US arms deal boostsTaiwan deterrent

TAIPEI: A multi-billion dollar US weapons shipment to Taiwan will not threaten China’s overwhelming military superiority but could make any invasion or attack prohibitively costly for Beijing, analysts say.

Under a deal that has further rattled China-US ties, the Pentagon last week unveiled a 6.4-billion-dollar arms package for Taiwan including Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and mine-hunting ships.

Washington argued that the weapons would help preserve a balance of power in the Taiwan Strait as Beijing — which claims the island as its own — ramps up military spending.

“These weapons of course can help beef up Taiwan’s defence capabilities to some extent,” said Tyson Fu, the former head of the Institute of Strategic Studies under Taiwan’s National Defence University.

“They may generate additional difficulties and costs for the People’s Liberation Army, should it invade Taiwan. That’s why Beijing has been reacting so strongly against the arms package.” Ties between China and Taiwan have improved markedly since Beijing-friendly Ma Ying-jeou became the island’s president in 2008, and war may seem a remote possibility.

But China’s leaders have never renounced using force to take back the

island which has ruled itself since a civil war ended

in 1949, even though

any conflict would almost certainly suck in US forces to defend Taiwan. A

report by American think tank Rand Corp published late last year concluded that a skillful Taiwanese

defence could throw a

Chinese invasion force back into the sea.

“If properly prepared for and executed, (a robust and layered defence) could still turn any Chinese invasion attempt into a bloody fiasco,” said the report, “A Question of Balance”.

At the same time, however, Rand said China’s ability to successfully wage a modern war had grown substantially in recent years.

“A credible case can be made that the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the (Taiwan and US) air forces have even fired a shot,” Rand said.

In raw numbers, China has 2.3 million soldiers against about roughly 280,000 personnel on active service in Taiwan, and more than 1,000 missiles pointed at the island’s exposed infrastructure.

“Even if Taiwan were to acquire an aircraft carrier or produce nuclear bombs, it wouldn’t change the situation very much,” said Alexander Huang, a political scientist at Taipei’s Tamkang University.

But a simple comparision of the competing military strengths does not reflect the wider geo-political situation.

“I don’t think the arms package will change the balance. It’s much more symbolic,” said Bruce Jacobs, an expert on the relationship between China and Taiwan at Australia’s Monash University.