The Taiwan Strait has in the past few months been a very busy place.
On Saturday last week, the USS Mustin, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, sailed through the Strait, the 12th passage of a US warship this year.
The following day, the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong transited through the Strait, heading south. The Shandong’s movements, as well as China’s regular incursions across the Strait’s median line and into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, have led military experts in Taiwan and overseas to warn that a conflict in the Strait is in process, just that China has for now opted against an invasion in favor of “gray zone” warfare to grind down Taiwan’s defenses.
China’s ambitions to annex Taiwan are well known, and it is employing overt and covert tactics to try to bring this about.
Beijing is not only improving its military capability, it has also been increasingly employing its long-standing “united front” strategy, as well as threats, embedded spies and networks of aiders and abettors on either side of the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing has also increasingly been spreading false news reports and is engaged in “cognitive space combat.” Reports in the past few weeks suggested the existence of a “Taiwan separatists” name list and the Chinese Communist Party’s apparent plans to promulgate a national unification law.
Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research about six months ago issued a warning that China has been continuously attacking Taiwan’s national interests by creating conflict through quasi-military actions, and economic and information attacks, only stopping short of starting a war.
Also, China has been pushing for state subversion from within Taiwan, using social media and information warfare to build public pressure to change Taiwan’s China policy.
From Chinese fighter jet incursions to amphibious landing exercises, warships circumnavigating Taiwan proper, cyberattacks and diplomatic isolation, Beijing is eroding Taiwan’s military strength and public morale by continuously pressuring Taiwanese to force Taipei to yield when it finds it is too late to counteract Beijing’s strategy.
By doing so, Beijing might not have to launch a traditional high-cost, high-risk and difficult invasion.
Taiwan must take China’s annexation strategy seriously. To enhance its armaments, Taiwan on Dec. 15 commissioned the Anping patrol vessel, an upgraded version of the Tuo Chiang-class missile corvettes, and earlier took delivery of a mine-laying vessel.
Furthermore, the US earlier this month approved the export of components crucial to Taiwan’s submarine development, including digital sonar and integrated combat systems.
On Monday, CNN reported that Taiwan’s planned submarine fleet could “forestall a potential Chinese invasion for decades.”
US President Donald Trump has approved 11 arms sales to Taiwan during his term, at a total cost of more than NT$550 billion (US$19.27 billion).
However, even more important is that US arms sales to Taiwan have become the norm in Washington, which will hopefully strengthen Taiwan’s effective deterrence. The government should also increase the defense budget for the next fiscal year by 10 percent.
On the other hand, national security is not all about weaponry. As China likes to flex its military muscle to the world, Taiwan should use its limited resources to build a military force capable of sustaining a first strike and striking back hard.
Former chief of general staff admiral Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明) said in a proposal that the armed forces should adopt defensive measures that can be deployed quickly, easily and massively to weaken a potential Chinese invasion.
The military must also recognize the danger of the situation and deploy all usable resources accordingly. By taking action with a sense of urgency, the armed forces would be able to safeguard the country more effectively.
From this perspective, Taiwan clearly falls short on several counts, which has caused a lot of concern. International media have in the past few months interviewed experts regarding Taiwan’s defense problems, who said that the hollowing out of military strength is Taiwan’s most urgent weakness.
Since Taiwan has long been marginalized in international politics, its military has also for decades been isolated.
In addition, the military budget of every administration has been lower than the Chinese military budget, which maintains annual double-digit growth.
As a result, Taiwan’s development of military technology is lagging behind, which might reduce the options if it has to launch a counterattack against key Chinese military sites and force it to restrict the battlefield.
More seriously, “poverty stifles ambition,” and this has created a sense of irresponsibility.
Reuters interviewed high-ranking former US military personnel who said that after Taiwan significantly reduced the scale of its military, safeguarding the nation seems to have become “someone else’s” responsibility.
They also warned that Taipei is putting its fate in the hands of Washington, although the US and its allies could be defeated if a war breaks out in the Taiwan Strait, or be unable to help in a timely manner.
Perhaps this is why China has adopted a “gray zone” warfare strategy. Beijing is fully aware that rash military action against Taiwan will be too risky and controversial compared with the chances of winning a war.
It also knows that attacking Taiwan from within, using a quasi-military approach and economic and information warfare, will perhaps have a better chance to divide the nation and conquer it without a war.
The defeatism of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — who loudly advocates the view that “the first battle may also be the last” — is spreading throughout Taiwan’s pro-China camp, resulting in calls for an appeasement policy and blaming the end of cross-strait exchanges on the government’s rejection of the so-called “1992 consensus.”
At the same time, the biggest opposition party is against lifting an import ban on US pork containing traces of ractopamine, although it is still happy with the imports of US beef with residue of the same feed additive, which were approved by the Ma administration.
The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) rejection of scientific evidence and international standards highlights that it is not debating public policy on rational grounds.
All this means that Beijing still hopes that its “gray zone” warfare will succeed and that China will likely to continue to attempt to subdue Taiwan.
China has never relaxed its ambition to annex Taiwan, and the “gray zone” warfare strategy is active. The most important defensive and national security tasks for Taiwan are to find ways to improve its current weaknesses and other problems.
Achieving this quickly and resolutely is the government’s responsibility, but opposition parties must also maintain a basic loyalty to the nation.
At the same time, defending the nation is the responsibility of every Taiwanese. A national defense built on universal national recognition is the strongest and most reliable.
During the Sunflower movement six years ago, the slogan of the young protesters was: “We will save the country ourselves.”
This is directly applicable to our national defense.
Translated by Paul Cooper and Eddy Chang
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