Fri. Nov 18th, 2022

Its an island. Its a democracy. Its a nation of about 25 million people. A retired military commander says it wont last two weeks in a fight against China.Lieutenant General Yeh Jen-wen, a veteran of 32 years in Taiwan’s navy, has told his increasingly nervous nation that it was “playing with fire” by upgrading its military. And if relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deteriorated to the point of war, the island would be overwhelmed within “only two weeks”.
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In the past few weeks Washington approved the sale of $600 million worth of drones and $2.37 billion of Harpoon missiles. They’re the latest in a series of arms deals signed with Washington since 2017.
One of them, in particular, has upset Beijing.
The four large armed reconnaissance Q-9 SeaGuardian aircraft gives Taiwan the ability to conduct long duration, armed patrols. But the sea-skimming Harpoon missile has a range of about 250km. That means it can reach China’s coastal facilities across the Taiwan Strait.
A few weeks ago, the CCP appointed editor of the Global Times declared that if the US continued to re-arm and support Taiwan’s independence, “war will come”.
Taiwan’s defence pact with the US permits the purchase of weapons of a defensive nature.
It’s been in place for about 50 years. The most prominent purchase was the island’s fleet of F-16 Viper fighters.
But Beijing has undergone a dramatic modernisation and expansion of its military in recent years. Particularly among its navy and marine assault forces.
This has Taipei worried.
Beijing’s accompanying wolf-warrior rhetoric scales that up to alarmed. And the urgency and nature of the recent arms purchases reflect that.
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In October, Washington also approved the sale of HIMARS mobile rocket launchers, SLAM-ER air-to-ground missiles and new sensor pods for the old F-16s.
The SeaGuardian drones are capable surveillance aircraft, capable of relaying target data as well as engaging land, sea and submarine targets itself.
“The capability is a deterrent to regional threats and will strengthen the recipient’s self-defence,” a US Defence Security Cooperation Agency statement reads.
But the Chinese Communist Party is taking offence that its neighbour is daring to defy its demands. And Lieutenant General Yeh is speaking out on its behalf.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) this week sent combat jets to join its increasingly regular probes of Taiwan’s airspace.
Beijing recently declared it considers it to be its own territory, and can therefore do what it pleases where it pleases.
On Monday, it sent eight combat aircraft – including two powerful J-11 “Flanker” interceptors, two J-16 multi-role fighters and two older J-10 fighters – to reinforce that claim.
The Chinese Communist Party just completed its Fifth Plenum, an assembly of Central Committee and a chance for Chairman Xi to outline his agenda.
One point was made abundantly clear. He “stressed high alert to outside interference in Hong Kong and Macao affairs, and vowed to resolutely contain those activities in Taiwan to safeguard national sovereignty and stability”.
CCP-controlled news service Global Times ominously intoned that Beijing had “drawn lessons” from changes to the “one country, two systems” principle governing its relations with Hong Kong and Taiwan.
That idea has all but been abandoned in Hong Kong.
Taiwan, it seems, is next.
“(The Communist Party’s) policy package tells people in Taiwan that the smart ones will realise that the reunification will be the only and best choice,” Taiwan affairs academic Li Xiaobing told the Beijing-based news agency.
“If Taiwan doesn’t make trouble, the Chinese Communist Party will tolerate it, but eventually its hand will be forced,” he told the Hong Kong-based China Review news service. “Taiwan would last only two weeks,” he said. “Do we really have enough troops? We’ll need to bring back the draft in order to put up a fight.”
The CCP insists Taiwan belongs to it. But Republican Taiwan never surrendered during the 1949 Civil War. And the history of Taiwan’s ownership is itself disputed.
“The purchase of Harpoon missiles threatens Beijing’s aircraft carriers and their access to the Pacific Ocean,” Lt-Gen Yeh told the Hong Kong based news service. That, he said, was being interpreted as “hostile”.
“If Harpoon missiles are capable of striking aircraft carriers, then they are offensive in nature and no longer defensive,” he asserts, adding that Washington was “deliberately” inflaming Taipei-Beijing relations.
China’s Foreign Ministry expressed similar sentiments, warning the sales “constitute blatant interference in China’s internal affairs, seriously undermine China’s sovereignty and security interests, send out wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces, and gravely undercut China-US relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel