‘China will pay a very high price’
AN increase in the size and frequency of Chinese military operations off the coast of Taiwan has drawn a stern warning over escalating tensions.
An annual defence review presented yesterday in Taipei stated the military drills posed an "enormous threat" to Taiwan, but also warned Beijing would "pay a very high price" if it attempted to invade.
The island of Taiwan was a province of China prior to a civil war in 1949. As Communist forces took control of the mainland, China's government fled to Taiwan.
While it is now a self-run democracy, the island nation has never formally declared its independence - largely because it has been under constant threat of force from Beijing if it were to do so.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a rebellious province that remains part of its territory, and insists reunification - even by military force - is its right.
With China's military strength ballooning and the success-by-default of its aggressive expansion into the South China Sea, Beijings appears to have stepped up practising just such an attack.
"There have been massive developments in military reforms, combined operations, weapons development and production, the building of overseas military bases and military exercises, and the military threat towards us grows daily," the Taipei military review warns.
Taiwanese media reports China's air force has conducted about 16 military exercises testing the island nation's defences in 2017 year - up from just eight in 2016.
The most recent drill happened last week when long-range Chinese jet fighters and H6K bombers flew through the narrow Bashi Channel just south of Taiwan, separating it from the Philippines. About 15 of the Chinese drills had involved warplanes flying around Taiwan, crossing near Japan's Miyako island to the north.
Earlier this year, Beijing sent its aircraft carrier Liaoning through the Taiwan Strait in a show of force.
Such drills "have created enormous threat to security in the Taiwan Strait," Taiwan's defence minister Feng Shih-kuan said about the 14th national defence report.
The report compared the capabilities of Taiwan's 210,000 strong army with that of China's force of two million.
"Taiwan cannot compare with China's defence budget and military developments," Feng said.
As a result, Taiwan was "seriously reviewing and drawing a plan to develop asymmetric warfare to deter advances by the Chinese military".
Taiwan has created a new cyber warfare unit and restructured its air force and air defence commands. It has also begun a program to update its force of ageing US-built F-16 fighters.
Beijing has been increasingly hostile towards Taipei since the pro-independence Democratic Progressive party presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen won elections last year.
"We will never allow any person, any organisation, or any political party to split any part of the Chinese territory from China at any time or in any form," China's president Xi Jinping warned during the 19th Party Congress in October this year.
He said Beijing had to power "to defeat any form of Taiwan independence secession plot."
But Taiwan's mainland affairs minister Chang Hsiao-Yueh has urged Beijing to strive to maintain regional peace and back down from its assertive behaviour.
"If they invade Taiwan militarily they will pay a very very high price," she said during media conference. "And so far I believe ... if all other means (of unification) fail then finally they will do that."
But Chang said she believed Taiwan had done enough to safeguard itself from China - for the present: "But at this moment, because this government exercises extreme caution not to do anything that would be considered provocative, we do not think that they will do anything like that at this time."
The statement comes as defence analysts question whether Taiwan's small military has retained its longstanding technical edge over opposing Chinese forces.
Beijing's rearmament has accelerated in recent years, producing fleets of new stealth fighters, long-range bombers, and modern warships. It has restructured part of its army into an offensive force of marines, trained to be deployed from the sea and has been observed constructing replicas of key Taiwan government facilities for special forces training.