In mid August the U.S. military belatedly published its annual report on Chinese military power. The 83-page document highlights the growing sophistication of Chinese weapons and Beijing’s increasingly ambitious regional strategy. China’s major preoccupation is, of course, Taiwan — a country the U.S. is legally required to defend.
On this front, the news seems discouraging, according to the report:
Cross-Strait economic and cultural ties continued to make important progress in 2009. Despite these positive trends, China’s military build-up opposite the island continued unabated. The [People's Liberation Army] is developing the capability to deter Taiwan independence or influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms while simultaneously attempting to deter, delay or deny any possible U.S. support for the island in case of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces
continues to shift in the mainland’s favor.
Blog Information Dissemination details the shift in the maritime balance. Beijing has been building around two destroyers and two attack submarines annually, along with a mix of frigates, missile boats and amphibious ships. China’s first aircraft carrier, the converted Soviet vessel Varyag, could take to the sea next year. The PLA Navy’s battle force numbers some 70 vessels.
By contrast, after many years of haggling, this year Taiwan managed to secure a deal with Washington to acquire two former U.S. Navy mine-hunters. It’s been some four years since Taipei has acquired major warships, in the form of four decommissioned U.S. Kidd-class destroyers. In addition, the Republic of China Navy possesses 22 aging frigates.
The numbers are no better for Taipei in the air or on land, with China enjoying a significant numerical advantage in ground troops and fighter planes. It might seem Taiwan is doomed to eventual armed conquest.
But technology has never been Taiwan’s best defense. World opinion, geography, Chinese inexperience and the age-old laws of warfare have long protected the island nation … and should continue doing so. The U.S. report admits that:
An attempt to invade Taiwan would strain China’s untested armed forces and invite international intervention. These stresses, combined with China’s combat force attrition and the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency (assuming a successful landing and breakout), make amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk.