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HomeOpinionCommentaryCan Taiwan trust China not to attack them? Part 1

Can Taiwan trust China not to attack them? Part 1

By Denys Springer

In 2012, I went to Taiwan as a Research Fellow at the Institute of International Relations, National Chenghi University where I spent nearly ten months. My research looked at whether the Democratization of Taiwan would make it difficult for a ‘Once China Principle’ and would whether democratization will bring about an attack or invasion by the mainland of China.

My research helped me understand the culture of the two countries in terms of history and the idea that the Mainland, although adopting at the juncture, was trying a capitalist system. As far as some of their industries are concerned, there is still a Marxist form of government, a totalitarian society in every sense of the word. In my analysis of the two countries and whether they can ever unite, I devise a model called the “Magnetism Based Model” In other words, what would attract each other to unite; what would draw them together as one. The only answer I could find is that they could not unite, as long as democracy was not alive and well in China and that the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and all the attributes of a democratic society obtains.

Broadening this research, I found out that many countries accept aid from Taiwan, yet, are oblivious to the threat that ‘big brother’ poses. Those who align themselves to China seems of the view that because of its size, the tremendous development that has taken place and the economic powerhouse – that happenings in the Taiwan straits are perhaps vulnerable to an invasion of Taiwan invasion from the Mainland of China. Also, the majority of leaders who align themselves with China can only see the carrots, while their nation suffers from China’s hunger to be the number one country in the world, where others bow to them. This is evident in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which we now have realized is a debt trap for many countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and parts of Africa that are now pushing back.

Until a decade ago, the orthodoxy in strategic circles were either an all-out invasion of Taiwan by China, or actions of war short of invasion would be unlikely to succeed due to a Taiwanese superiority in weaponry, training, and their natural advantage in terms of topography and the treacherousness of the Taiwan straits. This analysis suggests that, while these considerations are still weighty; all advantages are radically smaller than fives years ago. Mounting a successful defense is not only less likely than it was ten or even five years ago, but it shall also be less likely in five years, if present military trends in China continues.

However, circumstances have since changed in the South China Sea with India, Japan and  even South Korea towards Chinese belligerence. We have seen their attitude with Vietnam to take them on and succeeded. Now we see that Australia has joined the fray and America is prepared to honour the Taiwanese Relations Act (TRA) put in place in 1979.

It is therefore, at least prudent for the Taiwanese military to make contingency plans for  rapid air and naval superiority in the Taiwan Strait, a partial or full amphibious invasion, and a last-ditch guerrilla resistance by Taiwan’s reserves and other able-bodied men, fighting with electronic media, to obtain the best possible terms for Taiwan against China, or to force them to withdraw under threat of US intervention based on the TRA.

However, what we are seeing at present is the way Taiwan is now beginning to arm itself with submarines, new aircrafts from the United States and advanced positioning in the Taiwan Straits. We also see that Japan has made it clear to China that to attack Taiwan would also be an attack on Japan. I am now more convinced than ever that if China did attack Taiwan, they would get a bloody nose.

Many of the higher-ranking military person a few years ago such as Admiral Jiang Zhijun, who specifically used the phrase “bequeathed to us by our ancestors”, nicely underlines the mystical resonance of the professional military literature in China that is unknown to the casual Western reader. The practical significance of a possible invasion of Taiwan is apparent, not only from the strategic studies and literature but from perusing either of the two major Taiwanese daily newspapers in late 2010 and early 2011.

In a state of chronic tension between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 1949, notwithstanding a certain amount of détente of late since 2008 that may or may not last as we are now witnessing, the question is most germane. It therefore could come to pass if a three-way game of chess goes wrong, and the most powerful side with the most pieces throw away the rule book to attack the weaker opponent by coming right over the chessboard.

The Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan, its ally the United States, and the PRC are engaged in an intricate three-way balancing act of differing interests and mutual counterclaims of sovereignty. The playing field shifts from year to year in each country, as US and ROC administrations change. At present, Taiwan has a president that will not bow to China under any circumstances. And it is obvious that her back is not bent to be ridden, but straight. Not only that, she is now admired by many countries of the world for her honesty, dedication to country and Taiwanese people.

In the PRC, the posture alters as different leaders rise, and wane in influence to the relative power of factions like the military and party shifts. The military balance is moving month by month, year by year, as new weapons systems come on stream and existing ones are augmented. How much one can threaten has a lot to do with how much one has the muscle to demand.

The PRC had in the early years land-based short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) and cruise missiles pointed squarely at Taiwan. This was a glaring factor on the ground that the ROC contemplated. However, to date the PRC has over 1,600 short-range and long-range, non-nuclear ballistic missiles poised at bases in Fujian, Guangdong and Zhejiang, all aimed at Taiwan’s economic and political centers, with no sign of the pace of accumulation slowing; there were only 350 such missiles in the middle of the last decade.

Therefore, the growing threat of China continues. No one can tell if Xi Jinping is put under pressure and he feels that his position is seriously waning or that he might be removed as the supreme leader of the Chinese Communist Party, that he might very well do an Adolph Hitler and attack Taiwan, even India, because of border issues.

To be continued, Part 2



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