Taiwan’s Ministry of Defence recently demonstrated Taiwan’s ability to counter the Chinese invasion through a video posted on Twitter. “Don’t underestimate our determination to #protectourcountry,” the defense ministry wrote. “The #ROCArmedforces will not antagonize but we will respond to hostile actions.”
#HanKuang36 Live-fire drill demonstrated the coordination across different branches within #ROCArmedForces countering against simulated hostile forces. It also showcased our capabilities of being self-reliant in defense development. pic.twitter.com/CNHLEEt07B
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) July 15, 2020
However, experts have questioned this strength in comparison to Chinese capabilities. Taiwan recently raised its defense budget to US$15.4 billion but still has a minuscule defense budget as compared to China.
Beijing announced $178.6 billion as 2020’s military spending, trailing only behind the US. People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the largest active-duty military force in the world, with about 2.18 million active military personnel. China has been investing in new amphibious ships and arming its bombers with guided cruise missiles.
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) August 20, 2020
The video posted on Twitter shows maneuvers that are ready to thwart PLA’s amphibious assault. Taiwanese military strength is about 215,000 amongst all branches, of which 188,000 are soldiers and the rest are civilian employees.
Only 153,000 of those positions were filled in 2018—just 81 percent of the soldiers the military should have, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND).
“That number might not seem so bad until you realize it means at least a third of your tanks are useless in war because there’s no one to man them,” said Lin, a Taiwanese army lieutenant colonel who most recently served as a battalion commander within one of the army’s armour brigades to Foreign Policy.
Apart from Taiwan’s newest Eagle fighter jets, it also possesses Mirage 2000 fighters. However, the 20-year-old French origin fighters are becoming more difficult to maintain and suffer from shortages of spare parts.
“Taiwan asked France to upgrade its Mirages in 2012, but France, under pressure from China, forced Taiwan to withdraw its request by demanding a sky-high price,” the Taipei Times wrote in 2018.
“Until Taiwan’s other two mainstay fighters have completed mid-life upgrades, the air force will have to go on loving its Mirages for their capabilities, even if it hates their high operation and maintenance costs.”
On the other hand, China has a large arsenal of ballistic missiles and bombers including DF-41 ICBM. Taiwan has also shown its missiles in the video although the sheer number difference between the two cannot be ignored.
Another worrying factor is that PLA has been rapidly modernizing its arsenal including aircraft carriers and stealth fighters whereas, Taiwan’s arsenal dates back to the Cold War era.
“Taiwan is seeking to close the technology gap with F-16V fighters, M1A2 tanks and land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the U.S. But 60 or 70 new fighters and a few missiles won’t really change the balance of power,” wrote Micheal Peck of Forbes. He added that the heavy tanks – especially if they lack trained crews – won’t do much to stop a Chinese invasion.
Taiwan’s cross-Strait relations with mainland China have been deteriorating with Beijing claiming sovereignty over the island and seeking its return to the mainland fold even by force if necessary. It has staged several drills and is firm on its motives.
However, after winning a landslide victory in January, Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, began her second four-year term in May as the President. She has refused to accept the one-China principle and strongly supports the self-governance of Taiwan. The possibility of a Chinese invasion is increasing and if Taiwan decides to put up a fight, it would need the US to win.