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Taiwan in the eyes of the Chinese cyclone or whether the world expects a new conflict

This post was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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WARSAW, (BM) – Almost from the first days of this year, we have experienced a series of tensions and armed conflicts around the world (one of the key Iranian generals has been killed, the war in Libya is underway, there is a strong tension in the Mediterranean Sea, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh …).

Thus, there are growing concerns that the current events taking place around the China-Taiwan-United States relationship may escalate to a level that unfortunately builds a specific critical mass, leading directly to the emergence of another dangerous global crisis in the near future. The Institute for Security and Strategy Foundation and Defence24.pl invite you to read the commentary by Dr. Jacek Raubo, president of FIBiS, regarding the current tensions in the region.

So far, the litmus test of the growing tension around Taiwan has been the subsequent Chinese military exercises and, above all, the flights of combat aircraft belonging to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s air force. It should be emphasized that in the latter case, especially in the still ongoing 2020, a significant intensification of a specific ritual was noticeable, in the form of flights of Chinese combat machines (fighter, multi-purpose, bomber and Chinese AWACS) and picking up Taiwanese machines that could intercept them .

Currently, it can be noticed that Beijing has also included broadly understood intelligence issues in its activities in the information sphere, and on a mass scale. More precisely, it is about revealing more spy networks that were supposed to try to infiltrate China on the orders of the Taiwanese services. There is a statement in the Chinese media that the local counterintelligence managed to track down hundreds of personal assets of the Taiwanese side. Everything within the so-called Thunder-2020 campaign.

At the same time, the aforementioned Chinese media repeatedly present the intelligence threat from Taiwan as part of a wider campaign against its own security and national interests. They claim that the activities of the Taiwanese intelligence (HR officers and their agents) are complemented by the activity of people not directly related to the secret services, but acting to the detriment of the Chinese side.

The accusations that the Taiwanese use resources recruited as part of think tanks and higher education activities, also based on European countries, are quite interesting. In fact, Beijing is accused of similar actions around the world, it is itself accusing that someone is using such tools against China.

In general, it should be remembered that for some time China has seen an increase in counterintelligence activities. At the same time, they were to involve a wider mass of citizens. First of all, it was about increasing counterintelligence vigilance among fishermen (intercepting, for example, unmanned devices used for espionage activity), but also the staff of key universities, including military ones. However, the key here is to play the narrative each time about who is actually responsible for the intelligence threats. Depending on the needs, it is indicated whether it is the United States or Taiwan, as it is now. For Taipei, such a strong location of the narrative relating to their services is an important warning signal that cannot be ignored.

There are real concerns about the possibility of building or strengthening anti-Taiwanese sentiment. Both in relation to the authorities, as officially recognized by China, the so-called “Rebel province”, but also the Taiwanese themselves traveling to mainland China and Hong Kong. In this case, there is a high risk that the Chinese, thanks to the “espionage case”, want to obtain several options for action, not only propaganda.

The first is, of course, to put additional pressure on Taiwan, including obtaining the possibility of using military force. If necessary, China can boldly indicate some espionage and subversive activity as a pretext for an armed operation to combat separatism or even an anti-terrorist operation (this can be compared to the famous incident around the Marco Polo Bridge in 1937, which is still controversial today, but it contributed to the long Sino-Japanese struggle and de facto paved the way for the communists to succeed in the 1949 Civil War).

The second is to make it difficult for Taiwanese business to operate by physically blocking the entry of Taiwanese or using the argument that any form of cooperation with Taiwanese might be viewed by Chinese counterintelligence in terms of espionage. This applies to both the Taiwanese themselves, but also to their own citizens.

One has to be cautious about assessing any of the Taiwan-China espionage cases. First of all, because the special services of both sides (conventionally NSB / MIB versus MSS) are naturally interested in each other and it must be stated without a doubt that they will be interested in each other all the time. Hence, this fact should be distinguished from the use of espionage threads in strictly propaganda narratives and information activities, which are now carried out on an international scale (use of own media, but also the increasing saturation of social media activities, etc.).

Currently, even the symbolic presentation of materials about people who were to spy for Taiwan in the Chinese media supports the hypothesis that there is less of a classic counterintelligence game in this, and propaganda cases are in the lead. And the quite specific way of presenting them may raise concerns that this is not so much propaganda directed at other countries and their societies, but rather at the internal market. Therefore, it is supposed to mobilize and support the authorities’ efforts to contract with Taiwan, for example after the successes of the Taipei authorities in terms of arms contracts with American partners and the symbolic visit of the American health secretary to the island.

The President of the Republic of China in Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, said that the authorities there would not be provoked by Beijing. However, she also had to point out that Taiwan is ready to defend itself against possible aggression. What’s more, Taiwan is efficiently using the window that appeared within the scope of opportunities to strengthen defense capabilities. The latter evidently suffered along with American actions after the end of the Cold War. When the island’s defense potential was no longer a priority for Washington, and good trade relations with Beijing were a brake on any strategic arms transfers for the Taiwanese.

Today, we see again and again that, of course, in addition to raising their own defense capabilities, based on the Taiwanese domestic defense industry, the Taiwanese manage to buy or plan foreign purchases in the field of military technology. Of course, the modernization of the air force capabilities should be mentioned, based on the new version of the popular F-16 multi-role aircraft, but also the purchases of AH-64 Apache combat helicopters should be noted. The purchase of new Abrams MBTs from the United States can be treated as a strictly political transaction. Being skeptical about their effectiveness in the potential defense of the island, with its shape and urbanization, one cannot underestimate the political and diplomatic dimensions.

