China has used US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last month as a pretext to cause trouble, using military drills and other means to tighten its grip on Taiwan. Consequently, much attention is being focused on national security issues, while candidates campaign for the Nov. 26 local government elections.
United Microelectronics Corp founder Robert Tsao (曹興誠) has pledged NT$3 billion (US$95.7 million) to strengthen Taiwan’s civil defense forces. Former chief of the general staff Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明) has published a book titled The Overall Defense Concept: An Asymmetric Approach to Taiwan’s Defense (臺灣的勝算), in which he discusses Taiwan’s chances of winning a war. Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has stated that US troops would not come to Taiwan’s rescue, so Taiwan must rely on itself.
Taiwan’s security involves a wide range of issues, but common sense and logic are a sufficient basis for discussion.
First, Taiwan only faces one enemy — China — and it is committed to not firing the first shot. Taiwan’s main aim is to build a robust deterrence force that would make it hard for China to pursue its ambition of invading Taiwan.
Sun Tzu’s (孫子) The Art of War (孫子兵法) says “rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”
Specifically, Taiwan needs to build a small but strong national defense force to make the Chinese People’s Liberation Army worried that even if it succeeds in crossing the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan would still be strong enough to send the Chinese army home in defeat.
Being in the right, Taiwan expects the US armed forces to rush over and rescue the nation, but it should first be remembered that “heaven helps those who help themselves.”
Second, Taiwan should understand the threat it faces. Last week, the Ministry of National Defense outlined that threat in a report about China’s military strength. The report said that the military exercises China launched last month were a test of its plans to invade Taiwan, making them a real threat to the country’s security.
It said that China’s maneuvers blurred the median line of the Taiwan Strait and practiced breaking through the first island chain, to strengthen its ability to carry out anti-access and area denial operations. The report noted that China also used civilian aircraft and drones to conduct surveillance and intrusion activities to test Taiwan’s response.
It also said that China’s military drills simulated eight other types of aggression, including cognitive warfare, “gray zone” operations, joint military deterrence, joint air and sea blockades, seizure of outlying islands, decapitation strikes, joint-fire strikes and all-out invasion.
On Sept. 3, which was Armed Forces Day, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) told an audience of high-school students that the kind of war that Taiwan faces involves two stages. She said that the first stage consists of cognitive warfare, in which the enemy uses misinformation and propaganda to destroy public morale, while the second stage enters the realm of “gray zone” warfare, such as sending drones and fishing boats to harass the nation.
In the face of such challenges, Tsai said that the whole nation’s determination to defend itself is more important than possessing advanced weapons.
China harbors ambitions to annex Taiwan, and its actions toward that end are already under way. As well as the “mock blockade” military exercises that China launched straight after Pelosi’s visit, intrusions by Chinese military aircraft and navy vessels have occurred at an unprecedented frequency.
Last month Chinese military aircraft flew a record 300 sorties across the median line of the Taiwan Strait. During the same period, they flew nearly 450 sorties into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, more than double the previous record of 196 incursions in October last year. In addition to physical intrusions, China’s cognitive and “gray zone” tactics are not new and are ongoing.
Faced with such a malicious and crafty neighbor, Taiwan must have a sense of crisis. It needs to have a clear strategy and adequate armaments, as well as solid preparation for psychological rearmament and social mobilization.
Boosting the national defense budget is an essential way to demonstrate determination to defend the nation. Taiwan’s overall defense budget for next year has been increased significantly by 13.9 percent to NT$586.3 billion, which is 2.4 percent of GDP.
Although this is a lower percentage than in South Korea and Singapore and still falls short of the target of 3 percent, the size of the increase and the percentage of GDP are both unprecedented in recent years.
One of the investments is the newly established Asia UAV AI Innovation Application R&D Center in Chiayi County, which is a noteworthy and substantial step on the way to improving Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare capabilities.
While this considerable increase in the national defense budget demonstrates Taiwan’s will to defend itself, the greatest assistance to its security comes from the US.
On Aug. 28, two US warships — the USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville — asserted their right of free navigation by passing through the Taiwan Strait. On Sept. 2, the US Department of State approved the sale to Taiwan of US$1.106 billion in armaments, including radar warning systems, anti-ship missiles and air-to-air missiles, which is the largest batch of arms sales to Taiwan since US President Joe Biden took office.
On the same day, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon last month set up a task force known as the “tiger team” to streamline the arms sales process, given that Taiwan’s military orders have not been fully met for years.
The US-Taiwan Business Council confirmed the planned arms sale, but pointed out that Taiwan already possesses these types of missiles and radars, so the US should broaden the scope of its arms sales.
Because of this, the Taiwan policy act of 2022 was introduced to the US Congress and cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday last week. The bill threatens severe sanctions against China if it takes any hostile actions against Taiwan and provides almost US$4.5 billion in security assistance over the next four years.
Aside from Taiwan’s official cooperation with the US, calls have arisen among Taiwanese for the whole nation to bear responsibility for national security.
Tsao should be commended for his plan to fund a civilian defense program that aims to train civilians as “black bear warriors” and “sharpshooters.” It would demonstrate Taiwan’s determination to build an “army of the whole people” to resist invasion through cooperation between civilians, police and the armed forces.
If there is a good response to this initiative, Taiwanese would be able to defend their homeland, comparing favorably to Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces.
Lee is a proponent of asymmetric warfare, calling for scaling down conventional armaments, making good use of reserve forces and boosting social resilience.
He said that although the US could provide assistance in the form of intelligence, weapons and supplies, Taiwan cannot expect the US to sacrifice its sons and daughters to fight a war akin to those in Korea and Vietnam.
Taiwan is running out of time to prepare. It faces a lack of a sense of crisis, as well as differences in ideology and national identity, Lee said.
If Lee’s warnings and practical proposals are compared with Ma’s insistence that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia’s (夏立言) controversial visit to China was a way to prevent war, it reveals a stark difference in competence between the former chief of the general staff and the former commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Taiwan faces China’s unrelenting security threats, while also suffering from internal disagreements that blur the distinction between ourselves and our enemy.
However, China’s aggression is encouraging the growth of “natural independence” among the younger generation. Its threats to Taiwan’s national security are also galvanizing the will and determination of society to defend itself.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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