Implications of a Coercive Quarantine of Taiwan by the People’s Republic of China


China’s coercive options for Taiwan range from routine violations of Taiwan’s declared Air Defense Identification Zone to a full-scale invasion. Within the spectrum are efforts to isolate Taiwan to prevent it from sending exports or receiving imports. Typically, this would be called a blockade. However, because China does not view the government on Taiwan as sovereign and thus rejects the idea that a state of war could exist, blockade is not the correct term. Therefore, in this report, the authors examine how China might implement a quarantine of Taiwan. Unlike in a blockade scenario, China’s goals for the quarantine would not be to completely cut off food and supplies to Taiwan, but rather to demonstrate de facto sovereignty by controlling the air and maritime space around the island, as well as which cargo deliveries, ships, aircraft, and people have access to Taiwan.

Reducing the risk of escalation and increasing the probability of a favorable outcome depends on creating more time and more options for both sides. Neither side can count on a prolonged military campaign ending favorably. Both sides might agree to outcomes below their preferred outcomes, although Taiwan and the United States are hoping for nothing much greater than maintenance of the status quo. But compressed timelines rapidly force decisions that leave neither side significant room for alternate paths; this is a dangerous and unstable set of conditions.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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