Written by Shih Yueh Yang.
Image credit: China News 4 Ways How Chinas Military Stacks Up Against the US by Times Asi/Flickr, license CC BY 2.0
Is Taiwan the Most Dangerous Place on Earth? Not yet, as the Economist has put it. Although the tension between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has grown, not a single shot has ever been fired. In contrast, thousands of rockets have already exploded over Gaza/Israel border, and hundreds of people have died. Taiwan still enjoys peace and happiness either in relative or absolute terms.
An invasion from the Chinese Mainland would be challenging and thus highly unlikely. The Taiwan Strait is wide enough to prevent an easy crossing. An amphibious fleet would be required, and the uploading/unloading of the invading forces would be a huge undertaking. The coastal areas of Taiwan are largely unsuitable for landing, and the routes connecting the inland open fields are also narrow and often blocked by urban settlements. Modern technology also makes an invasion even less feasible. Smart, autonomous weapons like anti-ship missiles and kamikaze drones are highly lethal and easy to hide. Their range has also increased, eliminating their launchers’ need to move and expose themselves.
Nevertheless, Taiwan does endanger itself by splurging its luxurious security. Firstly, Taiwan’s ruling party, namely the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is more interested in industry rather than defence, so major procurements are driven by the supplier’s capacity rather than the combat requirement of the military. Trainers, not fighters; transports, not fighting vessels, are thus being built. Billions are being allocated for the indigenous submarine project without modern air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems. Even if eight of these subs were to be completed around 2030, they could do little in halting the enemy during their crossing of the strait. Each of these submarines carries 20 or so torpedoes, a total of 160 shots only. Thousands of missiles can be acquired with the same amount of investment.
What is worse than above is Taiwan’s futile pro-US policy. Undoubtedly, the US will defend Taiwan if the island is attacked unprovoked, but this does not imply solid US support. Trump’s two iconic arm sales to Taiwan are illustrative. M-1A2T tanks are not the most urgent need for Taiwan as an island, and the US has already provided the same level of in-service technologies in the past. AH-64E and UH-60M helicopters were supplied to Taiwan when the US is said to be “pro-China” during the Obama administration. In addition, while others like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia had already acquired F-35 fighters, Taiwan only acquired F-16 Block 70 fighters. Their core technology was the same as the F-16V upgrade, which was also approved for Taiwan by “pro-China” Obama.
After Joe Biden assumed office, the US maintained its “strong” support, albeit if only through voice. The new administration merely sent ex-officials to Taiwan and provided Taiwan with no vaccines, which can be said to be a purely humanitarian issue. However, the US is still reluctant to act reciprocally after Taiwan’s mask diplomacy. Even so, the DPP still advertises the argument that US-Taiwan relations are at the best moment for the past 40 years. This segues into the verbal campaign against the Chinese Mainland. One notable example is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s “intruding” into Japan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ). These military activities are taking place on and above the high sea, which is simply the confirmation of the freedom of navigation enjoyed by all members of the international community. How could Taiwan accuse these activities of provocations like a “rogue state” such as Libya did in 1981 and 1989?
This sort of double standard is the worst of all. Racist arguments against China and the Chinese are increasingly common on the Taiwanese internet. Almost every event related to the Mainland is interpreted through a double standard. Thus, a sense of racism against all Chinese people is generally conceived by the Mainland Chinese. This perception pushes them toward the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime, and the PLA’s activities in Taiwan’s ADIZ can also be said to be a response to this perceived racism. Sadly, before the DPP seized power in 2016, there was once a growing appreciation from the Mainland Chinese of Taiwan’s democracy and preservation of the essence of Chinese civilization. The Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan is the living proof of the feasibility of democracy in Chinese society and the alternative to the CCP’s authoritarian rule. Within this trend, peaceful transformation of the CCP and further reconciliation of the Chinese on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is within sight. Rather than relying on vague US promises, the best form of Taiwanese security is through admiration from the Mainland Chinese and the subtle work of differentiating the Chinese people from the CCP regime itself. Unfortunately, Taiwan is inadvertently thwarting such endeavours. By denying that the Taiwanese are also Chinese, Taiwan has lost its soft power over the Mainland Chinese. This danger is not imminent but will be catastrophic in the future.
Shih-Yueh Yang is a Professor at the Department of International Affairs and Business, Nanhua University, Taiwan.
This article was published as part of a special issue on Taiwan’s Security & China-US Rivalry.