Is Taipei ready? – First comment

A member of the Taiwan Coast Guard monitors a Chinese navy ship operating near the Pengjia islet north of Taiwan. Taiwan sent planes and put missile, naval and ground units on alert Thursday for Chinese military exercises taking place on the self-governing democratic island where a new president took office this week. AP

It has been a busy two days in the Taiwan Strait. On Friday (May 24), China began its second day of military exercises targeting Taiwan, with Beijing saying they were testing its ability to seize the self-ruled island.

The war games, which include units from the air force, rocket force, navy, army and coast guard, began on Thursday morning (May 23), days after Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, will take the oath and in his inauguration speech. He had said that he hoped “China would respect the decisions of the people of Taiwan and, in good faith, prefer dialogue to confrontation.”

On Thursday, China began military exercises, dubbed Joint Sword-2024A, saying they were punishment for separatist forces seeking independence. And on Friday, China’s Li Xi, spokesman for the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), was quoted as saying: “They are testing the capability of joint takeover, joint strikes and control of key territories.”

Footage of the exercises showed soldiers leaving a building toward battle stations and planes taking off to the rhythm of a rousing martial tune. Additionally, an animated graphic released by the Chinese military showed missiles falling on key targets in the north, south and east of the island, declaring that they would “cut the blood vessels for Taiwan independence.”

Taiwan condemned the exercises as “irrational provocations” and sent naval, air and ground forces to defend (the island’s) sovereignty.

Experts note that the war exercises are Beijing’s way of showing Taipei that it is exposed to a Chinese attack, and of showing the Americans that any effort to resupply or reinforce Taiwan from the east is vulnerable to attacks with Chinese missiles and naval vessels.

It also raises many questions: Will Taiwan be able to withstand a Chinese attack if it occurs? How prepared is Taiwan for war?

Man vs. man

When it comes to a direct comparison between China and Taiwan’s military, the latter is at a huge disadvantage. China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is the world’s largest standing army with two million members. Compare this to Taiwan, which has a population of only 23 million and an active-duty military of 169,000.

The advantage that Taiwan has is that it has 1.5 million people in military reserves, compared to China, which has 0.5 million reserve personnel. Taiwan ranks first in terms of reserve forces, while China ranks sixth.

Members of Taiwan’s armed forces stand in formation during a drill as part of a demonstration to show their combat readiness. Taiwan has a military of 1,69,000 active duty personnel. File image/Reuters

When it comes to defense budgets, China’s defense spending dwarfs that of Taiwan. China is the second largest defense spender after the United States, with $230 billion allocated to its military. Taipei, on the other hand, had announced in 2023 that it planned to increase its defense budget to $19.1 billion, equivalent to 2.6 percent of its GDP.

Former Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen reversed years of military spending stagnation, pushing through seven consecutive increases and nearly doubling Taiwan’s defense budget during her tenure. She also expanded mandatory military service from four months to one year.

land power

According to the Global Firepower ranking, China has 5,000 tanks in its arsenal. On the other hand, Taiwan has 1,010 tanks. China also boasts of having 35,000 armored vehicles, while Taiwan has only 3,472. Also when it comes to mobile and towed rocket projectors, China surpasses Taiwan, putting the autonomous island at a major disadvantage.

Up in the skies

Also in terms of air power, China outnumbers Taiwan, with 3,304 aircraft, including the advanced J-20s. Taipei is reported to have 750 aircraft.

A helicopter and a military transport plane fly in Taipei City, Taiwan. Taipei is reported to have 750 aircraft, of which 286 are fighter jets. File image/Reuters

The Global Firepower Index reveals that of the 3,304 aircraft in China’s arsenal, 1,207 are fighter jets. Meanwhile, Taiwan has only 286 fighter jets. China also has 450 specialized bomber aircraft and 286 transport aircraft, while Taipei only has 19 transport aircraft and no bombers.

in the waters

China’s naval strength also surpasses that of Taiwan. Beijing has a fleet of 730 ships, while Taipei has 93. The Chinese can deploy 49 destroyers and 42 frigates, compared to four and 22 respectively for Taiwan.

China also has three aircraft carriers. As recently as this month, Beijing’s third aircraft carrier, Fujian, put to sea for its first sea trials. It is expected to weigh 79,000 tons and carry the most powerful combat aircraft launch system: the electromagnetic aircraft launch system. Taiwan, on the other hand, does not have a single aircraft carrier.

Additionally, China has 61 submarines while Taiwan has four.

A Chinese navy ship identified as the Chinese Missile Frigate FFG 548 is seen Thursday near Pengjia islet north of Taiwan. AP

Going nuclear

China has not revealed how many warheads it has, but the US Department of Defense’s 2021 report on the Chinese military stated that China’s warhead arsenal “is currently estimated at just under 200,” while the International Institute Stockholm Peace Research Center estimated the number at 350.

China, he said, “probably intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030.” China’s nuclear development is being seen as one of the biggest threats to Western military supremacy.

Taiwan strengthens its defenses

However, all is not lost for Taiwan. The autonomous island has been strengthening its defenses. In addition, it has been improving its asymmetric warfare techniques.

In fact, since Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016, she has been working hard to reform the country’s military by increasing the budget and improving domestic defense programs. He has also increased the weapons he buys from the United States and other countries. In 2023 alone, Taiwan ordered $1.55 billion in weapons and services from the United States, including infrared tracking systems for F-16 aircraft, ammunition, aircraft parts and technical support.

A pilot checks an F-16 at Hualien Air Base in Hualien County, southeastern Taiwan. In 2023 alone, Taiwan ordered $1.55 billion in weapons and services from the United States, including infrared tracking systems for F-16 aircraft and more. File/AP image

Taiwan has also purchased drones, anti-tank ammunition systems, Paladin medium self-propelled howitzer artillery systems, AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, Stinger surface-to-air missiles, MK-48 Mod6 advanced technology heavy torpedoes, AGM. -154C JSOW air-to-ground missiles, as well as field communication equipment and training packages, according to a Al Jazeera report.

Japanese support for Taiwan has also become more forceful in recent years, breaking with its previous policy. In June 2021, Yasuhide Nakayama, then Japan’s vice minister of defense, said at a conference that “we have to protect Taiwan, as a democratic country.”

For Taiwan, if China were to attack, it could learn from Ukraine, which has been quite successful in keeping the Russians at bay. Maybe they should pay more attention to the ongoing war and learn from kyiv.

With contributions from agencies

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