The source material is from articles from the US, Taiwan and mainland China and there is a lot of repetition between these studies so I have attempted to focus on different weaknesses in the Taiwanese military position in the different studies.
A) Synopsis of points taken from Brookings Study (2011)
This study is a bit dated since the military situation is changing dramatically but still makes some points worth noting.
1) The PLA has vastly improved the military capabilities of its artillery, including missiles, air capabilities, naval capabilities, ground and amphibious capabilities, cyber and electronic capabilities, and enjoys a huge quantitative edge in all these areas and will soon have a qualitative edge as well! The Brookings Study does not mention any dates.
2) China has pursued a policy of befriending neighboring nations that narrows Taiwan’s military options. I would have to add this policy has been much less effective since 2010 when the report came out and many Asian neighbors now do view China as a potential military threat. However, I see no attempt by Taiwan to take advantage of this situation as is the case with Japan.
B) Synopsis of points taken from Taiwan’s Defense Ministry (2012) via Reuters.
I would have loved to get a copy of the actual report in English but couldn’t find it anywhere on the web. The study was widely quoted in media outlets around the world.
3) “In the future, the Chinese military will continue focusing on further integration of its military units, with the expectation that it will be able to resist foreign forces’ intervention in any attack on Taiwan.”
4) “Over the long-term, it will be wholly sufficient to engage in a war over Taiwan by 2020.”
C) Synopsis of points taken from an article in mainland China.
The following article has to be viewed with some suspicion since the line between objective journalism and propaganda often does not exist in newspapers in China but I would say some of the points are valid and very interesting.
5) Wartime ammunition insufficient. This point has been verified by Taiwanese military reports in the past that I read while I was in Taiwan in the Taipei Times a long time ago! An almost incredible, surrealistic situation in which Taiwan’s military literally runs out of ammo in days and even hours! Perhaps steps have already been taken to rectify this colossal weakness.
6) “Many men are afraid of dying” i.e. poor morale on the part of soldiers in Taiwan. I think the article exaggerates the number of desertions that would occur in combat among Taiwanese soldiers. Taiwanese soldiers are after all trained professionals. Chinese military thought going back to Sun Tzu puts a lot of emphasis on psychological elements and this article does not disappoint. There are some interesting points about American psychology that I think are difficult to verify logically but the historical events used to make the points did happen. There is a place for this sort of “Chinese” analysis and I would like to add a few psychological observations of my own.
D) Personal Observations
Personal observations are extremely subjective and this is by far the weakest evidence in this essay. However, not everyone has had the experience of living in both China and Taiwan. I hope my observations are at least interesting.
7) I have taught in China and Taiwan and have dealt with hundreds of Chinese students and thousands of Taiwanese students. Taiwanese students in general tend to be better educated and more polished than their Chinese counterparts. However, Chinese students are tougher than their Taiwanese counterparts! Many schools in China still have a physical education requirement in college. Chinese students can put up with physical hardship since frankly as a less developed country there is more hardship to put up with. Chinese students are often ambitious to the point of delusional. Taiwanese students seem to have given up on life before life has even started. Chinese students are like Rocky in the Hollywood movie and have a fire in the belly. Taiwanese students just don’t have that same fire in the belly.
I think calling the current generations of Taiwanese “peaches”, as is common in the Taiwanese press, is an exaggeration but the current generation is softer than their parents and far softer than their grandparents. I like the softness of Taiwanese but not sure it’s a good quality in soldiers! I am not sure how important this point is in modern warfare but 300 hundred Spartans were able to defeat thousands of Persian but 300 peaches would not fare as well!
8) Based on countless conversations with mainland Chinese students I would have to say that the mainland Chinese are united in their belief that Taiwan is part of China and that they personally would volunteer for such an operation. When I have talked with Taiwanese students they have consistently expressed the view that war between mainland China and Taiwan as a big joke and basically feel their only hope is US intervention and would attempt to flee the conflict rather than fight or resist China. I am totally aware that Chinese are more likely to say what is “politically correct” than Taiwanese due to the differences between the governments of both lands. However, in private Chinese students can be surprisingly honest about what they really think. Even Chinese who want more democracy in China and do not support many Chinese government policies do agree with the Chinese government when it comes to Taiwan! One has to say that students are not professional soldiers. However I do think students are representative of civilians in general in many respects. Based on this limited sample, students, I would have to say China wins in the civilian morale department!
Politics is the art of the possible. Taiwan realistically has two options in the long run: peaceful reunification or a war with China that it will surely lose. Economic integration could buy Taiwan time that could be used to address the issues listed in this paper but I think this is very, very unlikely.
Taiwanese simply lack the Real Politik outlook needed to make the sacrifices needed to prevent reunification. Taiwan has a truly mountainous center and giant monetary reserves and could study how Switzerland and Finland resisted giant neighbors using mountainous geography. Taiwan could also study how Israel used a universal military conscription system effectively versus the mockery of such a system that currently exists in Taiwan. China has the largest army in the world and Taiwan’s current big plan is to have even less soldiers than now in an all volunteer force in the future.
To paraphrase a rather famous mainlander, “War is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. The Taiwanese are more refined, leisurely, gentle, temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous than their mainland Chinese brothers and their strengths as humans will be their undoing in war! This seems to be a recurring theme in Chinese history. Taiwanese like their low taxes and creature comforts and do not have the will to do what must be done! In short, Taiwan truly is a paper tiger and a smart paper tiger negotiates before the other side figures what’s up!
The vast majority of Taiwanese do not want to become part of mainland China! Can mainland China become a society that Taiwanese want to join voluntarily? Taiwan is part of China legally but can one ethically ignore the desire of the vast majority of Taiwanese to remain separate from a society that has not evolved politically to a level the Taiwanese consider acceptable?