David Finkelstein, former U.S. Army China specialist and director of Asian security affairs at CNA, talks about China’s recent military demonstrations and the country’s rising tensions with Taiwan.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Chinese military, or the People’s Liberation Army, has said it has, quote, “completed various tasks” around the island of Taiwan. What they’re getting at is they are done, at least for now, with their largest ever military drills off Taiwan’s shores. These drills have included ballistic missile launches, naval deployments and live ammunition, a show of force that began days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.
To talk more about what we learned about China’s military capabilities from these drills, we’re joined now by David Finkelstein. He’s a former U.S. Army China specialist and director for Asian security affairs at the Center for Naval Analyses, an independent research institute. Welcome.
DAVID FINKELSTEIN: Great to be here.
CHANG: So, David, what did the last several days around the Taiwan Strait reveal? Like, what feels new that we didn’t know before about China’s military capabilities now?
FINKELSTEIN: Well, for those of us who track this and those in governments who’ve been tracking this for a long time, I don’t think there was anything very, very new to learn that we hadn’t known before. But what this was demonstrating was that after nearly three decades of focused and sustained military modernization, the PLA can finally provide the leadership of Beijing with a range of military options across the spectrum of conflict that it did not possess back in ’95 and ’96. And so this is something that Beijing wanted to demonstrate not just to foreign audiences, not just to Taiwan and the region, but also, I think, to domestic audiences because, of course, Beijing is entering its own domestic political season.
CHANG: OK, let’s take a step back for a moment. What have we learned over the past couple decades as to how the Chinese military has been gradually preparing for a possible attack on Taiwan?
FINKELSTEIN: The Chinese military’s focus on Taiwan is nothing new. And one of the key things they’ve been doing over the last few years is retooling themselves into a joint force, meaning a military that can fully integrate the army, the navy and the air force, the second artillery, or now which is known as the rocket forces, the missile forces, cyber. To perfect their ability to put together a holistic multiservice operation with Taiwan is what the Chinese military refers to as the main strategic direction.
CHANG: Right. And what might be some limitations that the last several days of drills revealed about the People’s Liberation Army, you think?
FINKELSTEIN: It’s hard to really answer that just from observing from media. From a strictly operational perspective, these exercises provided the People’s Liberation Army the opportunity to what I call test-driving their new organization, test-drive their new joint command and control relationships and also test-drive their new joint operations doctrine. So they’re the ones who are going to be learning a lot by working the kinks out of the new organization and the new doctrine. And we’ll have to wait and see what they come up with.
CHANG: Can you just paint a picture for us of one possible scenario as to how a Chinese invasion of Taiwan might unfold?
FINKELSTEIN: My first reaction to that is that it assumes that that’s the only option that they have.
CHANG: OK. You say that Xi Jinping has various options at this point. What are those options? Give us the range.
FINKELSTEIN: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese military is working and has been for many, many years to provide the leaders of the Communist Party of China with military options should they choose to use military force for unification with Taiwan. They range from everything from a blockade of the island to potentially strangle it economically. It could be massive missile attacks to destroy the morale of the people on the island. It could be disinformation attacks, cyberattacks. And it also has, at one end of the spectrum, the possibility of an all-out assault against the island.
CHANG: Given that range of possibilities, how would you characterize Taiwan’s military capabilities now? Would Taiwan on its own be ready for that?
FINKELSTEIN: Taiwan is facing a very difficult situation. They’ve got to think about what it takes to counter the worst scenario, which is an invasion. They also have to think about hardening their critical infrastructure against missile attacks. They seriously need to consider what it’s going to take to mobilize society to repel any sort of military coercion. They’re in a tough situation.
CHANG: That is David Finkelstein, director of Asian security affairs at the Center for Naval Analyses. Thank you very much.
FINKELSTEIN: Well, thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.
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