Tensions between the US and China have increased significantly in recent months, not least because of Washington’s attempts to engage with the island diplomatically, sending US health supremo Alex Azar, and then Keith Krach, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, to the island. Such moves enrage Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a part of China, and the Communist nation has repeatedly threatened to act to bring it into line in the event of an official declaration of independence.
Derek Grossman, a senior defence analyst with the RAND Corporation and an expert in the region, said the approach went hand in hand with a strategy being referred to in the Pentagon as Fortress Taiwan.
He told Express.co.uk: “For decades, the US has sought to bolster Taiwan’s defensive capabilities to prevent China from being able to successfully launch an amphibious invasion against the island, or to otherwise conduct military operations meant to harm it (such as a blockade or missile strikes).
“A major challenge in this regard has been finding the appropriate mixture of arms to transfer from the US to Taiwan.”
Tsai Ing-wen’s Taiwan must become a fortress against Xi Jinping’s China, said Mr Grossman
Military drills in Taiwan recently
He explained: “On the one hand, Taiwan craves big ticket items, like F-16s, as symbolic demonstrations of US support.
“And to be sure, these systems can be useful as well.
“On the other hand, Taiwan in a practical sense needs much less flashy equipment, such as sea mines and anti-ship cruise missiles, to credibly enhance its defensive posture.”
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Tsai Ing-wen, dressed in combat fatigues,visits troops
At various times the US had provided both, which had “muddied the waters” when it came to Taiwan’s military strategy and well as sowing confusion about what the US expected of it, Mr Grossman said.
He added: “I think Fortress Taiwan is an attempt to clarify and emphasise the latter, ie cost-effective and asymmetric systems, that can make Beijing’s life extremely miserable were it to ever decide to invade Taiwan.
“Basically, the goal should be to make Taiwan an impenetrable fortress rather than prioritising capabilities that could be used for offensive attack.”
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Taiwan troops take part in military drills
Alex Azar pictured during his visit to Taiwan
The pressure Taiwan is under was highlighted by its defence ministry this week, with a spokesman revealing its military had launched more than twice as many aircraft to intercept Chinese planes as during the whole of last year.
In a report to parliament, officials said the air force had scrambled 4,132 times, up 129 percent compared with the entirety of 2019.
China “is trying to use unilateral military actions to change the security status quo in the Taiwan Strait, and at the same time is testing our response, increasing pressure on our air defences and shrinking our space for activity,” the report warned.
Taiwan, with its population of just under 24 million, cannot hope to complete numerically with China’s massive military machine.
China sees Taiwan as part of its territory
However, President Tsai Ing-wen has been overseeing a military modernisation programme, aiming to make the island more difficult to attack.
Addressing a Taiwan-US defence conference on Monday, Vice Defence Minister Chang Guan-chung said China has been ramping up what he called “realistic training against Taiwan”.
He said: “We are developing systems that are small, numerous, smart, stealthy, fast, mobile, low-cost, survivable, effective, easy to develop, maintain and preserve, and difficult to detect and counter.”
He advocated enhanced cooperation with the United States which went beyond weapons sales, and which would invigorate Taiwan’s defence reform and military modernisation.
Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan’s President
He added: “We will also emphasise joint effort in training, operational concepts, capability assessment, intelligence sharing, and armament cooperation.
“These are equally important as the acquisition of hardware.”
An editorial in the Chinese state-run newspaper the Global Times yesterday sounded a chilling warning to Taiwan.
Deputy editor Hu Xijin wrote: “The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war and to give Taiwan secessionist forces a decisive punishment at any time