On Oct. 4, 56 mainland Chinese combat aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait and illegally penetrated sovereign Taiwanese airspace. That aerial "show of force" rated as the largest mainland Chinese airspace violation since 1949 when Chinese Nationalist soldiers retreated to the island and dug in.
According to numerous media reports, the 56-plane demonstration by the Chinese Communist Party's Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) culminated three days of sustained military saber-rattling harassment. There have been other sustained military displays, including combat engagements, such as the air and artillery battles in the late 1950s.
The Eisenhower administration's support for Taiwan led to a stalemate and a ceasefire.
But with Ike in charge the Communists thought twice.
In the 2021 President Joe Biden geopolitical context, the Oct. 4 violation was a multidimensional diplomatic and military probe in the form of a calculated outrage designed to generate maximum media headlines.
The headlines erupted. At the military tactical and operational levels behind the headlines, the intrusion probed Taiwanese air defenses. It was recon. Very possibly the CCP's military gleaned valuable intelligence on technical capabilities, such as radar range and missile battery readiness. The probe could have provided insight into the Taiwan military's decision-making. How long will the Taiwanese wait before intercepting the PLAAF attack formation?
The strait is narrow. Delay has fatal consequences.
At the strategic level, the penetration was another provocative Beijing test of Taiwan's faith in reliable American support of its defense. To be frank, U.S. support for the defense of Taiwan translates into protecting the small democracy's very existence.
In a theoretical frame, the Chinese show of force air operation was a classic example of a "power cocktail," mixing what strategists dub basic elements of power, in this instance diplomatic, intelligence/information and military power.
However, Communist China's threat to Taiwan isn't theory. From Mao Zedong on, senior Chinese Communist leaders have vowed to seize Taiwan. Often Beijing obfuscates that vow with rhetoric like a "formal declaration of Taiwan independence" will immediately lead to a cross-Strait war.
The Pentagon and several open-source analysts also identify other camouflage for Beijing aggression. In addition to formal independence, the cases include:
No. 1: Unrest within Taiwan, and note Beijing could seed unrest
No. 2: Foreign intervention in Taiwan's internal affairs, and that could mean anything from selling Taiwan F-16 parts to providing loans
No. 3: Taiwanese acquisition of nuclear weapons -- and like Japan and South Korea, Taiwan has the brains to produce them
No. 4: A foreign nation stationing military forces on Taiwan.
That is a warning to the U.S. Every so often commentators -- like me -- mull deploying a U.S. Army armored brigade combat team to Taiwan. Think tripwire forces in South Korea and, during the Cold War, West Germany.
In the larger lens of willingness to fight a war for freedom: The probe was a material manifestation of the giant sucking sound, the huge Asian power vacuum and credibility vacuum created by Biden's disastrous Afghanistan bugout.
The withdrawal was a self-inflicted disaster. The world knows it, even if the Washington Beltway media refuses to admit it.
Power abhors a vacuum, and autocratic states and tyrannies like Communist China rush to fill power vacuums. The Oct. 4 show of force suggests that after the post-Afghanistan debacle Beijing senses opportunity.
Communist China is America's foremost security threat. Chinese president Xi Jinping is already arguing Biden's bugout demonstrates American promises are unreliable. China wants South Korea and Japan to observe closely, and India as well.
Without strong leadership by democratic nations, primarily from the powerful U.S., our weaknesses, especially our self-inflicted weaknesses, could quickly become debilitating wounds the authoritarians will leverage, to our great loss.