Despite the recent rapid developments in cross-strait relations, this year’s annual Han Kuang military exercises focused on large-scale live fire anti-landing drills.
Given the easing tensions across the Taiwan Strait and the “politically correct” mindset that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has adopted, the Ministry of National Defense has to tread a very fine line if it wants to characterize China as an enemy and treat Beijing’s armed forces as a potential military threat to Taiwan.
Since 2008, Taiwanese have become used to their armed forces being engaged primarily in rescue and disaster relief efforts whenever a natural disaster strikes, rather than focusing on their main duty, which is to protect Taiwan from China and make sure they are prepared for any threats to national security.
Ma’s concept of national security has three pillars: the pursuit of systemic cross-strait peace and reconciliation, a “diplomatic truce” to allow Taiwan to play a more active role on the international stage and the strengthening of the armed forces.
In reality, it is the latter that Taiwanese will need to fall back on should the situation demand it.
China is able to dictate that candidates for Hong Kong’s chief executive must “love China” as well as Hong Kong and that they cannot defy the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
If Taiwan does not establish any sort of national defense structure, our president could very well become a “chief executive” at some point in the future.
Ma told a videoconference at Stanford University that Taiwan and the US share common values and interests when it comes to ensuring regional peace and stability.
If this is indeed the case, then perhaps the Ma administration should pay closer attention to and learn from the assessments the US government has made about China’s military threat and the measures it has come up with to respond to them: engagement coupled with hedging strategies.
During last week’s Han Kuang exercises in Penghu, Ma said that China has gone to great lengths to attempt to infiltrate the nation’s armed forces, employing measures such as bribes and honey traps.
He added that the armed forces need to be vigilant at all times of Chinese attempts to gain intelligence on military secrets.
There have been several incidents in which generals and middle-ranking military officers have been found to be involved in espionage on behalf of China and the general lack of national security awareness shown by many Taiwanese is an enormous challenge that must be addressed.
The nation’s armed forces need to think very carefully about how the current military imbalance created by China’s rise can be mitigated through innovation and asymmetric warfare.
On its own, this will not be enough; hard work, dedication and thorough training, coupled with the availability of the appropriate resources will also be required. Devoting less time to training with military hardware such as fighter planes or warships will harm military capability.
Taiwan’s national defense has undergone several major reforms over the past few years. This has left the Ministry of National Defense unable to get troops to guard the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) and the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島).
However, there is no shortage of postgraduate students signing up to the ministry’s Spratly Islands seminars: indeed, there are not enough places on these courses available to meet the level of interest in them.
China is becoming increasingly assertive in the East China and South China seas. If tensions across the Taiwan Strait increase once again, Taiwan’s defensive capabilities will be put to a massive test.
Lin Cheng-yi is a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of European and American Studies.
Translated by Drew Cameron