Newsweek is reporting that which the folks over at the private intelligence firm, Bellingcat, have been tracking for some time now: the story of an unverified Russian intelligence analyst leaking covert Russian intelligence about what was to be China’s pending invasion of Taiwan. In a series of seven letters written by an anonymous and very concerned Russian FSB analyst to a human rights activist, covert intelligence was conveyed about how Beijing had planned to launch a surprise invasion of Taiwan THIS FALL.
Of course, it should be noted here that, at least on paper, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) lacks the necessary number of amphibious assault warships needed to transport an army large enough to effectively conquer Taiwan.
The Pentagon’s leaders, much to my chagrin (I have said as much to General Milley’s staff), were completely wrong in their assessments last year when they told Congress that China was at least seven years away from being able to launch an effective invasion of their democratic Taiwanese neighbor. If these reports–which Bellingcat‘s analysts believe are accurate (although they disagreed with the unknown Russian analyst’s conclusions)–are true then Beijing was planning to surprise the world.
Another downside risk is that the weather in the Fall in the Taiwan Strait is notoriously bad for the kind of complex amphibious landing that China would need to conduct.
Yet, apparently, Xi Jinping was crazy enough to believe this could work. So, what gives?
The Law of the Jungle Rather Than the Rule of Law
For starters, we are not living in the world that Washington’s elites believe we are. Gone are the days when things were predictable and could be contained by the mere threat of American force. We are living in the age where the blood of tyrants boil over with the nationalist passions and are driven by the logic of empire.
More so than at any other time in recent history, world events are shaped not by the calculations and trends of history but instead by the personalities of the world’s great leaders. Xi Jinping. Vladimir Putin. These men are not going to be hemmed in by the force of history but rather will use the logic of force to change history to their liking. American leaders are completely unprepared for this new-old sort of leadership in its enemies.
Xi Jinping’s Origins Story Explains His Ambition
Yes, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the Fall of 2022 was risky. No, however, it was not impossible. After all, fortune favors the bold–and Xi Jinping, like Vladimir Putin, believes that he is fortune’s son. This belief shouldn’t surprise anyone for Xi came from a highly-connected family that was torn apart in the ravages of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
Finding himself forced to live as a young boy far away from his family on a commune, where he was made to do backbreaking manual labor daily, Xi Jinping did not resent the regime that killed his father and attempted to destroy his family. Instead, life on the commune and the rigid ideological education he received–as well as the painstaking manual labor–reinforced Xi’s commitment to the cause of Chinese Communism. From there, Xi moved to the top ranks of the Communist Party and never looked back.
Now he is the most powerful leader of China since Mao. He will not back down nor will he be cowed by the notion that he might be made to conform with the expectations of either reality or history. No, instead, Mr. Xi will change the dynamics of the world to better suit his agenda. It is the force of his will that move China to the center of the world. And he’ll not “bide his time and hide his capabilities” any longer as the Paramount Leader (and his predecessor, the first Chinese ruler to succeed Mao), Deng Xiaoping, advised his countrymen in the 1980s.
In fact, I would dare say that, far from attempting to invade Taiwan with the two million troops that many assume would be required, Xi might have been crazy enough to try with a smaller number. It is assumed that anywhere between 300,000 and 2 million troops would be needed to militarily defeat Taiwan and pacify the country thereafter.
Given the limits of Chinese amphibious capabilities (although these can be amplified by China’s massive fleet of civilian cargo ships) and that Xi would want to have caught the West by surprise, it is likely that he would’ve opted for a pared down force–in much the same way that former US President George W. Bush favored a smaller invasion force for Iraq and, more recently, Vladimir Putin utilized a much smaller invasion force than had been assumed he’d need to effectively conquer Ukraine.
As the Newsweek report suggests, though, Xi’s best laid plans were terminated the moment that his “friend” Vladimir Putin decided to pull a LeRoy Jenkins and go gunning into Ukraine without the proper sized force or a reliable plan for winning there. Plus, Xi assumed that Putin would easily defeat the rag-tag resistance in Ukraine (clearly forgetting the Chinese Communist Party’s own history as a rag-tag insurgency fighting the Chinese Nationalists in the brutal Chinese Civil War).
