After Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, concerns grew in Taiwan that China could attack the island. Tsai Ing-wen responded to this fear by reassuring her countrymen. “The Taiwanese people can rest assured that we are working to ensure the security of the nation.” Island strategists and politicians have been debating the best defense strategy since 2019. The DPP advocates an “asymmetric” defense whose concept of global defense includes the hypothesis of an invasion of the island by China. The KMT remains committed to a more classic concept of so-called “symmetrical” forward defense, aimed at preventing invasion. The two marvel at the reality of American involvement by their side in the event of a conflict in the straits (source photos by AFP/Jiji and Reuters).
In Taiwan, Russian aggression against Ukraine does not leave the political class indifferent. The upheaval of the east of the European continent by a conflict many thought impossible three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall is reviving fears about the island’s fragility to the Chinese giant.
The concern is beating the internal theoretical debates surrounding the island’s defense concept, increasingly moving away from the promises of the “three communiqués” (read: the new poorly marked waters of the Taiwan question), despite recent signs of rapprochement between Washington and Taipei, it raises the nagging question of the reality and nature of support Washington would provide to the island in the event of Chinese aggression under the Taiwan Relations Act. (See the analysis by F. Danjou on the occasion of the 40thand Anniversary of the TRA: The Taiwan Relations Act and the Illusions of the Status Quo).
Even if the mood in Taiwan and despite the recurring violent demonstrations by Chinese fighter jets south of the island’s airspace is far from panic (shortly before the Russian aggression, hardly more than a quarter of the Taiwanese believed in an imminent conflict in the Strait), the rise of the The PLA’s military power, the threat of its missiles capable of containing the American Naval Air Force, creates a dull insecurity.
In the background, the relentless rise of Taiwan’s sense of identity separate from the mainland, telescoping Xi Jinping’s oft-repeated promise that the realization of the “Chinese Dream 中国梦” would be incomplete without reunification. In addition, Beijing’s late-2020 expansion of the concept of “national security” to include the call for reunification, which was added to the list of vital interests, reinforces the Taiwanese’s sense of being prisoners of their own destiny and they don’t hold all the keys.
On April 12, the Ministry of Defense released for the first time a 28-page “Civil Defense” manual intended to prepare the public for a military conflict with China. Illustrated information explains how to protect yourself from rocket fire and what to do in the event of a disruption in the running water supply and a massive power outage.
This overheating caused by the war in Ukraine comes amid heated internal debates surrounding the concept of “comprehensive defense” devised by Admiral Lee Hsi-min, who was chief of staff of the Taiwan Armed Forces from 2017 to 2019.
The concept of “total defense” and “asymmetric” warfare
The island’s rugged terrain favors Wars of Attrition and Resistance, which are fueled by the asymmetrical concept.
The strategy aims to deal with a possible Chinese invasion “in an environment of limited resources”. Based on the concept of “asymmetric warfare” and taking advantage for a defender of the difficult terrain of the eastern part of the island, it plans to combine all civilian and military means to wage a war of attrition and resistance against the occupiers, after the Model of an “operative area defense”. “.
The goal: “To deter and, if necessary, to defeat an invasion by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA)”.
In January 2022, the Legislative Yuan unanimously approved an additional budget of 8.6 millionDS from $. The rectification came in response to pressure from Beijing’s fighter jets in the straits amid sanctions against Taiwanese companies politically linked to the ruling party.
The additional resources should enable the construction of “high-performance combat ships” and the acquisition of precision missiles to hit targets on the Chinese coast itself. DoD planning also included purchasing combat drones from the United States, accelerating local manufacture of anti-ship cruise missiles 萬劍 (Wan Jian – ten thousand sabers) – and improving the Coast Guard’s combat capabilities.
But the concept of “asymmetric warfare,” which envisages both an invasion of the island by the PLA and multi-layered internal resistance, has been sharply criticized by the opposition. The main objections were raised at the last US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference in October 2021 by the KMT delegation led by Denis Weng (履中翁 Lu Zhong-weng).
The “asymmetric” war criticized by the KMT.
Over the small 60-ton launches of asymmetric warfare, the KMT and military prefer more conventional equipment. Here a Kang Ding-class Lafayette frigate, equipped with the Chaparral missile launcher system, with its four Sidewinder surface-to-air missiles.
Tam Kang University of Taiwan (淡江大學) professor of political science on secondment at Sam Houston University in Huntsville, Texas, Denis Weng, along the same lines as Alexander Huang, 黃介正 director of international affairs at the KMT, holds the concept for the asymmetric Warfare is a “porcupine” strategy that leaves little room for manoeuvre.
Since it has at best the ability to delay an invasion, it has no chance of deterring them. Above all, he pointed out the danger of a blockade: “The fortress of Taiwan could be besieged and the porcupine could starve. »
Beneath the surface of this criticism, there was also a fear that runs through all soldiers. The one that, under an obvious political rapprochement, formulated by the American declarations in favor of Taiwan, initiated by D. Trump, who renounces the “Three Communiqués” and is continued by Joe Biden, the real intentions of Washington, the ardent support of the “asymmetric strategy” , would actually be to stay away from any direct military involvement on the island.
While the DPP, which speculates on the democratic connivance of defending freedoms, seems assured of Washington’s unwavering support, including by deploying military forces to the island, Alexander Huang, on the contrary, understood that the “asymmetric strategy” promoted by Washington was indeed marked withdrawal. On April 12, he tweeted, “We must plan the island’s defense provided no one comes to Taiwan’s aid.”
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