Military


China - Taiwan Military Balance

With the end of the Cold War both China and Taiwan embarked upon far-reaching upgrades to their naval and air forces. China returned to Mosow for assistance denied since the Sino-Soviet rift of the Khruschev era, while Taiwan turned to France and America. Although this fact seems largely un-noticed, Taiwan's military buildup has succeeded and is now largely complete, while China's significant modernization effort, despite early setbacks, is ongoing though years away from completion. The present military balance across the Taiwan Strait is somewhat more favorable for Taiwan, though Taiwan's relative strength will inexorably decline over the next decade as China's modernization effort continues.

Both China and Taiwan have rid themselves of elderly aircraft, and acquired more modern units. The total number of Chinese fighter aircraft has decreased by half over the past four years, from about 2,500 to about 1,300, as the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has sought to supplement its numerical superiority with more modern aircraft. Force improvements have been limited almost exclusively to the addition of first-rate Su-27s purchased from Russia, with the remaining inventory consisting of obsolete designs which dated from the 1960s. Similarly, Taiwan's fighter force has decreased somewhat since 2000 (following a significant increase in aircraft since 1995), with the bulk of the force consisting of over 300 modern first-class aircraft. While Taiwan enjoys a qualitative superiority with the deliveries of F-16s, Mirage 2000-5, and the Ching-Kuo, the ROC Air Force advantage will erode over the next decade as Chinese modernization plans are eventually fullfilled.

Both China and Taiwan have rid themselves of elderly ships and acquired more modern major surface combatants. Ambitious Chinese plans to acquire at least a pair of Russian Sovremenny-class guided missile destroyers and to construct a number of other modern ships, have been realized. These ships, added to the People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) Luhai, Luhu, and Jiangwei classes, approach world standards for modern major surface combatants, and significantly improve the PLAN's operational capabilities. In contrast, the Taiwan's Navy has recently completed the acquisition of a total of 22 Perry, Knox and La Fayette class frigates equiped with modern shipboard combat systems. Taiwan's acquisition of 4 Kidd class destroyers will not be completed until around 2006 and its efforts to build a modern AEGIS capable destroyer will not be realized until the end of the decade.

According to estimates, the forces available to the PLA for the invasion of Taiwan include about 50,000 troops of the 31st Group Army deployed in Nanjing Military Region. The PLA could reshuffle in a short period some of the "Rapid Reaction Forces" of other military regions, which along with strategic reserves would bring perhaps another 250,000 troops to the area, according to estimates of the Taiwan Ministry of Defense. Naval forces, including submarines and motorized fishing vessels, could establish a sea blockade. Naval units could lay mines over the peripheral waters of Taiwan proper and the offshore islands, while concentrating amphibious landing craft transporting one reinforced division to conduct a regular landing operation. Or motorized fishing vessels could carry up to 350,000 light infantry to undertake an irregular landing operation. At the 13 military-civilian airports within 250 NM from the Taiwan proper, the PRC's Air Force could station up to 1,200 combat aircraft and maneuver five dozen air transports to carry one airborne division for an operational mission. The DF-15 (M-9) and DF-21 could directly attack key political, economical, and military targets.

The military balance is of course more complex than can be depicted by considering only a few indicators. There are certainly areas, such as anti-shipping cruise missiles, in which China fields a formidable force. Taiwan has not been entirely successful in bringing its new hardware up to combat full readiness, and such defficiencies surely compromise other evident advantages in command and control.

The course of political events is not simply or even largely dictated by the military balance. The political standing of Taiwan in the international community is influenced by many factors, few of which can be influenced by resort to the force of arms. But questions of military efficacy are not entirely absent from Taiwan's security calculus, as witnessed by the efforts expended in force posture upgrades in the 1990s.

Conventional thinking indicates that German decision-making leading up to both World Wars was influenced by fears that a window of opportunity was closing, that German arms had achieved a transient advantage over adversaries that would erode with time. There is some sense in which a similar military window of opportunity presently confrots Taiwan, and surely some sense in which this window will inexorably close over the coming decade. Of course, Taiwan in 2004 was not Germany in 1914, and different courses of action will inevitably suggest themselves [surely, Taiwan is not contemplating an attack on France].

Military history is replete with exemplars of the inability to translate tactical or operational success on the battlefield into desired political outcomes, and the path from Taiwan's passing military advantage to some improved political end-state is not immediately apparent. However, to the extent that the military balance does influence political decision making, Taiwan's present passing military advantage may create both the opportunity and the incentive for policies characterized by a greater propensity for risk-taking.

It is almost impossible to envision how Taiwan might directly compel China by force of arms to formally acknowledge Taiwan's self-defined status in the international community. It is rather less difficult to imagine how Taiwan, emboldened to some extent by transient military advantage and apprehesive in some measure lest the moment be frittered away through inaction, might embark on a course of action intended to enhance and consolidate its international status. And it is even less difficult to imagine such initiatives in the context not only of the present military situation, but also of the present political climate between America and China.

It would not be difficult to imagine the "clever briefer" in Taipei explaining that the military and political balance offered unique opportunities for proactively and concretely exploring the possibilities for moving away from an increasingly burdensome and annoying "One China" policy. The influence of this hypothetical "clever briefer" on precipitating the present crisis remains entirely conjectural. But the political and military content of such a briefing will increasingly define the present crisis, to the extent that events move towards more direct confrontation and escalation.

This window of opportunity seems to have closed. In October 2005 Taiwan's military rported that the military balance between Taiwan and China would tilt in Beijing's favor beginning in 2005, and could deteriorate to the point that the country's survival could be threatened within less than two decades. In its latest attempt to persuade the Legislature to review a stalled arms procurement package, the Ministry of National Defense released an internal study by its Integral Assessment Office detailing the growing threat posed by China's expanding military if the weapons were not purchased. The study suggested that by the years 2020 to 2035, the power ratio between China and Taiwan will be a crushing 2.8:1. Citing American military combat theory, the MND said that any force three times more powerful than the one it was attacking would be assured a military victory. A ratio of 1.5:1 still gives the weaker force a chance of winning a confrontation.

In March 2007, Taiwan's Department of Planning reported that Taiwan Intelligence information shows that China will complete its preparations for establishing "contingency-response combat capabilities" before 2007, building up its "combat capabilities for large-scale military engagement" before 2010, and ensuring "victory in a decisive battle" before 2015. -->



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