According to sources, a meeting between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi in March 2021 resulted in an agreement in principle to work closely together in the event of a military confrontation between China and Taiwan. This illustrates the heightened levels of security oscillations that are emerging in East Asia.
Despite the lack of specifics on the operational side of this shared understanding, the fact that this emergency situation may very well present itself to regional players in the immediate future has been extensively discussed.
China's Actions in the Eyes of the World
Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken chastised China during their recent visit to Tokyo, saying they "acknowledged that China's actions, were inconsistent with the current international order, poses political, economic, military, and technological challenges to the Alliance and the international community."
The strategic importance and increasing stakes in Beijing's military buildup against Taiwan are reflected in the rapid expansion of China's missile arsenal and related technology upgrades. The possibility of China seizing Taiwan via a military takeover has recently been at the forefront of several debates.
Admiral John Aquilino, who has been nominated to lead the United States Indo-Pacific Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 23 about the attack. Worryingly, he admitted that the US's most serious problem is "the use of military force against Taiwan." Forces ready to act quickly...in collaboration with the international community, our allies, and partners.”
The questions raised stemmed from China's recent responses to multiple strategic threats and stark security policy posturing, as well as the PLA's long-term missions and strategic tasks.
The February 2021 Federation of American Scientists (FAS) study reflects a major improvement in our understanding of China's activities. The study, which is based on satellite imagery, confirms the Chinese PLA Rocket Force's (PLARF) major expansion of ballistic missile silos, hidden tunnels, and launch pads in the Jilantai training area in north-central China.
This area extends through vast swaths of desert and mountain ranges, with at least 16 silos under construction and more than 140 missile launch pads constructed since 2013. There are currently 18 to 20 operational silos.
The upcoming silos at China's Jilantai facility are smaller and tend to be designed for slimmer solid-fuel ICBMs, such as the DF-41 and DF-31A. The DF-41 version, as well as the future submarine-launched JL-3 ICBM, are MIRV-capable ICBMs capable of carrying multiple warheads.
According to the FAS report, raising the number of silo-based solid-fuel missiles and the number of warheads they carry could help Beijing boost its ability to penetrate missile defense systems in other countries. This is a significant step forward in the PLA's missile force's nuclear modernization efforts, and it will have a bearing on China's nuclear posture in the future.
These events seem to support the Pentagon's 2020 Annual China Report to the United States Congress. The PRC's growing missile force complements its size and capabilities, according to the study, as it modernizes and diversifies its nuclear delivery platforms and precision strike capabilities on land, air, and sea. The number of warheads on the People's Republic of China's land-based ICBMs is projected to rise to about 200 by 2025.
Furthermore, the Pentagon has reported that developments after 2019 indicate that China plans to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by shifting to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture with a larger silo-based force.
China's PLA Rocket Force appears to be on track to remain the country's primary strategic deterrent force, bolstering its medium- and long-range precision strike capabilities while integrating technical advances and improved command and control.
Proponents of coercive nuclear policy and restricted war-fighting strategies can find inspiration in China's updated robust approach. The observed trends, when compared to China's public statements, reveal a distinct dichotomy in China's military and political understanding and application of control.