Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Commentary: Taiwan Independence No Easy Thing

The following commentary is written by Global Times' special correspondent Zhu Xianlong and is published on the front page of the newspaper on August 12. The article focuses on the following points.


On August 11, Chen Shui-bian and Lee Teng-hui simultaneously attended the meeting marking the first anniversary of the establishment of Taiwan Solidarity Union. In his speech at the meeting, Lee Teng-hui said: Going all out to push the "rectification of the name of Taiwan" and advocating a more extensive use of the name of "Taiwan" in the future to make it different from "China", the abbreviated form of the name of the People's Republic of China. Sources say that Taiwan "foreign ministry" staff indicated that Taiwan had united with countries with which it had "diplomatic ties" to again apply for joining the United Nations in the name of the "Republic of China (Taiwan)". This is an attempt to further split China.

Since the emergence of the theory "each side is a country", although Taiwan authorities have cancelled the "Shark" military exercises originally scheduled to be held in Hualien in the eastern part on August 15, so as to avoid "international misunderstanding", on the other hand, however, this move was taken out of security consideration. It is reported that Taiwan "defense ministry's" cancellation of the military exercises aims to ensure that the western part of Taiwan would have sufficient armed forces for deployment and war preparation so as to avoid unbalanced deployment of military forces under the circumstance of the emergence of eventuality. Even if that were the case, once Taiwan declared "independence", its geographical features and resource conditions determine that in regard to Taiwan militarily it is not easy to defend but hard to attack, but rather it is easy to be besieged and difficult to sustain, easy to attack but hard to defend.

Isolated on the Sea, Taiwan Is Easy to Be Blockaded and Paralyzed
The Taiwan region encompasses Taiwan proper and the surrounding Penghu Islands, Lanyu Island, Ludao Island, Diaoyu Island as well as Jinmen (Quemoy) Island and Mazu (Matsu) Island on the coast of Fujian Province, with a total area of 36,000 sq. km. Taiwan and Fujian face each other across the sea, the nearest section is only 130 km. Besides very little air transport, Taiwan relies mainly on ocean shipping for its foreign communications.

Although Taiwan has many natural harbors, the main ones are Kaohsiung, Keelung and Taichung ports, the cargo handling capacities of these three major ports account for over 90 percent of those of all Taiwan's harbors. Such a structure does not reveal its defects in peace times, but from the perspective of military strategy, there exist major hidden troubles. If war breaks out, the three ports will be destroyed or blockaded, then Taiwan's foreign communications will basically be paralyzed, and Taiwan's economy, highly dependent on foreign countries, will experience a drastic fall, Taiwan people's daily necessities will face a situation of shortage. From the angle of military technology, it is highly possible that the three major ports will be blockaded or completely destroyed, as long as a few missiles are fired or a certain number of mines are discharged, it is possible to achieve the aim of destroying or blockading the three ports.

Then, if water transport is blockaded or destroyed, can Taiwan make up shipping service by air transport? If Taiwan is blockaded, it is certain that it is put under a war state, and it is unlikely that its shipping service is made up by foreign air transport. Furthermore, Taiwan has only 15 civil airports that can service for take-off and landing, it has only two international airports-Taoyuan and Kaohsiung, so its transport capacity is extremely limited.

Narrow Space Makes It Hard to Win in Decisive Battle
The area of Taiwan Island's high mountains and hills makes up over two-thirds of its total area, and its east-west is narrow and south-north is slander. Such a topography makes it hard to carry out large-scale military shift and movement and is thus unfit for large formation warfare. In recent years, Taiwan's military has adopted flexible operational strategy, reduced its military scale, changed its military operation unit from division into joined brigade. Although this strategy facilitates the mobile and flexible reaction of troops, when large-scale landing operation breaks out, this scattered small formation operation of combat forces will perhaps be destroyed one by one and finally suffer utter defeat. If Taiwan declares "independence" and thus causes the outbreak of cross-Strait war, with its topographical features and small formation method of operation, it is difficult for Taiwan to win victory in anti-landing operation.

