The Office of the Secretary of Defense published its 2007 Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China. As you might expect, the report confirms that the People's Liberation Army is still pursuing a standard modernization strategy -- better command and control, more precise and longer range weapons, better space assets, etc. There are also references to PLA interest in asymmetrical capabilities, with the typical mention of cyberwar (i.e. digital attack), as well as a few paragraphs tying January's ASAT test into the Navy's beloved "anti-access" theme.
The report does has have two points that I found particularly interesting:
1. DF-31 goes ITA -- If you're my age, you were in high school when the Intelligence Community developed the idea of "initial threat availability." It was the IC's response to the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission Report's apt criticism that their existent analytical approach to missile threat estimation relied too heavily on past patterns of missile development. As time passed, it appeared that the Rumsfeld Commission's fear of rampant "at any cost" missile proliferation was overblown, so the idea has mostly gathered dust on a self somewhere -- that is until the afternoon of Friday, May 23.
In a bit of classical bureaucratic salami-slicing, the DoD pulled out the term to punt on the question of when China will actually field the DF-31s. According the report implies that the Chinese tested the DF-31 sometime in 2006, but they do not have all of the support equipment, personnel and command systems in place to support the missile. I vaguely remember a missile test in the Ghobi last year, but I can't pinpoint the time frame -- I'll do some digging.
2. Shock and awe is alive and well in Beijing -- It seems that the U.S. military experience in Iraq has done little to tarnish China's interest in cultivating network-centric warfare capabilities. The PLA's book on Joint Space War Campaigns even mentions the idea of "shock and awe" preemption as a form of deterrence (bottom of page 21).
It appears that the U.S. experience in Iraq hasn't caused the Chinese to question the value of either concept. The report even calls this issue out in terms of China's deterrence posture towards Taiwan (box at the top of page 33). What would China do if it couldn't compel the Taiwanese government with its missiles and "non-war" operations? Even if it had the assets to launch a successful amphibious invasion, a native insurgency would grind their land forces up (subtext: especially if it was U.S.-sponsored).
Update: Tequila, Yathrib and a few of my readers have taken issue with my musings about insurgency in a hypothetical post-invasion Taiwan. If one assumes (1) that the invasion is a unilateral move by the mainland and (2) it takes 3-6 months for the PLA to control the entire island, I see the following factors contributing to insurgency:
1. A history of divise sectarian rule -- Taiwan has been a democracy for less than a decade. Before then, it was a repressive, corporatist oligarchy run by mainlander elites. I can see any attempt by the Kuomintang to cozy up with the People's Republic ripping open the social and political wounds between the mainlanders, Fujianese and Hakka that are only now healing. In a sense, the political divisions Tequila mentions would serve a predicate for resistance and potential sectarian violence -- all it would take is another 228.
2. The training and materiel is already there -- True, commercial access to guns and explosives in Taiwan is limited, but then again, I imagine they weren't widely available in Iraq prior to 2003 either. The intervening variable here is Taiwan's 1.3 million reservists and their access to the Taiwanese military's stockpile of weapons and explosives. I am seriously skeptical of the Bush administration's assertion that Iran needs to supply the Iraqi insurgency when 7 million tons of materiel was pilfered from the Iraqi military's depots. The same situation could easily come to fruition in Taiwan, especially when PLA tanks start rolling down the streets of Taipei and Kaohsiung.
3. The PLA's slow invasion -- The PLAN's amphibious assault capabilities are pretty limited, so I doubt they could achieve the same kind of maneuver that got us into Baghdad so quickly. PRC rule on Taiwan would not be a sudden fait accompli for the government, businesses or localities. The government would have time to distribute arms. Failing that, an extended lapse in public security could seriously undermine public confidence in governance like it did in Iraq.
This was merely an intellectual exercise designed to challenge the potential assumptions of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. It is by no means definitive or likely, but I would argue it is strong possibility with significant consequences for the mainland and Taiwan.
Second Update: I doff my hat to Tequila for all of his great comments. I'm glad to see that someone else is still interested in Taiwanese politics and society.