At a Taipei conference on Chinese strategic thinking, Oriana Skylar Mastro presented her paper, 'Historical Patterns in Chinese Conflict Termination Behavior.' (Wendell Minnick/Staff)
TAIPEI — Evaluating changes in Chinese strategic thinking in terms of threat perceptions, doctrine and concepts for employing military power was the theme of an academic conference held here Nov. 14-15.
The Chinese Council on Advanced Policy Studies (CAPS), US National Defense University (NDU), and Rand Corp. sponsored the International Conference on People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Affairs.
Of note, Andrew Yang has returned to CAPS as the secretary general after serving several years as the vice minister of defense on policy for the Ministry of National Defense (MND).
The conference is considered one of the top forums on promoting the study of Chinese military affairs. The official theme was, “The PLA ‘Prepares for Military Struggle’ in the Information Age: Threats, Doctrine, and Combat Capabilities.”
Speakers included Alexander Huang of Tamkang University, John Schurtz and Dan Taylor of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Andrew Erickson of the Naval War College and Phillip Saunders of NDU, Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation, Andrew Scobell of Rand, and Joe McReynolds of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis under Defense Group Inc.
Attendees included officials from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto US Embassy. These included Michael Burgoyne, US Army programs officer; Donald Chu, senior adviser; Michelle Jean, AIT Liaison Affairs Section; William Klein, political section chief; Christian Ogrosky and Michael Paluba, US Air Force programs officers; and Matthew Schwab, chief, security cooperation office.
Oriana Skylar Mastro, a Georgetown University professor of security studies, presented her paper, “Historical Patterns in Chinese Conflict Termination Behavior.” Mastro provided a hypothetical Taiwan scenario using three tendencies exhibited by Chinese leaders during war.
First, China tends to be much more willing to open communication channels in wars with smaller countries than it would be in a conflict with peers or greater powers.
Second, Chinese leaders historically overestimate the degree to which the threat or implementation of escalation will effectively compel the adversary to capitulate – “a belief that undermines crisis stability.”
Third, Chinese leaders tend to misjudge the influence of external parties; “specifically Beijing overly relies on international pressure to convince adversaries to de-escalate and compromise to end the conflict.
Mastro suggests that in the case of a Taiwan contingency, China’s position on talking while fighting will depend on the US role in the conflict. If the conflict is localized between China and Taiwan, then Chinese leaders are likely to offer talks during the conflict. However, “China’s willingness to talk does not equate to willingness to compromise,” she said.
In cases where Chinese leaders believe they have the upper hand militarily, they offer talks not as a means to compromise, but to create a channel for the opponent to capitulate to Chinese demands. If the US is involved militarily, China will be unwilling to offer talks for fear of projecting weakness.
China’s reluctance to talk while fighting, therefore, could create problems in managing escalation and resolving the situation in a timely manner.
China is also likely to engage influential countries to pressure Taiwan into wartime talks, Mastro said. Chinese leaders, concerned about China’s image during war, will believe that publicly expressing the desire to open diplomatic channels will make them look reasonable and their use of force defensive. China is also less likely to engage with multilateral institutions in which the US may have disproportionate influence unless they believe that institutional pressure will restrain the US response.
During the conference, Andrew Erickson of the US Naval War College and Phillip Saunders of NDU provided a side lecture summarizing their findings on Chinese cruise missiles, which will appear in their forthcoming book, “A Low Visibility Force Multiplier: Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions,” in late December.
Erickson said China is now capable of deploying anti-ship cruise missiles from air, land and sea platforms. These will challenge US Navy ships, particularly in an effort to overwhelm the Aegis Combat System on US destroyers.
“China views large-scale saturation attacks as the best way to overwhelm missile defense systems, such as Aegis.”
Cruise missiles are also very difficult to detect by US satellites and this has led to a US dependence on regional long-range radars, such as Taiwan’s early warning radar on Leshan Mountain, and other long-range radars in Japan and along the arc of the Ryukyu Islands, said a former AIT official.