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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 27, 2024

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What are the odds China moves on Taiwan in the next 12 months?

The Ukraine war seems to be ushering in a major political realignment in the West. Previously staunch pacifists are penning pieces about how they went from left to center-left, as yesterday's liberals become today's neoliberals and tomorrow's neocons. The circle of life turns, I suppose? It certainly seems like wokeness has traveled far enough down the barber pole that my age cohort is starting to lurch rightwards. Noah Smith is writing hawkish piece after hawkish piece claiming we've entered a new cold war, with a new Axis of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea opposing America and NATO & Friends. He linked to this article making the case for a new cold war, and specifically China moving on Taiwan:

in practice. I see three main plausible scenarios:

Pearl Harbor. China combines an invasion of Taiwan with an attack on U.S. installations, at least in Guam, and possibly on Japanese territory as well. The United States, and possibly Japan, are immediately at war with China, with high likelihood of rapid escalation to general war.
Korea 1950. China attacks Taiwan, probably associated with preparations for invasion. Though, as in South Korea in 1950, the U.S. defense commitment is ambiguous, the brazen character of the attack raises the odds of at least U.S. and Japanese intervention, and all prepare for the possibility of escalation to general war.
Indirect control. China implements air and sea border controls to make Taiwan a self-governing administrative region of China. There is no need for a direct attack on Taiwan or any blockade of usual commerce. Without initiating violent action, the Chinese can assert sovereign control over the air and sea borders to Taiwan, establishing customs and immigration controls. This is not the same thing as a blockade. A blockade would instead become one of the possible consequences if the other side violently challenged China’s assertion of indirect control.

Most of the time, the arguments I see putting China's invasion 5-10 years in the future focus on the second scenario and claim China is still lacking amphibious materiel/experience to pull off a D-day tier invasion. I've only rarely seen the third possibility discussed, but it seems much more likely. The recent military exercises to point in this direction.

This is all wildly outside of my lane. What do people think the odds are that China instigates some kind of blockade or customs control over Taiwan in the next 12 months? The bull case:

  1. The wars in Ukraine and Israel are straining US defense production almost to breaking point already, however, waiting a few years could see China confronted with an America and EU that brought a ton more military production capacity online.
  2. The election will inevitably (particularly now that Trump is a felon) lead to an enormous amount of chaos between October 2024 and February 2025.
  3. China's relative advantages must be reaching their zenith, given demographics and the resurgence of neo-industrial policy.
  4. A demoralized military-class that is increasingly apathetic to foreign policy/wars that don't directly impact Americans.

The bear case:

  1. Significant domestic malaise following the mess of zero-COVID, the housing crash and relative slowdown of the economy (or does this make it more likely to boost support for the regime?)
  2. Fear of economic/military retaliation from US, Japan, Australia, Korea?
  3. Taiwan is a convenient way to whip up nationalism, but would be inconvenient to actually invade and potentially bungle.
  4. ?? Honestly, I'm having difficulty articulating reasons why China wouldn't make a move soon.

I'm interested in whether people think this is largely driven by Gell-Mann amnesia and I'm being irrationally swayed by an increasingly hawkish media environment/overly focused on domestic US politics, or whether the odds of China invading are much higher than people seem to think (although I could only find a betting market for a hot-invasion).

The semiconductor factories can be seen as a point against invasion. They are very easy to destroy, either purposefully or accidentally.

It'd make sense for Taiwan to blow them up itself. Would China have the stomach for an extended occupation and suppression if they weren't getting any value out of it?

I think this could go either way depending on how worried China is about AGI. I'm sure it'd rather have the foundries for it's own use, but Taiwan is something like 60-70? percent of advanced chip manufacturing. If China ends up destroying them it could allow them to catch up in production as it'd just be their own domestic production vs US + korea, japan, bit in Germany. And Korea would be vulnerable similar to Taiwan + China might feel it would have less red tape and corruption to deal with in revving up it's own domestic production compared to the US in the potential AGI arms race.

It'd make sense for Taiwan to blow them up itself.

Indeed, TSMC has a kill-switch.

Would China have the stomach for an extended occupation and suppression if they weren't getting any value out of it?

Um, yes? Remember, this is a totalitarian state that's been putting irredentist messages about Taiwan in all the media and textbooks for literally a lifetime, and a decent chunk of whose current territory is very much an "extended occupation" (Xinjiang and Tibet; literally over 10% of the male population is interned in Xinjiang). They wanted Taiwan before the semiconductor factories were there, and they would get quite a legitimacy bump from holding Taiwan (the primary clause of the devil's bargain the CPC's made with the Chinese population is "we will get back everything that was lost in the Century of Humiliation", and Taiwan was one of those things).

(Also, do remember that occupations are significantly easier when you don't actually care about things like "human rights" and "rule of law". I have zero doubt that if it came down to "exterminate all 24 million Taiwanese and import mainlanders to replace them" or "abandon the occupation of Taiwan" the CPC would do the former, although I suspect their current plan is more along the lines of "kill everyone who was ever part of the DPP, stick the rest in re-education camps".)

The election will inevitably (particularly now that Trump is a felon) lead to an enormous amount of chaos between October 2024 and February 2025.

Worse than that: this was clear as early as 2022 if not from Jan 6 2021, so the (highly non-trivial) preparations for war could be made. Indeed, back in late 2022 when I posted this, my unstated conclusion was "the Five Eyes have detected an in-progress Chinese plan to attack Taiwan" (I'm still not 100% confident of that, but I can't see any other likely scenarios in which "a linear path" leads to "great-power conflict" and an active decision to avert it is required).

With that said, the chance is not 100%. As Symon noted, we can turn off a linear path; leaders can make decisions. An in-progress Chinese plan to attack Taiwan means only that Xi thinks the option of an attack is worth the cost of the preparations; he could still very easily call "no-go" before the trigger's pulled if circumstances look less than favourable.

I think the "indirect control" plan, if it can even be called a "plan", is bananas and unworkable; the PRC has no jurisdiction over the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (which is a formal member of the WTO) and any attempt to declare border controls would be a legal nullity and would be ignored. I'm not saying they won't claim to be doing this - the PRC claims a lot of things - but they would have to back it up with at least an actual blockade (either shooting or mining) and they know this. So that leaves us with three real options:

  1. Blockade Taiwan ("surrender or Taipei starves")
  2. Bombard Taiwan ("surrender or Taipei burns")
  3. Invade Taiwan ("who cares if you surrender, there's a guy with a bayonet in the Legislative Yuan"), presumably with a preceding bombardment

...with the latter two both having the option of pre-emptive strikes on US/Korean/Japanese assets in East Asia, or not doing that out of hope of keeping them neutral. Frankly, I'm not enough of a tactician to figure out which they're planning on; there've been exercises relating to all three primary scenarios so it's entirely possible they're intending on some degree of flexibility depending on how the situation develops.

Overall numbers - with the horizon of 12 months, I'd say a very uncertain 50%. I'm anchoring on the Paul Symon interview with WWIII being the default case (note that I think it's like 80% that the West comes in conditional on a Taiwan play, and 90% that cities get nuked conditional on the West intervening in a Taiwan play), but I've heard some noises more recently saying it might be more like 2027 so I've shaved a bit off.

I think the risk of war is high (perhaps not within 12 months but within a few years). However, I think the chance of an immediate invasion like everyone is preparing for is much lower.

Amphibious invasions are very hard, especially against a prepared defender (they'll see it coming with modern satellites). The Chinese have specialized marine brigades that are tasked for this mission, they're definitely aiming for the capability to invade. They trained many more marines even as the army was downsized in manpower terms. But actually invading and landing are very challenging tasks.

China's great advantage is in industrial and attritional warfare. They have enormous industrial capacity, their manufacturing sector is roughly equal to the US, Germany and Japan combined. They want to wage war in such a way that leverages this capacity to the utmost. While China's been expanding its marine corps, they've also been putting a lot of effort into missiles. They tested more missiles in 2021 than the rest of the world IIRC. They don't want to fight the US in the skies and seas up close, they want to fling hundreds and thousands of missiles at US airbases, ports and ships before they can even reach the battlefield. They want to most efficiently turn their production advantage to a military advantage by turning this into a missile war. I think their strategy for Taiwan is to pound it with missiles, airstrikes and drones. They'll wait for months before landing, waiting for the defenders to get exhausted by the bombing.

At the same time, attrition will take its toll on Taiwan. Taiwan is about 30% food secure, China is 90-95% secure on grains with huge stockpiles. China takes food extremely seriously. Taiwan is innately crippled by geography, it's a tiny mountainous rock in the ocean that also has to import fertilizer by sea.

Taiwan has no energy production, in 2021 Taiwan relied on imports of fossil fuels for 97.7 percent of its total energy supply. China is about 80% energy sufficient (this is mostly coal) and they produce 25% of the oil they need. They can import another 10-15% from Russia. In addition, they have about 100 days worth of oil stockpiled. That's enough oil for military needs. I believe they have the state capacity to ration domestic civilian oil use and scramble up more supply from Russia. In WW2 the US quickly built pipelines to take oil from Texas to the industrial North, they used barges and trains and all kinds of tricks.

All the wargaming for Taiwan seems to focus on a period of a few weeks, a quick invasion. This is rosy, optimistic thinking for a great power war. This is WW3! It won't last for a few weeks, it will take years like all the other great power wars. Germany fought through famine in WW1, they fought through energy scarcity in WW2. Highly determined states will find a way, they'll synthesize oil and ration. I think we underestimate Chinese nationalism at our peril, there's a great deal of resentment of the West and hatred especially for Japan. It will be very hard for anyone to oppose the war given they'll be fighting Japan and the West in the world's most secured and propagandized police state.

The fait accompli quick-invasion strategy relies on a very high level of coordination and excellence from those forces in the field today. China probably doesn't have that confidence. Industrial warfare only requires that they have huge production capacity and the ability to learn. An industrial, attritional strategy doesn't require that Chinese marines seize enough ports without damaging them too much, that their airforce can defend the landing craft, that they can quickly resupply forces...

Attrition puts the onus on us. We have to resupply Taiwan with food and energy lest they capitulate. They will surely capitulate before China capitulates, even if you think my estimates for Chinese self-sufficiency are inaccurate, they can't be so far off that China is behind Taiwan. We have to penetrate the Chinese anti-access, area-denial grid, escorting supply ships and docking them in Taiwanese ports! We have to resupply South Korea and Japan too, who are in similar (but much better) positions to Taiwan. We have to endure a withering barrage of missiles before we even get to contest the airspace and sea. We will have to mobilize our economies and accept massive casualties to fight China over several years or accept defeat.

