Written by Staff Writer
Taiwan suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army in the early 1980s. Since then, the island’s military has been trying to reverse this after China created a “security zone” around the self-ruled island, which Beijing sees as part of its territory.
Last week, senior US national security advisor John Bolton said that President Donald Trump would soon begin consultation with China about setting up “three air defense identification zones” on Taiwan.
This has led to speculation that Beijing could be preparing to launch a military action against Taiwan in the event of a “peaceful transfer of power” in the island’s presidential elections next month.
Nationalist (KMT) candidate Tsai Ing-wen, of the pro-independence party, insists the island will stay indivisible with the Chinese mainland.
China will “accept nothing less than independence and we will continue to oppose any attempts to split Taiwan from the Chinese nation,” her spokesman Wu Qiang said in a statement.
Taiwanese servicemen and women have been stationed on bases throughout the country to deter a potential attack from China. These bases are expected to remain in operation if Taiwan decides to respond to attacks by China.
However, Taiwanese military analysts say current military preparedness is only half-hearted. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry says Taiwan is a stable regional military power, even as it is fighting to protect its borders.
After decades of civil war between the democratic ruling party and the communist Chinese regime, military readiness and combat preparedness reached a low point, according to Kenny Tseng, a retired major general in the Taiwan’s army who was in command of an amphibious force in 2003.
NATO should make a new defense policy to limit Beijing’s aggression against Taiwan, pro-independence candidate Tsai Ing-wen told CNN
One of Tseng’s recommendations is for the independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen of the KMT party to take over from the Kuomintang. “The military has to be looked at like any other industry that’s ‘up for grabs,’ should we form a new government in Taiwan,” Tseng said.
Such an alliance would guarantee Taiwan is protected by both Washington and Tokyo, which are bound by a security relationship to help defend the island. The US military has stationed several hundred marines on the island since 2009.
The so-called security zone set up by China around Taiwan consists of a 200-mile-wide strip around the island along with a 450-mile-wide bow and broad warning zones around the island for radar and air surveillance.
By the early 1990s, Taiwan’s forces had fallen to about 100,000 people, according to defence analyst David Yang, a professor at National Chengchi University. It used to be a powerful, modern military able to defeat almost any other state. But like its counterparts across the globe, it’s a far different force today.
“Today, it’s not that we’re lagging behind China,” Yang said. “On the contrary, in terms of assets and numbers, Taiwan is way ahead. In our military research and development, we spent $3.6 billion on military equipment over the past 20 years, whereas China spent just $11 billion, and we’re only seven times bigger in terms of GDP. Our own naval, air and space forces are vastly larger and our armed forces are far more developed.”
The two sides have been in talks about a new defense treaty ever since Tsai was elected as the first female president of Taiwan in 2016. But the talks have stalled, with China accusing her of not wanting to maintain the friendly ties with China.
In a 2015 security dialogue, Tsai failed to offer any alternatives to an eventual mutual defense pact. Meanwhile, China continues to threaten Taiwan, accusing it of being a hostile force intent on splitting the island from the mainland.
Taiwan and China are embroiled in a new round of diplomatic rivalry this year. China severed ties with Japan last October, accusing Tokyo of meddling in the election in Taiwan that brought Tsai to power. Beijing also turned off economic ties with Japan for more than three months.
But Taipei’s leader has hit back, demanding Beijing rescind its hostile action towards Taiwan and calling on the United States to play a more “active role” to deter its “antagonistic” acts.