economy as a Foreign Policy Instrument

            China also uses its economic strength to lure Taiwans best and brightest to the mainland, resulting in a brain drain that has left Taipei struggling as it lacks educated and specialized workers to fill key roles. Annual growth on the mainland typically hovers around 7%[25]–over triple that seen in Taiwan–and Taiwanese workers in some sectors can earn two to five times more on the mainland than they can in Taiwan.[26] Gaga Liu, a Taiwanese student who earned a degree in fashion management in London, for instance, had two choices after she graduated: move back to Taiwan or work in Shanghai. Liu said her choice to work in Shanghai was easy because every brand wants to set up a flagship shop there, adding that it is a very fashionable city. She is just one of the thousands of Taiwanese leaving their country to join the booming Chinese labor market. A 2018 poll found that almost 90% of Taiwanese workers had worked abroad or were willing to do so.26 A further consequence of Taiwans lackluster wage growth is an unwillingness among young Taiwanese to start a family. Struggling to break even, many cannot envision providing for children, and Taiwans birthrate puts it third-to-last among 224 countries, a foreboding reality for Taiwans economic prospects.25 Those who do have children also find that Taiwans flawed educational system is unsatisfactory and wealthy Taiwanese parents often choose to educate their children on the mainland. Taiwanese students are also often able to gain admission to more prestigious universities in China with the same test scores that would grant them admission into less reputable Taiwanese universities.25 The CCP also uses propaganda and disinformation to create a narrative of Taiwan being a “ghost island,” (鬼岛) where low wages and alleged lack of opportunities for youth prevail to further exacerbate the brain drain. China offers students, academics, teachers, and professors all-expenses-paid trips to China where they receive briefings by CCP officials who hope to co-opt the visiting elites.[27] The CCP announced in February 2018 a package of 31 incentives to attract Taiwanese workers including tax breaks, research grants, participation in the investment and building of Chinas infrastructure, and financing for business firms.[28] With an aging population full of workers willing to work on the mainland, Taiwans economy is vulnerable to Chinese attempts at poaching its elites, and the Taiwanese workers and students attracted to the mainland are more likely to support unification and less likely to risk their livelihoods by supporting independence.26 The next section of the essay will outline the gray zone strategies in the political sphere that China is using to subdue Taiwan.


The Weaponization of Politics

China weaponizes politics to bring Taiwan closer to unification with the mainland. It uses the United Front Work Department (UFWD) (中共中央统一战线工作部), a body that reports directly to the CCP and that manages relations and influence operations with individuals and organizations outside of China. The UFWD interferes in Taiwanese politics by funding pro-unification political parties, bolstering pro-unification narratives worldwide, and by fueling ethnic strife to destabilize Taiwanese politics and society. The UFWD exploits Taiwan’s lenient democracy by supporting pro-unification parties including the China Unification Promotion Party (中华统一促进党), the New Party (新党), and the Taiwan Red Party (中国台湾红党一红党) to promote the CCP’s unification agenda. Because it is illegal under Taiwanese law for the CCP to fund political parties, it is suspected that pro-unification parties use Chinese companies to recycle CCP money and thus remain undetected.27  Several weeks before the November 2018 elections, the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (法务部调查局) announced it had started investigations into 33 cases of suspected Chinese funding of Taiwanese candidates, with evidence that the money had come directly from the Chinese government.27  The UFWD also operates in Taiwan and abroad to bolster pro-unification and anti-Taiwanese independence narratives. It offers exchange tours to the mainland for students and their teachers and pushes them to adopt pro-CCP stances on cross-strait relations in doing so. Two Taiwanese students studying at the prestigious Beijing University (北京大学) on scholarship, for instance, have become CCP members, and one commented on his dream to contribute to China’s rejuvenation through unification with Taiwan. In Shenzhen, the UFWD has established a cross-strait baseball league for students who compete under a banner reading “both sides in the Taiwan Strait are one family.”[29] The CCP is also engaged in a campaign to diplomatically strangle Taiwan and to reduce its presence on the international stage. Numerous states in recent years have cut their diplomatic ties with Taiwan and have instead established relationships with China. In 2018 alone, the Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso, and El Salvador cut ties with Taiwan, recognizing Beijing instead. China also pressures countries to remove Taiwan from international organizations including the governing body of the World Health Organization, the World Health Assembly, and the International Civil Aviation Organization. Taiwans title in the World Economic Forum was also changed from Chinese Taipei” to Taiwan, China,” and in some cases, the CCP forces foreign businesses to remove Taiwan from their websites. Taiwanese passport holders are also banned from entering United Nations buildings in New York City and Geneva. Finally, Taiwanese accused of breaking the law in foreign countries have been deported to China rather than Taiwan.21  In sum, the CCP funds Taiwanese political parties sympathetic to the CCP, bolsters pro-unification narratives, and is diplomatically strangles Taipei as a part of its overall gray zone strategy vis-à-vis Taiwan to achieve unification while remaining under the threshold of war. The next section of the essay will address the role of information and disinformation in Chinas gray zone strategy against Taiwan.

