Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 9 News List

On whose better angels can Taiwan rely?

A cross-strait war is quite unlikely, most Taiwanese say. Perhaps, but US defense experts believe that Taiwan has major security challenges, and if its leaders want to be ready for the worst-case scenario, they must better understand what their allies are thinking

By Mac William Bishop  /  STAFF REPORTER

ILLUSTRATION MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

Things do not look good for the home team."

These were the words of a recently retired senior US military officer when asked about Taiwan's ability to defend itself against an attack by China.

When pressed, the officer -- a specialist in cross-strait security -- was even more blunt.

Could China successfully invade Taiwan?

"Yes," he said. "Absolutely."

He did add a caveat to this pronouncement: "That is, barring third party intervention -- and if China was willing to accept the high cost of using force."

China has never renounced the use of force to unify -- or annex, depending on your politics -- Taiwan. And as recently as last Saturday, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) promised that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) would invade Taiwan by or around the year 2020, according to the Hong Kong daily Wen Wei Po.

This is hardly the first time that Beijing has threatened to make war on Taiwan, but in light of Beijing's rapid military modernization, most analysts say Taipei cannot afford to write off such comments.

"It is not Beijing's capabilities, per se, that make the situation dangerous," said Richard Bush, the director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution and former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. "It is the possibility that the PRC [People's Republic of China] will choose to use them."

In a monograph written for the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute entitled China and strategic culture, Andrew Scobell -- an expert in East Asian security affairs -- wrote: "National unification is a core value in China's national security calculus on which no compromise is possible ...

It is also an emotional and unwavering public stand precisely because the leadership of the PRC seems to lack any other inviolable principles."

There appears to be one major obstacle preventing Beijing from attacking Taiwan: "The United States," the US officer said.

The Pentagon's annual report on the cross-strait strategic climate agrees with this assessment.

"Beijing sees Washington as the principal hurdle to any attempt to use military force to regain Taiwan," said the US Department of Defense's Fiscal Year 2004 Report to Congress on PRC Military Power.

China is therefore attempting to acquire sufficient military capabilities

to prevent US intervention and defeat armed resistance in Taiwan before the country's allies can respond.

"The cross-strait balance of power is steadily shifting in China's favor," the report said. "PLA modernization will threaten [Taiwan's] autonomy by enabling Beijing to launch a devastating standoff attack with insufficient warning time for foreign forces to mobilize and deploy to aid Taiwan."

Another long-time US observer noted that it is no longer useful to think in terms of "balance of power."

"It is more accurate to think in terms of time and cost: How long would it take Beijing to incur sufficient pain on Taiwan to force a political and military capitulation?" he said. "And how costly, in terms of economic costs, personnel and equipment, as well as in terms of international costs, including political and economic sanctions," would such an adventure be?

In tactical terms, the force China used "would need to be capable of achieving a rapid collapse of Taiwan's national will and thereby preclude US intervention," the report said. "The PLA could also adopt a decapitation strategy [directly attacking command and control facilities and attempting to assassinate senior officials], seeking to neutralize Taiwan's political and military leadership on the assumption that their successors would accede to Beijing."

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