The Global Times, China’s state-run daily tabloid newspaper and “mouthpiece” of the Chinese Communist Party, announced Saturday that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is purchasing 1.4 million units of body armor. The justification for such a transaction amid the COVID-19 epidemic: To prepare for war with Taiwan and the United States.

The Global Times described the purchase as “whopping” and reported the cost of the bullet-resistant garb as 13 billion yuan (currently $1.86 billion) to be delivered over the next two years.

Bodyarmornews.com, based in the Netherlands and claiming to be the “world’s only website that is specialized in providing news and updates on bulletproof vests”, also posted an article about the purchase. The article reported that the vests were “to keep PLA casualty numbers as low as possible” suggesting that battle preparations are underway.

The COVID-19 virus has only added to tensions between Beijing and the island nation. The World Health Organization (WHO) communicated with China but not directly with Taiwan officials about the virus, and China is accused of withholding vital information from Taiwanese officials that may have abetted the virus in establishing a foothold in the island’s population.

Beijing’s desire for a total reunification with Taiwan is well known, but unlike Hong Kong, a Chinese “Special Administrative Region” or SAR under Chinese sovereignty and with a pro-Chinese government, any change in Taiwan’s status will be through negotiation or the use of force.

Since 1949, when members of the Republic of China (RoC) fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War, the island and the Strait of Taiwan have been “flashpoints” for potential war. Beijing has continued to menace Taiwan with recent flybys of fighter jets, jet bombers, and early warning aircraft.

Taiwan, backed by the U.S. has responded with F-16 fighter jets and U.S. anti-submarine aircraft, B-52H bombers, plus a guided-missile cruiser.

The term “whopping” is an apt description of the body armor purchase considering that the PLA has two million personnel, with ground forces accounting for less than half of the total. This means that the 930,000 units of hard armor plates for universal plate carriers and 467,000 units of plates for enhanced ballistic vests will be more than enough for every PLA pair of “boots on the ground”.  

One American researcher, Ian Easton, a fellow at the Project 2049 Institute and author of "The Chinese Invasion Threat”, noted that if the Pentagon were to make a similarly size purchase of body armor, the Chinese state-run media and leaders would “cry foul”. He also lamented that major U.S. media outlets paid little attention to the ominous Chinese purchase and the provocative language of its news outlets.