Information and Disinformation in the Gray Zone

Information and disinformation play a central role in Chinas gray zone strategy vis-à-vis Taiwan. China spreads disinformation to divide and demoralize Taiwanese society and to create a narrative that unification is inevitable. Its Central Propaganda Department (CPD) (中国共产党中央委员会宣传部) spearheads the dissemination of party propaganda. It conducts disinformation on social media to subvert trust in the Taiwanese government and to destabilize its society. In January 2022, for instance, Taiwan’s Investigation Bureau (法务部调查局) announced that it had uncovered 400 fake social media accounts operated by Chinese state apparatuses that had posted disinformation to undermine the Taiwanese government. The bureau said that China’s cyber army is attempting to foment conflict in Taiwan and urged social media users to be cautious of disinformation.[30] The CPD trains and manages cyber armies” such as the 50 cent party (50c) (五毛), a group of internet commentators hired by the CCP to disseminate information favorable to China regarding Taiwan. Prior to the 2018 local elections, for instance, 50c bombarded Taiwan with anti-Tsai and anti-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) messages on Facebook, Twitter, and online chat groups.[31],[32] Indeed, according to Radio Free Asia, the CCP targeted Taiwanese voters by mobilizing 300,000 cyber operatives prior to the election.[33] Many believe that the CPDs disinformation campaign resulted in the DPP losing seats to pro-Beijing parties that it would have won absent Chinese interference.[34]Similarly, China uses platforms including YouTube to spread false information on a massive scale; one channel revealed to be operated by a Chinese state reporter, for instance, posted a video denouncing the DPP and questioning whether President Tsai actually earned her PhD from the London School of Economics.[35] Similarly, China trains internet influencers in Taiwan and Western countries to disseminate CCP propaganda. Provincial Chinese governments use Facebook to recruit mainland-friendly, pro-unification” Taiwanese influencers, offering base salaries ranging from $730 to $1,460 USD.[36] Chinas efforts to bend opinions to its benefit also penetrate media groups, with Reuters finding that mainland authorities paid at least five Taiwanese media companies for coverage in publications and on a television channel. Chinas Taiwan Affairs Office paid $4,300 for two stories about the mainlands efforts to attract Taishang, and in another instance, a Chinese company paid a Taiwanese publication nearly $18,000 for ten pages of color-print stories promoting investments and tourism for an eastern Chinese province, reflecting Beijings efforts to draw money away from Taiwan and toward the mainland.[37] In sum, the CCP weaponizes the information space to undermine Taiwans democracy and government, bolster the case for unification, and draw investment and tourists away from Taiwan and toward the mainland.

