When the PRC decides to move on Taiwan, it is unlikely to move in a manner that makes a US decision on intervention clear cut. Should China decide, initially at least, against a full-scale invasion of that island nation, it could instead opt to try to “win without fighting.” Beijing might do so by using its large, state-controlled fishing fleet to cut smaller Taipei-controlled islands off from Taiwan itself much as the PRC is now massing fishing boats to expand Chinese-controlled seas to press claims on the Japanese Senkakus and Whitsun Reef in Philippine waters. Chinese state-owned fisheries companies – part of the so-called ‘Maritime Militia’ – serve as fronts for PLA intelligence. Using their fleets to operate in a manner somewhere between peace and conflict in the gray zone of contested control around Taiwan would allow Beijing to test whether the US and its allies are willing to help defend the island’s independence without being seen to initiate open conflict.
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