Realizing that Communist China has stepped up its “gray zone” harassment through “hybrid warfare” to target Taiwan through both military coercion and non-traditional threats, including cyber and cognitive warfare, the island nation is drawing lessons from the war in Ukraine in its efforts to counter a much more immense and superior power.
On September 12, Taiwan released its latest edition of the “National Defense Report,” which says that the Taiwan military is upholding its long-held “resolute defense and multi-domain deterrence” strategic guidance and continuing to beef up its “asymmetrical warfare capabilities” in the face of a much stronger opponent.
Simultaneously, said the report, Taiwan would increase resilience and self-sufficiency, prioritize the domestic defense industry, and beef up its “all-out-defense” capabilities “by acquiring less-conventional weapons, realigning its forces and promoting a whole-of-society defense approach.”
Though it has not precisely used the term “porcupine strategy,” the report shows that Taipei will make a Chinese invasion too costly to contemplate.
Incidentally, this is the 17th edition of the National Defense Report, which is periodically brought out under Article 30 of the National Defense Act to elaborate on the island nation’s current security environment, the status and performance of the Armed Forces’ combat readiness in what it says a transparent manner and efforts to maintain regional peace and stability.
The 188-page report is divided into five parts: “Regional Posture,” “National Defense Capabilities,” “Policy Reform”, “National Defense Governance,” and “Heritage of Honor and Glory.”
It begins with elaborating on the current security situation in the Indo-Pacific region. Here, China has been projected as the emerging threat to the area, compelling many countries Taiwan considers friends to augment their military preparedness. Predictably, the list of these countries includes the US, Japan, Australia, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN nations.
But what is interesting is that the report has also devoted space to India; it talks of how China has forced India to increase its defense expenditure. “Faced with the ever-growing military power of the PRC and historical feuds and endless conflicts with Pakistan, the government of India has to spend multi-billion US dollars annually to sustain its military,” it says.
“Since 2014, Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, has been promoting the initiative of Make in India to motivate investments, encourage innovation, strengthen the development of skills, and establish top-notch manufacturing infrastructures. Foreign investments for the industry reached US$83.6 billion in FY2022, up from US$45.15 billion in FY2014.
“To enhance its autonomous research and development (R&D) and production capabilities, the Indian government has imposed an export ban on several military systems and components. Moreover, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) of India has kept a detailed inventory of military items that must be purchased from local manufacturers to lower its dependence on foreign military products,” it adds.
The report is notable for its detailed explanation of “Patterns of PRC’s Normalized Harassment and Incursions” such as “Intelligence Gathering,” “Crossing the Median Line of the Taiwan Strait” and “Demarcating No-sail and No-ﬂy Zones.” Then it says, “Consequently, it (China) switched to using new means, inciting grey zone conflicts, to manipulate its ambiguous characteristic between war and peace to increase the risks of conflict and constrain the freedom of action of our forces in peacetime.”
Some portions of this report in this regard are worth reproducing:
“To put the grey zone tactics into practice, the PRC has increased the scale, frequency, and intensity of the drills and exercises against Taiwan to strengthen its operational preparation to invade Taiwan.
“The activities to normalize its grey zone harassment and incursions include (1) assigning PLA aircraft and vessels to move across the median line of the Taiwan Strait and make incursions over our ADIZ, (2) conducting realistic military exercises in the neighboring waters oﬀ Taiwan, (3) assigning assets to move close to areas adjacent to 24 nm oﬀ Taiwan, (4) dispatching civil aircraft, UAVs, and weather balloons to ﬂy close to our oﬀshore islands and even the Taiwan proper…
“(5) using marine survey vessels and hydrographic survey ships as a ‘cover’ for the military to improve its battle management around Taiwan, (6) initiating cyberattacks on our governmental agencies, critical infrastructures, important business enterprises, and (7) assigning its maritime paramilitary force to join the PLAN and the Coast Guard to conduct joint training, to increase the workload on the part of our naval force.”
On China’s “Three Warfares” and “Cognitive Warfare,” the reports says, “Politically, it has been using its propaganda organs from its party, political, and military circles to inﬂict cognitive warfare and ‘three warfares’, namely opinion, psychological, and legal warfare against Taiwan. Focused on using opinion manipulation, psychological threats, and legal actions as means, the PRC has been trying to seize the initiative to launch military operations.
“Moreover, it is using all kinds of media and platforms to disseminate fake messages in multi-languages to achieve cognitive purposes by confusing international attention, driving wedges among our people, shattering our combat will, and ultimately creating the image that the adversity of Taiwan’s survival was made in its own right for the international community to impact the morale of our military greatly.”
