The United States would have little recourse if China invaded one of the minor islands controlled by Taiwan, according to a new report by Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington-based think tank.
The report analyzed the results of a virtual war game carried out by the CNAS Gaming Lab that sought to simulate how the United States, Taiwan, and China would behave if China seized Dongsha, a minor island about 190 miles southeast of Hong Kong.
“With few viable coercive options and the onus of escalation falling on the U.S. and Taiwan teams, the game reaffirmed the difficulty of rolling back territorial aggression of this kind,” the report said.
War games are not intended to predict future outcomes, the report said. But they are useful for identifying vulnerabilities and exploring different branches of decision making.
In this instance, the game underscored several potential weaknesses in how the United States is carrying out its competition with China in the Indo-Pacific, and a mismatch in strategies between the United States and its allies in the region.
Ultimately, the report found that U.S. national security strategy focused too much on defending the island of Taiwan itself from a Chinese invasion, rather than seeking to mitigate more limited acts of coercion and aggression in the region.
To solve this problem, the authors of the report recommended turning islands like Dongsha into “poison frogs,” a meal too dangerous for China to risk devouring.
Whereas poison frogs telegraph their deadliness with bright colors, the report suggested that the United States and Taiwan should work to make minor islands more militarily formidable and to clearly telegraph to the world what would happen should they be attacked.
“This approach would make Chinese attempts to seize these islands so militarily, economically, and politically painful from the outset that the costs of coercion or aggression would be greater than the benefits,” the report said.