Mainland China will have the ability to mount a full-scale invasion of Taiwan by 2025, Taiwanese Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told the island’s legislature on Wednesday.
Chiu warned of the risk of a cross-strait conflict as tensions mount in the Taiwan Strait, with Beijing sending 150 warplanes to ramp up pressure on the island in the past few days.
“It is the toughest situation I have seen in more than 40 years of my military life,” Chiu said, referring to a spike in sorties by People’s Liberation Army warplanes to the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).
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He said that by 2025, Beijing would be able to keep the cost of such conflict at a minimum, meaning it would have the “full ability” to start a war, but it needed to consider various factors before doing so.
Chiu was addressing a legislature session convened to review a NT$240 billion (US$8.6 billion) special budget to buy domestically produced weapons. The purchases require legislative approval and would be on top of planned military spending of NT$471.7 billion for next year.
Beijing, which considers Taiwan its territory and vows to take it under control, by force if necessary, has stepped up military intimidation against the island by sending 150 warplanes, including fighter jets and bombers, to the island’s ADIZ since Friday.
While most of the warplanes flew into the southwest of the zone, some headed to the southeast section, posing an even bigger threat to Taiwan because of its proximity to the self-ruled island’s military zone in eastern Taiwan.
The PLA has sent warplanes to harass the island almost every day in the past year, but in recent days it has also dispatched warplanes at night.
Asked by legislators about Beijing’s ability to attack Taiwan on all fronts, Chiu said: “The Chinese Communists already have the ability to do so now, but they need to think about the cost and consequence of starting a war.”
In terms of risk, Chiu said the situation was at the point where a misjudgment could lead to unintended conflict.
He said in the face of mounting threat from the enemy, Taiwan urgently needed to strengthen its defences by buying more arms.
“We never meant to have an arms race with [Beijing] because we don’t have the [finances] and ability to do so,” he said, adding what Taiwan could do was to make Beijing assess the consequences of a conflict with the island.
The NT$240 billion special budget is to be spent over the next five years, and most would go towards naval weapons. About 64 per cent of the money would be spent on anti-ship weapons such as land-based missile systems, including a NT$148.9 billion plan to mass produce home-grown missiles and “high-performance” ships, according to the defence ministry.
Missiles on the shopping list include coastal anti-ship missile systems, Tien Kung III (Sky Bow III) land-based surface-to-air missiles, attack drone systems, the Wan Chien (Thousand Swords) missile system and the Hsiung Feng IIE (Brave Wind) missile system, according to the plan.
Some of the extra funding would also be used to buy 10 more Ta Jiang stealth missile corvettes – dubbed “carrier killers” – after the navy commissioned its first one last month.
On whether Taiwan had succeeded in developing the much reported Yun Feng missile, which has a range of 1,200km (745 miles), putting inland areas of the mainland within striking distance, Chiu said Taiwan was working hard on it.
Chiu said Taiwan must not rely on others for its security and must be able to fend off aggression from the enemy on its own.
“As a member of the military we only have one belief, that is instead of relying on the words of others, we are able to defend ourselves,” he said of the US commitment to help Taiwan.
The United States, Taiwan’s main military supplier, has confirmed its “rock solid” commitment to Taiwan and also criticised China. Beijing blames Washington’s policies of supporting Taiwan with arms sales and sending warships through the Taiwan Strait for worsening tension.
“I’ve spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree … we’ll abide by the Taiwan agreement,” Biden said. “We made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement.”
Biden appeared to be referring to Washington’s long-standing one-China policy under which it officially recognises Beijing rather than Taipei, and the Taiwan Relations Act, which makes clear that the US decision to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing instead of Taiwan rests on the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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