The Chinese military is, to put it bluntly, crap. They can't even plan a (non-artillery razing) takeover of Kinmen 10km from the Chinese mainland, much less cross the turbulent Taiwanese strait into hostile beachheads booby trapped to eternal inviability. All of this is due to the insanely difficult nature of long distance logistics provision that no one pays attention to because the USA has made it look easy.

Chinese amphibious capacity is less than 10 ships, which provides less than 1000 soldiers per trip. These are the only troop insertion capabilities China has available to move boots to the ground at scale, not even factoring armor or logistics. Paratroop insertion is meme level operations now (sorry paras, is true, you boys still slog hard in the shit), Chinese air assault capability is lacking (no heavy lift helicopter capability at all, extremely limited if nonexistent heliborne support capability) and helicopters don't have the range to reach Taiwan anyways. No dual purpose vessel can actually load troops onto a fastcraft or RHIB so there is no means to repurpose civ vessels to vomit troops onto Taiwanese shores.

There is no scenario by which China can force a landing in a contested area, even with unlimited missile strikes turning the western coast of taiwan into a wasteland (its actually really difficult to lay total waste to a city without tube artillery or air supremacy, and modern bomber doctrine doesn't do mass ordinance anymore). The most optimistic is a supremely timed landing with ordinance in-flight adjusted to strike immediate threats as the troops land ashore, a supremely difficult task that no one thinks is possible.

Will Taiwan suffer if China makes the play? Absolutely. Sending thousands of rockets to devastate Taiwan is enough damage, and while China has a crap army the Taiwanese are arguably in a much worse state. There is a wide angle of approach that the West can employ to resupply taiwan from the east, but that depends on either cross pacific journeys (everyone hates that) or securing Philippine-Taiwan shipping, which is its own cpntention against Chinese island 'bases'.

Ultimately, the Chinese military is still unoptimized for actually invading Taiwan, and shows no sign of being ready in the next 8, let alone 3, years. Strangling Taiwan by isolating it diplomatically and physically? That is its most likely plan of action. China is unlikely to entertain notions of contesting the 7th Fleet directly unless a decapitation against the 3rd and 5th can be conducted as well, and that basically is open warfare against the USA. Taiwan is not worth the risk, better to continue eroding US interests by exporting stuff that US manufacturers are unwilling to compete against.

(no heavy lift helicopter capability at all, extremely limited if nonexistent heliborne support capability) and helicopters don't have the range to reach Taiwan anyways.

Taiwan Strait is 100 miles. Combat radius of a Blackhawk is 370 miles. The Chinese medium-lift fleet (which includes the Super Frelon and Mi-8/Mi-17s) is should be adequate to get troops there.

https://news.usni.org/2022/09/28/chinese-launch-assault-craft-from-civilian-car-ferries-in-mass-amphibious-invasion-drill-satellite-photos-show

“Everybody assumed that you had to seize a port first. That those [ferries] were second echelon forces… Somebody else has got to seize the port,” he said. “2021 was the first time we saw them dump amphibious assault vehicles right into the water, which means now those ferries can be the first echelon sending assault units straight to the beach.“

You underestimate the Chinese to your peril. This is the biggest shipbuilder in the world. Is it hard to produce a transport that can disgorge landing craft and amphibious tanks? No. They can do this. You should inherently assume they can do this because it's pretty straightforward. Why is your model of China a country that lacks these basic capabilities? They can build a space station but they can't build a fancy car freighter?

Do I think they can succeed in an amphibious invasion of Taiwan right at the start of the war? No. But it's not that the Chinese military is 'crap', it's that it's a very tough operation they've never tried before. Nor has the US. The US has not fought a major power at sea since 1945.

Chinese amphibious capacity is less than 10 ships, which provides less than 1000 soldiers per trip.

One Type 075 can transport about 800 soldiers. They have 3 in service. They have a host of other amphibious warfare ships as well, type 072s and others... Many, many more than 10. Where are you getting these numbers from? They have an enormous amount of usable civilian capacity.

I can tell by your diction you have some experience here, normal people don't say tube artillery. We are looking at a very serious conflict with a very strong power. The Western world is not well-served by wildly inaccurate and overconfident denigrations of adversaries.

Consider just how much Chinese technology has infiltrated port infrastructure. We need to treat this threat with deadly seriousness, otherwise I suspect there will be a lot of unpleasant surprises in our future.

True I forgot entirely about their helicarrier assets focusing entirely on their amphibious docks. Their heavy LSTs are still of dubious seaworthiness for the Taiwan strait, and most countries have abandoned beaching heavy assets for both sea handling and contestation purposes. The last seaborne amphibious assault was Falklands, and that was also conducted with small landers. It is possible that heavy landers of the Type 72 class would be used, but I can assure you that no modern conops envisions using landings like that. The helicarriers may be able to support an assault, but not at any scale.

Scale is what we should be focused on in terms of assessing how China envisions a takeover of Taiwan. Many here have concluded that a prolonged siege is more likely than a direct landing, and Chinese military investment reflects that. Plenty of missiles, surface combatant spam, shore based missile artillery. That Chinese yards can probably spam a few hundred landers in two years is irrelevant compared to what we see them doing directly.

I hold the Chinese military in contempt because the CCP is writing checks it can't cash. Its military force structure is optimized very heavily for defending the mainland and to a lesser extent a painful siege around Taiwan, not contesting US interests in Northeast or Southeast Asia in a meaningful way. The Chinese diplomatic and political rhetoric posits Chinas place as a current rival to USA, prepared to threaten strategic US interests overseas and even domestic to the USA. That is patently ridiculous, since the Chinese cannot project force even to Kinmen much less to Taiwan, Korea or Japan. The only entity Chinese mass-heavy force structure is optimized to fight against is Russia and the 'stans and to a lesser extent Vietnam. The Himalayas is impassable, Best Korea is a dumpster fire, Burma is an impassable jungle.

The Chinese military does have extensive threats that should not be discounted. Chinese shore based missile spam is a real threat, and they could theoretically spam Dongfengs although that does not seem to be their direction of investment. if the Chinese were more adept they would leverage on economic and political leverage to secure southeast Asia and isolate USA from Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. That the Chinese choose instead to drive potential alloes into the arms of the US is the fault of their arrogant and frankly incompetent diplomatic establishment having made the PLA its bottom bitch.

That is patently ridiculous, since the Chinese cannot project force even to Kinmen much less to Taiwan, Korea or Japan.

OK, they haven't seized Kinmen. Either this might be because they can't or they don't want to. We know they employed a 'hide and bide' strategy for decades, they have a capacity for patience. Why would they blow their load on Kinmen before they're ready to attack Taiwan? And what do you mean by 'project force' - they can surely bomb and land troops there. It's only that doing so might be risky and they don't judge it to be cost-efficient right now. Like how the US might choose not to invade Iran.

If I were a Chinese strategist, I would wait until the balance of power was most favourable before taking any big risks. They've antagonized and bullied a lot of their neighbours, sure. But they also secured some gains from that - bases in the South China Sea. That's useful real estate, albeit hard to supply.

not contesting US interests in Northeast or Southeast Asia in a meaningful way

Isn't pounding Guam with missiles a threat to the US? Yokohama? Taiwan and South Korea are within sieging range. The North Korean military may not be great but they do have a lot of mass. With Chinese air power and a group army or two they'd eventually wear the South Koreans down. South Korea is very strong and it would be hard fighting but I expect China could force some kind of major concessions on the South, if only by constraining their ability to import food and energy for their war effort. They might aim for the ejection of US troops (I suspect the whole conflict might spring out of THAAD's relevance to Taiwan scenarios and other US capabilities there), access to naval bases, preferential access to semiconductors. Being a near-nuclear power is enough to escape annexation but they are facing 2-3 bigger nuclear powers. Can you really escalate to nuclear warfare over terms like that, Finlandization+?

In the 1950s, China was able to 'project force' in Korea, they even captured Seoul at one point. And that was when the US had overwhelming air superiority, artillery superiority, tank superiority, logistics, uncontested sea control. Why do you have such a low opinion of Chinese capabilities? It's a very big country full of pretty smart people, they're naturally powerful even when poor and undeveloped. They're not poor and undeveloped anymore.

If they can bully South Korea into quitting the war and bully Taiwan into being annexed, that alone would be a victory for China and a pretty massive blow for America.

Man, your understanding of the Korean War is limited at best.

The US got caught off guard and nearly pushed off the peninsula, sure, but we decided to only beat the ChiComms and North Koreans halfway back up the peninsula. We weren’t willing to seek actual victory, an attitude that went on to serve us well in Vietnam too.

(I actually think McArthur was probably right and we should have nuked the Chinese to keep North Korea from existing, given how things went thereafter.)

'They caught us off guard' = they skilfully evaded US reconnaissance with night marches and camouflage. Macarthur was warned repeatedly but was too careless in his advance. Zhou Enlai gave his warnings and was ignored.

You're making the exact same mistake that Macarthur did. "The Chinese are poor and weak, we can ignore them lmao" -> "WTF, holy shit, they're everywhere, how did this happen, I need nuclear strikes!" All they had was clever infantry tactics back then.

China is a tough adversary, as was discovered in the 1950s. They weren't the biggest manufacturing power in the world back then. Massively underestimating your enemies is not the path to success. It may well have been a good idea to kneecap China back in the 1950s or work with Brezhnev to crush them (a decapitation strike in the 1990s could also have worked) but it's too late for that now.

I agree the US should have had better intelligence and taken the Chinese warnings seriously. And then blasted them to hell with superior firepower.

But Korea was a sideshow during the Cold War and not sufficiently important to get a war-weary public motivated to support it.

You're making the exact same mistake that MacArthur did.

I don’t think I am. I’m a China hawk myself. There’s a lot of unknowns about how well the US and Chinese militaries would operate in a full on war. With Russia, we saw massive underperformance in Ukraine, but we just don’t really know how good the Chinese navy and military technology is compared to the US.

No dual purpose vessel can actually load troops onto a fastcraft or RHIB so there is no means to repurpose civ vessels to vomit troops onto Taiwanese shores.

Is this in contradiction of reports/rumors of China bulking up a civilian fleet that can be repurposed for amphibious landings? Was that actually a "backyard furnace"-level boondoggle all along?

(I will be using movies and pop culture as a common reference point for ease of communication. This is not flippancy, it is deliberate)

Repurposed ship for amphibious landings (not port/dock disembarkation) come in three flavors: converted helidecks for air assault/aerial resupply (call of duty modern warfare style fastroping down a Sea King) , direct beach-and-disembark shore disembarkation from the ship (crash right into the beach ala Brad Pitt in Troy) or converted smallboat carriers (Saving private ryan style fastcraft loading/disloading). Technically there is a fourth option of staying offshore and dumping soldiers overboard to swim the last 2-3km to shore but that is especially stupid.

