Analysis: China vs Taiwan; How do the two rivals’ military forces compare?
China declared it was “ready to fight at all times” after concluding an unprecedented, three-day-long war games in the waters around Taiwan in retaliation against the Taiwanese president’s visit to the US.
Although a full-scale invasion is unlikely, experts suggest that Taipei at best would be able to deter China’s military might, till its allies responded.
The Chinese military began the “combat readiness patrol” around the self-governed island on Saturday following president Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with House speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.
Beijing simulated a complete attack on the island from missile bombardment to sealing off the island by blocking sea and air traffic. The war games not only serve as intimidation, but also as an opportunity for the Chinese troops to practice locking the island in case of an actual attack.
Beijing had reacted in a similar manner to former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in 2022.
The military harassment has only grown since then with China flying record numbers of aircraft into Taiwan’s airspace.
The communist government claims Taipei is obliged to reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary, and has no right to conduct foreign relations.
The drills have been condemned by Japan and the US – one of Taiwan’s strongest allies.
China has the largest armed forces in the world by active duty military personnel, with over two million active soldiers and 510,000 in reserve.
Taiwan, in comparison, has 169,000-strong active military personnel and is currently backed by some 1.66 million “civilian warriors”, according to data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Both the mainland and the self-governed island have substantially increased their defence budget this year amid escalating tensions between the Asian countries.
China in March announced defence spending at $225bn, a 7.2 per cent rise and the quickest rate of increase since 2019. Then-premier Li Keqiang warned that “external attempts to suppress and contain China are escalating”.
“The armed forces should intensify military training and preparedness across the board,” he said as he presented the government’s annual work report.
The Taiwanese administration also beefed up the defence budget this year to $19bn, a nearly 15 per cent increase from last year. The allocations were made for enhancements to air and naval combat systems to counter China’s incursions.
During the latest combat exercises, China focused on “anti-access and area denial”, a Taiwanese government official told Financial Times, referring to a strategy of blocking US forces from entering and operating in airspace and waters close to China.
“There were a lot of simulated attacks on aerial and sea targets, focused on keeping forces out that would be arriving from outside the island chain.”
China has a massive fleet of 86 naval ships and 59 submarines, whereas, Taiwan operates 26 naval ships and just four submarines.
In terms of airpower as well, China outnumbers Taiwan with over 2,921 warplanes, including the J-20s. Taipei is reported to have 744 aircraft in its arsenal.
Taiwan has 650 tanks to defend against China’s 4,800 tanks. In terms of self-propelled artillery, China’s fleet consists of 9,550 compared to Taiwan’s 2,093.
Meanwhile, Taiwan said it has launched an annual large-scale drill on Thursday jointly with its disaster services and defence ministry. Last year, the government revamped the disaster-preparedness drills to include more wartime scenarios.
This year, the administration said, that trend would continue with war preparedness, which will comprise 70 per cent of the drills’ contents.