Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Wargaming an invasion of Taiwan

PAXsims Research Associate Drew Marriott prepared this report. If you know of other wargames that address a future conflict in Taiwan, let us know in the comments and we will add them in a future update.

Current geopolitical unrest between China and Taiwan increases by the day. While commentators speculate about a future invasion of Taiwan, diplomats attempt to avoid one. And as militaries around the world arm themselves for the worst, hobbyists and professional wargamers have been analyzing the situation through simulations. Check out their work in this collection of reports and tabletop games.

Taiwan Wargame and Crisis Reports

The Poison Frog Strategy — Center for a New American Security

Premise: The U.S. national security apparatus has long focused on preparing for a possible invasion of mainland Taiwan by the People’s Liberation Army. In The Poison Frog Strategy, CNAS explores an adjacent possibility: a Chinese invasion of islands within Taiwan’s maritime jurisdiction. The report focuses on scenarios that involve a specific island, but its conclusions are applicable to other Taiwanese territory in the South China Sea.

Content: This scenario begins with a surprise seizure by the People’s Liberation Army of Taiwanese controlled Dongsha Island, followed by an increase in military exercises in the South China Sea. The report suggests that the only plausible strategy for the U.S. —while prioritizing the avoidance of war— would be to unite the world in isolating China diplomatically and economically.  

Conclusion: The wargame found that China’s first-mover advantage might prove tenable. The soft-power approach that the U.S. and its allies could adopt to avoid the onus of escalation would, at best, be slow to compel a PLA retreat. At worst, the strategy could be thwarted by advanced economic preparation in China. The report suggests that Taiwan’s best option is to pursue deterrence through multilateral preparation; if China were to succeed in invading the border islands, the report warned, there would be few feasible options to force a retreat. 

T-Day the Battle for Taiwan — Reuters Investigates

Premise: This report presents a comprehensive timeline of how China’s current “gray-zone” strategy —a slow but vigilant series of military efforts to wear out Taiwan— might escalate into all out war. Reuters consulted military strategists and officers from Taiwan, the U.S., Australia, and Japan to form the basis of T-Day, and looked to articles produced by Chinese and American sources for additional insight.

Content: The report is composed of chronological scenarios, mapping the potential battle to all out war in East Asia. The escalation of the conflict happens in four phases. First China stages a blockade of Taiwan’s Matsu Islands and then they invade Kinmen Island. When Taipei refuses to negotiate with the PRC over reunification terms, the PLA blockades mainland Taiwan, leading to a full-scale, amphibious invasion of the island.

Conclusion: Reuters ultimately speculates that Taiwan’s military capabilities would crumble at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, and international efforts from the U.S. and its allies —including military and economic tools for retaliation— may not be enough to stop China.  

Escalation in the Taiwan Strait — Körber Stiftung and Chatham House

Premise: This report is the product of a Körber Policy Game staged in May of 2021 alongside Chatham house. It examines the possibility of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait from a European perspective, offering answers to some key questions: how might a Chinese invasion in the Taiwan Strait impact Europe? how should the continent’s leaders position themselves in such a scenario? and what European interests would be at stake?

Content: Crisis participants were given a scenario where China enacts a blockade of the Taiwan Strait and invades Kinmen Island, proceeding to take control of Taiwan’s air and sea borders after military resistance from Taipei. The simulation teams responded by discussing commensurate policy recommendations. They agreed that Europe would be reluctant to engage kinetically, favoring an economic response. Teams highlighted the trade ramifications that the scenario would produce, suggesting that Europe strengthen its resilience to possible economic fallout and diversify its supply chains to mitigate the crisis of inaccessible Chinese goods. 

Conclusion: The report emphasizes the importance of determining a united posture towards China within the EU, and supports establishing strong Indo-Pacific connections to deter Chinese aggression in the first place. Europe’s economic dependence on China and ambiguous ties to Taiwan foreshadow a concerning sentiment for democracy: the continent may prioritize continued access to the Chinese market over defending the U.S.-Lead world order.

Hobby commercial games

Pondering the Past

Understanding the geopolitical history of Taiwan is critical to examining the possibility of a future invasion; even more applicable, however, is developing an understanding of the decisions which built this history. The following hobby games familiarize players with Taiwan’s military past:

Facing the Future

The aforementioned crisis reports dissect the possibility of an invasion of Taiwan, and describe possible scenarios that could effectively prevent or result from such a conflict. These hobby games enable players to be strategic decision makers, considering for themselves Taiwan’s uncertain future:

One response to “Wargaming an invasion of Taiwan

  1. Lou+Coatney 19/12/2021 at 6:03 pm

    Obviously biased article, presuming we’d roll a 6, while the Chinese would only roll a 1. :-)

    Seriously, just more sanctions wouldn’t be a very poisonous frog. Does Donsha Island have a Wake-like garrison which could hold on for a few days, until help arrives?

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