Taipei: Beijing could attempt invasion by 2025
by Emanuele Scimia

Taiwanese Defence Minister warns of "most serious" situation between two sides of straight in 40 years. In the last five days Chinese warplanes have carried out 150 air raids near the island. US expert: China's sorties are a ploy to mask a real attack in the future. Taipei unprepared for an invasion. Hypothesis of attack also immediately after the Beijing Olympics.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng warned the National Parliament today China already has the capacity to invade Taiwan and will be able to launch a "large-scale" attack against the island by 2025. Several observers believe the dramatic prospect could even be optimistic.

Addressing the growing tensions with Beijing, Chiuo said the current situation is the most serious since he joined the Armed Forces 40 years ago. The minister explained that a misjudgment could lead to an immediate conflict along the Taiwan Strait.

He was referring to the repeated incursions by the Chinese air force into Taipei's air defense identification zone. In the past five days China's military aircraft have made 150 sorties, with a record high of 56 on October 4.

Beijing considers Taiwan a 'rebel province' and has never ruled out recapturing it by force. The island has been de facto independent from China since 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists found refuge there after losing the civil war on the mainland to the communists, making it the heir to the Republic of China founded in 1912.

Taiwanese analysts argue that China's air raids serve to demonstrate the joint combat capabilities of its air force.

Lyle Goldstein, the next director of Asia Engagement for Defense Priorities, believes there is much more to it than that. The military expert tells AsiaNews, "the PLA is absolutely trying to test and strain Taiwan defenses.” However Goldstein adds there is also a darker motive: "Once people on Taiwan and elsewhere become used to large PLA air formations in close proximity, that will help to disguise the real attack.  It is a classic move to hide a real attack in the garb of a large exercise."

The Taiwanese government recently admitted that during an invasion attempt, China could quickly knock out the island's communication systems. In an article by Foreign Affairs, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen writes that her government has launched a series of initiatives to modernise and reorganise its armed forces.

Today Chiu presented a five-year plan for extra-budgetary military spending of 240 billion Taiwanese dollars (7.4 billion euros). These resources will be used mainly for warships and missiles. For the first time he also admitted the existence of the Yun Feng, a medium-range missile capable of hitting targets in mainland China at a distance of 1,500 km.

However, Goldstein has little confidence in Taiwan's ability to counter an armed blitz by China: "I believe mainland China's preparations are now nearly complete, whereas Taiwan has done comparatively little to prepare".

In the event of a Chinese attempt to recapture Taiwan, the minimum goal for Taipei's military is to slow down the Chinese advance to allow for US relief.

In a telephone conversation yesterday, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping said that their countries must abide by the "Taiwan agreement." The expression used is unclear, but according to White House explanations it refers to the "one-China policy", under which Washington will continue to maintain official diplomatic ties with Beijing, but without accepting the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China.

With the Taiwan Relations Act, the US promised to defend Taipei, in particular with military supplies. Adopted in 1979 after the formal diplomatic recognition of communist China, the act does not specify the actual nature of Washington's commitment: a 'strategic ambiguity' that produces continuous tensions with the Chinese government.

There is a growing belief in US military circles that China will try to invade Taiwan within six to ten years. Goldstein supports this prediction. He thinks the Chinese invasion attempt may come even earlier, after the Beijing Winter Olympics next February.

The academic explains: "Paradoxically, major steps to fill in gaps in Taiwan's defense could actually cause Beijing to attack. For example, Taiwan will take a major shipment of anti-ship cruise missiles from the US in 2023 and 2024. Could China want to attack before those missiles become operational? Yes, it might."