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Fumio Ota

【#537(Special)】Chinese Marines Eying Invasion into Taiwan, Senkakus

Fumio Ota / 2018.08.23 (Thu)

August 20, 2018

     On July 16, the U.S. Department of Defense released an annual report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China. The report had been published every spring in the past but has been delayed this year for an unknown reason. While describing the People’s Liberation Army has been consistently and rapidly improving its capabilities, the latest report remarkably estimates that the PLA Navy Marine Corps (PLANMC) would be tripled in size by 2020. The PLANMC, now consisting of two brigades or about 10,000 personnel, may have seven brigades or more than 30,000 personnel by 2020, it says.

Securing BRI interests
     China established a PLANMC headquarters last year. Figures in the report’s Chapter 5 on Force Modernization for a Taiwan Contingency show the PLANMC has stationed or will station two brigades each in the Eastern and Southern Theaters. The PLANMC buildup apparently represents firstly preparations for armed invasion into Taiwan. It may also be designed to reinforce military capabilities for artificial islands that have been developed in the South China Sea.
     The report lacks any figure indicating the number of PLANMC brigades in the Northern Theater. As a matter of course, however, Chinese marines in the Northern Theater in addition to the Eastern Theater PLANMC brigades may be in the vanguard of seizing Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Given that marines have been deployed at a Chinese military base at the African strategic point of Djibouti, the PLANMC buildup may also be designed to secure China’s maritime interests under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a modern Silk Road economic zone scheme. The maritime part of the BRI, the Road, extends from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea.
     In summary, the PLANMC buildup aims to secure and expand China’s maritime interests in waters surrounded by the first island chain from the Japanese Archipelago to Taiwan and the Philippines and along the Road.

Don’t be deceived by troop reduction of 300,000
     Chinese President Xi Jinping last year vowed to cut military personnel by 300,000 in a PLA reorganization. However, we should not be deceived by the pledge taken as indicating China’s readiness for disarmament. China is building up the PLANMC for initiating attacks on islands while reducing noncombat personnel. Although President Xi pledged not to militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea, the U.S. report made clear that the pledge is a lie.
     Marines would be in the vanguard of attacks in emergency. As the China Coast Guard came under PLA control in July this year, China can be expected to seize the Senkaku Islands at any time. People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) had been predicted to be in the vanguard of seizing the Senkakus. If the PLANMC as a regular force is in the vanguard, however, it may be difficult for the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces’ Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade with the strength of 3,000 to recapture the Senkakus. How long is Japan going to maintain its Exclusively Defense-Oriented Policy even in the face of such situational change?

Fumio Ota is a JINF Planning Committee Member and retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.