A new Chinese documentary features testimonials from service members of the People’s Liberation Army, who have vowed to die to ensure victory over Taiwan, according to the Associated Press.

The eight-part documentary “Chasing Dreams” features a member of a Chinese navy minesweeper unit saying he and his comrades would use their bodies if necessary to clear a path for invasion forces to reach Taiwan, the Associated Press reported. A Chinese air force pilot also pledged that if he ran out of ordnance, his “fighter jet would be the last missile rushing towards the enemy.”

Despite the pilot’s apparent willingness to become a Kamikaze, the documentary is not an indication that the People’s Liberation Army has decided to embrace suicidal attacks as a tactic, said Taylor Fravel, director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The video itself is clearly propaganda, though this series is notable for its specific focus on Taiwan rather than general levels of readiness,” Fravel told Task & Purpose. “There is no evidence the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has changed tactics — the comment seems like a rhetorical flourish to demonstrate resolve. The PLA does not openly publish its tactics, either.”

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To combat-hardened U.S. veterans of the Global War on Terrorism, the Chinese service members’ testimonials about their willingness to sacrifice their lives for victory may sound so amateur that they recall the famous meme where a man with a noose around his neck asks another condemned prisoner on the gallows “First time?”

China photo

One quote often attributed to famed Army Gen. George S. Patton sums up the fallacy of suicide attacks: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

The People’s Liberation Army can be forgiven for sounding a tad boot. China’s last war was against Vietnam in 1979, although border clashes between the two countries continued over the ensuing decade.

But Fravel said he does not think the testimonials are an attempt to overcompensate for the People’s Liberation Army’s lack of combat experience.

“The PLA has been aware for a long time that it lacks such experience,” Fravel said. “I suspect more than anything it reflects China’s concerns about Taiwan and a desire to enhance its own deterrence (along with ADIZ [air defense identification zone] incursions, etc).”

U.S. defense officials have warned that China could attempt to seize Taiwan by 2027, if not sooner. Any such attack on Taiwan could trigger a war with the United States.

Although the Taiwan Relations Act is intentionally vague about whether the United States would come to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion, President Joe Biden has said several times that U.S. troops would come to Taiwan’s aid in such a scenario.

It’s clear China would be the most formidable enemy the United States has faced in decades. The Chinese army has roughly 975,000 service members in combat units and China boasts the largest navy in the world with about 340 ships, according to the Defense Department’s most recent report on Chinese military power. The Chinese fleet is expected to grow to 440 vessels by 2030.  

Chinese military
Chinese soldiers quickly get out of their cars to take up positions in Jiangxi, China, January 29, 2023. (CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images).

The Chinese military also has a growing arsenal of missiles, including more than 250 DF-26 Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles that are capable of striking U.S. military targets on Guam as well as Navy ships, the report says.

The release of “Chasing Dreams” was meant to coincide with the Aug. 1 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, said Bonne Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

The 20-minute episodes feature the People’s Liberation Army’s latest weapons, equipment, and training facilities in carefully staged settings with excellent production value, Glaser told Task & Purpose.

By showing how determined the Chinese military is to take Taiwan by force, “Chasing Dreams” is meant to strengthen support for the Chinese Communist Party by appealing to nationalism; and it also serves as a warning to Taiwan against taking any actions that China would consider red lines, Glaser said.

“Over time, Chinese propaganda has become more bellicose, but there has been a consistent message that the PLA is resolved to defend China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and return Taiwan to the motherland,” Glaser said.

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