March 9: Gray Zone Operations or Cross-Channel Invasion: How Should Taiwan Prioritize for Its Defense?

March 9: Gray Zone Operations or Cross-Channel Invasion: How Should Taiwan Prioritize for Its Defense?

Wednesday, March 9, 2022 from 9:00AM-10:30AM (ET)

Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a virtual seminar titled “Gray Zone Operations or Cross-Channel Invasion: How Should Taiwan Prioritize for Its Defense?” The military balance between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan has shifted dramatically in recent years to the advantage of the PRC, thereby increasing concerns—including those voiced publicly by senior US military officials—that PRC leaders might be tempted to employ the military might at their disposal to achieve unification with Taiwan once and for all. At the same time, the years 2020 and 2021 saw a significant increase in maritime “gray zone” operations encroaching upon Taiwan’s sovereignty. Against this backdrop, spirited debates have been underway—in both Taipei and Washington—regarding Taiwan’s strategy and force structure for dealing with these threats. Should there be, as many observers have advocated, a primary focus on the sort of asymmetric defensive capabilities laid out in the “Overall Defense Concept”? Or, as others have maintained, does Taiwan also need to invest in the sorts of traditional platforms required to respond to territorial “gray zone” incursions by PRC forces?

This seminar will provide discussion of these and other fundamental questions regarding Taiwan’s defense priorities, and its longer-term strategy for responding to PRC coercive military operations. Panelists will include: Eric Chan, an analyst with the US Air Force Checkmate Directorate, and a GTI research fellow; Dr. Raymond Kuo, a political scientist with RAND; and Dr. Lee Jyun-yi, a research fellow with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei. The event will be moderated by GTI Deputy Director John Dotson.

The event webcast will be broadcast live on our website and YouTube on Wednesday, March 9 at 9:00 AM (ET). Register for the event here. Questions for the panel may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. Questions submitted by registered audience members will be prioritized.

The Speakers:

Eric Chan is a non-resident research fellow at GTI. He is the senior Korea/China strategist at the US Air Force’s Checkmate Directorate, where he provides USAF and Department of Defense leadership with expertise on DPRK/PRC military capabilities, political leadership, strategic culture, and Great Power competition. Chan was previously the China, Korea, Philippines, and Vietnam Country Director at the office of the Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs. In this role, Chan was responsible for USAF engagement with the Chinese Air Force, and for directing engagement/Foreign Military Sales with key allies and partners, with a portfolio in excess of $100 million. Chan has also served as an analyst in Headquarters Air Force, A10 (Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration), providing expertise on PRC nuclear doctrine. Chan has published widely on Chinese influence operations/information warfare, Taiwan military reform, military diplomacy with the PLA, and the strategic balance in East Asia. He has written for publications including the USAF Journal of Indo-Pacific AffairsThe Diplomat, and War on the Rocks.

Raymond Kuo is a political scientist at the RAND Corporation. He is an expert in international security, international order, and East Asia. He published two books in 2021: Following the Leader (Stanford University Press) on military alliances and Contests of Initiative (Westphalia-GMU Press) on China’s maritime gray zone strategy. His other research has appeared in International Security, the Journal of Conflict ResolutionThe National Interest, the Diplomat, and other outlets. Dr. Kuo was a tenure-track professor at Fordham University and the University at Albany, SUNY. He previously worked for the United Nations, the National Democratic Institute, and the Democratic Progressive Party (Taiwan). He holds a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University.

Lee Jyun-yi received his Ph.D. in International Relations at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom. He is currently an associate research fellow in the Division of National Security Research, at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) in Taipei. Before joining the INDSR, he worked at Taiwan’s Science and Technology Policy Research and Information Center (STPI) under the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs). He has also taught at Tamkang University and National Chung Cheng University. His research interests include identity politics, small states’ foreign and security policy, non-traditional security, hybrid threats, and gray zone conflicts.

The Moderator:

John Dotson is the deputy director at GTI. John has performed extensive writing and research on a range of political and national security issues related to U.S. policy in East Asia, to include Chinese propaganda and influence efforts, military-civil fusion efforts within the People’s Liberation Army, and patterns in military coercion efforts directed against Taiwan. He is a proficient Mandarin linguist, who has performed extensive original research in indigenous Chinese language sources. Dotson holds an M.A. in National Security Studies from the U.S. Naval War College, and a Master of International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins-SAIS.

