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Taiwan invites US to help gauge its military strength

Taiwan will seek US help to assess the island’s military strength next year as defence analysts warned of a growing military threat from mainland China.

It is the first time the self-ruled island has publicly invited America to help assess its combat potential and was announced as defence analysts warned the rapid military reforms undertaken by the People’s Liberation Army in recent years posed a growing challenge to the Taiwanese military.

Miao Hui-feng, head of the defence ministry’s integrated assessment department, announced on Wednesday that the military had budgeted NT$15.25 million (US$500,000) as travel expenses for American military personnel to visitTaiwan next year to help assess its strength.

“With the help of the US, our two sides will form an ad hoc committee to jointly assess the military strength and the defence needs of Taiwan,” she told the Legislative Yuan, adding that the assessors would offer suggestion to upgrade the island’s overall defence plans.

“This is a very important military cooperation between the US and Taiwan and is a concrete way to consolidate the implementation of the Taiwan Travel Act,” she said, referring to the legislation signed by US President Donald Trump in March last year to allow high-level official exchanges between Taipei and Washington.

According to Miao, the US delegates will make three five-day visits a year. They will include representatives from the Pentagon, Indo-Pacific command and special forces as well as specialists in drone warfare, undersea mines and military aircraft.

For years, Taiwan has invited US officers to observe its major war games, including computer-simulated ones, and offer their recommendations for improvement.

But previously this has been done under the table and the island’s military has never publicly acknowledged such exercises.

Miao did not say whether the US delegation would also observe Taiwan’s war games.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary, and cross-strait tensions have escalated since Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

Beijing has since sought to pressure her to reverse this stance by stepping up war games near the island and poaching seven of Taipei’s diplomatic allies.

Meanwhile, a Taiwanese government think tank warned that the island must develop more effective strategies to counter the threat from the PLA in the face of its rapid reforms over the past four years.

Hsu Chih-hsiang, a researcher from the Institute for National Defence and Security Research, said that Chinese President Xi Jinping regarded building a stronger military as “the key element of the dream of national rejuvenation”.

Hsu said Xi had set the target of developing a modern “world-class” military by 2035 and its efforts to reach this goal had increased the challenge for Taiwan in developing effective countermeasures.

The reforms he highlighted included the establishment of the PLA rocket force – a strategic and tactical missile force – and the strategic support force, which will take charge of cyber and space warfare.

He also warned that the PLA had stepped up its training and preparations for high-intensity regional conflicts and had been developing its aerial warfare capabilities.