Taipei, Taiwan – For the first time in more than half a century, the US and Japan are expected this week to issue a joint statement on Taiwan Strait security following a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga .
Though largely iconic, the statement would be a sign of growing concern about the security of a democratic-run island amid high-ranking US military officials. Beijing’s threat of invasion is serious, the island nation claims to be its own.
Admiral John Aquilino recently told a Senate Armed Committee that capturing Taiwan was the “number one” priority of the Communist Party of China, while US Asia Pacific Commander Philip Davidson did the job. said China could invade in the next six years.
Such fears seem justified by the menacing tone of the Chinese state media and an increase the number of PLA missions into the Taiwan air defense identification area (ADIZ).
But in reality in Taiwan, people are neither racing for one of the island’s 117,000 active bomb shelters nor taking advantage of it.
Living under the threat of Chinese military action over the past 70 years, the island’s 23 million people have come to understand what they consider the strange paradox of Taiwan’s existence: even as the military China’s possible development, invasion is not necessarily come closer.
Some experts believe that much of the US military threat assessment may indeed reflect a shift in US perceptions of China amid a deteriorating relationship between the two economic giants. gender.
Eric Lee, a research associate at the Project, said: “(The Chinese Communist Party’s) hope for reunification with Taiwan has been clear for decades and (President) Xi Jinping has made it clear during his tenure that the use of force was debatable. 2049 Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
“This challenge is nothing new. Instead, it reflects the updated threat perception of the CCP and the PLA in the context of the US strategic competition with China. “
Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), agrees.
These assessments are not based on intelligence but analysis of the military balance between the US and China, she said.
‘Harder than D-Day’
China has increased activities around Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen was first elected president in 2016.
While Tsai’s domestic politics are seen largely maintaining the status quo in Taiwan’s complex relationship with China, overseas she is involved in promoting a unique Taiwanese identity. separate from its historical ties to China.
Her politics and her administration’s close ties with the United States angered Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own despite having never ruled the island.
As part of Taiwan’s effort to gain more political space, Tsai sought strengthen Taiwan’s defense capabilities by increasing the defense budget, reform of reserves, improving his image from historic associations with martial law, and buying weapons billions of dollars from the US since taking office.
Her administration has also seen a push to revive Taiwan’s domestic weapons industry, including domestically produced submarines, armored vehicles and military aircraft, according to the Department of Defense.
“The CCP has not given up on using force to invade Taiwan, and the Chinese military has continued to increase its combat readiness and readiness to increase its use of force,” the ministry said. know in a statement to Al Jazeera.
“There is always a risk of taking over Taiwan. Whether it was a surprise attack… or a full-scale invasion, it would seriously affect the country’s existence and development. Therefore, supporting defense activities in various military construction and preparation jobs is the core mission of the national army ”.
At the end of March, the Ministry of Defense said intrusions into Taiwan’s ADIZs had become so frequent that the country would no longer scramble for planes to meet them each time and would instead track them with rocket. The decision was made based on its assessment that the flights were consuming resources and increased the risk of miscalculation or crashes, the ministry said.
And while some, especially in the US, are beginning to speculate that a PLA landing is somewhere on the horizon, most experts take a more deliberate approach, emphasizing that one the invasion of Taiwan brings significant risks to China.
First, their forces would have to cross the 180 km (100 miles) Taiwan Strait with more than 100,000 soldiers and supplies, according to Michael Tsai, who served as Taiwan’s deputy defense minister and later minister. Defense from 2004 to 2008.
Along the way, they will face naval and aerial bombardment, and if they do land they will encounter strong local resistance.
“If Taiwan is attacked by the PLA, more than two-thirds of the young people will take decisive action against China’s actions,” said the former defense minister. “Taiwan is a free and democratic country. We like to live peacefully with China but if we get attacked, we have to react to take some defensive measures. Of course, it will be endured a lot. Many young people will lose their lives, but so will the PLA ”.
There will also be other issues to face, including difficult terrain, unpredictable weather patterns and even storms.
For Taiwan expert and historian Bill Sharp, former visiting scholar at National Taiwan University, such maneuvering would be “more difficult than the Day Landing” due to the geography of Taiwan, the rough seas and unreliable weather patterns. Its coastline, he said, also had a number of beaches suitable for landing “armored carriers, tanks, artillery or large numbers of invaders.”
