Monday 9 June 2014

Taiwan and the US Department of Defense report

Flicking through the recently-released US Department of Defense's annual report on the Chinese military, there's quite a few things that stand out for those of us with an interest in Taiwanese affairs:
  • Despite various noises that have been made since the election of the Chinese Nationalist KMT government (which this analyst bizarrely describes as "less hardline-nationalist"), Taiwan remains, in the words of the DoD, "the focus and primary driver of China’s military investment". The KMT may have taken the sting out of the war of words, but force has not been taken off the table. As the report points out, Xi Jinping has been quite open in stating that the Taiwan issue "cannot be passed from generation to generation.”

  • The report points out that "China today probably could not enforce a full military blockade. However, its ability to do so will improve significantly over the next five to ten years." This is something that I think people who over-estimate the PRC's ability to use force against Taiwan at the present time (including, e.g., predicting a forced annexation of Taiwan in 2012) need to think about. China at the present moment is not capable of this level of coercion - but the day when it will be powerful enough to use military force to coerce Taiwan is approaching.

  • The above point is further reinforced by the US DoD's assessment that, whilst the PLA could probably carry out small-to-medium scale attacks on outlying islands with a reasonable chance of success, a full-scale invasion of Taiwan "would strain China’s armed forces and invite international intervention [making an invasion] a significant political and military risk". The report goes on to note that "China does not appear to be building the conventional amphibious lift required to support such a campaign" and that "The PLA Navy currently lacks the the amphibious lift capacity that a large-scale invasion of Taiwan would require", meaning that China is likely to remain incapable of launching an invasion of Taiwan with any degree of certainty of success at least in the near-term. However, the exact nature of the aircraft carriers now being built in China is not known.
Far from the panicked picture drawn elsewhere, it appears that, at least according to the US DoD, Taiwan is not under a significantly greater threat now than it has been over the past decade, though it may be within the next 5-10 years. Narratives that basically require support for one or the other political parties in Taiwan in order to rescue Taiwan from an immediate threat to Taiwanese democracy coming from its own elected government, with no supporting evidence of anything new, should be treated with suspicion.

1 comment:

justrecently said...

I basically agree. However, it also seems to me that the Obama administration is using de-escalating language wherever they can. A genuine arms race with China would endanger nation-building at home, one of the administration's legitimate - and practical - priorities.