But, for the People’s Liberation Army of China, Taiwan’s subsequent purchasing plans may prove to be a much greater challenge. After all, with a little silence recently, the Chinese side managed to gain an advantage over the Taiwanese defense. However, when new heavy torpedoes, new types of sea mines (intelligent sea mines), new MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), new M109A6 Paladin barrel artillery systems or, above all, a new coastal defense missile system appear, strategic comfort and Beijing’s operational planners may decline rapidly.

The mentioned heavy torpedoes (MK-48 Mod6 Advanced Technology AT Heavy Weight Torpedoes HWT) are to appear and the Chinese side has already downplayed their purchase. This may mean that it is quite the opposite. And when there was a preliminary discussion about the Harpoons (AGM-84 / RGM-84 / UGM-84 Harpoon in the land version), and even HIMARS or SLAM-ER, Beijing reacted strongly. It should be mentioned that the American side is also considering selling the containers for reconnaissance purposes for Taiwanese F-16s, allowing for the improvement of activities in the RRI sphere.

Moreover, it must be remembered that Washington has recently broken certain strategic taboos. Especially if we look at the fact that the American company Lockheed Martin is active as the main contractor for the modernization of Taiwan’s PAC-3 surface-to-air missile arsenal, used in Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. In addition, the Taiwanese military is expected to receive financial support from a growing defense budget. The comprehensive approach to the defense sphere is also evidenced by other modernization issues, including the possibility of replacing older generations of radars guarding the coastline.

In addition, it was one of the radar stations on the Taiwan side that caused considerable controversy over the presence of American advisers. For in the photo of President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to Leshan, a plainclothes foreigner was spotted in the background. It was supposed to be an American military adviser. This is important, because the only American radar (PAVE PAWS – Precision Acquisition Vehicle Entry Phased Array Warning System), purchased in 2000 by Taiwan and put into service in 2013, is to function here.

One can also refer to the statement of the spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, who was to indicate that his country would take the necessary and authorized actions depending on the development of the situation. In view of the possibility of Taiwanese weapons based on American technologies. It should be remembered that the language of diplomacy has its own source code, and certain statements that are highly polished at first glance may have much greater repercussions than it seems. In addition, the most important political decision-maker in modern China – Xi Jinping did not hide behind the facade of a diplomatic form of presenting the current situation.

During his visit to the Chaozhou Naval Base, he was to indicate that Chinese marines should be prepared for war and maintain the current high level of combat readiness. Moreover, the ChALW marines must be ready to fulfill the vital task of maintaining China’s territorial sovereignty as well as ensuring the protection of interests in the field of maritime security. In the first case, of course, one should refer to Taiwan, which Beijing recognizes as its own territory. The second talks about the South China Sea and the response to the strengthening of the American sea-air presence in this basin during Donald Trump’s rule.

The Chinese government realizes that the US elections, coupled with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic and racial riots, may be the only time Washington has been so focused on domestic issues. It is hard to suppose that the election of a Democrat or a Republican will significantly change the attitude towards China. The United States, regardless of political colors, knows about strategic competition with Beijing’s growing potential as the foundation of its own global actions. Moreover, it is difficult to assume that even with the possible victory of Donald Trump, there would not be even bigger conflicts with China.

It is precisely this administration that, for example in the context of the formal recognition of the capital of Israel, made political and symbolic gestures of great strategic importance in the Middle East. Thus, from the Chinese perspective, there may be a fear of making a similar gesture towards Taiwan. Especially since Washington has sent secretary (minister) Alex Azar to the island. And the Japanese Yukan Fuji (Takahide Kaga reporter) wrote directly about the possibility of recognition of Taiwanese statehood by the United States or the visit of Trump or another member of the administration to the island. Of course, such “sensations” sent out to the world by special reports can be omitted, considering it as an attempt to create a sensation (which has been done). However, keep in mind that it might as well have been a kind of test balloon. Both posted by Washington, but possibly Beijing as well.

In conclusion, the situation around Taiwan has become significantly inflamed and cannot be seen only in terms of a certain political and military ritual that has been going on for many years. Moreover, none of the solutions can be ruled out, bearing in mind, for example, the current conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Perhaps it is in 2020 that the possibility of using force as a tool to achieve political goals is increased, not only in the South Caucasus, but also in Asia.

Especially that, as mentioned, each subsequent year will potentially be conducive to Taiwan gaining new defense capabilities and increasing the American capabilities to operate in the Chinese direction. It must be remembered that the Americans have also started the process of rearming and reforming their own forces and combat assets in relation to the new Chinese capabilities (equipment and also in the field of allocating military assets). Of course, the Taiwan armed forces themselves will not suddenly become an independent remedy for the overall advantage of Chinese potential, but will raise the costs associated with the possibility of an attack on the island high. Beijing probably also has a huge problem with building scenarios for post-election architecture in the United States.

Thus, it is clearly conducive to considering such scenarios, which previously might have seemed too radical to decision-makers. Both due to economic reasons (the possibility of causing an economic crisis, and it almost appeared with COVID19), but also the international effect. Either way, it will be difficult months for the Taiwan authorities and the commanders of the local military. Analysts and commanders in the United States are also facing a huge amount of work. Although, can any country today freely recognize (from the perspective of its own national interests) that a potential conflict in the Taiwan region involving superpowers is not directly in the sphere of its strategic interests?

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