More Military Muscle Around Taiwan Raises Risks

TAIWAN’S MILITARY IS seeking — and will almost certainly get — extra budget of $8.6 billion over the next five years for naval weapons, saying that the threat from China was worse than ever. The additional spending would top up the $16.85 military budget already approved for 2022.

According to Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng, military tensions between China and Taiwan are at their worst in more than 40 years. Chiu was responding to a question during the parliamentary session on the supplementary budget request on Tuesday.

The day before, Taiwan’s defence ministry said that a record 56 PLA Air Force (PLAAF) warplanes, including twelve nuclear-capable bombers, had entered the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ). More PLAAF aircraft entered the ADIZ in the first four days of this month than in September.

Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ for more than a year, flights that have been variously interpreted as intimidatory, provocative and attritional, as well as signals to Taipei and other US allies in the region about China’s growing military power.

However, two-thirds of the extra money that Taiwan’s military seeks will go towards naval weapons, including anti-ship missiles and warships.

Chiu also told parliament that China could already invade Taiwan and would be capable of mounting a full-scale invasion by 2025. In June, Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the US Congress that Beijing wants the ability to invade and hold Taiwan within the next six years.

Milley based that assessment on a speech by President Xi Jinping earlier this year that challenged the PLA to advance the date by which it will have developed the capability to seize Taiwan to 2027 from 2035. Reunification, by force if necessary, is one of the highest long-term priorities for Beijing.

However, for all its modernisation, the PLA has been untested in battle for over 40 years (the costly invasion of Vietnam in 1979). Both the PLA and warfare has changed massively since. Yet, Beijing would be highly cautious at this point about risking its first military campaign of the 21st century on such a high-value target, especially as an invasion of Taiwan carries the likelihood of drawing in US military forces.

The United States, Taiwan’s main ally and military supplier, has confirmed its ‘rock-solid’ commitment to the island.

Beijing blames current tensions on Washington’s shows of support for Taiwan with arms sales and sending warships through the Taiwan Strait. Of late, warships from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands have been carrying out drills in waters between Taiwan and Okinawa.

This follows the announcement of the AUKUS agreement to provide Australia with the technology to build long-range nuclear-powered naval submarines, seen in Beijing as yet one more move by the West and Japan to constrain its military power.

In addition, Japan has strengthened its bilateral ties with Taipei in recent months, albeit on a ‘party-to-party’ basis, as Tokyo does not recognise Taiwan as sovereign. In Beijing, this looks like growing coordination with Washington to show more robust support for Taiwan — and it most certainly is, given the Biden administration’s desire to create a united front of allies.

Beijing may consider its recent shows of force a proportionate response to what it will see as a repeated and aggressive combination of efforts to contain it and support Taiwanese autonomy. It will continue to bide its time. However, flexing military muscle always risks an unintended incident that can escalate and, more dangerously, a political misjudgement of the point at which ‘aggressive’ moves against China are seen as sufficiently provocative to justify a pre-emptive effort to seize Taiwan.

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Filed under China-Taiwan, Military

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