Taiwan Would Last 'Only Two Weeks' in War With China, Says Ex-Navy Commander

Taiwan's military would last "only two weeks" in a cross-strait war with China, a former naval commander for the island said on Monday.

Lieutenant General Yeh Jen-wen, who served in Taiwan's navy for 32 years, warned President Tsai Ing-wen that her government was "playing with fire" with its escalating weapons procurement policy.

Yeh's comments, made in an interview with Hong Kong's China Review News Agency, came after the Trump administration announced two arms sales to Taipei in the space of a week, including an estimated $2.37 billion in Harpoon missile systems.

On Tuesday, Election Day in the U.S., the State Department approved another deal, this time for four armed Reaper drones worth $600 million. It is the 10th weapons transaction between Washington and Taipei since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

The Taiwan Relations Act requires the United States to provide the democratic island with arms of a defensive nature. Harpoon missiles, which have a range of more than 150 miles, can be characterized as offensive, Yeh argues.

"The recent purchase of Harpoon missiles threatens Beijing's aircraft carriers and their access to the Pacific Ocean," Yeh said, according to a Newsweek translation of the news agency's report.

The former Taiwan navy deputy commanding general called it "hostile" behavior. He added that the Trump administration was "deliberately provoking" Beijing.

"If Harpoon missiles are capable of striking [China's] aircraft carriers, then they are offensive in nature and no longer defensive," he added.

The dynamic in the Taiwan Strait is now one of psychology rather than strategy, the ex-navy commander said. "If Taiwan doesn't make trouble, the Chinese Communist Party will tolerate it, but eventually its hand will be forced.

"Politicians like to be ambiguous, but the military doesn't deal in ambiguity. A war can be started with the push of a button."

Taiwan's defense minister Yen De-fa recently revealed that President Tsai could mobilize close to 450,000 troops in the event of a cross-strait conflict with the People's Liberation Army of China.

This figure would include 185,000 active soldiers and roughly 260,000 reserves, Yen noted, but Yeh argued that this still leaves the island's armed forces vastly outnumbered.

"Taiwan would last only two weeks," he told the news agency. "Do we really have enough troops? We'll need to bring back the draft in order to put up a fight."

Yeh also referred to a September report from the U.S. Department of Defense, which pointed out that Beijing had a military budget roughly 15 times the size of Taipei's.

Echoes of concern

Yeh is not the only high-ranking former commander to warn of Taiwan's apparent lack of military preparedness.

In a recent interview with the same Hong Kong news site, retired Taiwan army Major General Hsiao Tien-liu suggested that its soldiers lacked sufficient weapons and equipment for a Taiwan Strait conflict.

"How do soldiers go to war without proper equipment? Are they supposed to fight with brooms?" Hsiao was quoted as saying.

Taiwan Air Force
File photo: Two U.S.-made F-16 fighters fly above Taiwan's Hualien air force. SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images