Interpreting the Silkworm ApproachAnalysis of People’s Liberation Army Operations Around Taiwan :September 2022 – January 2024


マンスフィールド・フェロー/米海軍士官 アンドリュー・オーチャード

US Naval Officer / Mansfield Fellow

In Chinese language and culture, a chengyu(成語) conveys a figurative meaningbeyond the literal meanings. A chengyurelevant to the Taiwan Strait situationis “to nibble away like a silkworm, orswallow like a whale (蚕食鯨吞).1” Onecan seize anotherʼs territory by piecemealencroachment or wholesale annexation.Based on recent operations the PeopleʼsLiberation Army( PLA) follows the silkwormnibbling approach( 蚕食) to encroachon Taiwan. Daily PLA air and surfaceoperations demonstrate capability, challengeTaiwanʼs legitimacy, and force Taiwanto respond with finite military resources(unit readiness).3 This strategy is impactingTaiwanʼs military and forcing itto change policies - Taiwan Air Force willno longer intercept UAVs to “limit thewear” on its fighters.4Taiwan Ministry of National Defense(MND) publicly documented PLA -TaiwanAir Defense Identification Zone (TADIZ)median line incursions beginningin September 2020.5 Subsequently,Taiwan shifted to a combined daily airand naval surface report for activityaround Taiwan on 5 August 2022.MND added balloon details in December2023 before scaling back TADIZ incursionflight path information on 16January 2024.6

The MND reports document how thePLA has normalized its daily “silkworm”encroachment operations around Taiwanover the past several years. Initial PLAoperations likely established a presenceand gained domain awareness, given thehigh use of reconnaissance and fighteraircraft. The second phase of operationslikely focused on refining the frequencyand volume of operations as the PLAflew more fighter aircraft and increaseddouble-digit incursions. The increase indouble-digit incursions is likely due toBeijing further using operations aroundTaiwan to demonstrate capability whenTaiwan engages the international community,specifically the U.S. The responseto Speaker Pelosiʼs visit showedETCʼs “whale” of a force that could potentiallyblockade Taiwan or establishlocalized air and/or maritime superiority