None of the Chinese civilian sealift capability is capable of any of the above. You can shove soldiers into a passenger ferry or a container ship or a ro-ro, you can't get them from ship to shore without any of the above dedicated landing assets. None of these ships China has supposedly 'retrofitted' have launch or recovery capability, so fastcraft is out. No one actually does beach-and-disembark because you can't use that landing zone anymore - once its beached its stuck, and thats if the vessel can actually shove itself right against the shore to disembarkation depth, and China simply does not have heavy lift rotary assets to staff up a converted fleet of helicarriers, nor is it anticipated to do so - conversion programmes such as they exist seem to point to a capability of making ungeared panamaxes into containerized drone launch platforms. Maybe you can get three Ehang 216 to transport 2 dudes at a time per ship per trip, but thats the best I can think of.

If China gets a port, then everything is on the table, but nothing in Chinas actual table of equipment or advertised future capability indicates actually performing a landing into contested territory. Again, the USA is super OP in terms of its logistics capability and this has become an underappreciated if not outright ignored facet of tea-leaf reading into Chinese intentions vis a vis their extant capabilities.

China is 90-95% secure on grains with huge stockpiles

I thought China was extremely food insecure. The CCP has recently been pushing to make them less extremely food insecure, but with their relatively tiny amounts of arable land and fresh water, there's only so much they can accomplish. They are very reliant on imported food from the US and in recent years are increasingly reliant.

That's actually one of the successes of international trade and comparative advantage. The US has an excess of arable land, China has no where close to enough. So we sell them food. Chinese people really like pork. When a Chinese person eats a bite of pork, that pig was fed on American animal feed. When a Chinese person eats a local soy-based dish, those are probably American soy beans. They can't grow anywhere near enough soy to feed their people. That's okay, we'll sell them 100 million tons of soy beans per year.

If China attacked Taiwan and the US stopped shipping them food, how soon until mass starvation? Which I get won't be very comforting to Taiwanese people with no electricity and also no food.

This is just ricardian equivalence. Chinese food production is inefficiently optimized from a calorie provision perspective because other countries are supplying cheaper agricultural inputs for higher value produce, especially feeder stocks for protein (pork). Were China to be banned from all imported foodstuffs they will pivot (at uncertain pace) to primary staple production and adjust accordingly (potatoes and millet, primarily). Bear in mind that China has sustained its historically enormous population by farming all along the Yangtze and Yellow rivers during non-flood periods, and the Pearl River in the south has always had huge agricultural output.

The Three Gorges dam has stabilized water levels for Chinese agriculture for the foreseeable future barring damstriking, and cessation of groundwater-extraction dependant agriculture can be reversed on relatively short notice. Domestic food production can be spun up at a fairly fast pace, approximately half a year from seed to harvest depending on the municipality. Will it work? Not my specialization but most Chinese seem optimistic that they aren't at risk of starvation even if USA cuts off soybeans entirely or Ukraine ceases all wheat exports.

Combining the above with the point below that Chinese people stock up for 2 months of spare food at a time, and it is reasonable to presume that temporary food insecurity from US export restrictions will not affect China. Total trade blockage would be more impactful, since that would prevent China from easily pivoting to alternative import sources for either grains or critical factors of production.

I mean, ensuring that their entire population has at the bare minimum a subsistence diet of rice porridge and millet is pretty much rule #1 of any Chinese government so there's no way they haven't planned extensively for this, especially considering that every Chinese person I know thinks about food about 5 times as often as your typical white American and has a pantry filled floor to ceiling with non-perishable goods and a freezer that rains down ziploc bags of frozen meat and seafood when you open it.

What they import from the US is mainly soybeans for animal feed, not grain. The US is the cheapest producer of soybeans but not the only producer. If they go to war and seabound trade is cut off, China can still trade with Russia and Central Asia to partially make up for seabound imports.

Food prices will rise, they'll have to eat much less meat and ration but I expect they can manage that. Britain and Germany did in WW2. It's possible to rationalize food production, cut waste, convert parks to vegetables and so on. But the key thing is grain, rice, corn, the staple crops. Everything else is a luxury. As long as there is sufficient production and distribution of grain, nobody will starve. China is nearly self-sufficient in grain without rationing and they still have options to import by land. Thus I conclude they can withstand a long war.

The insecure countries are the ones with very low ratios of self-sufficiency, the ones that can't meet their own grain requirements. Taiwan actually will starve, there's nothing they can do to catch up from a starting point in the 20% range on grains. Especially without fertilizer (where China is a net exporter) and electricity.

Last I checked, China supplies ~100% of the calories necessary for their people, albeit mostly in cereals that they then put to other purposes. Of course they import enormous amounts of luxuries, but no one ever fought a total war and fed every family pork for dinner.

The Chinese leadership has ramped up efforts to ensure there is enough food for its population amid the falling food self-sufficiency rate. As a matter of facts, national food output in China slumped from 93.6 percent in 2000 to 65.8 percent in 2020, and it is expected to reduce to 58.8 percent by 2030.

Oct 7, 2023

https://www.geopolitica.info

Some other sites claim something comparable. But I didn't look very hard.

The thing about Pearl Harbor was that the move was made because Japanese leadership saw no possibility of better odds ahead. Japan was, in their view, in the best position vis a vis the USA et al that it would ever be. So it was time to gamble it all on one big stroke, and either secure the resources and defensive perimeter they needed to hold out, and they'd win at once or they'd lose. A month or two after Pearl Harbor many in the IJN knew they had lost.

I don't know the answer to whether China will attack or not, but the question to ask is does China's leadership believe that this is the best odds China will ever have, or do they believe that their odds will improve in the future? Sub questions:

How much has China lied about its population and economic statistics?

Pearl Harbor was launched when it was largely, to pinpoint one commodity, because of oil stocks. Japan needed to gain control of sufficient oil resources to fuel a modern war machine, or the war was unwinnable. Oil was the most important commodity, and Japan was running out. Today the limiting commodity for wars, especially in Asia, is people. Young Men. Without soldiers a war is unlaunchable, let alone unwinnable.

It's been whispered or assumed without comment for years, decades, that China fakes economic numbers. I've also seen persuasive and interesting conjecture that they've been faking population numbers for some times, with population peaking as early as 2004 and landing hundreds of millions lower than reported. No one has ever been able to prove anything, try collecting independent statistics on a population three times the size of the USA with no free press. It's assumed that provincial functionaries might fake the numbers to their superiors, to try to curry favor, so it might not even be clear within China what is true and what isn't. And if they've been faking growth numbers for decades, then the percentages will compound over time, who knows where they are now? Lying about a 2% increase one year is a 2% difference, lying about it every year for twenty years is closer to 50%.

If CCP leadership thinks that the population is actually much smaller, much older, and much deeper into demographic spiral than we think. So maybe they're shrinking rapidly, and need to do this before they lose their shot, maybe forever. But then, that depends on...

How does the CCP assess the future of the USA?

Does the CCP buy into HBD? Do they think that with the Passing of the Great Race, the USA is demographically doomed? If so, the CCP would be foolish to launch the war while there are still a significant number of whites on hand.

The belief is logically necessary for the CCP to launch the war now, regardless of the factual nature of the proposition. This isn't a debate on the truth value of HBD, it just matters whether the CCP believes it or not. Leaving aside China's demographics, the demographics of the USA will change. The USA would be shrinking at a pace just behind China without immigration, but the immigration is going to be different stock than the current citizenry. China will only launch the war now if they assess that the future America will have a military-age population as or more capable in the future.

At the same time, what of the million-and-one predictions of imminent American cultural, economic and governmental collapse? China must be bullish on the USA fixing its problems and reaching a new era of strength and unity if they think it's a good idea to launch the war today, and not wait another five years.

Right now China's Navy is growing faster than the American Navy, China will only launch war if they don't think that trend will continue. The USSR Navy was at one point a legitimate threat to the US Navy, today it's too far apart to even consider, it's beneath notice. China's leadership, if they believe in their project, and doubt America's, they will expect to outstrip the US Navy by more and more, not by less and less. We should expect those who dedicate their lives to rising to the top of the CCP project, to be true believers and to be confident in their project.

How Does the CCP Expect History to Turn Out?

Marxism is the science of history. It's immanentizing the Eschaton in the form of a really boring book. The CCP leadership has studied Marx, they have at least put a lot of effort into faking believing in it. Do they think Capitalism will collapse under its contradictions.

China might also believe that they have a once-in-a-generation chance to use a major crisis to break America's assabiyah, which would push towards a Taiwan invasion in October.

Pieces of evidence they'd use to support that idea-

-Escalating internal tensions in the US. We know Chinese internal press, the ones for their literati, took a lot of notice of the Texas border square-off(which might be flaring up again). Provincial governors telling the federal government to pound sand and getting away with it is, most frequently, the death knell of state capacity(which the Chinese likely don't distinguish from cohesion). Of course Texas isn't a province and has always been a touch more jealous of on-paper states' rights that in other cases get ignored, but China has identified conservative-American resentment towards liberal policies pushed or enabled by the federal government as a major seam to break open American societal cohesion since the 80s, with America Against America. The Trump conviction will likely strengthen the idea among senior CCP analysts that liberal-conservative tensions in American society represent a major weakness which can be exploited to neutralize their main rival.

-The Ukraine war is controversial in American society, and the CCP might identify the unpopularity of helping Ukraine- and partisan split- as a key indicator that invading Taiwan is something they can get away with, and which would worsen American society's internal tensions rather than causing a rally around the flag effect.

-The best time this year for red China to attack Taiwan is, quite literally, a few weeks before the general election. This is a major political factor with unpredictable effects on the American response; if the CCP thinks they can sail around an aircraft carrier without engaging directly(and we can assume the PLAN has sufficient discipline to avoid starting a firefight with even very annoying American forces that aren't engaged in hostilities), then they probably anticipate being able to use the election to gum up any potential US response until Chinese troops have captured Taipei.

-Taiwan semiconductors is 1000% the most valuable thing on that island. Gaining control of it before America manages to establish its own alternative version gives China a crucial edge for however long it takes America to build its own version, and might be worth Japan's building a nuke.

China might also believe that they have a once-in-a-generation chance to use a major crisis to break America's assabiyah, which would push towards a Taiwan invasion in October.

Pieces of evidence they'd use to support that idea-

-Escalating internal tensions in the US. We know Chinese internal press, the ones for their literati, took a lot of notice of the Texas border square-off(which might be flaring up again). Provincial governors telling the federal government to pound sand and getting away with it is, most frequently, the death knell of state capacity(which the Chinese likely don't distinguish from cohesion).

