China Military Thumps Chest At More Agile, Potent Taiwan
(Page 2 of 2)
A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says China also lacks sufficient numbers of strike aircraft.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
''You cannot assault Taiwan in terms of a classic amphibious assault without getting involved in major air battles,'' he says. ''Otherwise, your amphibious assault forces are vulnerable. So, you are talking about a lot of blood, a lot of aircraft, and a lot of naval craft that don't exist.''
China's nuclear arsenal is not considered a factor in invasion scenarios by most experts, because winds could carry atomic fallout back to the mainland.
Few beaches for landing
For its part, Taiwan has only two or three beaches suitable for massive troop landings and its military strategy is geared for a hard-nosed defense, experts say. Its troops and pilots are well-trained. Though somewhat aged, its Air Force and Navy comprise US-made weaponry and are judged superior to many of their Chinese counterparts.
Taiwan plans to modernize both its Navy and its Air Force. It has reportedly been shopping for submarines and is shortly to begin replacing its Air Force of 400 F-5 and F-104 fighters with 130 new indigenously produced jet fighters, 150 US-made F-16s, and 60 French-made Mirage 2000s.
It has greatly improved its technical capabilities with advanced electronic warfare, command-and-control systems, and four US-made E-2T Hawkeye early-warning radar planes, experts say. Says General Shalikashvili: ''The capacity of the Taiwanese to defend themselves now is, I think, adequate.''
Most experts believe China is well aware it cannot invade Taiwan. For that reason, they expect that it will escalate its provocative ''half measures'' after the presidential election if the new Taiwanese leadership still refuses to discuss reunification in earnest and presses on with moves that Beijing believes are aimed at gaining broader international stature and independence.
''It's classic Sun Tzu in the sense that you defeat the enemy without a battle. In this case, you deter the enemy ... who is Lee Teng-hui,'' says the US defense official referring to Taiwan's president.
Among other measures, China could impose a naval blockade on Taiwan or one of the smaller islands it controls. Some experts, however, doubt the Chinese Navy can sustain a long-term cordon sanitaire. Alternatively, it could mine Taiwanese harbors or shipping lanes, which would severely hit the island's economy, they say.
One measure to which Taiwan would have enormous problems responding would be missile attacks that China has reportedly warned the Clinton administration it is prepared to mount, experts say. The island has no effective antimissile defenses.
While the physical damage from a conventional intermediate-range missile strike would be minimal, the psychological impact would be enormous. That was shown last July when the Taipei stock market went into a tailspin after China fired ''test'' missiles into the sea about 80 miles north of the island.
Can't count on US help
An unknown factor is the US response to stepped-up Chinese military posturing. The Clinton administration has made it clear to Taiwan that it cannot rely on US military intervention, while warning China against using force to resolve the dispute over the island's future.
Whatever new steps it decides to take, China will have to act with extreme prudence, experts stress. A weak action will have little influence on Taipei and cause China a humiliating loss of face. An overly strong action could provoke a Taiwanese military reaction that would send shock waves throughout East Asia and across the Pacific, igniting a major crisis that both sides, their neighbors, and the US are anxious to avoid.