A leading US expert on the Chinese military says that by 2020, Beijing could have 2,000 or more missiles, nearly 1,000 modern combat aircraft, 60 modern submarines and a potential invasion force of many hundreds of thousands of troops “pointed at Taiwan.”
Richard Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center near Washington, warned in an article in the Wall Street Journal that the US “should be under no illusion about Beijing’s motives.”
He says that while President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has made historic progress in defusing tensions with China, Beijing has signaled that it wants to end Taiwan’s democratic era.
“China’s Communist Party has made the conquest of Taiwan a key measure to justify both the legitimacy of its political -dictatorship and its now-galloping military buildup,” Fisher adds. “The Communists also want to exploit Taiwan’s strategic position to gain control of Japan’s maritime lifelines, while simultaneously deepening their reach into the South China Sea.”
Fisher cites the recent report in Defense News that the administration of US President Barack Obama has quietly informed Taiwanese officials that Washington will not supply Taipei with the 66 new F-16C/D aircraft it wants, but will only equip the nation’s older F-16A/Bs with better radar.
If the report turns out to be true — and both sides deny it — Fisher says that pleasing China on this issue will have come at the cost of weakening the US’ longstanding commitment to Taiwan’s autonomy.
Fisher says that “on a purely military score,” Taipei not only needs the advanced F-16C/Ds, but also requires asymmetrical -weapons, such as surface-to--surface missiles and electromagnetic launch or “rail gun” weapons.
A refusal to sell the new F-16s would prove to China that it can limit Washington’s strategic freedom, Fisher says, and at the same time it would embolden Beijing.
“As a start,” he says, “it will encourage Beijing to become more active in the Taiwan Strait. More worryingly, China’s military leadership could start to believe that it would have a chance at succeeding in a war with Taiwan, not least by discouraging US intervention. Such a belief, whether mistaken or not, would be the first step to such a war becoming a reality.”
Fisher concludes that if China were to succeed against Taipei, US leadership in Asia “could evaporate.”
“That will push a region already wary of China’s not-so-peaceful rise well beyond its recent -double-digit arms buildup and into an even riskier age of strategic nuclear competition,” he says. “Given these stakes, the Obama administration’s failure to assist in Taiwan’s defense and, in turn, that of Asia’s, is a massive gamble. Ensuring the survival of a free Taiwan is perhaps the most effective means the US has to reassure the region it is serious about curtailing Chinese aggression and defending peace and prosperity in Asia.”
In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal said that refusing to sell the F-16C/Ds would endanger Taiwan’s democracy.
“Taiwan doesn’t need the most advanced weaponry on the market to defend itself,” the editorial said. “It needs reasonably capable weapons in sufficient quantities. New F-16s are a crucial part of its defense in depth. By hesitating to provide Taiwan with the arms it needs, Obama is setting up a future US president for a crisis.”