Warnings about an imminent Chinese invasion of Taiwan are overblown

Taiwan Kinmen China
A concrete bunker on a beach facing the Chinese city of Xamen on the Taiwanese island of Little Kinmen, which at points lies only a few miles from China, in Kinmen, Taiwan, April 20, 2018.

  • China’s posture toward Taiwan has grown markedly more belligerent in recent years.
  • Nonetheless, there are many good reasons to be skeptical about warnings of a near-term or even medium-term invasion of Taiwan by Beijing.
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The top US military commander for the Asia-Pacific region, Adm. Philip Davidson, raised eyebrows at a recent Senate hearing when he suggested China could invade Taiwan within the next six years.

The nominee to replace Davidson at the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, then went a step further, telling the same committee last week that in his view, “This problem is much closer to us than most think and we have to take this on.”

At first glance, such concerns might seem justified. The Chinese Communist Party has always viewed the annexation of Taiwan as a key strategic goal, but its posture toward the democratic, self-ruling island has grown markedly more belligerent in recent years. Chinese leaders have publicly reiterated their willingness to use force to “unify” Taiwan with the mainland, while ramping up the pace of military activities in and around the Taiwan Strait.

Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping has presided over the rapid growth and modernization of the People’s Liberation Army-particularly its navy, air force and missile arsenal. Where Taipei once enjoyed certain advantages in the event of a military conflict, including technological superiority and the benefits of island defense, many military analysts now conclude that China could take Taiwan by force, and that the United States would be hard-pressed to stop it.

China amphibious tanks invasion
Chinese People’s Liberation Army amphibious tanks land on a beach during a Sino-Russian military exercise near the Shandong Peninsula, China, August 24, 2005.

Nonetheless, there are many good reasons to cast a gimlet eye on Davidson and Aquilino’s warnings of a near-term or even medium-term Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

First, the US military brass has a long history of inflating threats in order to ensure continued support from elected officials, particularly the lawmakers who fund their operations. It should be no more surprising that the head of Indo-Pacific Command is hyping the prospect of Chinese military adventurism than it is to hear the head of Southern Command opining that fragile states in the Western Hemisphere pose an “existential” threat to the United States.

The Pentagon’s own annual report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities, released last year, makes clear that an amphibious invasion of Taiwan would be “a significant political and military risk” for China.

Large-scale amphibious invasions are hard to pull off under the best of circumstances, and this would likely be the largest mass military mobilization the world has seen since D-Day. It would require the PLA to transport its soldiers across a body of water nearly five times as wide as the English Channel, all while ensuring that it maintains unchallenged control of the seas and airspace around the island.

As Taiwan-based writer Brian Hioe recently pointed out in a piece for the online magazine New Bloom, it is doubtful that the PLA currently has adequate amphibious lift capability to sustain an invasion and occupation of Taiwan.

China could try to make up for this deficiency by utilizing coast guard ships, commercial vessels and even fishing boats – engineering what some analysts have called a “reverse Dunkirk” – but that would entail its own discrete risks.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that Chinese military planners would prefer to have more time to develop their amphibious capabilities before attempting to take Taiwan by force.

Taiwan China amphibious landing military exercise
Taiwan’s military holds a large-scale exercise in the southern part of the island simulating an attempted amphibious landing by Chinese forces, May 30, 2019.

Beijing must also factor in the likelihood of an intervention from the US and its allies, particularly Japan, which hosts the largest overseas contingent of American active-duty military personnel. Most of them are stationed in Okinawa, just 750 kilometers – roughly 466 miles – from Taiwan.

In recent years, the already robust bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill in favor of supporting Taiwan’s autonomy from Beijing has only strengthened, and US public opinion polls also indicate growing support for the defense of Taiwan.

Japan, too, maintains close unofficial ties with Taiwan, and would view any Chinese aggression toward the island as a threat to its own security. According to a recent report in the Nikkei, a leading Japanese newspaper, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and President Joe Biden are planning to underscore the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait in their joint statement when they meet in Washington later this month.

As the Nikkei notes, the last time Japanese and American leaders expressed such concern was in 1969. Should it wish to forcibly annex Taiwan, Beijing would have to accept the high likelihood of a war with its top two trading partners.