But still, within that observation, China must then believe that this is the nadir of USA unity, that post-2024 election things are going to turn around. That Ukraine is gonna hold out and provide a few thousand bored veterans to fight wherever there's dollars, NATO is gonna gel-together around successful leadership under old-man-Biden.

I agree with your observations of internal tensions in the US, but think that they admit the exact opposite interpretation. Sometimes governments welcome a war because it rallies their country behind them and allows them to crack down on internal dissent. The classic example is the 1871 unification of Germany. As Wikipedia puts it

To get the German states to unify, Bismarck needed a single, outside enemy that would declare war on one of the German states first, thus providing a casus belli to rally all Germans behind.

The prominent example for British and Argentinians is the invasion of the Falklands. Again, Wikipedia offers a blistering quote

Galtieri's declining popularity due to his human rights abuses and the worsening economic stagnation caused him to order an invasion of the Falkland Islands in April 1982.

The idea that a successful foreign war can rescue a flailing regime or unify a fragmented county, is common. Chinese war planners may actively decide against throwing a lifeline to a failing US by gifting them a foreign war. Much wiser to wait patiently for the US to self destruct to the point that they lose interest in Taiwan. Without US protection, Taiwan may be persuaded to give up without a fight.

Totally in agreement that a China war could also rescue the USA from our internal tensions. Starting a fight with Taiwan is, from the Chinese perspective, a high risk maneuver. But until the USS George Washington sinks, will such a war have a rally around the flag effect? China might be banking on the opposite- that initial US reactions will be some kind of controversial halfway option, and China can avoid escalating to a full blown war. See Ukraine.

In depends on what Chinese intelligence says about American planning for response to a Taiwan invasion, I’d guess.

Xi is openly a Marxist-Leninist. Deng acknowledged what many ML economists had already done (and even what Lenin had with the aborted NEP), which was that the ‘capitalist stage’ had to be fully completed in order to drive down the marginal cost of production before ‘full socialism’ could be implemented from each according to ability to each according to need. There was no fundamental reason why one revolutionary party could not guide and indeed manage the entire transition from feudalism or early stage, largely agricultural capitalism to communism, including through the majority of the capitalist state, provided it avoided corruption and remained steadfast in its belief that - once capitalism had done its job - communism would be faithfully implemented in service of the people.

This is the genuine majority view among senior cadres in the CCP.

According to Xi, "the consolidation and development of the socialist system will require its own long period of history... it will require the tireless struggle of generations, up to ten generations." On the relationship with capitalist nations, Xi said, "Marx and Engels' analysis of the basic contradictions in capitalist society is not outdated, nor is the historical materialist view that capitalism is bound to die out and socialism is bound to win." Xi also stated: "The fundamental reason why some of our comrades have weak ideals and faltering beliefs is that their views lack a firm grounding in historical materialism."

The extent to which the Chinese believe in HBD is hard to gauge. Certainly ethnic stereotypes of all kinds are common. Nevertheless, the CCP is anti racist, party cadres are taught what is effectively blank-statism in school, research into related evo-psych topics is largely suppressed, even if it is not as immediately cancellable as it is in the US. For 30 years Very Smart Western midwits have pushed the idea that “nah, these guys aren’t really Marxists, they’re mercenaries, they believe in China but not some ideology that a German Jewish journalist came up with 170 years ago, they don’t really believe”. No, they really, really do.

That would make the best time to strike, presumably, the very point at which the contradictions of capitalism become most elevated. Perhaps AI related mass unemployment, who knows? At that point, the US and Western capitalist countries would struggle for an ideology, a path, would be wracked by ideological violence and division. The CCP would simply calmly and peacefully execute the transition they’ve been preparing for all along. Do they believe it will be soon, though? After all, the CCP might not be LW-type singularity believers. Xi did say ten generations, and he’s the fifth generation of party leadership, so that suggests quite a few more.

Everyone in the West sort of assumes that Chinese numbers are fake. There are Chinese companies trading on the NYSE where the net cash on the balance sheet is more than 2x the market cap of the company. If people believed the numbers, this would be almost impossible.

I think the numbers are mostly real. Go to Walmart. Everything is made in China. This is not so easy to fake. And if you look at international trade (also mostly impossible to fake) you will see China dominates the imports of nearly every other country.

https://www.trademap.org/Index.aspx

Not impossible. The price of shares is the expected value to the shareholder of holding the shares. The assumption is that the CCP won't let that cash be paid out to Western shareholders, not necessarily that they don't have the cash.

The CCP has no issues with Chinese companies paying dividends, even substantial ones, to Western shareholders. They’re more suspicious and much more reluctant around actual acquisitions of Chinese companies.

There are Chinese companies trading on the NYSE where the net cash on the balance sheet is more than 2x the market cap of the company.

Do you have a specific example you could point to?

Here's one, although the price went up a little so it has slightly less than 2x net cash/market cap right now.

https://seekingalpha.com/symbol/DQ/balance-sheet

I dunno about "12 months" but a couple things that I think point towards China's window closing, not opening:

  1. The US has started developing a lot of new anti-ship capabilities. But we're having embarrassing teething pains on the hypersonic weapons, and while we've got the stopgap LRASM in production it's unclear (at least to me) how many we've actually got ready to go into combat. A number of new programs, like the B-21 and the Australian acquisition of nuclear submarines, could potentially be very potent – but in 5 - 10 years, not months. If you're China, do you want to go to war today, or in 2035 when the US has 100 B-21s armed with hypersonic anti-ship missiles and Australia has its own set of nuclear submarines? (Obviously China won't be sitting still for the next decade, but if they think they have enough to go now, why wait for your enemy to get stronger?)
  2. Younger generations of Taiwanese are identifying more and more as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

Since I suggested to @quiet_NaN that I would, here's my thoughts on the "surround Taiwan with the Coast Guard and start conducting customs inspections" option:

The good:

  • Since almost everyone recognizes PRC as the legitimate government of China, it puts China in a favorable position vs. USA + Japan in matters of international law and international reputation in a way that bombarding Taipei would not.
  • It also shifts the onus to act on Taiwan and/or Japan + USA, and puts them in the awkward position of potentially using military force against the Chinese Coast Guard.
  • It is easier to reverse than a war, and less embarrassing to cease operations than losing an invasion, but (importantly) it doesn't take an invasion off the table and might assist in preparing for one. It's a great trial balloon!
  • It lets the PRC cut off the Taiwanese supply of microprocessors and arms shipments destined for Taiwan, making their potential enemies weaker in one stroke.
  • A very soft version of it, such as simply enforcing existing Chinese customs law against traffic to and from Taiwan makes it something less than a blockade, but is still financially difficult for Taiwan (since it amounts to a double tax) and lets the Chinese restrict the flow of sensitive materials.
  • If Taiwan decides to comply, it acculturates Taiwan to Chinese rule.
  • The Taiwanese navy is defensively oriented and will be more vulnerable than it already is attempting to break a far blockade. If it does attempt to do so, China might be able to retaliate precisely by destroying those naval assets (or Taiwanese naval assets writ large) in "self-defense" without escalating the situation further. This gives puts China in a win-win scenario: Taiwan can acquiesce or it can risk losing its naval assets, rendering it more vulnerable to an invasion. Of course Taiwan could attempt to climb the escalation ladder, but doing so unilaterally would be risky.
  • International shipping is very risk-averse and would probably comply as a default.

The bad:

  • It is likely to precipitate dramatic Taiwanese reactions and harden the Taiwanese stance against China.
  • Parties attempting to break the blockade might be able to generate local force advantage and would probably get to pick their battles.
  • Although I think this risk would be mitigated somewhat if China mostly relied on its Coast Guard, it would invite a sort of reverse-Pearl Harbor wherein the US, Japan and Taiwan decided to secretly attack, and launched a coordinated strike on their own time against exposed Chinese naval assets. Being further from the mainland means being further from air cover and the mainland air defense umbrella, and in deeper water that is better for nuclear submarine operations. You can see a scenario where Team Taiwan lets the blockade go along for four or five months while getting every available nuclear submarine in position and then sinks a big chunk of the Chinese navy in half an hour.

Overall I wouldn't be surprised if China decided to do this in response to a US arms shipment, a la the Cuban missile crisis.

B-21 could very easily turn out to be the B-17* of the next world war.

Thermal imagers are getting very cheap right now (iirc 1024x768 IR sensors for $10k). Between stealth planes being detectable on long wavelength radar with notable imprecision, anything but stealth planes not showing there, and fighter jets all having FLIR that can detect other fighter planes at up to 50 kilometers and tell a 500kw decoy from a plane with 10 MW engine, it's quite possible that B-21 won't be able to do missions into actually contested airspace at all.

*it was 'sold' as a

  1. bomber capable of defending itself from enemy fighters
  2. bomber capable of accurately striking ships from 3-4 km up (above range of short-range flak that shreds planes)

It could do neither. Unescorted missions had ~5-10% loss rates.

IR sensors are absolutely fantastic, until, say, it rains. Very good to have, not reliable in the way radar is (radar has its own problems, of course).

Yes, the B-21 probably won't be able to do missions into actually contested airspace. The question is if it can get to within a couple hundred miles (LRASM; longer with in-development hypersonics) of the contested airspace and release its weapons. Stealth has never been absolute; the Russians and whoever have always been able to detect our B-2s and F-117s and F-22s, the question has always been about whether the stealth gives strike packages the extra edge they need to get within weapons-release range and get out.

The Russians have arguably the best integrated air-defense systems in the world (in Ukraine they scored a 90+ mile kill against a target flying <50 feet off the ground) and very impressive long-range air-to-air missiles fired from the world's fastest acknowledged aircraft with a radar antenna the size of a dinner table (100+ mile kill recorded) and the Ukrainians are still successfully running airstrikes against them using non-stealthy aircraft designed by the Soviets in the 1970s. I think the bomber will get through, the question is just if it's going to be effective. And unlike, say, a tank battalion, it only takes a single missile to render a ship combat ineffective. So I think the B-21 will probably be an effective weapon in the sense of being able to reach weapons release point (at least vs. China in a Taiwan scenario – albeit with some limitations) the real question in my mind is the relative effectiveness of US anti-ship missiles and Chinese anti-missile defenses.

(Source for Russian SAM/interceptor performance, see pages 20 - 21.)

I have seen one video of Russia doing a bombing run with gravity bombs and zero videos of Ukraine doing so.

I haven't even seen any complaints from Russia about anything but Storm Shadow.

Single missile?

Every ship in the Chinese navy has at least one point defense Gatling cannon and most no doubt have short range air defense missiles similar to e.g. Pantsir, that unlike the US ones do not cost a million dollars each.

A single missile, unless it's hypersonic, low flying and evading probably doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting near.

