Decades of Chinese military modernization has eroded many of Taiwan’s historical advantages in deterring aggression from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the US Department of Defense said in an annual report on Tuesday to the US Congress on military and security developments involving China.
Those advantages include the Taiwanese military’s technological superiority, the geographic advantages of island defense and the PLA’s inability to project sufficient power across the Taiwan Strait, the report said.
“Although Taiwan is taking important steps to build its war reserve stocks, grow its defense industrial base, improve joint operations and crisis response capabilities, and strengthen its officer and non-commissioned officer corps, these improvements only partially address Taiwan’s declining defensive advantages,” the report said.
Taiwan plans to transition to an all-volunteer military force by 2019, but the transition has slowed due to “severe difficulties” in recruiting enough personnel, the report added.
China’s military budget grew at an average of 8.5 percent per year from 2007 to last year and has grown to roughly 14 times that of Taiwan’s military budget, which remains at about 2 percent of GDP, the report said.
The PLA is capable of accomplishing various amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, the report said, adding that China could invade Taiwan’s territories in the South China Sea, such as the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) or Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島), or medium-sized islands such as Kinmen or Matsu.
However, such military operations would involve “significant, and possibly prohibitive, political risk, because it could galvanize pro-independence sentiment on Taiwan and generate international opposition,” the report said.
In the report, the department reiterated that the US maintains its “one China” policy based on the Three Joint Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act.
“The United States opposes any unilateral change to the ‘status quo’ in the Taiwan Strait by either side and does not support Taiwan independence,” the report said.
Meanwhile, China has continued shore-based infrastructure construction in the South China Sea, the report said.
As of late last year, China was constructing 24 fighter hangars, fixed weapons positions, barracks, administration buildings and communication facilities at three outposts — Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島), Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef, 美濟礁) and Subi Reef (Jhubi Reef, 渚碧礁), it added.
“Once all these facilities are complete, China will have the capacity to house up to three regiments of fighters in the Spratly Islands [Nansha Islands, 南沙群島],” the report said.
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