At the same time, due to the narrow area of the Taiwan region, the relative concentration of its military and civil targets, plus its proximity to the Chinese mainland, at war times, these relatively concentrated and near targets are vulnerable to attacks in various forms and from various directions and will quickly be damaged and destroyed, making it hard to preserve its strengths for second attack and for a decisive battle. On the other hand, war needs battlefields, it all the more needs space for outflanking operations, whereas Taiwan Island has limited area, few level grounds and lacks rooms for strategic elasticity and maneuvers, Taiwan cannot but decide a battle ahead of time or is compelled to fight a decisive battle, this is unfavorable to preserve its strengths and seek a best opportunity for winning victory.

Penghu Islands Area:a Natural Bridge for Assaulting Fortified Position
Located near the side of Taiwan across the Taiwan Straits, Penghu Islands are composed of Penghu Island itself and the surrounding 64 islands, has a total area of 126 square km. The eastern part of Penghu Island neighbors Yunlin County of Taiwan proper separated only by a strip of water and is only over 60 km away from the county; its western part faces Xiamen city of Fujian Province across the sea, the biggest distance is less than 100 km. There are mainland-type ports built on Penghu Island, Baisha Island and Yuweng Island, large boats can hug the shores; there is an airport on Penghu Island capable of allowing the take-off and landing of large airplanes; Penghu also has a reservoir rich in freshwater resources.

The strategic position of Penghu Islands has always been very important. Early mainland immigrants from the coastal areas of Fujian and Guangdong provinces all arrived at Penghu by boat after staying a short time and gaining supplies, they landed from the beaches of the western part of Taiwan proper. The Chinese government's first effective management over Taiwan was exercised also through Penghu. Back on the years during the reign of Emperor Qiandao of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1275), the Chinese government sent troops to Penghu to patrol the area. In 1292, the government of Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) set up a patrol inspection department there to take charge of the affairs of Penghu and Taiwan. In 1683, the Qing government under Emperor Kang Xi unified Taiwan by first attacking and seizing Penghu and then from Penghu captured Taiwan, thus realizing the unification of the two sides of the Straits.

If war breaks out between the two sides of the Straits because of "Taiwan independence", after the Chinese mainland seizes Penghu Island, a wide breach will seem to have been made in the defense of the Taiwan proper. Because it takes the navy force less than two hours' time to march forward from Penghu Island and at most 10 minutes for the air force to fly from Penghu to Taiwan Island, the long-range artillery of the land force can reach the western beaches of Taiwan Island to cover the landing troops. (to Be Continued)

Western Flat Land Makes Landing Easy
As mentioned above, the western areas from north to south of Taiwan are plains and beaches. From the angle of modern warfare, shallow water beaches are unfavorable for the movements of large war vessels and submarines.

Therefore, if military conflicts break out in the Taiwan Straits, it is impossible for mainland navy to directly move heavy equipment and personnel to shores, instead, it has to use huge numbers of barges and amphibious transport means and weapons, this will prolong the beach-seizing time.

But under the circumstance of having sufficient barges and amphibious transport means and weapons, such landform is conducive to whole-line beach-seizing and landing, making it impossible for the defenders to hold their own.

Taiwan proper is 130 km in the nearest section and almost 200 km in the farthest section away from the Chinese mainland. From the perspective of traditional military science, Taiwan Island should be easy to defend and hard to attack. In the age of sailing boats, it took several days to sail from the mainland to Taiwan.

But nowadays, with developed science and technology, war vessels driven by internal combustion engines can arrive in Taiwan proper after sailing several hours from the coastal areas of Fujian Province. And air-cushion ships and flying-wing ships can sail even faster, it takes only 20-plus minutes for the quickest. Airplanes, taking off from various mainland airports and after assembling in the airspace over the Taiwan Straits near the mainland side, can dive to various corners of Taiwan. The most deterrent are medium-and short-range tactical ground-to-ground missiles, which can hit any targets of Taiwan within several minutes.

In addition, electronic interference equipment can, on land or in airspace, effectively destroy Taiwan's communication and commanding systems, thereby weakening the combat effectiveness of Taiwan armed forces.

Scattered Troops Liable to Be Destroyed One by One
The areas defended by Taiwan armed forces include Taiwan Island and the surrounding islands as well as Penghu Islands, Jinmen Islands, Mazu Islands, and Taiping Island in the Nansha Islands. Out of its political consideration of "not losing an inch of land", Taiwan armed forces have to defend over 100 islands, the makes the defense area of Taiwan armed forces relatively too big, multitude but scattered targets, heavy and crisscrossing tasks.

