Taiwan Would Fight Off China Invasion for As Long as It Takes, Defense Minister Says

Defending against an invasion is a matter of willpower, according to Taiwan's new defense minister, who told lawmakers that the island's armed forces would resist Chinese troops "for as many days as they want to fight."

Chiu Kuo-cheng, who was appointed to lead Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense as part of President Tsai Ing-wen's cabinet reshuffle last month, gave the comments during a parliamentary hearing where several officials asked about remarks made by U.S. Navy Admiral Philip Davidson.

Davidson, who serves as the commander of United States Indo-Pacific Command, told a Senate committee last week that China could move to invade self-ruled Taiwan "in the next six years."

During Taiwan's Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee hearing on Wednesday, Chiu called Davidson's assessment "reasonable," but added: "His evaluation says six years, but my concerns include six hours."

Chiu, Taipei's former intelligence chief, told lawmaker Chen I-hsin of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party: "We will look at all foreign references but cannot take them as fact."

He said the defense ministry was conducting ongoing assessments of the People's Liberation Army's abilities and deployments. An attack was "possible at all times," he said.

Asked about Davidson's comments while on the Biden administration's first overseas trip this week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he would not speculate on the hypothetical possibility of a Chinese attack.

He told reporters from Tokyo: "My job is to make sure that we are as ready, as fast as we can possibly be to face any challenge that would face us or the alliance."

Taiwan's Minister Chiu agreed with Austin's position, telling ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Wang Ting-yu: "In my judgment, we cannot set a timeline for an attack at six months or six years. My goal is to be ready at all times."

He added: "To be frank, China is capable of attacking Taiwan. Whether or not it is able to occupy Taiwan afterward, I won't speculate. China can launch an attack, but its considerations will have to go beyond winning the first fight."

The defense chief agreed with Wang's conclusion that attacking and occupying Taiwan were markedly different.

Asked whether Taiwan's armed forces were capable of withstanding a Chinese attack, Chiu said; "It's not about ability. It's about willpower."

"I always tell my peers to stop asking how many days we need to hold out," Chiu continued. "The question is how many days does [China] want to fight?"

"We'll keep them company for as many days as they want to fight," he added.

Taiwan Soldiers Greet President During Army Inspection
Soldiers wearing face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic stand in formation in front of a U.S.-made M110A2 self-propelled howitzer during Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's visit to a military base in Tainan, Taiwan, on April 9, 2020. SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images

Last year, senior defense officials said Tsai could mobilize a force of roughly 450,000 troops in the event of a Chinese attack. The figure includes 185,000 standing and some 260,000 reserve forces.

At the committee hearing on Wednesday, Chiu was grilled about much-needed reforms to Taiwan's reserves, which assessments showed to be underfunded, too few in number and inadequately trained.

The Taiwanese government announced a 4.4 percent increase to the country's defense budget for 2021. The new figure of 366.8 billion New Taiwan dollars ($12.9 billion) is 2.4 percent of its GDP, but still about 25 times smaller than Beijing's PLA budget.

Chiu told lawmakers it was pointless to compare the two countries' budgets, but said the target was nonetheless to increase defense spending to 3 percent of GDP.

Huang Chih-wei, Taiwan's air force chief of staff, announced that the country had completed the retrofit of 42 F-16V fighters from older F-16A/B models this week.

The jets will be used to intercept Chinese warplanes entering Taiwan's southwest air defense identification zone, Huang told the defense committee.

According to defense ministry figures, Taiwan spent 30 billion New Taiwan dollars ($1 billion) deterring PLA aircraft intruding in the island's defensive air space last year.

In an interview with Newsweek on Wednesday, DPP legislator Wang said Taiwan was expecting a "next-generation leap" in the capabilities of its armed forces beginning in 2023.

The democratic island nation is expected to take delivery of 66 new F-16Vs from the U.S. that year and will also receive the first batch of 108 new M1A2T Abrams tanks.

Taiwan's navy will take delivery of six new Tuo Chiang-class corvettes in 2023, with five more expected in 2025. The domestically produced warships will arrive alongside the island's first indigenous submarines—fitted with American-made weapons systems. The first of eight is scheduled for completion by 2025.

"We will be better equipped to respond to an attack around 2023 to 2025," Wang said. "There is a window of risk before that, but these military investments are there to make China think twice before doing anything."

The lawmaker added: "China is capable of launching an attack on Taiwan, but to occupy or destroy Taiwan, that requires more consideration.

"The defense of Taiwan is our own responsibility. We would fight to the end."