Fri, Sep 04, 2009 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Balance of military power tips to Beijing

By Ben Blanchard and Ralph Jennings  /  REUTERS , BEIJING AND TAIPEI

The balance of military power between China and Taiwan is shifting toward Beijing, leaving Taiwan few options without US aid in the event of an attack, a threat that has not eased despite warming ties.

China has invested billions of dollars in its military, buying from Russia, developing its own advanced fighter jets and missiles, and slimming its once bloated ranks into a lean and high-tech military, analysts say.

It is also considering building an aircraft carrier.

Taiwan’s forces, by contrast, are increasingly hobbled by outdated systems, unwillingness by almost every country but the US to sell it weapons, and by troop cuts as part of a strategic reduction.

Since taking office last year, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has eased tensions through trade and tourism deals, a far cry from his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who supported formal independence, but military suspicion remains deep.

“They’ve always had a quantitative edge over the Taiwanese, but the Chinese have really closed if not eliminated the qualitative edge the Taiwanese had for decades,” said Richard Bitzinger, senior fellow and Asian military expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

China’s overwhelming military superiority, combined with Taiwan’s deepening economic reliance on China and its growing diplomatic isolation, could force a resolution to the sovereignty issue even without a shot having to be fired.

“That’s the intention — to combine growing military leverage and a stronger military, to maybe eventually just present Taiwan with some kind of fait accompli about accepting reunification,” Bitzinger said.

ANNIVERSARY

While Beijing’s language has softened, it is in no mood to let Taiwan go its own way, 60 years after Mao Zedong (毛澤東) proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

In July, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie (梁光烈), while noting “positive changes” in cross-strait relations, pointedly did not offer to pare back forces aimed at Taiwan, nor renounce the use of force to bring Taiwan under China’s control.

“We will firmly hold the theme of peaceful cross-strait development ... oppose the secessionist activities of ‘Taiwan independence’ forces and firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he was quoted as saying in state media.

VISIT

China has reacted angrily to Taiwan’s decision to allow Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to visit this week, in a reminder, if one were needed, that knotty political problems overshadow improving economic and cultural links. China brands the Dalai Lama a separatist.

Taiwan estimates China still has 1,000 to 1,500 missiles aimed at it and Beijing continues to expand its arsenal.

“Given mainland China’s state power and military might, most people wouldn’t believe Taiwan could win a war by itself,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Secretary-General Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said.

The RAND Corp, a US-based policy research group, estimated in a recent report that short-range Chinese ballistic missiles could easily destroy the runways of every airbase in Taiwan in a well-targeted initial strike to knock out the air force.

Taiwan’s navy could fare even worse. It has just four submarines, two of which date back to World War II and still have some of their original brass fittings. China has more than 50, a few believed to be armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

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