Replica of Taipei in remote Chinese province fuels fears of Taiwan invasion | 3/4/2024

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3/4/2024

reading time 7 minutes

Satellite images verified by FRANCE 24 reveal that China has built a replica of Taipei’s presidential quarter in remote Inner Mongolia, sparking speculation that Beijing intends to use the site as a training ground to prepare for a future invasion of Taiwan. writes Sébastian Seibt.



Satellite images show a detailed replica of the heart of Taipei – although instead of Taiwan’s lush vegetation, it is surrounded by the arid landscape of Inner Mongolia.

They were first posted on social media by a Taiwanese data analyst on March 26, and later picked up by Taiwan News under the ominous headline: “China Creates Mockup of Taipei to Prepare for Invasion”.

France 24 television managed to verify the existence of the model, which is located about 1,200 kilometers west of Beijing.

Sim Tack, an analyst at Force Analysis, an intelligence firm that monitors conflict zones and has access to satellite imagery, said construction of the replica began in March 2021 and took about a year.

He said the site features buildings and facades “that are inspired by what you might see in Taipei without being exactly the same size or shape”.

Area of ​​interest

Satellite images reveal a street layout strongly reminiscent of the Bo’ai Special Zone, a restricted area in Taipei’s Zhongzheng district that is home to Taiwan’s most important state buildings, including the Presidential Palace, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Justice and the Central Bank of Taiwan.

The Bo’ai Special Zone is subject to specific regulations, including a strict no-fly zone.

When asked about the images, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Chuocheng appeared to downplay their significance.

“It is inevitable that the Chinese military produces this type of imitations,” he told reporters, adding that Taiwan is also capable of replicating foreign sites for military training purposes.

The minister’s response was surprisingly moderate, “given that in recent months we have seen China multiply its hostile actions towards Taiwan,” noted Marc Lanteigne, a China expert at Norway’s Arctic University.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has not ruled out using force to assert control over the island. Under President Xi Jinping, it has stepped up its pressure on the self-governing island, conducting a series of fighter jet incursions into Taiwanese airspace in the fall of 2023.

The existence of a training center to rehearse a potential attack on the presidential palace in Taipei is a stark reminder of the geopolitical tensions in the region and the threat weighing on Taiwan.

Propaganda tool

Experts note that Taiwan has faced this type of intimidation before, most notably in 2015 when the Chinese military built a near-exact replica of Taipei’s presidential palace at a separate site in Inner Mongolia.

At the time, Beijing decided to show off the mock-up, said Lewis Eves, a China security expert at the University of Sheffield.

“We found out because a video of a simulated attack on the building was broadcast on Chinese television and an army website posted footage of a training exercise on the grounds around the palace,” he explained.

Eves said he was not surprised that the Chinese military produced a similar replica nearly a decade later, pointing to “similarities between the current geopolitical context in the region and the one that prevailed in 2015”.

At that time, Taiwan was preparing for the presidential context in 2016, when a lot was at stake, just like the recent election that was held in January this year. Tensions between China and regional rival Japan over disputed islands in the South China Sea were also at a peak in 2015 – much like they are today.

Now, as then, “Beijing felt it necessary to stage a show of force directed both against Taiwan and against its own public opinion to whip up nationalist sentiment,” Eves said.

At a time of heightened international tensions, China is “trying to unite public opinion behind the Chinese Communist Party by playing the nationalist card,” a security expert said. And re-claiming Taiwan in the interest of China’s “national unity” is part of that effort, he added.

“Psychological Warfare”

Besides serving propaganda purposes, building the Taipei replicas allows Chinese authorities to wage a form of “psychological warfare,” said China expert Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung, a geopolitical analyst at the International Team for Security Studies (ITSS) in Verona.

“This is a clear way to tell Taiwan that if the island’s authorities refuse to submit to China’s demands, Beijing is preparing military options,” he explained.

Analysts say it is unlikely that China would go so far just to send a signal to Taiwan and its own people. Unlike in 2015, they note, the latest release of satellite images from Inner Mongolia is not the work of Beijing. In fact, the Chinese military was considerably more discreet this time.

In 2015, a replica of the presidential palace was located at the heart of the Zurich training complex, which Chinese officials described as “the largest in Asia”. Satellite images of the facility even show a building that bears a striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

On the other hand, the new structures are several hundred kilometers away, in an area that is “probably less closely monitored by Western satellites than the Zurihe base,” Lanteigne noted.

It’s possible that “the Chinese authorities were waiting for the right time to release information about the new site, but they were ahead of it,” he added.

And while the Bo’ai Special Zone replica “may indeed serve propaganda purposes,” Hung says, the most likely explanation is that “its primary purpose is military.”

Invasion scenarios

The new model of Taipei is much more detailed than the one produced in 2015, meaning it could be used for two distinct military scenarios, the first of which involves an aerial bombardment of the Bo’ai area – or what Taiwan News website described as a “decapitation blow to Taipei”.

Such an operation would be extremely difficult given the “high quality of Taiwan’s air defenses,” Hung warned, though he added that “an air strike remains the fastest option for invading the island.”

The second scenario involves a land invasion of the island, which is located roughly 160 kilometers off the coast of southeastern China.

“If China was only thinking of bombing this area, it probably wouldn’t bother to replicate the whole district of Taipei,” Lanteigne argued. “Urban warfare is the toughest of all, so it’s only natural that Beijing tries to prepare for it.”

In this regard, Taiwan may not be the only target on Beijing’s mind.

“Xi Jinping is pushing for reform and modernization of his military, and knowing how to fight in an urban environment is a fundamental aspect of training,” Lanteigne added. “It is possible that the military has decided to recreate the presidential district in Taipei because that is one of the likely environments where it will have to intervene.”

Details in French: HERE

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