Out of the consideration of intensifying the defense of Taiwan proper, Taiwan's military department once intended to reduce and even withdraw part of its military forces from outside islands, but for reason involving the political level, Taiwan authorities were forced to defend each island.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Taiwan's military forces remained at over 500,000 people for a long time. After the 1980s, Taiwan's armed forces declined somewhat, the number of troops was lower than 500,000. After the beginning of the 1990s, in order to suit the new strategic needs and the change of the situation, Taiwan further reduced its military forces. By the year 2000, Taiwan's military forces were below 400,000 people. These troops, besides garrisoning Taiwan proper, still had to defend outside islands.

After deducting the 40,000 troops garrisoning Jinmen, 20,000 in Mazu, 30,000 in Penghu as well as nearly 10,000 in Wuqiuyu and Taiping Island, the armed forces in Taiwan proper were less than 300,000 people. These well over 300,000 troops were divided up for defense, of which some 80,000 were stationed in the northern part, over 60,000 in the southern part, over 70,000 in the central part, around 50,000 in the eastern part, in addition to some reserve forces.

If large-scale operations are to be broken out, a meager force of tens of thousands in each area can barely be relied on to form a strong combat force, which can easily be destroyed one by one and thus leading to utter defeat.

Compared to Taiwan Island, the defense troops in outside islands appear to be even weaker. If a surprise attack is launched on a specific island, I'm afraid the troops garrisoning the island can hardly hold on for several hours. Of course, Taiwan's military forces may already have their pre-made plan, i.e., before the outbreak of warfare, they have rushed reinforcements to Penghu, Jinmen, Mazu, Ludao and other outside islands.

But in that case, it will, to a considerable extent, disperse and weaken the defense of Taiwan Island, putting itself in the predicament of caring for this and losing that and having many difficulties to cope with.

The Scarcity of Resources Makes It Impossible to Sustain a Protracted War
Restricted by its topographical conditions, Taiwan's arable land area is extremely limited, each hectare of cultivated land has to support about 25 people. Except for rice and tuber crops that can manage to achieve self-sufficiency, the self-supporting rate of other miscellaneous grain crops has never surpassed 10 percent.

In time of peace, Taiwan's grain is even insufficient, once war breaks out, its grain shortage will become more serious. Statistics show that Taiwan has only 630,000 tons of strategic grain reserves, theoretically enough for only two months' consumption. If its stock of grain is destroyed, the period of consumption will be even shorter.

Taiwan's minerals and other natural resources are in even more critical shortage, minerals that can be provided for the development of Taiwan's modern industries and military industries are pitifully few. Over 80 percent of Taiwan's energy have to rely on import, other strategic materials also have to rely mainly on import.

Once war breaks out, its major industrial and civil materials, such as petroleum, coal, iron and steel, will possibly face a situation of shortage; if reserves of these important materials are destroyed, it is likely that the situation of "running out of rice and fuel" will immediately emerge.

Additionally, Taiwan, being an isolated island surrounded by water on all sides, is easily to be blockaded, once war is broken out, it is extremely difficult for Taiwan to get sufficient supplies of war materials, the problem of the lack of resources will become apparently more serious, and the island's capacity to sustain war will be greatly reduced.

Taiwan's economy is built mainly on the basis of overseas trade, it has to rely heavily on foreign countries whether in terms of materials and fuels, or of markets. In 1980, Taiwan's dependence on foreign trade for its economic development reached as high as 95 percent. After 1990, its dependence on the outside was even higher, especially on the Chinese mainland.

If a war comes, the island's foreign transport line is blocked, its resources fail to achieve self-sufficiency, and its products cannot be sold externally, then Taiwan's economy will suffer a disastrous drop and local people's lives will be greatly affected. Under such circumstances, how can it have the strength to put in necessary resources and sustain a large-scale war?

Based on the analysis of the above situation, we can come to this conclusion: Taiwan's topographical features determine that it is hard for Taiwan authorities to win in a defensive war, if Taiwan authorities declare "independence" and thus trigger a war, the outcome can only be their thorough defeat.

By People's Daily Online

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