Does China Pose Existential Threat to Taiwan?

Beijing continues to anger its neighbors as it builds militarized artificial islands in the contested South China Sea — a region China lays virtually all claim to. And despite an international court denying these claims and a recurring shows of force by the United States to uphold freedom of navigation in the area, Beijing continues to do as it pleases. She maintains the country is justly building defenses and doing what it has the right to do in its own territory.

But the growing, unchecked power of China in the Asia Pacific, which sees more $5 trillion worth of sea-borne trade each year, is raising concern among her neighbors—particularly a country China has for years vowed to take back by force if necessary: Taiwan.

Beijing has considered it a breakaway province since the end of the war and claims re-unification is inevitable and unification unacceptable. The U.S. even recognizes Beijing’s “One-China Policy” and has no formal diplomatic relations to Taiwan, but still sells arms to the island under the Taiwan Relations Act.

Some, however, believe Taiwan is about to need bigger guns and fighters willing to use them. And they want the U.S. to fight alongside them.

Enoch Y. Wu, a former non-commissioned officer in the Taiwanese Army special forces, and a defense advisor in a Taiwanese think-tank writes in a New York Times opinion piece: “China has become an economic powerhouse focused on building its military, investing in thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles that can damage Taiwan’s ports and runways many times over, neutralizing our navy and air force. These missiles have the range and accuracy to cripple American bases on Okinawa and Guam. This capacity — combined with a buildup of submarines, ‘carrier killer’ missiles and advanced air-defense systems — has all but ensured that the United States would be reluctant to interfere again on behalf of Taiwan in China’s backyard.”

Enoch also points at the major inefficiencies in the modern Taiwanese military, which has been crippled by shrinking defenses, scandal among the ranks, and an end to conscription. The latter began to erode in 2000 and now “alternative services” to fulfill these duties can range from playing competitive video games to working at fast food chains like 7-11.

“We seem to expect American sons and daughters to risk their lives to protect our home, while relieving our own of that very duty,” he writes.

And if the looming threat of China does spell out regional warfare for conquest of the region, people like Enoch fear Taiwan will be the first domino to fall.

Enoch concludes, “Whether Taiwan eventually falls to Beijing depends on the choices we make now. Taiwan needs a new approach for its security: The political leadership must correct decades of mismanagement of the military and accept ultimate responsibility for the defense of the country.”

About Andrew Burke 145 Articles
Editor-in-Chief Andrew Burke is a lifelong aficionado of all things Chinese. He studied Mandarin while living in Taiwan for six years and now works as a digitization specialist at the Yenching Library, which specializes in Asian books and documents, at Harvard University where he also studies topics related to China, Chinese, Asia and foreign affairs.