How To Deal With China Against This Backdrop?
The report says that based on “resolute defense and multi-domain deterrence” strategic guidance, the Taiwanese Armed Forces have completed asymmetric capability planning and acquisition by considering future enemy threats, technological advances, war and operation environment patterns, and weaknesses of likely enemy courses of action. They have improved defense operational resilience with decentralized command & control.
“By integrating all-out defense capacity and taking long-range denial and multi-domain defense approaches, it will impose unacceptable risk and cost on any enemy invasion against Taiwan to deter enemy ruthless aggression and safeguard our territory and sovereignty, national security and regional peace and stability”, the report says.
While Taiwan will have sophisticated weapons and missiles to attack the enemy before crossing the straits, the Taiwanese armed forces will make the enemy most vulnerable during the strait-crossing phase, which is helped by the Taiwan Strait’s geographical advantages. “The Armed Forces have actively acquired mobile, small, portable, and AI-enabled weapons, UAVs, and counter-UAV systems to improve deterrent asymmetric and critical capabilities rapidly.
“It will also build layered in-depth counter-offensive capability with coastal obstacles and use geography, terrain, features, urban environment, buildings, and military critical infrastructure protection measures within tactical defense areas to increase defense lines to fail enemy invasion attempt,” the report says.
Of course, the importance of asymmetric warfare for Taiwan had been emphasized before, too, by the nation’s military strategists and commanders. In that sense, this new defense report has more or less reiterated the same theme.
For instance, in 2017, Taiwan’s then Chief of the General Staff, Admiral Lee Hsi-min, proposed the “Overall Defense Concept” (ODA) with an asymmetric strategy at its core. He argued that if effectively implemented, this could increase the chance of preventing China from being able to take Taiwan by force.
His thesis was that instead of long-range and highly sophisticated weapons, Taiwan needed short-range and defensive systems that could survive an initial bombardment from a larger adversary and were suitable for deployment close to home in defense of the island should it come under blockade or attack.
Admiral Hsi-min states, “Asymmetric capabilities are to have many small things. They have to be highly survivable and lethal on the battlefield. They might not attract much attention in peacetime, but they can be a game changer that decides life or death in wartime.”.
Admiral’s ODA had also envisioned that if, despite all the hindrances, the Chinese managed to come near the Taiwanese shores, make their landing terrible by “the employment of mechanized forces, overwhelming firepower of artillery, skillful use of obstacles and engineering, small team operations (quills) using counter-drone systems, shoulder-fired missiles like Stingers, Special Forces, and Heliborne detachments.” And if the invaders still manage to proceed further on the land, one should prepare to fight urban guerrilla warfare to inflict maximum damage.
Admiral Lee’s ODA did not seek to compete with China’s larger military head-on. Instead, it emphasized large numbers of small, affordable, highly mobile units taking advantage of Taiwan’s complex terrain to defeat a larger enemy. It highlighted guerrilla warfare. Its main focus was on how Taiwan’s military would survive long enough as an effective fighting force to enable third-party intervention, implying the American help, something the latest report, despite being based on the ODA concept, does not say very clearly.
The Defense Report, of course, does expect that America will stand by Taiwan, but at the same time, it emphasizes self-reliance in weapons production.
Incidentally, two days after the release of the Defense Report, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense( MND), on September 14, displayed 54 advanced weapon systems, including a new attack drone, a domestically developed jet trainer simulator, and an exoskeleton suit at what it called “the 2023 Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Expo (TADTE). The Expo concludes on Saturday( September 16).
If Major General Lee Chien-ching of Taiwan is to be believed, “the main purpose of the MND’s pavilion at TADTE is to showcase the armed forces’ combat readiness as well as reinforce self-defense awareness among people in Taiwan and boost their confidence in the nation’s military.”
At a time when the Chinese threat looms so large in Taiwan, the government there wants the people to believe in their military’s ability and international support. The government would like the Taiwanese to realize that Taiwan is not Ukraine.
No wonder the first National Defense Report since the Russian invasion of Ukraine clearly says that it is meant to allow the people “to understand our defense activities, recognize the contributions of the Armed Forces, strengthen their confidence in our national defense, support our defense buildup, and achieve a civil-military unity to safeguard our homeland collectively.”
- Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has been commenting on politics, foreign policy, and strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
- CONTACT: prakash.nanda (at) hotmail.com
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