The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is making rapid strides in expanding its military capabilities to complement China's rising international status, with the additional benefit of acting as a deterrent to US forces coming to Taiwan's assistance during a cross-strait conflict, a US military specialist said yesterday during a teleconference from Tokyo.
The conference, entitled "The Rise of China's Military Power," was attended by several military analysts and hosted by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) in Taipei.
Roy Kamphausen, vice president for political and security affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research, said that the PLA's accelerating modernization in recent years did not indicate that Beijing was seeking to compete with the US military, but was in response to the need to have a military befitting the country's international status.
There is a general consensus that China is not a peer competitor of the US military, a situation that will remain for the foreseeable future, he said.
DELAYING US FORCES
He agreed that the PLA appears to have adopted a strategy of delaying the arrival of US forces in the Western Pacific, especially in a Taiwan conflict scenario.
Furthermore, he said, PLA equipment -- including quieter attack submarines and ballistic missiles with maneuverable warheads -- seemed to be aimed at denying US forces a presence in continental Asia for an extended period of time.
One of the panelists, Captain Chang Ching (張競), an instructor at the Naval Strategy Section of National Defense University's War College, said the PLA would be able to shake Taiwanese public confidence in the nation's defense capabilities if the PLA managed to humiliate the US in its effort to safeguard Taiwan.
Kamphausen said that a catastrophic defeat of US carrier forces in the Pacific was an unlikely scenario and that China must realize that the US would not simply back down after the first strike.
Kamphausen also said that if conflict were to break out, the PLA would most likely strike Taiwan, while simultaneously denying the US access to the region.
However, Beijing would need to seriously assess the repercussions of taking such action, Kamphausen said, adding that it would drastically alter the international situation.
TAIWAN'S ARMED FORCES
In addition, the panelists agreed that Taiwan's armed forces would inflict sizeable losses on any invading PLA force, even without US participation.
Taiwan's armed forces are increasingly capable in responding to PLA threats, Kamphausen said, adding that US observers had noted that the Taiwanese military had become increasingly sophisticated and made dramatic progress in the past seven or eight years.
As the minister of national defense had said, absent US participation, Taiwan would inevitably lose to the PLA, but it would inflict tremendous losses, he said.
It was unlikely China would launch a full-scale invasion to try to seize Taiwan because the losses would be catastrophic -- even without US participation, Kamphausen said, adding that the PLA training was focusing on fighting high-intensity wars of short duration.
This applied most specifically to Taiwan and maybe only to Taiwan, he said, while adding that this did not mean that war was inevitable.
But it demonstrates how seriously the Chinese leadership takes the Taiwan issue, he said.
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