Bombs show up on radar, show up on IR, cannot maneuver. And are slow - glide bombs go maybe 100 m/s in the end.

Hypersonics glow in IR, and highly likely if you fill their path with metal fragments you are going to get a spectacular light show.

Not saying you can't attack ships, but you probably need a whole salvo and maybe a little luck and/or EW to secure a chance to hit.

Sorry for the delay; I was out.

I have seen one video of Russia doing a bombing run with gravity bombs and zero videos of Ukraine doing so.

Both Ukraine and Russia are using glide bombs. If you poke around a bit, you can see videos of them both using unguided rockets in the CAS role.

I haven't even seen any complaints from Russia about anything but Storm Shadow.

Yes, and if Storm Shadow can penetrate layered Russian air defenses we ought to imagine LRASM can do the same. (Recall that a B-1 can carry 2-3 dozen LRASMs, so a squadron of them might literally be able to overwhelm a Chinese carrier battle group even if they launch and hit with every air-defense missile; the B-21 seems fairly small, maybe it carries 6ish?)

Single missile?

Perhaps I was too ambiguous; what I meant was it only takes a single missile to hit to render a ship non-combat effective. I agree that it will likely take salvos to hit reliably, although it is worth noting that it did not take large ones in the Falklands War, and that Ukraine appears to have sunk a Soviet cruiser (the Moskva) with a very small salvo of two subsonic missiles (if you trust the Ukrainian claims.) The Moskva had the S-300 – not exactly a slouch of an air-defense system – plus shorter-ranged anti-air missiles and CIWS. I can think of a lot of reasons why the Chinese ships might perform better than the Moskva but I think our priors ought to be that missile salvos will be effective, because they have been in the past and are now.

Anyway, if the LRASM (stealthy) or future hypersonic weapons give Chinese ships the same trouble that the Storm Shadow gave the Russian air-defense crews using similar missiles, I think the B-21 will be plenty scary.

It's hard to imagine any great-power war against the US not involving kesslering every useful orbit as the first move, which would likely destroy any long-range precision weaponry advantage that the US has (consider how even the medium-range kit Ukraine got is creaking under mere GPS jamming, and every Starlink outage causes pandemonium). Under lower-tech conditions, contesting China's geographical advantage over Taiwan may be hard for the US, whose military seems quite addicted to its C&C capabilities, and even the lessons of Ukraine's defense may not be applicable in a scenario where real fog of war is once again a factor.

The US would do well to fix in doctrine that destroying enough of its space assets will be grounds for unbounded nuclear retaliation, but it might require some preparatory propaganda to get people to accept it as reasonable so soft power doesn't suffer for it.

kesslering every useful orbit as the first move, which would likely destroy any long-range precision weaponry

Long range missiles have inertial guidance and compare the ground beneath them to topographical maps. And they've had these features for decades. I'm sure destroying all satellites wouldn't improve their circular error probable, but they'd still mostly work.

I wouldn't be surprised if it's the US that makes the first move against satellites in a Pacific war: aircraft carrier battlegroups are actually pretty hard to locate if you don't have any imaging or radar satellites in orbit.

I agree that taking out the huge US satellite constellations will degrade US war fighting capabilities, but in a Pacific war over Taiwan I suspect a Kessler syndrome asymmetrically helps the United States: China is surrounded by Taiwan, South Korea and Japan in a ring, and their naval and shore-based assets will be able to track Chinese naval activity, identify it for targeting, and communicate that to US bomber strike packages originating from well outside China's effective reach. Meanwhile, the US carrier fleet will be free to steam in circles in the middle of nowhere, Pacific, and China will have to resort to trying to locate them with submarines, recon aircraft, and possibly ELINT (very fun and fancy until the carrier turns off its radios). It's possible there's some other options I haven't thought of, but the long and short of things is that targeting a ship at sea is much easier with orbital assets and much harder otherwise.

I also think it's worth considering that the US has a lot of nuclear-strike-warning orbital assets, so hitting US satellites indiscriminately may send the signal that you're planning to go ballistic in the nuclear way – but those same assets are helpful for all sorts of stuff, with resolutions sensitive enough to pinpoint the release of small weapons. I assume if you're China you just shoot them down anyway.

I should note that there are a lot of soft-kill ways to deal with satellites and (additionally) plenty of hard-kill ways that don't result in massive debris clouds. That doesn't mean people won't create said debris clouds – either because they're just using basic ASAT missiles or to make it harder for the US to simply putting more assets in orbit with its massive edge in earth-to-orbit transport.

Carrier strike groups, or the planes launched from them, still need to get close to be useful - close enough that you could find them with clouds of cheap drones flying WWII-style search patterns (China has overwhelming manufacturing advantage there) or radar. I don't see why China would need to strike them while they are circling out in the open Pacific, if they can't do anything significant to interfere from out there because they have no significant quantity of weaponry in the intersection of "gets past layered air defence" (something that China will have in its own vicinity and the US won't) and "finds its target". Taiwan, too, has layered air defense and proximity, but without the US being able to bring much to the table anymore it would just get overwhelmed.

The point, I think, is more in that the US must know and fear this possibility; a loss of its space-based recon and targeting would spell trouble not just in Taiwan but in every other theatre (would Ukraine or Israel be able to hold on without their current ability to be forewarned of any troop concentration and surface construction ability almost immediately?). My lay sense would be that yielding Taiwan and trying to make the best of the outcome would be better for global US power prospects than yielding the space advantage and fighting for Taiwan, even if the latter fought can somehow be won (as in Taiwan stays independent and US-aligned).

The F-35 has a 750ish mile combat range, which can be extended by in-air refueling. You can tack another, say, 100 - 200 miles onto that with an anti-ship missile, so a carrier strike group could hang out midway between Guam and Taiwan and launch effective strike packages against targets in the Taiwan strait. And one thing that the war in Ukraine has proven is that stealthy cruise missiles launched by low-flying aircraft can evade layered air defense, so our assumption should be that this strategy is at least somewhat effective. Of course, the US can also sortie effective strike packages from CONUS, but they will take a lot longer to get to the target.

The "cheap drones" you mention the Chinese using will be Predator-style drones – quadcopter types won't have the range, you'll need large, long endurance surveillance assets – basically unmanned U-2s. Which means they show up very nicely on every radar within a couple hundred miles and a fighter will likely show up and dispatch you before you get within range of the carrier. Optics aren't necessarily particularly effective maritime search assets anyway, as you mention you really want long-range radar, but that's 1) expensive, 2) prone to being spoofed, and 3) lets everyone know you are out looking for a carrier well before you can actually find the carrier, if their electronics are working correctly. You can try to build a stealthy drone to mitigate these problems but at this point you're no longer a cheap drone, and probably not a cloud. And, well, see how well WWII-style search patterns worked out for the participants in WWII.

Now, I'm not saying that a carrier battle group couldn't be spotted in such a manner. I'm just saying it's not an easy win.

Something that might be is over-the-horizon radar. I'm not sure how effective that would be, or what limitations it might have.

The big advantage the US has re: space is that it can just put more space-based recon in space pretty quickly. At least, I assume that's what the X-37 is for. So quite possibly you could see a situation where China knocks down all our satellites and we just put up a maneuvering recon asset that they can't touch the next day.

As I understand it, the idea of using carriers against China would be to interdict shipping coming to and from them from far away, as well as any naval assets attacking Taiwan.

I'm inclined to think that China and Russia have more to lose in losing space-based assets than the US, even assuming no retaliation in other arenas. Gaza is tiny, the IAF can monitor them just fine with conventional aircraft and drones. Russia is vast, but I think Ukraine is mostly covered with AWACS aircraft operating outside of actual Ukrainian territory, and there probably isn't all that much advantage there from the ability to monitor deep inside Russia. Meanwhile, satellite surveillance is probably the best way Russia has to see what NATO is doing outside of Ukraine. Invading Taiwan is logistically complex, China would probably benefit greatly from having intact GPS to pull it off, as well as the ability to see where those carrier groups are and what they're up to, which would be tough to get any other way.

I'm not sure how confident to be in all that, but I think it's enough to make the case that all-out space war is not likely to be a clear win for the counter-US powers.

It’s ridiculous to assume the US military hasn’t fully prepared for the possibility of kesslerization given it’s been theorized as a warfare tactic for almost 50 years. In any case, I imagine both Russia and China would be extremely reluctant to use it given how much damage it would do to either side’s allies all over the world. The destruction of high orbit satellites is far from assured. The speed of it is also unclear and is actually pretty slow iirc in a lot of models.

Good point about the speed at which it would happen - I didn't consider that it could only amount to a "debris threshold passed now leads to inescapable exponential growth that will reach the point that no sats survive for long in 10 years" scenario.

I do however doubt that either of Russia and China would be particularly concerned about the damage loss of international space capabilities would do to their remaining allies (Google Maps? Degradation of weather forecasts? Loss of landsat-type commercial imagery?) if they are in an existential-ish struggle against the US. All of those sound to me like they would be minor relative to the effects of disturbances to the financial system and supply chains such a war would impose on everyone either way.

GPS satellites are in a high enough orbit that chain-reaction "Kessler syndrome" is not trivial to cause up there. Space is too sparsely populated up there for chain reactions to occur on invasion timescales.

If that's the case, it might still be possible to ASAT them individually because there are so few?

That would be how one probably has to do it. But let's see: China's 2007 ASAT test was carried out with a modified medium-range ballistic missile with a ground range of about 4000 km. That's not going to reach 20000 km altitude; I don't think even an ICBM could get up there. Probably it would take individual killer-satellites, launched on one space rocket apiece, which would themselves be much more vulnerable to existing ASAT weaponry before they reach their targets. Probably not cost-effective.

My read is that China will take Taiwan, and they'll do it very similarly to the way they did Hong Kong, and almost certainly not in the next twelve months.

The Taiwanese consider themselves chinese, large sections of their population already support union with China, the Taiwanese military is ridiculous and corrupt. In time politics, soft power, economics and possible chinese control of the south pacific will give China a beachhead in Taiwan without invasion. Say what you will about the Chicoms, they plan for the future.

My guess is the only thing that would trigger an invasion is a tottering Communist Party which needs a popular war to stay in the saddle.

The Taiwanese consider themselves chinese

Polls say otherwise, and my own interactions are consistent with those numbers. Even many Taiwanese boomers who grew up under KMT martial law are, if not anti-unification in the abstract, becoming as rabidly anti-Xi as their grandchildren due to a combination of his own hawkish rhetoric, what they hear from mainlanders fleeing COVID lockdowns and the increasingly harsh censorship regime, and the collapse of the Chinese housing bubble. That's not to say that China couldn't crush popular dissent with overwhelming force as they did in Hong Kong, but most collaborators would have to be bought rather than joining willingly.