Military Posturing

 Chinese military aircraft regularly fly into ADIZ and Beijing disseminates videos and images of military operations that undermine faith in Taiwans military and instill in the Taiwanese a sense that unification is inevitable. China makes near-daily incursions into the ADIZ often in response to developments in US-Taiwan relations or Taiwans international space. For example, in response to a visit to Taiwan by then-Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach, PLAAF aircraft crossed the centerline of the Taiwan Strait, under one hundred kilometers from the island, denoting a bold departure from the norm in which intruding Chinese aircraft fly near Taiwans Dongsha Island, some several hundred kilometers southwest of the main island.[38] The rationale for this incursion, according to Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council Spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (马晓光), was to thwart Taiwan independence.” Ma further warned the U.S. against violating the one-China principle and urged it to cut all official ties with Taipei.[39] Since September 2020, China has also increasingly used more advanced and offensive aircraft to conduct incursions, using, for instance, J-16 and J-10 fighter aircraft and also H-6K nuclear-capable bombers.37 By sending aircraft into the ADIZ, China strains Taiwans air force, which scrambles jets in response to PLAAF incursions, and undermines faith in Taiwans armed forcesability to protect Taiwanese sovereignty. In 2020, the Taiwanese Air Force scrambled nearly 3,000 times against Chinese aircraft. These missions cost $903 million and taxed Taiwanese pilotsand aircrafts combat readiness.37 Former Taiwan Navy Admiral Lee Hsi-Ming (李喜明) remarked, “You say it [Taiwan] is your garden, but it turns out that it is your neighbor who’s hanging out in the garden all the time. With that action, they are making a statement that it’s their garden.”[40] China also releases images and videos of military operations to rattle Taiwanese citizens and undermine their faith in Taiwan’s armed forces. In July 2015, for instance, Chinese Central Television (中国中央电视台) broadcasted a military exercise featuring Chinese soldiers storming a replica of the Taiwanese presidential palace in northern China. Political and military experts said that the video was a bid by the CCP to sway Taiwanese voters prior to the January 2016 elections. While China denied allegations that threatening Taiwan was the exercise’s objective, Li Neixiong, a China-based military scholar, argued that the video was an attempt to warn the DPP against pursuing formal independence.[41] Similarly, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense released in late 2016 a video of a Chinese H-6K bomber flying near Taiwanese mountains. While the post did not mention the location where the picture was taken, Chinese media stated that the mountains could be Mount Yushan (玉山) or Mount Beidawushan (北大武山), both of which are located on the main island of Taiwan. A Taiwan Ministry of National Defense spokesman responded by stating the story about the picture was media speculation and should not be exaggerated.[42] According to Asian security expert Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, the release of the bomber image is part of a broader Chinese strategy to create information chaos” to lead the enemys command to make the wrong decisions during peacetime and wartime.[43] ADIZ incursions and the dissemination of media showing threatening Chinese military exercises undermine faith in Taiwans ability to protect itself and serve Beijings argument that unification is inevitable.

As tensions between Beijing and Taipei have grown in recent years and with President Xi Jinping more vocally promoting unification, many fear an imminent Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Such an attack, however, comes with high costs and risks that Beijing will likely avoid until the balance of power shifts in its favor. In the meantime, China is capable of seizing outer Taiwanese islands and of imposing a blockade on the main island of Taiwan, although doing so risks galvanizing Taiwanese independence sentiment and triggering an international response. China is thus likely to use the gray zone strategies it has honed in recent decades to wear down Taiwan without triggering international opposition and expending its military strength.




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[37] Lee, Yimou, and I-hwa Cheng. 2019. Paid 'news': China using Taiwan media to win hearts and minds on island - sources.” Reuters, August 8, 2019.

[38] Shattuck, Thomas. 2021. Assessing One Year of PLA Air Incursions into Taiwans ADIZ.” Global Taiwan Institute.

[39] Chen, Zhuo. 2020. Mainland spokesperson defends PLA training, warns US of contact with Taiwan.” China Military, September 16, 2020.

[40] Lee, Yimou, David Lague, and Ben Blanchard. 2020. China launches 'gray-zone' warfare to subdue Taiwan.” Reuters, December 10, 2020.

[41] Chun, Han Wong. 2015. Palace Intrigue: Chinese Soldiers Storm Replica of Taiwan Presidential Office.” Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2015.

[42] Strong, Matthew. 2016. Military denies Yushan in China bomber picture.” Taiwan News, December 17, 2016.

[43] Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Nathan. 2019. Cognitive Domain Operations: The PLAs New Holistic Concept for Influence Operations.” China Brief 19, no. 16 (September).

About the Author(s)

Matthew Egger is a rising fourth-year undergraduate student at Durham University. He studies International Relations and Chinese Language and interns at the School of Government and International Affairs. He can be found on Twitter @EggerMatthew



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