China unable to take Taiwan by force if U.S. intervenes: U.S. expert

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A U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.

A U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan. (By Associated Press)

An American expert on East Asian security affairs believes the military balance in the Taiwan Strait is tilting toward Beijing, but that China currently remains unable to take Taiwan by force in the face of U.S. intervention.

Roger Cliff, a senior researcher at American nonprofit research and analysis organization, CNA, elaborated on cross-strait and U.S. military power on Thursday at a seminar on cross-strait relations organized by the Washington D.C.-based think tank Global Taiwan Institute.

Having researched Chinese military modernization, China's foreign policy and U.S. strategy toward Asia, Cliff said "the military balance in the Taiwan Strait is heavily tilting toward China."

"The good news is, providing the U.S. comes to Taiwan to defend it, China does not currently have the capability to take Taiwan by force or will any time soon," Cliff said.

He noted that the current military balance between the U.S. and China, is still in favor of the United States and will not change anytime soon.

However, "just because the military balance favors the U.S., that does not mean war with China is something that the U.S. would enter into lightly, nor does it mean that it would not be potentially devastating to Taiwan," Cliff warned.

"It also does not mean that China wouldn't be willing to use force against Taiwan," he added.

Cliff detailed four possible scenarios in which the Chinese government might choose to use force against Taiwan, including Chinese decision makers feeling they would be able to keep the U.S. out of the conflict or at least delay its entry long enough for Taiwanese resistance to collapse.

Other possibilities include decision makers in China feeling Taiwan lacks the will to resist and believing capitulation would come quickly.

Alternatively, they might conclude the U.S. will not defend Taiwan, Cliff said, adding that there's also the possibility Beijing believes domestic pressure requires it to use force against Taiwan even if it expects failure.

Cliff further said that although most assessments indicate Taiwan could not defeat an attack by mainland China on its own, that does not eliminate the need for Taiwan to have its own defensive capability.

Taiwan needs to be able to hold out when the Chinese military employs "anti-access" or tactic deferral strategies to keep the U.S. out of the conflict zone, the security expert suggested.

Asked what Taiwan's top self defense strategy should be, Cliff said Taipei needs a coherent, integrated and comprehensive strategy, but offered no further elaboration.

Asked whether F-35 fighters are a necessary or efficient investment by Taiwan, Cliff said any such purchase come with a trade-off in terms of outlay on other equipment and must be weighed against having weapons systems but being unable to make optimal use of them. (By Rita Cheng and Elizabeth Hsu)