The PLA Has Transformed Itself To Take Taiwan
Motivated by the prospect of invading Taiwan, China’s military has greatly modernized and reformed. Whether or not an invasion of Taiwan is ever carried out, a new balance of power has been forged.
At the turn of the millennium, the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) was clearly far weaker than the United States Armed Forces. It was not even a serious threat to Taiwan, which possessed a better-trained military equipped with vastly more sophisticated weaponry. The PLA’s Ground Force was the largest in the world, but was armed with outdated Soviet-era equipment and entirely lacked professional, small-unit leadership. The PLA Navy was small and weak and its Air Force lagged at least a generation of fighter jets behind its Western peers.1 Japanese and U.S. defense planners could rest easy knowing that a US-aligned Taiwan acted as a buffer, protecting Japan’s maritime lines of communication while severely limiting the PLA Navy’s access to the Ryukyu Islands and the U.S. base at Okinawa. Following the “One-China principle,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sought to bring Taiwan under its control ever since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and the establishment of Taiwan—officially, the Republic of China—as a separate state. To the CCP, Taiwan is not just a barrier to its economic and military interests in the wider Pacific region, but also a direct challenge to its legitimacy. Until very recently, however, the prospect of China achieving what PLA documents call its “main strategic direction” seemed remote.2