As the invasion of Ukraine continues, China — with the world’s third-most powerful military — is flexing its muscles on this side of the globe.
The Chinese state-run Global Times on Saturday released a video to promote China’s aircraft carrier program, which conspicuously hinted at the launch of a third Chinese naval carrier. The South China Morning Post reported that the People’s Liberation Army Navy planned to launch the new carrier on Saturday, but it was postponed as the COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai delayed the shipping of essential components.
Utilizing shipbuilding expertise gained from constructing the aircraft carriers Liaoning and Shandong, China’s new carrier is to be equipped with an innovative device called an electromagnetic catapult, which allows aircraft to accelerate and take off from the vessel, Chinese military expert Song Zhongping (宋忠平) said.
The Chinese navy has never been shy of aspiring to be as powerful as its US counterpart. The upcoming launch should not only demonstrate its growing naval capabilities, but that it is on track to accomplish the ambitions and goals established by the Chinese Communist Party.
While this development could increase the threat to Taiwan, Taipei should not be too quick to lose heart with its national defense strategy.
The recent sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, could perhaps give Taiwan’s national defense a shot in the arm. The ease with which the pride of the Russian fleet was sunk with two locally made Neptune missiles shocked military experts. They now wonder whether Chinese aircraft carriers such as the Liaoning could be taken out as easily as the Moskva, as China purchased many of its submarines, destroyers and aircraft carriers from the Soviet Union, or had them refitted there.
Experts have suggested that the quality of armor used in Russian Cold War vessels might not fare any better than the Moskva against anti-ship missiles. Additionally, its sinking has proven that missiles could become the Achilles’ heel of large-scale flagships and aircraft carriers, as their grand size makes them easy targets. Regarded this way, Taiwan has made the right investment with its 2017 national strategy.
Taiwan’s Overall Defense Concept is based on a strategy of asymmetric warfare. Instead of acquiring expensive jets and submarines, the strategy focuses on deployments of mobile and concealable defensive weapons across Taiwan, especially missiles for use against ships and planes. This is the “porcupine strategy” — the pain of stepping on the animal’s quills becomes the main deterrent to crushing it.
Taiwan’s air-defense missile density now ranks second only to Israel’s, with the intention of eventually surpassing that country. Its locally developed Hsiung Feng III and Hsiung Feng II missiles can now hit targets anywhere in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan is also protected by the sea and natural fortifications such as mountain ranges, making the nation more difficult to penetrate than Ukraine.
As Russia’s invasion turns into a quagmire, there have been suggestions that Russia’s military strength was overestimated. Similarly, Taiwan should not jump at the mere shadow of China’s third aircraft carrier, but focus on boosting its own military strength to become the world’s most impregnable “porcupine” island fortress.
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