System Overload: Can China’s Military Be Distracted in a War over Taiwan?

A war with Taiwan remains the primary contingency of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). While the near-term prospects of China initiating a war are low due to the enormous economic costs and military risks, the PLA must still prepare to compel Taiwan’s leaders to accept unification or, barring that, to seize and occupy the island. At the same time, the PLA has been tasked with an array of additional missions, including deterring other regional rivals, enforcing China’s territorial claims, protecting China’s overseas interests, and serving as the ultimate guarantor of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) survival in the face of domestic challenges. Those missions reduce PLA resources and attention devoted to Taiwan and result in capabilities that are less relevant to cross- Strait scenarios. Chinese strategists have long worried that China’s rivals—including domestic secessionists, regional powers, or the United States—could exploit a Taiwan conflict to press their own agendas, such as launching border wars to solidify their territorial claims or even stoking a “color revolution” to overthrow the CCP. PLA analysts refer to this as “chain reaction” warfare.  Purchase this Volume