The Taiwanese consider themselves chinese, large sections of their population already support union with China,

That plan was going quite well until they altered the deal on Hong Kong. When they did, Taiwanese support for unification crashed to lizardman and has remained there since.

Indeed, things change. Reunification cannot happen peacefully in the present circumstance. But maybe in another 50 years things will have changed again.

Say what you like about what the CCP did to Hong Kong (and believe me, I do), but it demonstrated their ability and patience to execute a multi-decade plan.

Mainland China (and Taiwan for that matter) is going to be an extremely different place in 50 years. The demographic graying the mainland is going to go through is going to hit their economy like a flood of molasses and the 2070s are going to be exactly when they're in the thick of it.

The PRC essentially has until the 2040s to get something off against Taiwan, afterwards they will be struggling against the worst dependency ratio in world history. They have a good window between about now and 2035 when the American naval procurement cycle is at a nadir and they continue to grow competitive on hardware.

If nothing happens by 2035, nothing is likely to happen ever.

Say what you like about what the CCP did to Hong Kong (and believe me, I do), but it demonstrated their ability and patience to execute a multi-decade plan.

I don't think it was particularly likely to be a multi-decade plan secretly passed down. I think decades ago Chinese leadership wanted at least partial control of Hong Kong as a matter of national pride, but didn't think they could get away with total control. And then more recently they felt they could get away with total control, so they went ahead and enforced more control.

And then more recently they felt they could get away with total control, so they went ahead and enforced more control.

I think it's more like "they did some things they didn't think would cause a furore that did, and then they weren't sure they could maintain control without a full crackdown".

I'm definitely in agreement with you against @AshLael that what happened in Hong Kong does not scream "long-term plan". The "charm offensive" screamed "long-term plan" - you can actually see its effect on Taiwanese attitudes toward unification - and the Darth Vader stunt ruined that plan, so it doesn't make sense for the Darth Vader stunt with that timing to have been a long-term plan (the obvious long-term plan would have been to wait out the 50-year agreement and/or to wait until Taiwan also agreed to 1C2S and had been garrisoned with PLA troops). At the very least, if it was a long-term plan, then the CPC is either completely bananas (yes, yes, they're bad at understanding WEIRD mindset, but "if you break agreement X with person Y, person Z will be less likely to enter agreement X with you" is more general than that) or has a major case of left-hand/right-hand.

Xi in particular seems to have a preoccupation with projecting a certain kind of strength/dominance to the detriment of other concerns, causing him to derail long-term efforts by previous Chinese leaders to sell an image of China as a reasonable and conciliatory actor. I don't know if this got as specific as particular schemes so much as it was a high level strategy that was reflected in how the Chinese government approached various issues.

China's relative advantages must be reaching their zenith, given demographics and the resurgence of neo-industrial policy.

My understanding is the opposite, that rates of change favor the mainland. Taiwan and America are already highly developed without much room to grow, and also with far smaller absolute numbers of talented human capital. The longer time goes on, the easier it would be to wage war.

That fits with all sabre-rattling and state visits that started about ten years ago. In 2010 China and Taiwan were signing trade pacts. By 2014 there was a likely attempted color revolution in Hong Kong. In Taiwan there was the Sunflower Movement.

It's not in the mainland's interest for such things to happen. They wanted the trade pact that the Sunflower Movement occupied the legislature to block.

There sure were a lot of opposition movements furthering American interests in 2014. We also saw them in Ukraine and Venezuela.

I'll also add another scenario in case of war that's more akin to the Sudetanland. The RoC is more than just Taiwan, and some of their territory is closer to mainland China than Martha's Vineyard is to Massachusetts. The Kinmen islands are a bridgable distance from Fujian province, just a couple of miles. The PLA shelled these islands with ground-based artillery in the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis.

You'd take those first just to see how the enemy reacts, no?

I don’t think China is likely to catch up with America. Their GDP growth rate is decelerating, their population is declining, and Xi seems to care more about his political security than economic growth, since he’s been snuffing out billionaires as rivals. Their GDP annual growth might realistically fall to 2% within 15 years. Considering their current GDP per capita is comparable to Malaysia or Argentina, and their GDP growth is stalling, I don’t see how they can catch up to the US. If anything, I predict the gap will grow wider.

Why do you think GDP is the relevant measure of catching up with America?

It’s more relevant than PPP, that’s for sure. China is a fairly poor country, comparable with Mexico or Argentina. People have been saying that China will “catch up” to the US for years, but it’s never panned out. It’s looking like China has peaked in terms of GDP growth rate, and they didn’t even manage to achieve a Japanese or South Korean level of wealth before doing so.

It being more relevant than another measure (why?) is not an argument that it is relevant in absolute terms, and the rest of your post seems to be another assertion that China's GDP is low. I find the continuous mention of GDP in these discussions about hypothetical military clashes very frustrating, because nobody ever explains why a measure that counts the number of tokens of socially constructed value exchanged for goods and services that mostly have nothing to do with military capability has anything with military capability.

At the extreme, a country that abolished money and markets completely, stopped exporting and importing and just press-ganged its people into producing sustenance and ordnance like an ant colony would seemingly have a GDP of zero, but clearly nonzero military power...? For a real example, Afghanistan's GDP appears to hover at around $20b per year. Total US expenditures on the war are given as around $2000b over 20 years, so why did the US lose? If you think Afghanistan was somehow exceptional and the US didn't fight for real but just wasted money on nation-building or something instead, a similar calculation holds for Vietnam where it's hard to find an argument that the US didn't throw everything that they could muster short of nukes at the North.

Coming from people who are ideologically committed to the token exchange system, the whole thing really winds up sounding like "the Albigensians stand no chance against our crusaders, since their Gross Devotional Prayer index as measured by our clerics has been way behind ours for decades", "Google stock is bound to prevail over Apple because their workforce is more diverse" or any other invocation of a metric that is about goodness as measured in terms of the speaker's value system, with the gap to the question at hand being implicitly bridged by the just world hypothesis (the arc of history must surely bend towards those with superior key market indicators/Christian devotion/wokeness).

We crushed Afghanistan: one of our easiest conquests, we lost about 13 guys conquering that country. Sure it was expensive to hold onto it for two decades, but conquering it was a cakewalk. Since we have no plans to conquer and rule China as imperial overlords, the occupation costs don’t really come into it: when it comes to winning battles, bignum GDP sure did crush nonum GDP like a bug.

Probably depends on what you mean by catch up. China's economy is already more than 20% larger than the U.S. using Purchasing Power Parity. If we look at industrial production and exports, then of course China dwarfs the U.S.

China will probably not reach U.S. levels of per-capita GDP anytime soon. But they still have a clear path to a much larger GDP just by integrating rural peasants into the larger economy.

But they still have a clear path to a much larger GDP just by integrating rural peasants into the larger economy.

The rural population is aging faster than the urban population, is dramatically less well educated, and wages in urban China are rising too quickly to try a repeat of the world's cheapest workshop plan that worked in the 1990s.

There is still some steam left in that boiler, but not incredibly much and, once it's gone, it's gone.

PPP is a bad indicator when you’re talking about strategic power, and it’s not even a particularly good way to compare relative economic power.

As far as integrating rural residents into the economy: they have. There are more Han twice as many urban as there are rural Chinese these days, and there’s a point where you hit diminishing returns on taking rural peasants and turning them into factory workers. At the moment China has a significant unemployment problem, and already “integrated” workers are having trouble finding jobs as it is.

Indirect control. China implements air and sea border controls to make Taiwan a self-governing administrative region of China. There is no need for a direct attack on Taiwan or any blockade of usual commerce. Without initiating violent action, the Chinese can assert sovereign control over the air and sea borders to Taiwan, establishing customs and immigration controls. This is not the same thing as a blockade. A blockade would instead become one of the possible consequences if the other side violently challenged China’s assertion of indirect control.

Establishing "customs and immigration controls" on any territory outside your jurisdiction, such as the high seas is exactly what a blockade is. I think that the UN SC would be unlikely to okay a blockade of Taiwan, which would make it illegal. In the end, a blockade is dependent on your willingness to shoot at blockade runners. Shooting at blockade runners in the case of a blockade not sanctioned by the SC is an act of war.

Also, an important difference between go and the real world is that in the real world surrounding someone is not sufficient for capturing them. Cutting off Taiwan from the rest of the world will not cause them to raise the PRC flag. I think it is likely that the food situation (production-consumption-ratio) of Taiwan is better than that of Gaza. Besides, as I learned when discussing Gaza, International Law kinda says that you may not declare food contraband.

Is this true?

  1. My understanding is that Taiwan is not a nation independent from China; rather, they both claim to be be the legitimate government of China. As far as I know, nobody recognized Taiwan as a separate independent nation de jure. But to the extent that it is an act of war, it seems that (under the current legal theory) it would be an act of civil war. I'm not very familiar with international law, but I'm not aware of any legal principles banning a self-blockade.
  2. China is on the UN Security Council, so they presumably would veto any condemnation.

I support, broadly, Taiwanese independence and am not pro-PRC, but the legal situation here is novel and might be more conducive to China than people realize.

I think the blockade actually does a lot for China, and is arguably a good option. If I have some time maybe I'll write about that a more length.

Better than Gaza, I'm sure, but Taiwan is still a net importer of food, with most of that food coming from the mainland. It's a common refrain by pro-mainland folks that Taiwan is dependent on them for food.

You know who else is a net importer of food? Mainland China. Which is one reason a war with the US would be disastrous. The US and Friends are quite capable of stopping sea trade to China in the case of a hot war, and if they do China starves.

No, they absolutely do not. The food China imports by sea is mostly soybeans to feed to pigs, they're secure on grains for about 90-95% overall self-sufficiency. At the start of major war you slaughter herds to reduce calorie needs in the short-term, that's standard practice. Maybe a little rationing takes place, China is fine.

Plus China can import overland from Russia. Their energy situation is more serious but they have non-trivial domestic oil production, some storage and enormous coal capacity. The Chinese government has put enormous effort into food and energy self-sufficiency, electric vehicles, massive subsidies and so on. If they're not exporting manufactured goods then their energy needs will fall significantly too.

Taiwan is the one that starves. Their food self-sufficiency is something like 20-30%, not 90%. Their energy self sufficiency is 0. Even South Korea and Japan are much worse off than China, they're effectively islands with less food security and no easy imports.

Slaughtering herds does not create calories, it destroys them. Pig herds in China are not competing with grain production, they’re adding to the food supply by turning imported feed into pork. It is not like you kill all the pigs and then you can turn those pig farms into rice farms: just about everywhere in China that can be farmed for rice is currently being farmed for rice. There is a shortage of undeveloped arable land in China right now. If you slaughter all the pigs you don’t reduce the caloric needs of the nation: the caloric need remains the same, and the supply of calories has gone down.

