How can Taiwan’s sovereignty be safeguarded?
Four possible solutions through a defence perspective
by: Sanjula De Silva
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The geopolitical tensions between China and Taiwan, also known as the ROC (Republic of China) have been ongoing since the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The end of the Chinese Civil war in 1949 led to the establishment of the communist People's Republic of China in mainland China led by Mao Zedong and caused the nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek to flee to the island of Taiwan (then called Formosa) and establish the Republic of China (ROC). In the beginning, both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) claimed to be the righteous owner of the island of Taiwan and mainland China however the ROC eventually gave up this goal concerning the mainland.
On the other hand, the PRC still considers Taiwan as part of its territory and has outlined its goal of reunifying Taiwan with the Chinese mainland by latest 2049. For the past decade, China has immensely ramped up pressure on the island and has done this by several means including encouraging other states to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, interfering in Taiwanese elections, and most notably through gray-zone warfare.
Gray-zone warfare involves intimidating a nation with military might without initiating a full-scale war through for instance violations of air space with the aim of exhausting its military defenses in the long term. With such a Gray-zone warfare imposed on Taiwan, the island nation faces a serious threat to its sovereignty, and therefore solutions to safeguard it must be evaluated.
This article will analyse possible solutions on how Taiwan can ensure the safeguarding of its sovereignty through a defense perspective.
Military vessels in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Jason Hong via Unsplash.
The first possible solution to ensure the long-term safeguarding of Taiwan's sovereignty is amending the Taiwan Relations Act
so that it legally guarantees US military intervention in case the island is invaded. The Taiwan Relations Act was passed by the US Congress in 1979 after US President Jimmy Carter recognised the PRC as the legitimate China and effectively replaced the 1955 Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty. While both these treaties work to ensure the security of Taiwan, the Taiwan Relations act does not guarantee US military intervention in case Taiwan is invaded but instead highlights the US obligation to provide defensive arms to Taiwan to ensure its security. China is aware of this flaw and has taken advantage of it by behaving more aggressively against Taiwan during the past decade. By making the Taiwan Relations Act legally guarantee US military intervention in case Taiwan gets attacked, China will be less tempted to invade the island nation because it will be forced to engage in a conflict with the US which will have enormous repercussions to its economy and population.
Consequently, the second possible solution to ensure Taiwan's long-term sovereignty is to have a US military contingent stationed on the island
(like US troops based in Japan and South Korea) with the blessing of Taiwan's government. Compared to the US contingents in Japan and South Korea, the US contingent in Taiwan would be much smaller and only consist of a very limited number of US marines and US naval vessels for the symbolic purpose of showing US commitment to protect the island nation. This would boost the morale within the Taiwanese government and people and make China reconsider its goal of reunifying the island with the mainland.
The US and Taiwan could also regularly hold military exercises
to show that the US is committed to working with Taiwan to safeguard its national sovereignty. This third possible solution would be a milder form of deterrence compared to stationing US military units on the island and could achieve the same desired effect of deterring Chinese aggression with a lower probability of triggering a harsh response from China.
A fourth possible step towards ensuring Taiwan’s long-term sovereignty is the bolstering of Taiwan’s defenses.
It is already well-known that China outspends and outguns Taiwan on defense by a huge margin, however, Taiwan's military is a very capable one as well and has immensely prepared the island for invasion during the past decades through for instance construction of underground airbases and bunker hardened aircraft hangers. Due to the disadvantageous circumstances Taiwan's military faces, its best bet is not to invest in the most expensive military equipment but in huge stockpiles of sufficiently advanced equipment to ensure the maximal destruction of enemy landing forces and prolong any invasion until outside help arrives.
Considering the growing threat posed by Chinese anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles to the Taiwanese navy which plays a fundamental role in protecting the island nation's sovereignty, Taiwan should continue to invest heavily in anti-ballistic and anti-cruise missile technology to improve the protection of their vital naval assets. Other areas Taiwans’ military should continue to invest heavily are land-based cruise and ballistic cruise missiles which may cause significant destruction to incoming landing forces and improve the country’s counterattack abilities which include being able to strike military targets on the Chinese mainland. In addition to these suggestions, Taiwan should avoid purchasing stealth aircraft despite their intensive media attention for two reasons. First, they are extremely expensive to acquire, and second, the geographical size of Taiwan limits its ability to store them discreetly. This is also because the Chinese military uses advanced military satellites which constantly monitor Taiwan and has most likely already mapped out most of Taiwan's key airbases and radar installations.
In conclusion, Taiwan faces an immense security challenge posed by its neighbour which has acted increasingly aggressive towards it during the past decade. While the recommendations that have been suggested in this article may help to prevent war and/or support Taiwan to counter or prolong an invasion carried out by China, it is important to understand that none of these suggestions will be effective unless the government and people of Taiwan are united in what vision they want for the country and are determined to defend their way of life.