Even if China successfully pulls off a cross-strait invasion while keeping the US and its allies at bay, the human and economic toll would be nothing short of catastrophic. Taiwan’s technology and manufacturing sectors play crucial roles in global supply chains, and Beijing would likely come under tremendous international pressure, including economic sanctions, to reverse course.

Bonnie Glaser and Matthew Funaiole, two scholars at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, have also argued that China would have to deal with the prospect of a prolonged resistance movement on the island.

“An all-out invasion of Taiwan might bog down the PLA in a counterinsurgency effort that lasts for years, which could compromise the military’s modernization efforts, drain precious resources from the Chinese economy, and lead to dissatisfaction at home as the body bags come home, many of them likely to be their parents’ only sons,” they wrote in Foreign Policy last year.

This would be exactly the type of aggressive military intervention and occupation that China has castigated the US for mounting in the past.

Chinese marines navy landing craft beach
Chinese troops board landing craft during an amphibious exercise on the coast of southeast China’s Fujian Province, November 27, 1995.

None of this means that China’s threatening behavior against Taiwan should not be taken seriously.

PLA warplanes have intruded into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone with such frequency in recent months that the Taiwanese military has decided to stop scrambling fighter jets upon each incursion, opting to track them with ground-based missiles in order to conserve resources.

Deputy Defense Minister Chang Che-ping told lawmakers in Taipei this week that he considered China’s provocations to be a kind of “war of attrition,” likely referring to the fact that Taiwan has incurred hundreds of millions of dollars in additional maintenance costs to facilitate the frequent scrambling of its jets, many of which are older models.

Chang’s comments speak to a core pillar of China’s strategy: Wearing Taiwan down psychologically in the hope that, eventually, its leaders will be forced to negotiate the terms of their surrender.

Of course, Beijing itself has undermined that strategy with its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong and on the city’s autonomy, making a mockery of the “One Country, Two Systems” approach that Chinese leaders once put forward as a template for unification with Taiwan.

Going forward, China is more likely to continue and perhaps build upon its multipronged pressure campaign against Taiwan. This could mean further efforts to isolate Taipei on the world stage by trying to poach its remaining diplomatic allies and continuing to block its access to international organizations.

It could even try to test Taiwan’s resolve – and the international community’s commitment to defending it – by taking over one of the smaller islands that Taiwan administers in the South China Sea. But at least in the immediate term, it is difficult to envision Chinese leaders justifying the political, economic and reputational costs of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan.

Pentagon officials are fond of saying that the US military is a planning organization. Its job is to plan for contingencies, and a military conflict over Taiwan is certainly worth putting at or near the top of the list. There are a number of scenarios that, while improbable, could spark an escalatory cycle and change China’s cost-to-benefit calculus with regard to Taiwan.

But no one is served by publicly exaggerating the likelihood of conflict in the Taiwan Strait – not the United States and certainly not the people of Taiwan, who ultimately have the most at stake.

Elliot Waldman is the senior editor of World Politics Review.

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Historic visit to Taiwan by a US ambassador draws ‘red line’ warning from China

Palau Taiwan ambassador John Hennessey-Niland
Palau President Surangel Whipps, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, and US Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, March 29, 2021.

  • The US ambassador to Palau joined the Palauan presidential delegation visiting Taipei this week.
  • It is the first visit by a US envoy since the US switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
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Beijing has warned Washington not to cross its “red line” on Taiwan after a US envoy arrived on the island as part of a delegation from Palau, one of Taipei’s 15 remaining allies.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday that “the Chinese side resolutely opposes any form of official contacts between US and Taiwanese officials,” adding that any such contact would hurt US-China ties and affect stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The warning came after Palauan President Surangel Whipps arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for a five-day trip to launch a “travel bubble” to ease coronavirus between Taipei and Koror, Palau’s biggest island.

US Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland was part of the delegation, becoming the first US envoy to visit Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be returned to its control by force if needed, has repeatedly warned the US against official contacts with the island.

On Monday, a day after the US ambassador was reported to be visiting Taiwan, Beijing sent 10 warplanes to Taiwan’s southwest air defence identification zone to ramp up pressure on the island, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.

In Taipei, Whipps said his country needed support from both Taipei and Washington.

“Having the US ambassador here with us is just a demonstration of how we work together to get this ‘sterile corridor’ or ‘travel bubble’ started,” he said, referring to US supplies of vaccines to Palau that enabled the formation of the travel bubble.