What’s more, China’s agriculture depends in part on foreign imports of fertilizer and farm equipment. With those cut off (by sea, the most efficient way to transport bulk goods) you can’t expect Chinese grain production to stay the same.

Pigs need calories, they're less efficient than grain for feeding people. By killing pigs you reduce overall calorie needs and create a temporary windfall, regardless of whether the feedstock is sourced from domestically or overseas. All forms of meat are innately less efficient than vegetables and grain in terms of land use, that's why meat is expensive!

Whatever problems China has in agriculture and domestic self-sufficiency, Taiwan is worse off. China is friends with Russia, the biggest fertilizer exporter on the planet. China is the biggest fertilizer producer in the world, 3rd biggest exporter. They export more fertilizer than they import.

https://www.worldstopexports.com/top-fertilizers-imports-by-country/

https://www.worldstopexports.com/top-fertilizers-exports-by-country/

I don't think fertilizer is going to be a problem for China, or agricultural machinery. How can the biggest car manufacturer in the world lack tractors?

Sure enough China exports more tractors than they import: https://www.worldstopexports.com/top-tractors-exports-by-country/

Killing the pigs does not free up the use of imported grain for human consumption when all the imports have been cut off! That’s my point. If the pigs were eating domestic grain you’d have a point, but the whole issue is that in a war food imports would be cut off, including the feed for pigs, which means fewer calories available for China to consume.

Note that China imports over 100 billion more dollars in agricultural goods than it exports, and that number has only grown over the last twenty years. That includes about $800 million in agricultural equipment imported from abroad. This isn’t just soybeans, it’s wheat, rice, and meat. And China is only 70% food self sufficient, not 90+..

You’ll want to Google more carefully next time: that page you linked to saying China exports more tractors than it imports is referring to semi truck tractors, not farm equipment: tariff code 8701.

And China is only 70% food self sufficient, not 90+.

That's including luxuries, meat, lobsters and so on. Not just grains, which is what I am focused on. You can not have so much meat and still be food secure. But if you don't have primary staple crops like grains, then you starve.

This is my point with the pigs. The current overall food security numbers include the pigs and imports to feed them. So if imports are cut off and they slaughter pigs, their food needs go down. They've lost calorie imports but also lowered calorie demand by switching to a less meat-rich diet. Food security should not mean '% of all peacetime food that can be produced domestically' but '% of minimum food necessary to avoid health problems'. The former includes unnecessary and expensive things that are fun to eat, the latter is like the WW2 ration cards you learn about at school.

And imports aren't totally cut off because they have land trade partners who they can buy from instead, at a higher price and with lower throughput. So as I said above, unlike Taiwan China has land imports and food security on grains.

Has Russia struggled with farm equipment? No, not really. Why would China struggle? In 'other agricultural machinery' China exports more than they import, same with machinery excluding tractors:

https://oec.world/en/profile/bilateral-product/other-agricultural-machinery/reporter/chn

https://oec.world/en/profile/sitc/agricultural-machinery-excluding-tractors-and-parts-thereof-nes

Including Tractors is paywalled but I expect it says the same thing, China is apparently a 'fast growing exporter': https://oec.world/en/profile/egw/agricultural-machinery-incl-tractors

More comments

I think the odds of another Taiwan Strait Crisis are reasonably high, but that China isn't ready to pull the trigger on the big one. In the past I suspected they might move on the outlying islands as a trial run for a blockade or invasion, but having seen what happened when Russia took Crimea without a fight but then waited 8 years to invade for real and gave time for Ukraine to prepare psychologically and materially for war, it seems like that might just light a fire under the bafflingly apathetic Taiwanese population and make their job much harder down the line.

The two key challenges the Chinese military faces in advance of any war are lack of experience and internal corruption. Xi appears to be trying to address the latter, but if he wants to give his army some practice he may intervene in the Burmese Civil War as a fairly low-risk enterprise (who's going to stop them, Thailand?) with a reasonable casus belli (instability and criminal activity on their borders threatening national security). If such an action or any other foreign deployment of Chinese troops were to occur I would start worrying more about future wars.

As to whether China would go for a blockade as opposed to an invasion of Taiwan, it's hard to tell without a better read on the psychology of Xi's inner circle. By blockading they would lose the element of surprise if a shooting war breaks out as a result of a ship being sunk or a plane shot down, including the chance to neutralize US naval and air assets in the Pacific with a first strike. If however they think they can psychologically dominate Taiwan so thoroughly that they would submit without a fight then this would seem to them a low-risk approach, as well as the fact that they can initiate it at any time as opposed to an amphibious crossing which can only happen a few months out of the year.

Xi appears to be trying to address the latter, but if he wants to give his army some practice he may intervene in the Burmese Civil War as a fairly low-risk enterprise (who's going to stop them, Thailand?) with a reasonable casus belli (instability and criminal activity on their borders threatening national security).

My wife was telling me about the kidnapping problem there and I remarked that we would probably go to war with a neighbor state whose gangs were holding thousands of Americans as slaves and the government there was doing nothing about it. Apparently if someone makes a scam phone call and speaks native mandarin there's a good chance they're human trafficking victims in a Burmese call center.

China's already erected thousands of kilometers of border fence to mitigate the issue.

Trump hates humiliation or perceived weakness (‘being a loser’) above all else, and Taiwan being invaded would definitely play in the media (which is hostile to him anyway) as a big loss for America. I can’t see him shrugging. He was extremely pro-vaccine as President. He likes things that project American strength. His opposition to some Middle East wars was more about the US getting a bad deal than any moral opposition to them or even committed ideological isolationism. Likewise I think if he had been president in 2022 he would have been very supportive of maximum military aid to Ukraine.

The US basically accepted the eventual Hong Kongization of Taiwan until the early 2010s when the South China Sea stuff flared up, the trade war began and Xi started practicing more aggressive counterintelligence vs Western assets in China. Then the chip thing happened too and now Taiwan is an extremely valuable strategic asset.

Over time Taiwan’s centrality to chip making will reduce and the previous course will resume. There is no need for the CCP to invade now. Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t.

I wouldn't say an invasion is likely, but China has an ace up their sleeve which they can use to win a war against Taiwan, and the ability to win affects the probability of invasion. If Taiwanese shore defenses, the US Navy, and the US Air Force are strong enough to defeat China's initial invasion force in a conventional amphibious assault, China can launch a second wave and give it an improved chance of success by DETONATING SUPER EMPS IN THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE OVER TAIWAN TO FRY THE ELECTRONICS OF ENEMY FORCES.

First, EMPs, super or otherwise, are thermonuclear weapons. using them in an opening move poses an even more serious risk of things escalating quickly to global thermonuclear war than they would with a conventional attack. To my knowledge, there is no principle in international law where EMPs do not count as a nuclear attack.

Second, Faraday cages exist. I am not an expert, but I would expect that the electronics within a tank can be well shielded. The thing which might be hit is stuff which intrinsically has a link to the outside world, such as radio antennas and sensors (especially em sensors such as radar, but possibly also cameras).

Third, even if you manage to fry all the enemy antennas and radars before an invasion, the obvious countermove would be for the US to also cause an EMP mid-invasion. If the US don't have super-EMPs, conventional hydrogen bombs could do the trick -- you can always compensate by being closer to your target. This would largely level the playing field again.

First, EMPs, super or otherwise, are thermonuclear weapons.

WP says that the fusion stage doesn't really help much, so the "thermo" there is not necessarily the case. But yes, this is still the strategic use of nuclear weapons.

Every major military has known about and built countermeasures against nuclear EMP for almost 75 years. Such an action (aside from risking WWIII) would damage Taiwan's civilian infrastructure while leaving the military barely touched, which is exactly the opposite result the Chinese would want.

Not just the military! You can buy an EMP shield for your home emergency generator.

Also a tin-foil, er, I mean EMF blackout hat.

That's one of the most absurd products I've seen. A diesel generator is going to be absolutely fine, it's the wiring in your house you need to worry about. Zero need for a faraday cage to be more complicated than a metal box, either.

Wait what. How does an EMP ruin the wiring in a house?

The EMP pulse is an electric field pulse, up to 50,000 volts per meter for the nuke scenarios. The longer the wire, the greater the voltage differential over the wire (up to the depth of the field pulse as it passes over a few nanoseconds). The biggest risk to a house is this voltage built up over the electrical network hitting the house, heating up wires and destroying appliances.

A whole-house surge protector is the simplest investment here but even with that isolation, it'd take just a single stretch of 10m x 2mm gauge copper parallel to the electric field to hit 500kV and heat up by some 50 degrees c more or less instantly, which is enough to pose fire risks.

This government source cited by Wikipedia's article on this topic seems to indicate that the effect of an EMP somehow scales with the length of the wire through "line coupling", so short wires in a car or a wristwatch will be largely unaffected, while longer wires used for electrical transmission will experience severe effects.

Wow. That sounds incredibly devastating.

Does anyone have any modern takes on EMP susceptibility? I can't think of any more recent anecdotes than Starfish Prime, but the electronics of the 1960s are very different than the electronics of today: modern electronics generally have explicit testing for conductive and radiated immunity (see MIL-STD-461 for the military side, but there are similar standards for commercial devices). That said, I expect that exact expected field strengths and susceptibilities aren't exactly going to be published.

There was a 2008 study that shoved a bunch of stuff under an EMP simulator.

The only things that were majorly subsceptible were power grid electronics and SCADA control systems, which are major things but far from "lol my gunsight just turns off forever".

It takes a bit of finangling with combining multiple reports to get that conclusion tho. It depends a lot on just how much energy is in the air.

I tried to look into this after the last time I read one of the EMP apocalypse porn novels. I get the impression that nobody really knows for sure, since it's really hard to test well. To the extent that anyone knows, they don't seem excited to publish anything about it.

Near as I can tell, EMPs tend to be hardest on conducting cables that are very long in straight lines, like multiple miles, and anything connected to such cables. I'm pretty sure that cars and other vehicles, phones, laptops that are unplugged, and other portable electronics are not likely to be affected at all. Most long-distance data cables have been replaced with fiber optics, which are also immune.

Probably the thing at highest risk is the electric grid and things attached to it. It may be rough on transformers, generating turbines, that sort of thing. I don't know if anyone has made or implemented protection cutoffs for these types of things. It's not clear to what extent it may affect household electronics - I'm not sure whether or not dangerous voltages would make it through the various types of power converters. For cell towers, the wired and over-the-air data connections will probably be fine, but the power supply may not be. I doubt the internet will stay up in the affected area, mostly due to power issues rather than data connections themselves. The trackside power supply for electric trains will likely have issues, but probably the diesel-electric freight locomotives will be okay.

