China-Taiwan: "The military threat is much more credible than 20 years ago"

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Dozens of Chinese military planes and ships entered Taiwan’s air defense zone on Friday, the second day of Beijing’s biggest-ever military drills around the island. Maneuvers that allow Western military experts to study the modernization of the Chinese army.

There is a commotion on the island of Taiwan, surrounded on all sides by areas of Chinese military live-fire exercises. Taiwanese F-16s thus had to take off urgently on Friday, August 5, while 49 Chinese fighter jets entered the air defense zone of the island, according to a press release from the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense. Thirteen Chinese warships had earlier crossed the center line of the strait that separates the island from mainland China, while several ballistic missiles were ostensibly “tested” by authorities in Beijing.

This show of force is presented as a response to the visit to Taipei by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the American House of Representatives. Beijing considers the island of Taiwan as an integral part of its territory, which must be brought back willingly or by force into the national fold. These exercises of the Chinese army, which must continue until Sunday noon, are an opportunity for Western military experts to study the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait. France 24 discussed this subject with the Professor Alessio Patalanoa specialist in maritime strategy in East Asia at King’s College London.

Do the current Chinese military exercises help determine Beijing’s ability to carry out an invasion of Taiwan? ?

It is clear that China’s military capabilities have gradually improved. When we compare with the previous fiscal years, in 1995-1996 and in the early 2000s, we see that the Chinese have longer-range missiles and that they have increased the quality of their ammunition and military capabilities (…). The Chinese navy can now deploy more comfortably far from the mainland, beyond the eastern coast of Taiwan. But there is still a lack of information on Chinese capabilities in the submarine domain, due to a lack of open sources.

The military threat is much more credible than it was 20 years ago. But it remains difficult to determine whether the Chinese army can really carry out an operation as important as the invasion of Taiwan.

The last high-intensity war involving China dates back to 1979. Does the Chinese military have the capability to conduct modern joint operations involving the coordination of naval, air and ground forces?

These exercises will allow us to see to what extent the 2016 military reform, which created five joint command areas, has improved these coordination capacities. At first glance, it does appear to be so.

But that also doesn’t mean that this coordination will be perfect from start to finish. These Chinese military exercises will last a few days, while a military operation to invade Taiwan would take much longer. As seen with the Russian invasion plans in Ukraine, there is a fundamental difference between a plan on a piece of paper and the test of the ground.

Taiwan is short of pilots for its fleet of F-16 fighter jets, according to a recent Bloomberg survey, which points out that repeated Chinese jet incursions are slowing down pilot training programs. Can these Chinese military exercises deteriorate Taiwanese military capabilities? ?

Not necessarily. The problem of the pilots is first linked to a period of transition between two strategic postures. In the mid-2010s, Taiwan wanted to transition from a conscript army to a volunteer-dominated professional force. They come back to this a bit, in particular because the example of Ukraine has shown that a system with territorial defense and armed civilians could be a deterrent.

These transition periods cost money and create imbalances – such as the lack of pilots at any given time. But the Taiwanese are aware of this and will eventually solve the problem.

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