Source: Laura Lam
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender….”- Winston Churchill
The Taiwanese, like the Ukrainians, pose no threat to their neighbors. But, like Putin, Xi Jinping denies that they have a right to co-exist as a free people. He is surely watching Putin’s efforts to measure China’s chances against Ukraine. China, though, will face unique challenges if it attacks Taiwan, in addition to meeting the same fierce local resistance Putin’s experiencing.
For two decades, Trump has been fully aware of the danger from China. In 2000, in The America We Deserve, he wrote, “Our biggest long-term challenge will be China.” He could see the potential market with China, but Americans, he said, “were way too eager to please the Chinese” at the expense of America’s national interest. Still, China is not unbeatable.
For starters, Xi’s people will also resent an invasion. China’s 35-yearlong “one child policy” (1985-2015) has left most Chinese families dependent on a single child, many of whom are now military-aged men. Despite being drafted into the armed forces, these children can’t abandon the “filial duty”—an important Chinese cultural value—they owe to their parents in old age. If they are forced into a meaningless war, the entire army and the public will be demoralized.
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It’s true that Xi has been promoting the “China Dream” (中国梦) to his people by building a strong army for an empire. Still, some of China’s neighbors think the military is a paper tiger. Many Taiwanese see the Chinese military display as more of a show than a preparation for an all-out invasion.
Xi’s desire for a quick war may be thwarted by the fact that transporting his troops by sea across the Taiwan strait and maintaining their presence would be a huge challenge. They would be facing the armed forces of Japan, India, Australia, and the ASEAN (an association of ten Southeast Asian nations)—plus the American and British forces currently in the region.
Taiwan also poses a porcupine-like challenge. It’s very well-defended. In 2022, Taiwan is ranked 21 of 142 in the annual GFP review.
Taiwan’s parliament has recently passed an extra spending bill of close to $9 billion for defense spending, which comes on top of its special annual defense budget of roughly $17 billion for 2022. The Defense Ministry says it’s confident that it would be difficult for China to pull off a full-scale invasion. Per the Defense Ministry’s latest threat assessment, China has a limited transport capacity that will slow an invasion:
“However, the nation’s military strongly defends ports and airports, and they will not be easy to occupy in a short time. Landing operations will face extremely high risks,” the ministry said in the report, a copy of which was reviewed by the Reuters news agency.
Still, China is pushing. China’s largest-ever incursion occurred in October last year, with at least 38 Chinese aircraft flying in two waves across the island’s air defense zone. A month before this incident, Taiwan’s air force had scrambled to warn away 10 Chinese aircraft that entered its air defense zone, a day after Taiwan announced that $9 billion boost to military spending.
Beginning in January 2022, China’s military flights into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone have doubled since 2021. Recently, the Chinese regime has carried out multiple military drills simulating invasion. In recent weeks, Chinese warships were spotted off Taiwan’s Orchid Island three times, according to a military source who spoke to CNA. This heightens regional concerns about the risk of military escalation or even outright war.
Still, China is worried about Western interference. Since 2018, China has been tracking military activity in the South China Sea with a particular focus on American forces, especially after America and Britain increased their military presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
In 2018 Britain also joined the Asia Pacific free-trade alliance known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. By February 2019, the Carrier Strike Group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, loaded with F35 jets, sailed into the South China Sea.
Image: Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin (edited). YouTube screen grab.
In March 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu and Defense Minister Kishi in Tokyo. They discussed a six-year plan of cooperation to strengthen the US-Japan alliance. Blinken confirmed the US commitment to assist Japan to defend itself and its neighbors.
In June 2021, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb visited Viet Nam, Singapore, and Cambodia. The government’s document, “Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy,” recommended strategies responding to China’s aggression. The following month, UK Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace met with VN Defense Minister Phan Van Giang for talks in Ha Noi.
In July 2021, Defense Secretary Austin arrived in Singapore to give a speech at the IISS Fullerton Lecture series. When he met leaders of Viet Nam and the Philippines, they expressed concern about China and requested tougher US policies toward Beijing.
The U.S. has also sought to reassure Taiwan since Russia invaded Ukraine. President Biden sent a delegation to Taiwan, led by Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They arrived in Taipei on March 1, 2022. Part of the group’s mission was to reassure the public in Taiwan about America’s commitment.
Before the invasion of Ukraine, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had scheduled a visit to Taiwan. He arrived on March 2 and gave a reassuring speech on March 3.
The United States’ relationship with Taiwan was strongest during the Trump presidency. President Tsai also awarded former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the Order of Brilliant Star with Special Grand Cordon. At this event, the skyscraper Taipei 101 lit up with a message for Pompeo and a billboard by a city councilor candidate in Taichung, Taiwan’s second-largest city.
Australia is also boosting its defense spending in response to threats from China and Russia. On March 9, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the Australian Defense Force will undergo the biggest expansion in 40 years, with a budget of $38 billion. He said the plan will result in 80,000 permanent defense force personnel—a 30% increase—and a total permanent workforce of over 101,000 by 2040. The plan also includes cyber warfare defense.
Additionally, Australia quietly supports Taiwan against Chinese military aggression. Thus, it supplies it with ammunition and small missiles, of the type currently being sent to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
China may also be put off by the world’s overwhelming response to Russia’s aggression. Putin and Xi had refused to call the Ukraine situation an “invasion” or a “war,” referring to instead it as a “special military operation.” But significantly, on March 9, Beijing called the crisis a “war” for the first time. China has also stopped aircraft parts deliveries to Russia amid sanctions.
Still, on the upside for China, with the Russian ruble crashing due to unprecedented sanctions from the West, only China can buy out Russian businesses at their now lowest prices. Beijing is in talks with state-owned enterprises, expecting to scoop up Russian companies and assets, according to Bloomberg. As to Russia, Xi has revealed himself as a two-faced dragon.
Now that Vladimir Putin’s adventure is making Russia a pariah nation, it serves as a warning to Xi’s designs on Taiwan.