Taiwan says China capable of air, sea blockade of island

A photo from Sept 14, 2021, shows soldiers during an anti-invasion military drill on the beach in Taiwan. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (BLOOMBERG) - China is capable of blockading Taiwan's major ports and airports to cut off key transport links, the island's Defence Ministry warned on Tuesday (Nov 9), with Beijing-Taipei tensions at their highest in years.

Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which sees the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be brought into its fold, by force if necessary.

Beijing has ramped up pressure - including record incursions by warplanes - since Ms Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan's president in 2016, as she views the island as a sovereign nation and not part of "one China".

Beijing is strengthening its air, sea and land strike capabilities against the island, Taiwan's Defence Ministry said in a biennial report released Tuesday.

Those capabilities include imposing a "blockade against our critical harbours, airports and outbound flight routes, to cut off our air and sea lines of communication", the report added.

The report also warned that China is capable of striking all of Taiwan with its missile arsenal, including ballistic and cruise variants, and is also beefing up its ability to launch amphibious assaults on the island.

Taiwan's Defence Minister warned last month that military tensions with China were at their highest in four decades, after record incursions by Chinese warplanes into the island's air defence identification zone.

The zone is not the same as Taiwan's territorial airspace but includes a far greater area that overlaps with part of China's own air defence identification zone.

China's "frequent manipulation of grey zone threats" such as the warplane incursions, as well as other methods of warfare including cyber attacks, are aimed at "seizing Taiwan without a fight", the Defence Ministry report said on Tuesday.

Taiwan laid out plans to challenge the "grey zone threats" to shift the balance of power in the region and possibly take the island without fighting a battle.

The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defence described Beijing's pressure campaign in a biennial military strategy report released on Tuesday (Nov 9) in Taipei.

The ministry also accused China of engaging in "cognitive warfare" to sway Taiwanese public opinion.

"Its intimidating behaviour does not only consume our combat power and shake our faith and morale, but also attempts to alter or challenge the status quo in the Taiwan Strait to ultimately achieve its goal of 'seizing Taiwan without a fight'," the report said.

The military was committed to protecting the island's sovereignty and democratic system, the ministry said, laying out its strategy for countering China.

"The first and foremost defence undertaking is to prevent war and deter any external military threats, and our overall defence power shall be employed to defend our homeland, magnify the costs and risks entailed by the PRC's invasion, and ultimately protect the lives and properties of the people," it said, referring to the People's Republic of China government on the mainland.

Taiwan has re-emerged as a flash point in US-China ties in recent months.

Washington has been moving to help the government in Taipei take on a bigger role in international organisations like the UN, and President Joe Biden said last month that the US would come to Taiwan's aid if it was attacked by China, comments the White House later said did not mark a change in policy.

Tuesday's report lays out how the Taiwanese military plans to expand the range of its military deterrence to the Chinese coast to create "hostile" embarking and seafaring phases for People's Liberation Army forces should they attempt to cross the Taiwan Strait.

"The PLA's weakness is in the phase of sea transit," the report said.

"The Armed Forces must take full advantage of the natural barrier of the Taiwan Strait and fight in a resilient manner.

"We should not limit ourselves to waiting for the enemy's landing groups to sail through the Strait, but should also use measures to force the enemy to assemble forces at airfields or ports further away from areas opposite Taiwan."

Given China's overwhelming superiority in terms of manpower and resources, Taiwan plans to utilise asymmetric tactics to nullify the PLA's advantages, such as countering Chinese airborne operations with mobile surface-to-air missiles and attacking large ships with small, fast and resilient vessels.

Defensive cruise missiles and land and sea mines would be key platforms to deter Chinese attempts to land on Taiwan.

Ms Tsai told CNN last month that she was confident the US would come to the island's defence if China tried to invade, adding that the "threat from China is increasing every day" while also confirming the presence of some US troops on Taiwan.

Beijing has been stepping up its military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Ms Tsai's government, carrying out around 200 flights by People's Liberation Army military planes into Taiwan's air-defence-identification zone last month alone.

Last week, Beijing hit Premier Su Tseng-chang, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, Legislative Yuan President You Si-kun with sanctions that it said could be followed by criminal prosecution for "fanning up hostility across the Taiwan Strait and maliciously smearing the mainland".

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