“As a small country, we could easily be infiltrated, and we depend on our partners to protect us and give us security. So I appreciate [Hennessy-Niland] joining us … which demonstrates [the US] friendship and commitment in protecting us and giving us security.”

Observers said Hennessey-Niland’s presence was a strong signal from the US that it would respond to any effort by Beijing to bring Palau into its fold.

“According to normal diplomatic practice, Amb. John Hennessey-Niland would not be able to come to Taiwan without permission from the State Department,” said Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei.

“[His visit] signals the US effort to assist Taiwan in securing diplomatic ties with Palau against pressure from Beijing.”

Whipps told Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency that soon after he was elected president late last year, Beijing tried to persuade him to switch diplomatic recognition to the mainland but he rebuffed Beijing’s overtures, saying he valued Palau’s ties with Taipei.

Hennessey-Niland has said Pacific nations need to be aware of the risks and the potential loss of autonomy in siding with Beijing. And in a US Senate hearing in December 2019, he said Taiwan was a US partner and critical to helping contain Beijing’s military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.

Huang said Hennessey-Niland’s visit “implies that the Biden administration has observed the Taiwan Travel Act and the decision made by its predecessor to lift unfair and unnecessary restrictions on certain official engagements with Taiwanese counterparts.”

Former US president Donald Trump approved the Taiwan Travel Act in 2018 to allow high-level official visits with Taipei. His administration also removed decades-old, self-imposed restrictions on how its diplomats and other officials interact with the island.

Observers said the US envoy’s presence on the trip also indicated that US partnership with Taiwan had gone beyond just the US-Taiwan level, but also involved a third party such as Palau.

“It looks like a concerted action,” Huang said, adding that more evidence was needed to assess whether the three had established a formal partnership.

Lin Ting-hui, deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Society of International Law, said he did not rule out a joint coastguard drill between Taiwan, Palau and the US, given that Palau had a coastguard agreement with Taiwan and the US had a similar arrangement with Taiwan and a defence deal with Palau.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Palau had asked the Pentagon to build ports, bases and airfields in the island state, offering a boost to US military expansion plans in Indo-Pacific region, as Washington aims to counter China.

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How a Crimea-like crisis could easily unfold on islands in the South China Sea

Pratas Dongsha Islands Taiwan South China Sea
The Pratas Islands, known as the Dongsha Islands in Chinese, in July 2008.

  • Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea prompted much international outrage but little meaningful action.
  • Today, a similar scenario could easily unfold in the South China Sea.
  • In this case, China would be the aggressor, while Taiwan’s Dongsha Islands, which Beijing also claims, are the potential targets.
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Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine prompted much international outrage but little meaningful action. President Vladimir Putin was able to forcefully redraw his country’s borders, shrugging off the international sanctions that the United States and European Union imposed in response.

Putin’s success augmented “the belief among some that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way,” as US President Barack Obama put it at the time. Given Crimea’s location in a small country – and the complex, often ethnically tinged territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia – the world was not willing to fight for it.

History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes; today, a Crimea-like scenario could easily unfold in the South China Sea. In this case, China would be the aggressor, while Taiwan’s Dongsha Islands, which Beijing also claims, are the potential targets.

Also known as the Pratas Islands, they have no permanent inhabitants, but they host a detachment of some 500 Taiwanese marines, and are also visited by fishers and researchers. Although the Dongsha are located about 275 miles from Kaohsiung, the municipality in southern Taiwan that administers them, they lie just 170 miles from Hong Kong and are within the city’s airspace, putting them in easy reach of the People’s Liberation Army.

Taiwan Coast Guard Pratas Islands
A Coast Guard member with Republic of China flags after a flag-raising ceremony near the sea shore of Pratas Island, April 11, 2019.

In recent years, Beijing has become more aggressive in the South China Sea, where it maintains expansive maritime claims that are not recognized under international law.

On countless occasions, China’s fleet has harassed, intimidated or even rammed into other countries’ ships in this strategic waterway – including naval vessels, fishing trawlers and oil exploration rigs. The PLA has also built military installations atop reefs and rock formations in the disputed Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands.

