Here are some things I am not an expert in:
A lot of other things
Most things, actually
But an interesting theme - to me, the non-expert, at least - seems to run through several Taiwan-related news items that touch on these topics these days.
We have the always-great Tanner Greer, writing about how Taiwan can win a war with China. Sure, China's got a bigger army, a bigger budget, a bigger country, and is all around just bigger. But in order to actually win a war with Taiwan without getting trapped in a protracted battle (or before help for Taiwan can arrive), Greer argues that it would need to take Taiwan and strong-arm the population into docility within two short weeks.
That's a very small window of time, and it is not at all clear that China could accomplish it.
What stands in China's way?
The places where the PLA could land in Taiwan amount to a few beaches on the west coast. None of them are friendly to incoming assault.
There are only 13 beaches on Taiwan’s western coast that the PLA could possibly land at. Each of these has already been prepared for a potential conflict. Long underground tunnels—complete with hardened, subterranean supply depots—crisscross the landing sites. The berm of each beach has been covered with razor-leaf plants. Chemical treatment plants are common in many beach towns—meaning that invaders must prepare for the clouds of toxic gas any indiscriminate saturation bombing on their part will release. This is how things stand in times of peace.
As war approaches, each beach will be turned into a workshop of horrors. The path from these beaches to the capital has been painstakingly mapped; once a state of emergency has been declared, each step of the journey will be complicated or booby-trapped. PLA war manuals warn soldiers that skyscrapers and rock outcrops will have steel cords strung between them to entangle helicopters; tunnels, bridges, and overpasses will be rigged with munitions (to be destroyed only at the last possible moment); and building after building in Taiwan’s dense urban core will be transformed into small redoubts meant to drag Chinese units into drawn-out fights over each city street.
Each of these hurdles is a very small thing, but strung together, each one buys Taiwan a little more time, getting it a little bit closer to that two-week window in which the war stops being a certain victory for China and becomes a massive quagmire. It is to Taiwan's advantage, not China's for this to happen. If China overwhelms Taiwan and pushes on it a tense, authoritarian 'peace', the bombings will stop. But Taiwan will be finished. There will be no fighting back - only dying. If you thought the White Terror was bad, wait until you see what China is capable of. Oh wait, we already know.
Taiwan's weapons for fighting back are comparatively small, but they could have a huge effect on how such an invasion would go.
Here's another thing that's small - the latest arms package to Taiwan. But Michal Thim proves that it's not the size that counts, it's how you use it:
On the face of it, the content of the latest arms sale does not look particularly concerning to Beijing. The total size of the sale is much less than the US$1.4 billion approved last June....
However, the content of the sale is not the most crucial aspect, although its utility to Taiwan’s air force cannot be overstated. The fact that the sale is just about supply and logistics suggest a change in attitude on the US side.
First, the items were approved on a continuing basis and as needed and available. Second, the Trump administration has not only moved from large bundles every few years to sales on an annual basis, but it may also indicate a move away from bundling orders altogether.
In the past, and especially during Barack Obama’s two terms, the US government came across as too accommodating in trying to navigate relations with Taiwan in a way that would not upset Beijing, and Chinese leaders seized on every opportunity to capitalise.
The result was that arms sales to Taiwan were bundled into large packages and separated by long periods of no activity, though the ever-growing military capability of the PLA warranted a response via robust arms sales, as presumed by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. Something as routine as a supply of spare parts under the logistics agreement became subject to political considerations. Now, Washington may be returning to normal.
Small sales with big impacts. Arms sales on a continuing basis and not bundled into large packages, offered fairly rarely, which China throws a fit about each and every time, are in fact not as good a deal for Taiwan as sales on an as-needed, always-available basis. Nobody - not even China - can keep up the screamy outrage for that long. The more the US sells to Taiwan regularly, the less often China can "raise tensions" (then pretend those tensions rose by themselves, like magic) over it.
Well, actually China probably can do that. But nobody can keep the media's attention with its screamy outrage for that long, and that's really what matters here. If China cries alone in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, did it ever really cry at all?
Also, BOO to South China Morning Post for completely mangling a perfectly good shot at a dirty joke in their overly prolix subheader, and read the whole article to hear about how Europe is entering the Taiwan arms game. Also a small thing with a big impact: the more people we have ensuring that Taiwan can defend itself, the better. The sale may be small but the precedent it sets is huge.
Here's an even smaller thing: Chinese companies have been hiding chips that enable them to hack into systems around the world into tech they manufacture:
Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.
During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.
It doesn't take a tech expert to see that this is terrifying, and Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley lay out why:
In the three years since the briefing in McLean, no commercially viable way to detect attacks like the one on Supermicro’s motherboards has emerged—or has looked likely to emerge. Few companies have the resources of Apple and Amazon, and it took some luck even for them to spot the problem. “This stuff is at the cutting edge of the cutting edge, and there is no easy technological solution,” one of the people present in McLean says. “You have to invest in things that the world wants. You cannot invest in things that the world is not ready to accept yet.”
Tiny chips, massive problems. If this is what is being found in the US, imagine how much of Taiwanese telecommunications and other digital activities and information China has access to.
There are also small things like port terminals to consider. It seems odd that after a Chinese takeover, the Taiwanese government would allow terminals in Kaohsiung port previously controlled by a small shipping company (Orient Overseas) to be transferred to Chinese-owned Cosco.
When Chinese state-owned shipping line Cosco Shipping Holdings unveiled a $6.3 billion deal to buy smaller competitor Orient Overseas (International) last year, Orient's ownership of port terminals in the U.S. and Taiwan appeared to pose a potential regulatory obstacle.
Port ownership by Chinese state companies has become an increasingly sensitive topic globally as Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative spurs concerns about whether their control could be leveraged for security purposes.
Given deepening confrontations between Beijing and both Washington and Taipei over a range of issues, it looked doubtful that Cosco would be allowed to take over the assets of Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and Long Beach, California, near Los Angeles.
On July 7, Cosco and Orient Overseas, better known under its operating brand OOCL, said that U.S. regulatory approval had been secured, with the condition that the Long Beach terminal be put into a trust and then sold. Cosco then announced the completion of its takeover on July 27, with no mention made of Kaohsiung.
While there have been no public statements, it is evident that OOCL retains control of its terminal at Kaohsiung, Taiwan's busiest port. OOCL's name remains on signage there and staff in Kaohsiung say nothing has changed.
What happens to those terminals when China grows more hostile toward Taiwan (as it likely will), or otherwise throws a conniption over Taiwan's simply trying to exist? How does it affect Taiwan's economy?
I don't know, but that people who know these things say it matters means we ought to be paying attention. These terminals may barely register as small pearls in China's massive BRI pearl necklace encircling the world, but they could, in the coming years, matter quote a lot for Taiwan.
People think big: they think about big bombs, big invasions, big armies.
But the war for Taiwan - and for liberal democratic values in the face of an increasingly expansionist China - isn't going to be won by earth-shaking missiles or massive regiments invading by sea.
It will be won by things as small as a gauntlet of booby traps starting in the Taiwan Strait and ending in Taiwanese cities, as small as whether Taiwan is able to maintain its defensive capabilities with rolling arms sales from the West, or whether we're all laid bare by hidden microchips as small as a number carved on a penny.
When it comes to ensuring a future for Taiwan, in some ways, think small.
Little end note: I just quoted a bunch of really smart men. Everything they say is worth listening to, but really, all men. You probably didn't notice, but I did. Where the ladies at?