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Taiwan's Defensive Capabilities Continue To Decline As China Intensifies War Preparations, US Department of Defense Says

Taiwan's defensive capabilities continue to decline as China prepares for a possible conflict, according to the United States Department of Defense 2018 Annual Report to Congress on military and security developments involving the People's Republic of China (PRC). 

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is undergoing the most comprehensive reform in its history to become a force capable of conducting complex joint operations, the report says. The PLA aims at developing the capabilities to fight and win "informatized local wars" - regional conflicts based on data-networked command and control and precision strikes. 

China's Taiwan strategy continues to incorporate elements of both persuasion and coercion to hinder the development of political attitudes in Taiwan favoring independence, the report says. Beijing attempts to restrict Taiwan's role in the international community and international organizations, and it seeks to woo Taiwan's few diplomatic allies.  

While China advocates for peaceful reunification with Taiwan, the report says, China has never repudiated the use of military force, and continues to develop and deploy advanced military capabilities needed for a potential military campaign. 

Traditionally Taiwan's defence capabilities have been rooted in Taiwan's technological superiority, the possibility of US intervention and a favourable geographical position. 

Embed from Getty Images

China has vowed to bring about "reunification" by force if all peaceful options are exhausted. Beijing has laid out scenarios that would constitute reasons to attack Taiwan:

- Formal declaration of Taiwan
independence;

- Undefined moves toward Taiwan
independence;

- Internal unrest on Taiwan;

- Taiwan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons; 

- Indefinite delays in the resumption of cross-Strait
dialogue on unification;

- Foreign intervention in Taiwan’s internal
affairs; and,

- Foreign forces stationed on Taiwan.

The report says that multiple military options exist for a Taiwan campaign, ranging from an air and maritime blockade to a full-scale amphibious invasion to seize and occupy some or all of Taiwan or its offshore islands. If the US intervenes to defend Taiwan, China would try to delay US military operations and seek victory in a high-intensity, limited war of short duration. 

The PLA might launch large-scale missile strikes, seize Taiwan's offshore islands and impose a blockade that could last for weeks or months, cutting off Taiwan's supplies. 

China could use missile attacks and precision air strikes against Taiwan's air defence systems to destroy Taiwan’s defences, neutralize Taiwan’s leadership, or
break the Taiwan people’s resolve.

The Joint Island Landing Campaign strategy is a complex military operation aimed at breaking through or circumventing shore defences, building a beachhead, transporting personnel and materiel to designated landing sides in the North and South, and occupying strategic areas or the entire island.

A large-scale amphibious invasion is a complex operation depending on air and sea superiority, and maintaining supplies. As such it poses not only a military but also a political risk to the invading force. The report notes that the Chinese navy does not seem to have significantly expanded the landing ship capabilities that would be necessary for an amphibious attack. 

Taiwan’s advantages continue to decline as China's economy grows, the report says. China's economic modernization has offset Taiwan's traditional technological superiority. Taiwan’s transition to an all-volunteer force by 2019 has been more expensive and complex than expected, diverting limited defence budget resources from the acquisition and development of weapons and training. To counter China’s improving capabilities, Taiwan is developing new concepts for asymmetric warfare.  

Taiwan currently has approximately 215,000 personnel in the armed forces, 70 percent of whom are volunteers, supported by approximately 1.7 million reservists and nearly 1 million civil defense volunteers. Taiwan is planning to decrease its active duty force to 175,000 as part of a transition to an all-volunteer force by 2019. 

However, the government is struggling to recruit enough volunteers, and personnel reduction has not been sufficient to cover the full cost of improving pay, benefits and housing for volunteers. Taiwan’s military spending is approximately two percent of its GDP. China's defence spending, despite being approximately 1.9 percent of GDP  according to CIA figures from 2016, is 15 times that of Taiwan.

Taiwan’s President Ts'ai Ing-wen has pledged to increase Taiwan's defence spending. The Taiwanese armed forces are seeking to develop new concepts and capabilities for asymmetric warfare, including offensive and defensive information and electronic warfare; high-speed stealth vessels; shore-based mobile missiles; rapid mining and mine-sweeping; unmanned aerial systems; and
critical infrastructure protection. 

The report says that the United States maintains a “one-China” policy that is based on the three Joint Communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The United States opposes any unilateral change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait by either side and does not support Taiwan independence, while it supports the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues. 


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