Event Summary:

On March 9, 2022, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) hosted a virtual panel entitled “Gray Zone Operations or Cross-Channel Invasion: How Should Taiwan Prioritize for Its Defense?” The panel featured Dr. Raymond Kuo of the RAND Corporation, Dr. Lee Jyun-yi of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), and GTI Non-Resident Research Fellow Eric Chan. The event was moderated by GTI Deputy Director John Dotson.

To begin, Dotson described the dual threats posed by the increase in the PRC’s military advantage over Taiwan and the PRC’s “gray zone” operations. In the face of these threats, Taiwan has to potentially choose between allocating resources to conventional defense capabilities, which might be better suited for confronting “gray zone” operations; or its asymmetrical warfare capabilities, which would improve its defense against a cross-channel invasion. Dotson also recognized that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provided additional dynamics for the panel to consider.

Dr. Kuo began by analyzing the implications of the war in Ukraine for Taiwan and China. First, Kuo focused on the impact of operational military technology in the current war. He observed that Ukraine’s effective use of man-portable weapons, and the failure of Russian missile strikes to diminish Ukrainian morale, should encourage Taiwan to invest more in asymmetric weapons in order to make China cautious about pursuing a similar approach with Taiwan. Kuo then argued that China will have to account for the surprising resolve that Western countries have shown, despite European powers—like France and Germany—being comparatively less concerned about Ukraine than Japan and South Korea are about Taiwan. Kuo also mentioned that the United States’ growing focus on Europe is fueling anxiety in Taiwan about being overlooked. However, in Kuo’s estimation, this is a manageable problem for Taiwan to resolve.

In addition, Kuo mentioned that what is happening to Ukraine in the absence of nuclear deterrence could inspire other small states, like Taiwan, to reconsider their approach to nuclear weapons. Any pivot in this direction would likely force the US to formalize its security commitments to Taiwan. Kuo then identified the similarities between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping’s personalistic dictatorships as an important subject for future analysis. The current crisis is showing the dangers posed by a leader with unchecked power, raising questions about the true extent of Xi’s level of control over the Chinese Communist Party.

In conclusion, Kuo identified the success of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) measures in Ukraine as a powerful incentive for Taiwan to invest in that strateg—and for China to be more cautious. Kuo also identified the failure of US support for Ukraine’s military to deter an invasion as another reason why the current US policy of strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan should be replaced with strategic clarity.

Dr. Li began by arguing that the difficulties Russia is experiencing in Ukraine will likely push China to focus on “gray zone” operations in its approach to Taiwan. Li also made it clear that he views the “gray zone” and cross-Strait invasion comparison as a false dichotomy, in that the respective threats require different Taiwanese government agencies to respond. Apart from the ADIZ incursions, which necessitate a military response, the military can focus on the invasion threat while other agencies tackle “gray zone” operations.

Li then described the additional dynamics that he thinks will cause China to focus on “gray zone” operations. One dynamic he identified was the growing gap in conventional military power between China and Taiwan. This gap is pushing Taiwan to prioritize A2/AD technologies that could—as seen in Ukraine—turn an invasion into a drawn-out struggle. Enhanced asymmetrical defense capabilities for Taiwan in the face of China’s conventional forces could push China to rely more on “gray zone” operations as a less risky way to pressure Taiwan.

Eric Chan began the final presentation with an explanation of why he felt the supposed choice between prioritizing “gray zone” operations or cross-Strait invasion scenarios was a false one. Mr. Chan observed that in the Ukraine crisis, President Zelenskyy made the mistake of viewing Russia’s military build-up on his country’s borders as just another instance of “gray zone” pressure. Despite miscalculating the chances for a conventional invasion, Ukraine’s resilience to “gray zone” operations ended up having a very positive impact on their response. Russia’s ‘shock and awe’ approach did not work and Ukraine has been able to win the global information war because of its resilience. According to Chan, this makes preparations for “gray zone” pressure also well-suited for defending against an invasion. The choice then is not which problem to prioritize, but which capabilities to optimize.

With that concept in mind, Chan argued that strengthening Taiwan’s resolve was the most critical area for optimization. Taiwan can do this by demonstrating the military’s ability to quickly mobilize, developing a more robust civil defense scheme, and preparing stockpiles of food, water, and ammunition. By showing a high level of resolve, Taiwan can potentially dissuade China from following Putin’s example.

In the Q&A period the scholars addressed questions regarding the impact of A2/AD’s apparent success in Ukraine on Taiwan; the question of the usefulness of “gray zone” as a term; the level of Taiwan’s resolve to resist; how the US can best support Taiwan’s defense; what threats Taiwan is least prepared for; the impact of the West’s united response to Russia, and the possibility of Taiwan going on the offensive in the information war with China.

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2022 Intern David Calhoun.

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