But unlike those features, which are the subject of numerous overlapping claims and international legal disputes, the status of the Dongsha Islands is a bilateral row between China and Taiwan. This makes it easier for China to attempt a unilateral change to the status quo.

Indeed, throughout 2020 and into 2021, Beijing has stepped up the pace of its military exercises near the Dongsha, prompting Taipei to respond with live-fire drills on the islands, including one earlier this month. As his administration looks to build closer ties with Taiwan, President Joe Biden would be wise to pay close attention to this potential flashpoint.

The Dongsha Islands have long been seen as strategically significant in China, which could use them to control and hinder foreign access to the Bashi Channel, a waterway between Taiwan and the Philippines that Chinese nuclear submarines use to access the Western Pacific Ocean.

Chinese writers and scholars have in recent years made Beijing’s position plain: The Dongsha Islands are necessary to both China’s eventual unification with Taiwan and for Beijing’s broader geopolitical interests.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert, put it simply, writing in a recent article for the state tabloid Global Times that the “Dongsha Islands’ location is strategically important as it links the South China Sea and the West Pacific, and if the Taiwan authority lets US military forces deploy facilities in the islands, it would be a major threat to the PLA and the mainland’s security.”

Taiwan China Dongsha Pratas Islands
Atoll National Park in the Dongsha Islands, called Pratas Islands by Taiwan, 150 miles southwest of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, September 15, 2010.

It was thus no surprise when in May 2020, China began planning a massive military drill to simulate taking over the Dongsha Islands, prompting Taiwan to deploy hundreds of reinforcements in response.

For reasons that remain unclear, though, the exercise was apparently canceled at the last minute. Li Daguang, a professor at the National Defense University of the PLA, was quoted by the Global Times as denying that the drills were ever planned. Still, China’s designs for these islands remain clear.

In 2020 alone, the PLA sent military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone over 300 times, with the intention of “paralyzing Taiwan’s psychology,” as one Taiwanese analyst put it.

Just days after Biden took office, on January 23, China sent eight nuclear-capable bombers and four fighter jets into airspace just southwest of Taiwan, followed the next day by another 16 Chinese military aircraft of various types.

In addition to the islands’ strategic and ideological importance for China, they would require minimal effort to take over.

The impetus for such a move could come from China’s recent efforts to tighten its control over Hong Kong, which have led many pro-democracy lawmakers and members of the political opposition to attempt to flee to Taiwan via the Dongsha Islands. Beijing could at some point try and deny Taiwan access to its own islands, citing the supposed national security risks of this exodus from Hong Kong.

In fact, there is already precedent for this. In October 2020, the Hong Kong government prevented a Taiwanese aircraft from using its airspace to fly to the islands, reportedly due to nearby PLA missile drills. Less than a week later, a senior Taiwanese military officer, Lt. Gen. Li Tingsheng, made a trip to the islands with a delegation of coast guard personnel, sending a clear message of defiance to Beijing.

However, the Dongsha Islands’ presence in Chinese airspace makes fortifying them and maintaining effective control over the territory a much harder and more expensive task for Taiwan. Here, the parallel to Russia’s takeover of Crimea is disturbingly clear, given that the peninsula’s geography – almost completely surrounded by the Black Sea – and proximity to Russia made it difficult for Ukraine to defend.

Taiwan Coast Guard Pratas Dongsha Island
Coast Guard personnel stationed in Pratas Island (Dongsha Island) during routine training, April 10, 2019.

When Putin seized Crimea, the international community responded by isolating Russia and imposing sanctions. Yet despite this pushback, it was clear that the United States, the European Union and the rest of NATO were not going to risk war with Russia over Crimea.

When Ukraine’s then-prime minister visited Washington in mid-March 2014 – less than a month after Russian forces entered Crimea – and requested military assistance, the Pentagon refused, fearing that lethal aid would only escalate the situation. Later that month, Obama told an audience in Brussels that the United States and NATO “did not seek any conflict with Russia,” namely because “there are no easy answers, no military solution.”

Taken in sum, these efforts may have avoided a military confrontation. But they also made it clear to Putin that while he might face some short-term pain, he could redraw Europe’s borders by force without fear of military pushback. And now, some seven years later, it is apparent that he has done just that.

Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to have taken this lesson to heart. Indeed, he appears to have been emboldened by the democratic world’s collective failure to hold Putin to account after the seizure of Crimea. China continues to not only claim nearly the entire South China Sea, but physically fortify its islands there, prompting, again, “only muted response from the international community,” as US Air Force Capt. David Geaney put it in a recent op-ed.

If Xi believes he can get away with militarizing disputed land features in the South China Sea – and with sinking and harassing neighbors’ vessels there, as he has so far – he may very well see the Dongsha Islands as ripe for the taking.

In the event of such aggression, the rest of the world would be wise to bear in mind the lessons of Crimea. If the architects and most fervent supporters of the rules-based international order – namely, the United States, the EU, Japan and others – again fail to defend the victims of outright aggression and annexation, this time off China’s coast, the attractiveness and validity of that order will only further decline, as it has since 2014.

The United States and its partners cannot expect countries around the world to support and stand by the US-led international order, rather than defect to China’s illiberal vision for the world, if Washington and Brussels do not stand up for smaller countries that are threatened by the bullying behavior of nearby great powers.

In 2014, the international community’s red line should have been Crimea; today, it must be the Dongsha Islands.

Shahn Savino is a program analyst with VTG, a defense contractor. He is a member of the Black China Caucus and the National Association for Black Engagement with Asia. Follow him on Twitter @ShahnMarc.

Charles Dunst is a visiting scholar at the East-West Center in Washington, an associate at the LSE IDEAS think tank and a contributing editor of American Purpose, Francis Fukuyama’s new magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesDunst.

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Biden gives Taiwan a boost with submarine technology it can’t build on its own

Taiwan navy submarines
Taiwanese submarines at a navy base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, March 21, 2017.

  • Taiwan’s plans to build its own submarine fleet received a boost after the US approved the sale of the sensitive equipment.
  • The US has been reluctant to sell advanced defense technology to Taipei, but Biden appears to be continuing Trump’s approach.
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Taiwan‘s programme to build its own submarine fleet has received a boost after the US approved the sale of three key pieces of equipment.

Taiwanese Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng confirmed on Tuesday that Washington had approved export permits – including the first arms sales to the island under the Biden administration.

“On the delivery period, we need to follow the procedures in due course and I can’t say when exactly they will arrive. After all, there are operational procedures,” Chiu said ahead of a legislative session, adding that the authorities would ensure the work was completed on schedule.

Chiu did not identify the items to be fitted, but ministry officials had said there were three major types of equipment – digital sonar systems, integrated combat systems and auxiliary equipment system (periscopes) – that the island could not produce and must rely on US technology.

Taiwan navy submarine helicopter Asia
A S-70C helicopter over a SS-793 Hai Lung diesel-electric sub during a drill outside a naval base in Kaohsiung port, southern Taiwan, January 14, 2014.

The indigenous submarine project was initiated by the government in 2016 to bolster the island’s ageing fleet of four submarines with eight new diesel-electric models. The first prototype is budgeted to cost NT$49.4 billion (US$1.7 billion) and scheduled to be launched in July 2024 before entering service the following year.

Work on a prototype vessel started at the CSBC Corporation’s shipyard in Kaohsiung, in November.

The approval came just ahead of a meeting this week by senior officials from Washington and Beijing.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to meet mainland officials including China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi on Thursday during a stop in Alaska, according to the State Department. It will be the first high-level in-person contact between the US and mainland China under the Biden administration.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will join the meeting in Anchorage as will Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The meeting will follow Blinken’s first overseas trip to Japan and South Korea, key US allies.

A military source said the Trump administration had approved export permits for the digital sonar and integrated combat systems in December and January, while the Biden administration approved the export of the periscope system last month.

Chiu declined to comment on whether the exports were a sign of closer relations between the US and Taiwan and whether Joe Biden shared Donald Trump’s commitment to defending the island.

Taiwan’s relations with the US – which switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979 – improved sharply under Trump, who adopted a confrontational policy towards the Chinese mainland.

Washington used to be cautious about supplying sophisticated military technology to Taiwan for fear it would be acquired by Beijing. But before Trump stepped down in January, he approved more than US$18 billion worth of arms sales for Taiwan, including some sophisticated items.

Taiwan navy's SS-793 Hai Lung diesel-electric submarine emerges from underwater during a naval demonstration near a military navy base in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, in this January 22, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang
A Taiwanese navy SS-793 Hai Lung diesel-electric sub surfaces during a demonstration near a navy base in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, January 22, 2013.