So it's likely to be a bad day, but not nearly as bad as some would have you think. I doubt it would affect the effectiveness of a defending military it was targeted at much at all, other than the extent to which it caused civilian disruptions they might be obligated to address. From the perspective of an offensive military considering using it, it doesn't seem like a great strategy, since it's unclear how effective it would be, and likely to be most disruptive towards civilian activity rather than military.

Probably the thing at highest risk is the electric grid and things attached to it.

Also satellites, which for obvious reasons cannot ground themselves. I would think this a more likely attack vector on US space supremacy than antisatellite missiles.

I think there's some level of grid protection in place with a mind towards possible Carrington events -- not sure what form it takes, but regardless if you wanted to cut power to Taiwan I'd think that just blowing some shit up would be an easier move. It's not a really big place after all.

The grid already deals with sudden overvoltage from lightning by dumping it to ground without (usually) interrupting service. HVDC transmission lines would be interesting to learn about, but maybe it would just be free amps for them.

I haven't even heard anecdotes about the recent solar storm other than Musk noting that starlink was "under pressure" from it.

Am at the point of writing it off as doomwishing similar to zombie apocalypse fantasies.

Do Trump and the Trumpists back down from China in this case? I was under the impression that they tended to be anti-China and at least anti-anti-Russian, but the anti-Chinese sentiment was more in 2015-2020. I don't hear so much of it from them any more, but that might be because anti-Chinese sentiment is now commonplace among Democrats, including Biden, whereas e.g. Obama and Hillary seemed to be more the reverse of Trump regarding China and Russia.

Yes, red tribe normies, boomercons, trumpists, etc hate the PRC, buy into conspiracy theories about China controlling/having secret ties to Joe Biden(the inverse of Trump/Russia conspiracies), believe the PRC's human rights situation is significantly worse than it actually is, and blame Chinese subversion for things like fentanyl, covid, and sometimes stolen elections.

believe the PRC's human rights situation is significantly worse than it actually is

Can you elaborate on this?

Republican boomers usually believe things like ‘Christianity is illegal there, and believers are subjected to forced organ harvesting as soon as identified’ or ‘The PRC regularly carries out executions for low level political activists’ or ‘forced abortion and human experimentation is very widespread in China and used as a way population control’. There’s also the usual boomer attitude that China has far worse worker’s rights than it actually does, sometimes to the extent of having lots of slavery, when I’m given to understand China’s labour situation is a bit like Mexico- worse than US standards, but it avoids the worst of the deep third world crap and labor is pretty much entirely voluntary.

China implements air and sea border controls to make Taiwan a self-governing administrative region of China. There is no need for a direct attack on Taiwan or any blockade of usual commerce.

IMO any attempt to do this will probably get seen as a bluff and called pretty quickly. Any competent US administration could challenge the blockade and force China to either back down and lose face or fire the first shots of a hot war, which I think would probably sell to the American public as an unjustified attack on an otherwise peaceful, above-board action (say, a US Navy cargo ship and a destroyer making a port call in Taipei).

Attacking the US directly would be pretty foolish, IMO. Of your options, the "Korea 1950" seems most plausible.

  1. The wars in Ukraine and Israel are straining US defense production almost to breaking point already, however, waiting a few years could see China confronted with an America and EU that brought a ton more military production capacity online.

I think the time for this argument was 12 months ago: the US just opened a completely new artillery shell plant this week. That production capacity is presumably already starting to come online. It's a bit less clear that the scaled up capacity aligns with what Taiwan would need (more anti-ship missiles, fewer artillery shells?), but they don't exactly publicize all their capabilities and investments, and I wouldn't completely assume incompetence.

Doesn’t China have like a month of good weather for crossing the strait, like all year long?

And more to the point, the reasonable move is the second scenario. Pearl Harbor is just fucking retarded. For that matter it was just fucking retarded, the Japs got their asses kicked. A Taiwan war would be won or lost by the first Chicom soldier landing on Formosa. Drawing in Japan and the US turns a major war into a really big war.

2-3 months: March-April and October, although only the last half of March.

Yes, a repeat of Pearl Harbour would be retarded. "Doing retardedly overconfident things that get your country squished flat" is kind of the most notorious pitfall of fascism, though (see: actual Pearl Harbour), and for all its protestations the PRC is effectively fascist, so this isn't necessarily a guarantee that it won't happen.

I was wrong about Russia invading Ukraine so discount accordingly, but I think the odds of China invading Taiwan are very low in the short term.

First we have to ask whether China even wants Taiwan. Sabre-rattling about Taiwan serves as a reliable way to stir up nationalistic feelings in the people. This is useful when the dear leader starts to lose the favor of heaven. Taiwan as a rebellious province has more use to the regime than as a subdued enemy. In other words, would China capturing Taiwan be like the dog that catches the car?

But let's say that China does want Taiwan. I think in the near term, the logistics of an amphibious landing are impossible. China's military has essentially no actual combat experience (unless we count fighting Indian soldiers with melee weapons on remote Himalayan passes). While we are in the early stages of a revolution in military technology, I think the U.S. carriers groups and air superiority fighters would still win the day.

In the long term, I am much more bullish on China's chances. Demographics are a headwind, but China will still have 3 times the population of the U.S. in twenty years. Furthermore, the world's reliance on Chinese trade grows stronger every year. China is eating the world. They dominate most industries and are on a path to domination of the rest. China's spending on military equipment is remarkable, and their ability to create more grows while the abilities of the West fade. The West's existing stock of legacy material (F-35s and carrier groups) will matter less in the future.

So China can just sit back and let its advantages compound. When they have naval superiority and a more secure supply chain of natural resources they will strike. And when they do take Taiwan it may be without even firing a shot.

First we have to ask whether China even wants Taiwan.

The interesting thing about Taiwan are the state-of-the-art TSMC chip fabs, which are better than what the PRC has.

However, these are fragile things easily destroyed in the event of an invasion, and keeping them running without support from ASML would likely be hard to impossible.

And while Taiwan is important, it is not the only place in which the US could manufacture state of the art chips for military use, so taking Taiwan would hurt the US economically but not cripple it militarily.

Of course, Taiwan might also be a Schelling spot for anti-Communist Chinese, like Hong-Kong was before. But risking World War 3 to drive your ideological opponents from Taipei to San Francisco seems rather pointless -- especially if you can also just impose Honecker-style controls on your people so they can not defect.

Taiwan is also important as an airbase and submarine base for China, as territory that needs to be denied to the US bloc. If they want to do anything more in the Pacific they need that territory free of enemy forces, radar, missiles... If they have Taiwan, then they also control trade routes and energy imports from the Middle East to Japan and South Korea.

There's also a political aspect to it, they wanted the island well before semiconductors to properly conclude the Chinese Civil War. Plus the pool of human capital that manages the semiconductor production is also quite valuable, Operation Paperclipping them would be helpful for Chinese semiconductor efforts.

It will be interesting to see who wins the next chip race: China or the United States. It's a critical priority for both countries. The U.S. effort is not going well, with Intel floundering and TSMC having trouble with its American workforce.

Nevertheless, China seems to be far behind the U.S. According to Wikipedia, they currently make nothing smaller than 16 nm.

Critically, the chip race isn't between China and the US. It is between China and the US-Netherlands (ASML)-Germany (Zeiss)-UK (ARM)-Taiwan coalition.

If the West allows China to defeat us in detail, China will probably succeed. But that would be a very stupid thing to do.

But that would be a very stupid thing to do.

Without the export bans China would have continued to buy instead of build the most advanced process chips for the foreseeable future. We've forced their hand to bet everything on build.

I don't disagree with you - I was just pointing out that we have to careful about who "we" is in this context.

It certainly seems like wokeness has traveled far enough down the barber pole that my age cohort is starting to lurch rightwards.

What does left and right even mean here, and in what way does it influence US policy towards China invading Taiwan? In Germany, the Green party is the local wing of the US progressive establishment, and they have been considered the most militaristic party (within a US-approved framework) since Afghanistan, which earned them the derogatory moniker "olive-greens" (as in the colour of camo). There is some understanding that culturally military~right, but interventionism and globalism are now more closely associated with the left.

I'd lean against.

A serious move against Taiwan is likely to trigger a longer-term economic realignment away from Chinese manufacturing and towards all of their regional competitors. I'm doubtful that the Chinese economy is strong enough to weather such a thing. Main wildcard is to what extent Chinese leadership either doesn't believe it will happen, or doesn't care.

The PLAN and PLAAF don't have much recent experience AFAIK fighting blue-water naval battles, amphibious invasions, air battles against air forces that aren't total clusterfucks, etc. Trying for something like Indirect Control is taking a big risk that their bluff will be called. Their leadership will look pretty bad if they try it and it ends up being a flop. Even worse, a flop of the army and navy trying to assert control over Taiwan is much less likely to generate a strong Chinese domestic backlash against whoever did it, presuming they don't do something boneheaded like major attacks against mainland Chinese civilians.

If China wanted to be taken more seriously as a threat to Taiwan, I'd think they ought to get some practice in somewhere. They've been dealing with Africa for a while, why not pick whichever African country is being particularly annoying to them and go over and smash them? If they can't, or aren't willing, to pull that off, it makes it seem like they aren't really much of a threat to Taiwan.

I’m worried about the Philippines in particular. Lots of regional disputes (eg Spratley Islands) that would serve as testing grounds for the Chinese military but wouldn’t trigger full scale US involvement.

It certainly seems like wokeness has traveled far enough down the barber pole that my age cohort is starting to lurch rightwards

None of this implies we can let up in our fight against it. Wokeness is like kudzu, if you leave even a single vine intact it'll come back, and faster than you think.

AI expectations could play a role. China might think, "We are behind in AI meaning in a few years we won't be able to beat the US so better strike now.", or "AI is going to change everything within 10 years so why bother risking a very bad outcome.", or "He who controls the spice [chip factories in Taiwan] controls the universe"

If there was a credible prophecy that US companies would develop ASI in twelve months, then invading Taiwan (which would result in the TSMC fabs getting destroyed, and the capability of Nvidia to build new AI chips being lowered) might be a hail mary that the PRC could try.

Absent such a prophecy, risking a substantial chance of WW3 to slightly delay a potential singularity does not seem the best survival strategy.

Modern training runs take 6-12 months, and integrating new chips into data centres takes 3-6, so China would need to intervene more than a year out in order to stop imminent ASI.

I am terrible at foreign policy, but I would've started by seizing ("reestablishing control over") minor RoC islands close to the mainland. They have practically zero value, so starting a major armed conflict over them would be seen as irrational, but this would establish a precedent that it's still the Chinese civil war and thus China's internal matter.