China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 9, 2016
Executive Summary: Since taking office, the Tsai government has made an effort to develop the military hardware and shipbuilding industries. It has made gains in military procurements from the United States. But this is a declaration of military strength. It is of no help whatsoever to the real goal of national defense, peace and prosperity. Since time immemorial, the highest ideal in warfare, has been "to win without fighting”. For Taiwan, it is the only option.
Full Text Below:
PLA Air Force military aircraft flew through the Miyako Strait and the Bashi Channel across the first island chain, and eventually rendezvoused off the eastern coast of Taiwan. Japanese military aircraft rushed to intercept them. The ROC Air Force maintained long-range monitoring but did not intercept them. This raised many questions.
First of all, consider the significance of the Mainland military aircraft circumnavigation of Taiwan. Was this a paramilitary operation, or was it a political statement? If it was the former, then the ROC Air Force should have taken decisive military action to ensure our national security. Failure to act would have been a dereliction of duty. Military dereliction of duty is a serious matter.
In this case, Mainland military aircraft did not enter the ROC air defense identification zone. Nor did they cross the midline of the Taiwan Strait. The flight was clearly a political statement rather than a military action. This Mainland military show of force directed at Taiwan, the United States and Japan, was unprecedented. Over the past eight years, cross-Strait relations have greatly improved, Military confrontations have greatly eased. But that does not mean the Mainland has reduced its military build up or deployment against Taiwan. On the contrary, the Mainland's economic strength has grown by leaps and bounds. Its military strength has kept pace. The cross-Strait military balance has been lopsided for quite some time. More importantly, Mainland military preparations are no longer verbal declarations and responses to isolated political events. They are no longer emergency responses, but part of normal readiness.
The two missile crises in 1995 and 1996, which the public on Taiwan still remembers clearly, were the Mainland's response to Lee Teng-hui's visit to the United States and the presidential election. Events have shown that such military actions failed to produce results. Instead, they increased public resentment against the Mainland. The Mainland has made timely adjustments, and is less inclined to resort to military action. During the Hu Jintao era, it stressed its commitment to peaceful cross-Strait relations. The Mainland position is that "We have made no commitment to abandon the use of force". But this has gradually faded from its official discourse.
During the missile crises, the United States dispatched aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Strait. This thorn in the Mainland's side accelerated the Mainland's commitment to military reform and weapons and equipment updates. The Mainland now has an aircraft carrier group and a space force. This time PLA military aircraft circumnavigated Taiwan from north to south, on both sides of the island. It was the most intensive military exercise in nearly 20 years. It revealed the extent of Mainland military preparations. Similar incidents will happen more often in the future. Taiwan must awaken to this reality.
Of course, we have also noted the Japanese response to this incident. ROC and Japanese air defense identification zones abut each other. Mainland military aircraft flew outside the eastern edge of the ROC air defense identification zone. This meant it flew inside Japan's air defense identification zone. The Japanese Air Force immediately intercepted. This showed that the Japanese are closely monitoring Mainland military actions. It means that once the People's Liberation Army takes military action on the eastern coast of Taiwan, it faces a threat from the rear by US and Japanese forces. From this perspective, the cross-Strait military balance of power has not drastically changed the overall regional strategic military balance. Taiwan is not actually under that great a military threat.
Mainland military strength has grown by leaps and bounds. The Japanese military is exhausted. The Mainland passed through the Tsugaru Strait and Miyako Strait. It passed through Diaoyutai Island waters, as a matter of routine. Japan pays close attention to this, but no longer responds. US forces in Japan also refrain from confronting the Mainland military head on. From this perspective, even if the strategic balance in the western Pacific does not change in the short term, United States and Japanese influence on cross-Strait relations will gradually decline. Ultimately Taiwan will be forced to focus on the Mainland, as the US and Japan lose their determination to lend their strategic support to Taiwan.
Many people dream that the United States and Japan will rush to Taiwan's aid. But this will not happen. Many Taiwan independence advocates are unafraid of cross-Strait military conflict. They remember the previous Taiwan Strait missile crises. They remember the US aircraft carrier support. These people are convinced that in the event of a cross-Strait war, the United States and Japan will immediately rush to defend Taiwan. They are convinced that even though Taiwan's military strength has deteriorated, that will not affect Taiwan's security. But current reality clearly contradicts their assumptions. As recent events have shown, the United States and Japan will find it increasingly difficult to remain as involved as they were in the past. They will be reduced to passivity. If people on Taiwan are pinning their hopes on unrealistic expectations of foreign support, they are merely revealing defects in their strategic thinking.
Therefore one must consider the actual situation in cross-Strait military strength. Even if one factors the US and Japan into the strategic picture, the result does not favor Taiwan. Mainland military aircraft circumnavigating the island is sufficient to demonstrate the pressure it can exert on Taiwan. Mainland military aircraft refrained from entering the ROC air defense identification zone. They also refrained from crossing the center line of the Strait. This shows the flight was merely a political statement. PLA Air Force restraint was a show of rationality.
Since taking office, the Tsai government has made an effort to develop the military hardware and shipbuilding industries. It has made gains in military procurements from the United States. But this is a declaration of military strength. It is of no help whatsoever to the real goal of national defense, peace and prosperity. Since time immemorial, the highest ideal in warfare, has been "to win without fighting”. For Taiwan, it is the only option.