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Taiwan’s defense capabilities are better than suggested

The Ministry of National Defense's annual report paints bleak a picture, but things are not as bad as they seem

Clouded Leopard armored vehicle (center). (MND photo)

Clouded Leopard armored vehicle (center). (MND photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – The Ministry of National Defense (MND) Annual Report 2021 was published this week and, on the face of it, made for pretty grim reading.

Whereas last year, the report confidently claimed that China lacked the capacity for an invasion, this year it said that China was capable of paralyzing Taiwan’s defenses through a mixture of "soft and hard electronic attacks," precision missile strikes, and enhanced reconnaissance capabilities.

This assessment bodes even worse when put together with the ongoing incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ (air defense identification zone), plus the news from Japan that a Chinese warship appears to be permanently deployed in waters to the northeast of Taiwan.

Following the U.S. government’s catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan last week and U.S. President Joe Biden’s speech that suggested the era of U.S intervention and nation-building was over, some commentators have suggested the stage is now set for China to make its move on Taiwan. This has led to renewed calls for Taiwan to enhance its own domestic defense capabilities to counter this growing threat. This is happening.

Amid calls from the U.S. for Taiwan to increase defense spending, that is exactly what’s happening. The 2021 defense budget saw spending increase by 10% compared with 2020.

There have been a number of significant domestic developments too.

Exciting developments

Taiwan’s first domestically developed submarine will begin production in November, a new Tuo Chiang-class corvette warship will be commissioned later this month, six existing Kang Ding-class frigates are having their missile systems upgraded, and the Taiwan Army is having its stockpile of mortars and machine guns increased.

There are plenty of exciting new developments. A small drone defense system is being established to help protect critical military targets, five new combat training facilities are being built, and new equipment from the U.S. is scheduled to arrive, including 40 M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers.

All of this investment and spending will doubtless be compared to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) gargantuan defense budget and ridiculed. However, there is a crucial difference between the CCP's military aims and those of Taiwan.

Taiwan has no ambition to defeat China or mount a hostile attack. Taiwan just needs to be able to defend itself from invasion should the need arise.

Taiwan’s geography makes a traditional invasion hard enough at the best of times and these developments, although modest compared to China’s military expansion, are all big steps towards that objective.

While Taiwan wants to be able to defend itself, there is no avoiding the fact that, if China does make good on its threats toward Taiwan, the support of democratic allies will be needed. This is why it has been hugely encouraging in recent weeks to see democratic allies of Taiwan rallying around.

Despite the questions asked in the wake of Afghanistan, U.S. support remains unshakable and, in addition to the cross-party political backing Taiwan enjoys in Washington, there are also more practical activities taking place. Indeed, it has been argued here and elsewhere that the Afghan calamity actually boosts Taiwan, since the U.S. will not want a repeat of that catastrophe again.

Force for good

Taiwan is far from dependent on the U.S. alone. There have recently been talks between the governments of Taiwan and Japan on the security threat posed to both nations by the CCP. Meanwhile, talks between Australia and France saw calls for continued peace in the Taiwan Strait, and there have been strong calls for closer ties between Taiwan and the EU in Brussels.

The recent support of countries like Lithuania and the Czech Republic, both of which remember all too well how damaging a communist occupation is, has been well documented. It is also notable that former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fog Rasmussen went as far as to write to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister to praise his country’s pro-Taiwan stance.

While the CCP threat toward Taiwan remains, and China’s military capabilities continue to develop, so too do Taiwan’s defensive capabilities and global awareness of both the importance of Taiwan and the need to protect it.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) recently talked about Taiwan being a crucial force for promoting regional peace, as well as the values of human rights and democracy. She is absolutely right, and let’s not forget that Taiwan is also a crucial regional trading hub, not to mention a vital manufacturer of semiconductors.

There are lots of reasons for the world to want to defend Taiwan, and help Taiwan to defend itself, from Chinese aggression. Even so, it is vital that Taiwan keeps itself and the threat China poses firmly in the public eye.

This MND report has certainly achieved that. And perhaps that was its main purpose all along.