INFOGRAPHIC | Can Taiwan defend itself militarily if China attacks?
The PRC has recently launched its announced military exercise in the Taiwan Strait and near Taiwan's borders, which now, after US Congress Speaker Nancy Pelosi's brief visit to Taipei, is taking on unreasonably threatening dimensions.
Although the military maneuvers were originally planned to last only four days, they continued unexpectedly after the departure of the American diplomat from Taipei. These days already in the international public, analysts are predicting the eventual conflict between the two sides, how long it would last, what is the military ratio of the two armies, but also whether Taiwan could defend itself against the more powerful China in the event of a collision.
Will the US defend Taiwan from China?
It is not yet clear to what extent Taiwan could rely on American support in the event of Chinese aggression. For decades, Washington has maintained "strategic ambiguity" about Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, maintaining friendly relations with the government without formal diplomatic relations or even recognition as a fully sovereign state.
The White House has sold defense military equipment to Taiwan, but has not officially committed to military intervention.
Meanwhile, China sees the island as its territory and is developing plans to take it back, if necessary by force. Over the past decades, the Chinese Communist Party has been preparing its military wing, known as the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA is more powerful than the forces of any of Taiwan's allies, such as the United States, but that does not mean Taipei is completely defenseless in the event of a PLA attack. The potential risk of a Chinese invasion has hung over Taiwan for decades, long enough for it to develop a sophisticated defense system suited to its geography, writes German Deutsche Welle.
According to the German media, in order to face a huge power like China, Taiwan has over the years adopted the method of asymmetric warfare, which aims to make invasion very difficult and expensive for the enemy. For years, Taiwan has amassed large stockpiles of anti-aircraft, anti-tank and anti-ship weapons and ammunition. These include drones and cheap munitions such as mobile coastal defense cruise missiles, which have the capacity to destroy expensive Chinese naval vessels and naval equipment. Stealth fast attack aircraft and miniature missile boats are other relatively cheap but highly effective equipment that Taiwan has at its disposal in bulk.
Multi-layered naval defense
To capture the island, the Chinese PLA will have to transport many troops and large quantities of materials – armored vehicles, weapons, ammunition, food, medical supplies and fuel – across the strait. This is only possible by sea, as air transport and aircraft fleets have limited capacity. The territory of Taiwan includes a chain of islands, some of which are close to the Chinese coast. Surveillance equipment installed on those islands can detect the first part leaving the Chinese coast. This could give Taiwanese forces enough time to coordinate a multi-pronged defense.
Taiwan has also prepared its cities for guerilla warfare in case the PLA manages to reach their shores. Man-portable air defense systems and mobile anti-tank weapons, such as highly mobile artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), can be used in urban combat while buildings can be converted into barracks.
According to a 2017 report published by the RAND Foundation, there are 2,5 million people in the military reserve system plus 1 million civil defense volunteers. In total, they make up 15 percent of Taiwan's population and include one in four men. Sea mines combined with fast attack aircraft and missile boats, along with land-based munitions located on shores and nearby islands, will engage the PLA at its most vulnerable before it has a chance to land and begin operations.
Still, while Washington may not intervene should a conflict arise, it has vowed to continue selling defense systems and providing intelligence support to Taiwan. All these measures would help Taiwan send a message to China that if a war breaks out, it will be long, expensive and bloody.