Meanwhile, a missile strike would result in great loss of life and destruction of infrastructure and would spur the opposition of any invading force.
“China wants to practically rule Taiwan,” he said. “With their society under intense attack, the Taiwanese will to fight will be aroused.”
‘Hidden number’ is unknown
An invasion can also attract Taiwan’s closest allies, for example USA and Japan, which poses too many unknowns to China’s leadership.
While the US has not been guaranteed to defend the island, it has promised to help the island maintain “adequate self-defense” as part of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
CSIS’s Glaser says she doesn’t believe China is ready to take such drastic action.
“Every Chinese leader says reunification is inevitable,” she said. “Xi Jinping’s statements about Taiwan are not much different from his predecessors,” she said, adding that China’s latest Five-Year Plan calls for “peaceful development of relationships. cross-strait relations ”with Taiwan.
Some experts believe that much of the US military threat assessment may actually reflect the change in American perceptions about China. As China’s relationship with the US deteriorates, the PLA’s threat awareness has also increased, said Project 2049’s Lee.
Others also warned that the United States’ concern is not in the future of the people of Taiwan rather than reflecting concerns about their Island Chain Strategy, a defense strategy that incorporates Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and other islands to prevent China’s expansion into the Pacific Ocean and near the US mainland.
“The US knows that if China occupies a dominant position in Asia-Pacific, it will be detrimental to the national interests of the US, so the US will try to protect the ‘first island chain’. Taiwan is strategically located as part of the first island chain. If Taiwan loses to China, it could become a PLA naval base that threatens not only Japan but also America’s national security interests, ”said former Defense Minister Tsai.
However, experts say that the remote islands of Taiwan can still be targeted.
“Conquering Taiwan’s outer islands has always been part of the PLA’s program of action. If you look at the geographic location, the islands outside of Taiwan are scattered, the ability to support each other is limited, ”said James Huang, a retired Taiwanese lieutenant colonel. know.
China could easily block Taiwan’s port in Kaohsiung by capturing the 240-hectare (593-acre) island of Pratas off the coast of Hong Kong or consolidating its position in the South China Sea by invading Taiping Island – also called Ita Abu – in Changsha. Archipelago.
Other relatively easy targets, Huang said, would include islands near the Chinese coast including Liang Island and Gaodeng Island, which have few servicemen and are difficult to resupply by Taiwan’s coup.
Even if Taiwan may not face an apocalypse prospect in the near future, it still faces a host of other challenges.
“Taiwan is no longer the primary target of China but the US,” Huang said. “On the biggest threat to Taiwan from China, it is certainly not the traditional military invasion.”
He believes that Beijing’s focus is crippling Taiwan through economy and trade.
Faced with a weak economy and a strong neighbor, in a time without COVID, Taiwan faces a significant brain drain to China with hundreds of thousands of people opting for the right muscles. more competitive there.
“By increasing Taiwan’s economic dependence on China, like boiling frog syndrome, Taiwanese people will lose their guard,” he said.
As with the usual air air intrusions, Taiwan has also faced Psychological warfare from the Chinese influence activities in the world of business and politics, and continually pushing Taiwan out of any international space, from the United Nations to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Although it is less noticeable than a PLA fleet of aircraft carriers, Tsai warns, it can still have a strong impact.
“For me and many strategists, we feel that China knows that real military action will be the worst scenario for them,” he said. “Hence, they are taking softer power actions, including cyber warfare, psychological warfare, and media warfare by infiltrating Taiwan and putting false information in newspapers to try and trying to influence and deceiving the people and also trying to divide them. “
Instead of overcoming China’s invasion, Glaser said, the US would do better to assist Taiwan against many other threats.
“The correct US policy response is not just to strengthen military deterrence – we must make the PLA’s ability to intervene and impose high costs on invading forces credible – but we also have to strengthen the US-Taiwan economic relationship, help Taiwan diversify trade relations and connect with each other an alliance of nations that will promote Taiwan’s participation in the community. international and speak up for its democracy, ”she said.
There are already signs that could happen.
On Wednesday, as China conducted what it said were “combat maneuvers” near Taiwan, Biden send a delegation of trusted former high-ranking officials coming to Taiwan. They will meet with President Tsai on Thursday.
A statement to Japan will be another part of that process.