Taiwan’s defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng recently said that military tensions between Beijing and Taipei are the worst he has seen in 40 years. In the event of a mainland Chinese invasion, the island cannot completely bank upon the United States and other allies but must be in a position to defend itself, the minister said at a press event on Oct. 28.
For over a year, Taiwan has seen repeated sorties directed against it by the communist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force near the island. The first week of October saw nearly 150 PLA combat aircraft making incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
Earlier, Chiu had said that by 2025 the PLA would be “fully capable” of mounting an invasion with minimal casualties, and that Beijing already had the ability to take the island.
Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is claimed by Beijing as a rightful territory of the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC). The ROC once governed all of China but lost the mainland to the communists in 1949 following decades of civil war.
After being interrogated in the legislature as part of a hearing on national defense, Chiu told reporters, “The country must rely on itself, and if any friends or other groups can help us, then it’s like I said before, we’re happy to have it, but we cannot completely depend on it.”
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Chiu’s comments come following Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen warning that the threat from China is growing “every day.” She also acknowledged the presence of U.S. military personnel on the island. While Tsai didn’t reveal how many American soldiers were on the island, she said that it was “not as many as people thought.”
“I do have faith given the long term relationship we have with the U.S. and also the support of the people of the U.S. as well as Congress… Taiwan is not alone because we are a democracy, we respect freedom and we are peace lovers. And we share values with most of the countries in the region and geographically we are of strategic importance,” Tsai said to CNN.
Relations between Taipei and Washington continue to strengthen even though the U.S. has no official diplomatic ties with the ROC government. Since the Trump administration, the U.S. sale of arms and ammunition to Taiwan has increased.
The United States observes a policy of “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan, according to which its approach on protecting the island in the event of a mainland attack remains unclear.
President Joe Biden had recently said that the U.S. has a commitment to defend Taiwan. However, the White House quickly moved to quash those remarks. “He wasn’t announcing a change in policy nor have we changed our policy… We are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Beijing has been visibly irked about the growing ties between the U.S. and Taiwan. At a recent press conference, Tan Kefei, PRC Defense Ministry spokesman, warned Washington that if it continues to “stubbornly cling to the illusion” of using Taiwan to contain Beijing, the PRC would “resolutely counter” and fight back.
“We firmly oppose any form of official exchanges and military contacts between the United States and Taiwan, oppose US interference in China’s internal affairs, and attempts to provoke and stir up trouble… The US should not underestimate the strong determination of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” PRC foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a press conference.
Though Taiwan’s military cannot match the PLA, Tsai has vowed to boost defense spending. Taipei also wants to develop an asymmetric defense system that will make Beijing think twice about attacking the island.
In her CNN interview, Tsai requested other regional democratic allies like South Korea, Japan, and Australia to help the island. She stated that when authoritarian regimes demonstrate expansionist tendencies, democratic countries should come together to stand against them.