OPINION By Gp Cpt TP Srivastava
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen returned from a brief visit to the US on April 7, 2023. China began a three-day military exercise around the island on April 8, which continued until April 10.
During the full-fledged military exercise, China’s military simulated precision strikes. Extensive fighter operations were also carried out, which breached the unwritten median line of the Taiwan Straits as the unrecognized border between China and Taiwan.
Taiwan also monitored China’s missile force simulated activation.
One of the largest simulated raids involved nearly 70 Chinese aircraft. H-6 bomber and Su-30 aircraft were part of the strike formation. In addition, about a dozen Chinese ships were also in the vicinity of Taiwan.
China has been seeking peaceful unification of Taiwan with mainland China. However, Chinese leaders have clearly stated that using force to bring Taiwan under Chinese control is not ruled out.
While covering the simulated Chinese offensive, a Chinese TV news bulletin said: “Under the unified command of the joint theater operations command center, multiple types of units carried out simulated joint precision strikes on key targets on Taiwan island and surrounding sea areas, and continue to maintain an offensive posture around the island.”
1. Military Capability. Comparing Taiwan and China’s military capability based on weapon and workforce strength will present a confused picture because of differences in numbers.
China’s military is overwhelmingly superior. However, despite the US adopting the One China policy in 1979, the US supports Taiwan militarily.
Over 200 F-16s are part of a formidable Taiwan Air Force supplemented by Mirage-2000-5, besides its other fighter. It will be no ‘cakewalk’ for China if it decides on a military option.
2. Technological Capability. Taiwan’s technological prowess in the production of microchips places Taiwan miles ahead of China. Taiwan is in the process of producing 2nm microchips, whereas China is still short of producing single-digit microchips.
Nearly 50% of Taiwan’s microchip production is used in the Chinese industry.
If destroyed during the conflict, TSMC, the largest manufacturer of single-digit width microchips, will not only result in a global slowdown but also affect the Chinese industry adversely.
Microchips control our lives from drawing rooms to operational control centers of the military. Hence China will have to be highly cautious before exercising military options.
Can Taiwan Survive A Chinese Offensive?
Due to the enormous balance of power in favor of China, ‘conventional’ Taiwan may not survive a full-blown Chinese offensive unless aided directly by the US.
However, a ‘nuclear’ Taiwan will be able to deter any Chinese offensive from being launched. Will Taiwan consider going nuclear or seeking nukes from the US? A study of Taiwan’s nuclear ambitions makes an interesting reading.
- Taiwan commenced nuke research as early as the early 50s.
- Taiwan signed NPT in 1968.
- The US deployed nukes in Taiwan until 1974 at Tainan Air Base.
- By the late 80s, Taiwan had developed a warhead design of about 60cm and a weight of about 1000 kg.
- Sky Horse’s ballistic missile system was also under development.
- Nuclear researchers had graded Taiwan as a ‘threshold’ nuclear state in the early 80s.
US ‘contribution’ to Taiwan going Nuclear brings out interesting disclosures. Two interesting recorded incidents will prove otherwise. These are:
- In 2006 US Defense Department ‘mistakenly’ shipped secret nuclear missile fuses to Taiwan and discovered their ‘mistake’ only two years later in 2008.
- The same year, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) officials ‘mistakenly’ sent four nose cone fuse assemblies to Taiwan. Fuses are required to trigger nuclear warheads installed in Minuteman ICBMs as they approach the point of impact.
- Was this a genuine mistake, or was it meant to enable Taiwan to copy the design of one of the most important entities of a nuclear weapon?
Probable/Possible US Support To Taiwan
The credibility of an ‘International Policeman’ to execute a successful military campaign away from the mainland US is, at best questionable. Korean and Vietnam misadventures pale insignificantly compared to the mess created by successive US administrations in Afghanistan in the past two decades.
In the past 60-odd years, only one US President showed exemplary foresight in keeping the US Military out of the conflict. Despite all the advice, JFK decided to handle the Bay of Pigs crisis through a very successful dialogue.
US approach to using force at the slightest provocation is primarily due to a highly advanced and powerful weapon manufacturing capability.
The US has used Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other locations as live firing ranges to carry out live testing of their advanced weaponry, airlift, and amazing capability to strike anywhere on the planet outside the US mainland without even landing in a friendly country for logistics support.
NATO ‘friends’ of the US must be in a huddle to examine the possibility of a war with Russia on European soil, with the US basking in the safety of their trans-Atlantic location on the globe.
The response by Russia and China to a nuclear-tipped ICBM launched from the mainland US will have almost immediate reprisal in the US and entire Europe.
An immediate offshoot of this glaring and stark reality might embolden China to accelerate the pace of its invasion of Taiwan. Will US Military arrive to defend Taiwan in case of a swift Chinese amphibious assault?
Indeed the US has and will continue to arm Taiwan to keep China at bay. But for how long will this arrangement continue? Can a non-nuclear Taiwan defend itself against China?
North Korea and Pakistan are near-perfect examples of what nuclear-capable nations can do/will do if threatened.
US adversaries, Russia in particular, have noted its ambivalence. Some prominent NATO allies, too, have taken a divergent position, e.g., Germany, on the issue of energy security. The US sending American soldiers to fight for Taiwan is nearly out of the question. The US public would no longer approve of ‘body bags’ draped in the US flag arriving worldwide.
China must consider it an opportune time to ‘resolve’ the Taiwan issue once and for all. Taiwan must be blaming Henry Kissinger squarely for ‘non-nation status,’ which was head over heels to establish relations with China under the Nixon regime.
A story of US betrayal rarely told. However, under present circumstances, the US might threaten China with a nuclear response should China choose a military option to reunite Taiwan with the mainland.
The accession of Taiwan by China has become a prestige rather than a strategic issue for China.
- Gp Cpt TP Srivastava (Retd) is an ex-NDA who flew MiG-21 and 29. He is a qualified flying instructor. He commanded the MiG-21 squadron. He is a directing staff at DSSC Wellington and chief instructor at the College of Air Warfare. VIEWS PERSONAL OF THE AUTHOR
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