Taipei adopts ‘porcupine strategy’ which aims to make Chinese invasion ‘expensive’ with US backing


Can Taiwan defend itself against China’s military aggression?

This question is on many minds around the world as the visit of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to the island nation, which is a democracy of 24 million people, sparked the most acute crisis in the Taiwan Strait in decades.

Pre-invasion ‘noose’: With hypersonic missiles, nuclear submarines in action, Chinese military drills prelude Taiwan meltdown – Experts

China is vastly superior in manpower and arms, but Taiwan seems confident that it can make the Chinese invasion as difficult and protracted as possible, thus having enough time to solicit international support, including that of the United States, to thwart Beijing’s designs.

Reportedly, 22 Chinese military aircraft flew into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and crossed the median line on Thursday as Beijing began live-fire drills in the waters around Taiwan.

Twelve (12) People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets, eight Shenyang J-11 fighter jets and two Shenyang J-16 jet fighters were monitored crossing the center line of the Taiwan Strait , according to the Taiwan Ministry of Defense (MND).

The PLA fired 11 Dongfeng ballistic missiles from 1:56 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday in waters near the north, south and east of the country, according to the MND.

The Chinese military exercises, which were supposed to last four days, even saw drones flying very close to Japan. In fact, Japan lodged an official protest with China after five projectiles landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Beijing also announced sanctions against Pelosi and his immediate family.

Possible war between China and Taiwan

Meanwhile, in a speech on Thursday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen condemned the Chinese military exercises as “irresponsible”, saying they marked a “deliberate and continuous escalation of military threats”, adding: “I must emphasize that we do not seek to escalate conflicts or provoke disputes, but we will firmly defend our sovereignty and national security, as well as the safeguard of democracy and freedom.

File Image: Chiashan facility in Taiwan. F-16 Vipers in pictures

It can be noted that even though China is a gigantic power, tiny Taiwan has not been intimidated by it. Taipei has adopted an asymmetric method of warfare known as the “porcupine strategy”, which aims to invasion very difficult and costly for the enemy.

As part of this strategy, Taiwan has accumulated large stockpiles of anti-aircraft, anti-tank and anti-ship weapons and ammunition. This includes unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and low-cost munitions like Coastal Defense Mobile Cruise Missiles (CDCMs), which have the capability to destroy China’s expensive naval vessels and equipment.

It has many fast attack stealth craft and miniature missile assault boats which are relatively cheap but very effective pieces of equipment. It also relies on sea mines and fast mine-laying ships which could also complicate the landing operations of the invading Chinese navy.

The main idea here is that only by sea (Taiwan Strait) will China transport its soldiers, weapons and supplies since air bridges and aircraft fleets have a limited capacity. And Taiwan can make this maritime operation very difficult.

Second, Taiwan has also prepared its cities for guerrilla warfare in case the PLA manages to put boots on the ground. Man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and mobile anti-armour weapons, such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), were created for urban warfare.

In fact, buildings in Taipei can be turned into barracks, it is said.

Third, Taiwan also possesses ballistic defense aircraft and systems, capable of intercepting ballistic rockets and inflicting primary damage to invading powers.

He purchased dozens of advanced fighter aircraft from the United States while manufacturing his own AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-Kuo, nicknamed the Native Defense Fighter. Many planes are held in fortified bases, with pilots trained to use highways to land if airports are bombed.

Taiwan submarine
File Image: Taiwan Submarine

Can Taiwan deter China?

The Australian think tank Lowy Institute has developed Asian Power Index (API), which provides insight into why Taiwan continues to deter annexation by China against seemingly overwhelming odds. The index also helps explain how Taiwan can maintain deterrence beyond a narrow equation of military power across the Taiwan Strait.

The underlying logic here is that if this is a smooth military operation, China could overwhelm Taiwan’s defenses with relative ease and achieve the air superiority and sea control necessary to mount an amphibious assault and /or a successful blockade.

Taiwan’s position then appears hopeless. But the strategic calculus will change significantly when the API’s “alliance strength multiplier” is factored in. This sub-measure is the ratio of combined allied military capabilities to a nation’s stand-alone military capability.

And here, that ally should be the United States.

It is true that when the United States normalized its relations with Communist China, it recognized the “one China principle”. But in 1979, it is also legislated the Taiwan Relations Act, which provided the framework for US policy toward Taipei.

The legislation provides the legal justification for US arms sales to Taiwan. It states that “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services as are necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain an adequate self-defense capability.”

As a result, every US president has sold weapons to Taiwan to bolster its defenses. Beyond arms sales, the law establishes how the United States interacts with Taiwan without formal diplomatic relations.

The standard or popular interpretation of this law is that the United States has maintained “strategic ambiguity” on the issue of Taiwan’s defense since the legislation speaks of arming but not defending Taiwan in the event of Chinese aggression. Because Taiwan, it is said, is not an ally in the strict sense of the term.

Taiwan Relations Act

But there are scholars who say that if you look a little deeper into the Taiwan Relations Act, you will find that “some of the language is worded in the same way as a defense treaty “. In this context, three features of this law are particularly noteworthy:

First, it “reaffirms as a United States commitment to the preservation of the human rights of the people of Taiwan.”

Second, it “Declares that in the principle of maintaining peace and stability in the Western Pacific region, the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services as may be required to allow Taiwan to maintain a sufficient position. self-defense capability as determined by the President and Congress.

File Image: Taiwanese President in a new F-16V

Such determination of Taiwan’s defense must be considered by US military authorities as part of recommendations to the President and Congress.

Third, it “directs the President to promptly notify Congress of threats to the security or social or economic system of the people of Taiwan, and of any danger to the interests of the United States arising from such threats. (It) also clarifies that the President and Congress will determine the appropriate action in response to such danger.

The above language gives enough power and flexibility to the President (and Congress) to decide the nature of military aid, as is the case with any formal defense or security treaty.

Particularly significant here is the phrase – “the president consults with Congress on” appropriate action. . . in response to such danger.

In fact, that’s what some experts insist on justifying what President Biden said in Tokyo on May 23. When asked at a press conference, “Are you ready to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?” the president replied with a clear answer: “Yes. . . this is the commitment we made.

As Thomas J. Shattuck, non-resident fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s (FPRI) Asia program rightly points out, this was the third time since August 2021 that Biden had said something like this.

It was not a gaffe, as US officials later clarified. “A blunder would be a sloppy answer to a question once. Biden was consistent in his response, using similar or identical language when asked about Taiwan.

His response is what he believes to be the truth. In short, the president thinks the United States is committed to defending Taiwan,” Shattuck said.

Of course, one wonders how the United States will fight alongside Taiwan against China? It all depends on the intensity of Chinese actions. Michael E O’Hanlon of the American think tank Brookings suggests that the U.S. action might be consistent with the Department of Defense’s concept of built-in deterrent that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is talking about.

Built-in deterrence would mean that without giving up the possibility of a direct response to liberate the territory of an ally or friend (in this case, Taiwan), the United States could meet China or Russia in a proportionate. This strategy combines military elements with economic warfare.

Military components could include redeployments during and after a crisis, reinforced forward defenses and perhaps limited military attacks on enemy assets, “most likely in other theaters from which the initial attack took place. venue”.

Instruments of economic warfare could include offensive elements such as sanctions that may evolve and expand over time during a crisis and perhaps beyond. And the sanctions could be enforced in collaboration with as many US allies as possible.

Seen in this light, Pelosi may be right when she says Taiwan would not be left alone to fight off Chinese aggression.

  • Veteran author and journalist Prakash Nanda has been commentating on politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and a recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Fellowship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. CONTACT: [email protected]
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