Taiwan’s self-defense issue

The war in Ukraine may have roused many people in Taiwan, writes the New York Times (“NYT”) in a detailed analysis of Taiwan’s military capabilities. A growing number of residents are preparing for a possible conflict with their big neighbors in simulation exercises. Because a well-trained civilian population could be the “spearhead” of the defense, speculates a non-governmental organization that specializes in civil defense in Taiwan.

The idea is based on the Ukrainian resistance against Russia. According to experts, however, the island state is still a long way from that – according to “The Diplomat”, there are also legal doubts as to whether its own civilian units are possible. But the challenge also lies elsewhere: for years, due to the Chinese threat situation, the focus was on the purchase and development of expensive air and sea defenses. The recruitment of soldiers, on the other hand, was neglected.

Experts believe that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be more complex than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, if only because Taiwan is an island. But a successful attack can never be ruled out, they say. US military strategists have therefore been recommending the Taiwanese army for years to rely on the “porcupine strategy”: curl up and prepare for a long defensive battle. The reserve would have to be better trained for this.

Reuters/Ann Wang

In Taipei, workshops training civilians with weapons have been fully booked since the beginning of the Ukraine war

Uncomfortable and defensive

The strategy is not entirely new. William Murray, a professor at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, noted in 2008 that Taiwan was pursuing an offensive defense against China. But the island would do better with the “porcupine strategy,” the expert wrote, referring to the army’s resilience. An invasion must appear dauntingly expensive to the attacker. Should there be an attack, the fight must last a long time in order to increase the chance of US intervention.

With a rapid invasion, China could establish facts. But if the attack lasts longer because of the defensive porcupine, allies would have time to plan their next steps precisely – it’s also about not being fast, but being sustainable. According to military experts, this strategy also helped Ukraine against Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to take over the country as quickly as possible. But the resistance of the Ukrainian army has lasted for more than 110 days.

“The idea is to get so uncomfortable that the enemy will think twice before launching an attack,” a former Taiwanese chief of staff was quoted as saying by the NYT. The fact that Taiwan is already acquiring mobile weapons is viewed critically by some of the military leadership. In order to visibly defy China, smaller arms are not useful. According to the critics, only long-range missiles that could hit the mainland could deter Beijing. Nevertheless, more and more civilian troops are preparing for a possible invasion, as the “NYT” reports.

Soldiers at a military exercise in Taiwan

Reuters/Tyrone Siu

This exercise simulates China launching an attack on the island

China threatened war

The reason for this may also be the recent threatening gestures between the USA and China. At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe stressed that his country would fight Taiwan’s independence “to the end”. “We will fight at all costs and we will fight to the end,” Wei said. China has no other choice. “Those who seek Taiwan independence to divide China will definitely not end well,” the minister added.

At a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Friday, Wei had already threatened war if Taiwan declared independence. “If anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate – no matter what the cost – to start a war,” Wei said. The United States, on the other hand, sharply criticized China’s words – the United States had recently delivered weapons to the island again.

Again, China did not like that. Because Beijing sees Taiwan, which split off in 1949, as a renegade province that is to be reunited with the mainland – if necessary with military force. China is also isolating Taiwan politically. Its government always emphasizes that it wants peace, but will defend the island in the event of an attack. China considers Taiwan to be the most important and sensitive issue in its already strained relationship with the United States.

Chinese aircraft carrier

picturedesk.com/Hu Shanmin Xinhua/Eyevine

In recent months, the threatening gestures between those involved have become sharper (pictured: Chinese aircraft carrier)

Biden: China ‘flirting with danger’

China expert William Choong told the BBC that the current rhetoric should not be downplayed, but from China’s point of view an invasion would also be dangerous for its own country. “The Chinese economy is much more closely intertwined with the global economy than Russia’s,” said Choong, referring to the war in Ukraine, which is causing significant economic and political disadvantages for the aggressor Russia.

In his speech a week ago, US Secretary of Defense Austin emphasized that the US neither supports Taiwan’s independence nor wants “a new Cold War”. Three weeks ago, however, US President Joe Biden made it clear what he thought of China’s threatening gestures towards Taiwan: The People’s Republic was “flirting with the danger”. In the event of an attack from Beijing, the US would also defend the island state militarily. “It’s a commitment we’ve made.”

Shortly thereafter, an adviser to the President spoke up and stressed that the United States would not deviate from its position. Biden would have meant arms deliveries, not the deployment of ground troops, the Guardian reported. Political scientist Ian Chong of the National University of Singapore told the BBC that neither side will allow the situation to escalate. “But a non-escalation does not mean that we will achieve a better position. So we’re all stuck in this spiral for a while.”

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