Chieh Chung, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said the submarine project had the support of the US.

“The Trump [administration] had already approved the export permits for two types of key equipment before he stepped down and as the two sides have a consensus on the sub construction it is left to the Biden [administration] to complete the remaining procedure to give the green light for the last item,” Chieh said.

He said that regardless of whether Trump or Biden was in charge, the US saw the mainland as a key competitor and had asked its allies, especially those near China, to strengthen their defensive capabilities to reduce the burden on the US in the Asia-Pacific region.

“This is why the US is willing to supply those key technologies to support Taiwan’s sub project,” Chieh said, adding Washington also stood to profit from arms sales to the island.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be returned to its control – by force – if necessary, has repeatedly warned the US not to cross the red line on Taiwan, including supplying weapons and having official contacts.

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Taiwan launches its first stealthy ‘carrier killer’ corvette as it strengthens its defenses against China

Taiwan navy corvette
A Tuo Chiang-class corvette during an official ceremony in Yilan, Taiwan, Decemebr 15, 2020.

  • The new corvette, Ta Jiang, is armed with anti-ship missiles and stealth technology that will allow it take out much larger vessels.
  • The domestically produced warship, along with a new high-speed minelayer, are part of a programme to develop Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare capacity.
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Taiwan has launched its first missile corvette designed to take down an aircraft carrier as it seeks to bolster its defences against a possible attack from mainland China.

The new “carrier killer,” along with a high-speed minelayer launched earlier this year, was domestically produced and designed to play a key role in the island’s asymmetric warfare strategy to counter the much larger force the People’s Liberation Army can muster.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory and has not renounced the use of force to return it to its control, has ramped up the pressure against the island since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

At a ceremony to launch the new corvette – named the Ta Jiang – at a shipyard in Suao in northeast Taiwan on Tuesday, Tsai said the new ships were a sign of Taiwan’s determination to defend its waters and promote the local defence industry.

“In countering the enemy’s threats … in constructing our defensive power, we should employ the concept of asymmetric warfare to deter incoming attacks from the enemy,” she said.

The corvette – which has a displacement of 700 tonnes and a top speed of 45 knots (83km/h) – uses state-of-the-art stealth technology to avoid detection and is equipped with subsonic missiles that can destroy targets on land or sea, such as an aircraft carrier. It can also operate in shallow or coastal waters where larger vessels such as destroyers and frigates find it hard to operate.

Taiwan Hsiung Feng missile
A Hsiung Feng III missile on display during Taiwan’s national day parade, in Taipei, October 10, 2007.

Huang Shou-chen, chairman of the Lung Teh Shipbuilding Company, which built the new corvette and minelayer, said both were equipped with powerful home-grown weapons systems.

“[The Ta Jiang] is equipped with Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind) II and III anti-ship missiles and Hai Chien (Sea Sword) II anti-aircraft missiles developed by the [government-funded] Chung-Shan institute,” Huang said, referring to the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology.

The corvette is also equipped with 76 mm cannons, Phalanx close-in weapons systems and T-74 machine guns.

“It is designed to counter the PLA ships by employing hit-and-run tactics and with its stealth function and high mobility, it is difficult to track,” said Chieh Chung, a national security researcher at the National Policy Foundation, a think tank of the main opposition Kuomintang party.

He said the same applied to the as-yet-unnamed minelayer – which could drop mines very quickly and make it very hard for enemy ships to attack the coast – and both ships fit perfectly well with Taiwan’s asymmetric defence strategy.

Huang said the minelayer, the first in a batch of four, was fitted with an intelligence system designed by the Chung-Shan Institute that automatically planted mines at high speeds.

According to the navy, the Ta Jiang is the first of three corvettes that will be built under a NT$31.6 billion (US$1 billion) programme. The ship is expected to be ready for delivery to the navy next year, with the last following by 2025.

The warship was equipped with one of the world’s most technologically advanced computer systems and built partly with high-entropy metal alloys for extra strength and durability, it said.

Its stealth technology and low radar cross-section make the ship virtually invisible at sea and even more difficult to detect when operating close to the coast, and the navy said it was designed to take over many of the missions now undertaken by larger, less manoeuvrable and more expensive frigates and destroyers.

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