Logistics: China Rues The Waves

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January 5, 2008: China's big problem with invading Taiwan is not just whether or not they could defeat the defending forces. The big problem is American control of the world's oceans. It's been that way for over sixty years, and many people just take it for granted. Chinese military planners see that control, which they can't break, as a major obstacle to their success in grabbing Taiwan. Like Japan, in 1941, China has to import (a third of) its oil. That will increase to 50 percent in a few years. America can instantly turn off that supply. The U.S. did that to Japan in 1941, and then Japan went to war. But China would find that supply cut after they went to war.

For the last five years, China has been building a national fuel reserve. These oil tanks are still being filled. In a year or two, they will have 14 million tons (China imports that much every five weeks). That's to keep the civilian economy and military operations going for 30 days, but that would be on the assumption that use of personal vehicles would be restricted, and even the commercial sector would have to get by on less. China wants to expand that reserve to 75 days, but that would take 5-10 years.

For an attack on Taiwan, the military would need about 300,000 tons of fuel a day. Most of that would be burned by aircraft and ships. Normally, the Chinese military uses about 3,000 tons a day. This is increasing as aircraft fly more often to train pilots up to Taiwanese standards, and warships spend more time at sea so they can handle a naval assault on Taiwan.

A Chinese invasion would have to succeed fairly quickly. Running out of oil is only one of the considerations. China can produce about a million tons a day. The Taiwanese would have a hard time attacking China's oil fields (which are largely deep in the interior), but putting some smart bombs on pipeline pumping stations near the coast (where most of the oil is consumed) would severely diminish access to that oil for a while.

In other words, cutting off oil supplies for the military is a problem, but not THE problem. Keeping the economy going is the major consideration. The current Chinese government, which is basically the unelected leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, survives only as long as the economy flourishes. Without that ten million tons of oil imports every month, or the ability to export goods, the economy collapses, and along with that so does support for the Communist Party.

It's all about the economy, control of Taiwan is only a political sideshow.

 


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