The Ukraine Connection
The most interesting thing about this story is the Russia connection. That a highly placed Russian FSB intelligence analyst has been leaking these covert materials to Western sources–and that the stories about Chinese plans for an invasion of Taiwan–have been accepted as generally reliable intelligence indicates that we are reaching a new phase of the slowly increasing Third World War. Yet, China’s plan for Taiwan this Fall was likely stunted by Putin’s improbable invasion of Ukraine.
You see, Putin utilized a similar strategy to what it sounded as though Xi Jinping desired to do. While Russia’s forces continue–slowly–making advances into the country, clearly, things have not gone as Putin had envisioned. Initially believing that his decade-long military modernization of Russia’s Armed Forces would yield a nimbler, lighter, and more effective force that would completely overwhelm the Ukrainians in a week or so, Putin’s assumptions have been proven woefully inaccurate. He is now being made to pay the political price. And because of these initial failures, many Ukrainians have died.
To compound matters, once the high-tech, rapid phase of the Russian war plan failed, Moscow reverted to form: Putin ordered his troops to begin decimating civilian targets with imprecise, carpet bombs and to brutally crush any form of resistance that arose to challenge or even carp with Russia’s invasion force.
Now, the Russian war machine lumbers along inside Ukraine as it is harassed by Ukrainian resistance and as Russia continues losing face in the court of international opinion the longer the war drags on and the more innocent people are maimed and killed by the illegal Russian invasion force. Not only does Russia look bad–weak–in the eyes of its Chinese ally, but Russia has been slapped with onerous economic sanctions and public condemnation from nearly every civilized country in the world.
China Gets Gun Shy
Thanks to Putin’s ill-advised and poorly planned invasion of Ukraine, in 13 days the Russian economy was thrown back into the chaos it had been in 23 years ago. Russia today is as much of a pariah in the West as Kim Jong-un’s North Korea.
All of this has forced Beijing to recalculate their plans. Rather than favor a lightning strike attempt into Taiwan that may have been far too risky, as the Russian slog into Ukraine has shown, Vladimir Putin may have saved Taiwan from a nasty war in the Fall. Watching the reaction of the West and how poorly Russia has performed against dedicated, Western-supported Ukrainian resisters, Beijing likely believes that Taiwan can wait–at least for a while.
Putin’s sloppy showing in Ukraine, however the war ultimately plays out, has forced Beijing to recalculate its plans. It is now taking a more circumspect path. Xi Jinping has not abandoned his ambition for reclaiming Taiwan through force. But he has likely kicked it back a few years. What he will do next is play nice with the West for as long as the Russian imbroglio over Ukraine continues. In the meantime, Xi will also continue supporting Russia economically.
And as a preventative measure, given how badly the West destroyed Russia’s economy in a little more than two weeks–all while denying Russia access to its sovereign reserves–China will move over the next few years to sell off more of the Treasury Bonds it holds so as to better insulate its economy from the threat of Western economic warfare when Beijing ultimately decides to take Taiwan.
It is interesting to see the leaks that have occurred surrounding this event. One must wonder a few things about this:
1) is this some sort of Russian disinformation operation meant to force China to hew much closer to the increasingly desperate and isolated Russia (especially considering that, while China continues doing business with Russia, Beijing has issued several statements recently indicating their agreement that the conflict must end and that they actually support Ukrainian sovereignty)?
2) Is this a Western disinformation operation meant to sow discord between the two Eurasian juggernauts?
3) If neither of the previous options are correct, is this possibly an opportunity for the West to exploit what must real cleavages between Beijing and Moscow? Because of Putin’s reckless actions in Ukraine, Xi has had to completely change his grand strategy (if the reports are to be believed).
Although, now that Russia has exposed America’s possible playbook that will be used against China, Putin has done Xi a great favor: Xi needn’t rush to quickly into an invasion of Taiwan. He can still wait a few years. In the intervening time Xi can better prepare his country for the Great War that is to come after he launches an invasion of Taiwan.
Rather than helping the West, then, Putin’s short-sighted invasion of Ukraine may have made things more complicated for the West. Beijing can now harden itself against potential Western reprisals and focus on the actual logistics and plan of attack for an invasion of Taiwan.
One thing is certain in my mind, though: Beijing will attempt an invasion of Taiwan. Whether it be in the next six months or three years. It will come. I have always disagreed with the Pentagon’s hackneyed assessment that any Chinese invasion will come no earlier than 2027.
That is, as President Joe Biden might say, “malarkey.”
It’s coming. We’re not ready. China will strike and they’re learning from the Russian experience in Ukraine. We’ve never been so close to another world war.