Vol. 2, Issue 23
The Global Taiwan Brief Volume 2, Issue 23
US Defense Secretary Affirms Trump Administration’s Defense Commitments to Taiwan at Shangri-La Dialogue
By: Russell Hsiao
Wu Den-Yih’s Election as KMT Chairman: The View from Beijing
By: Lauren Dickey
Will Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans “Win Just One for the Gipper?”
By: Dennis Halpin
Han Kuang 33: New Strategy, Old Problems
By: Kevin McCauley
US Defense Secretary Affirms Trump Administration’s Defense Commitments to Taiwan at Shangri-La Dialogue
Russell Hsiao is the executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute and the editor-in-chief of the Global Taiwan Brief.
The US secretary of defense, General James Mattis, attended the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) from June 2–4. The annual conclave, which began in 2002 and now in its 16th iteration, is Asia’s premier security dialogue. Senior defense officials from the United States and 28 countries across the world convene in Singapore every year for an inter-governmental dialogue that mixes pageantry and substance as governments highlight their security interests and concerns for the region.
Indeed, the meeting has become an institution for defense diplomacy in Asia and has been utilized as a platform by governments to highlight their country’s positions on pressing regional security matters. Secretary Mattis’ speech was the most widely-anticipated, as Asian governments waited for additional clarifications on the Trump administration’s nascent strategy for Asia. These concerns were made more acute after the Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton stated in March that the previous administration’s flagship Asia policy was being reformulated. Indeed, the “[p]ivot, rebalance, et cetera—that was a word that was used to describe the Asia policy in the last administration. I think you can probably expect that this administration will have its own formulation. We haven’t really seen in detail, kind of, what that formulation will be or if there even will be a formulation,” Thornton said.
In the first sign of what that new ‘formulation’ will be, Secretary Mattis highlighted, among other important points, “that soon about 60 percent of overseas tactical aviation assets would be assigned to the region and the Department of Defense would work with the US Congress on an Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative.” The Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative, proposed by Senator John McCain, will commit $7.5 billion ($1.5 billion annually through 2022) towards making “US regional posture more forward-learning, flexible, resilient, and formidable, as well as improve military infrastructure, buy additional munitions, and enhance the capacity of allies and partners in Asia.” In addition to these commitments, Secretary Mattis, in an unprecedented statement on Taiwan in this forum, affirmed that: “The Department of Defense remains steadfastly committed to working with Taiwan and with its democratic government” to provide it with necessary defensive articles, which is consistent with the US’ obligation as set out in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).”
While this is not the first time that Taiwan was mentioned by the United States at the SLD, it is the first time that a defense secretary explicitly affirmed a US commitment to providing for Taiwan’s defense needs by referencing US domestic law: the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The TRA, which was passed by Congress in 1979, makes explicitly clear that it is US policy “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.” Furthermore, “in furtherance of the policy set forth in section 2 of this Act, the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”
To be sure, Secretary Mattis’ statement on Taiwan stands out not because it broke any new ground in longstanding US policy towards Taiwan’s defense. Rather the significance of the Secretary’s statement is in the political signal that it sends not only to Beijing but also, perhaps more importantly, to Asian allies and partners. As noted by the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense Abe Denmark: “This [Shangri-La] will be the first time a senior Trump administration official has stood before the region as a whole.” The significance of this event and the stage that it provides could not have been lost to the US administration or to the other participants.
Not surprisingly, Taiwan is not permitted to send its officials to attend the SLD—due to Beijing’s objections. While Taiwan was able to send its deputy secretary general from the National Security Council back in 2002, PRC representatives walked out of the SLD meetings that followed in protest of Taipei’s official participation. Now, “in order to get the Chinese in the room, the Taiwanese participants at the SLD are not allowed to be officials, nor are they permitted to arrange bilateral meetings with other delegations.” The former Defense Minister Andrew Yang attended this year’s meeting.
Against a backdrop of growing regional uncertainty about US staying power in the region, Secretary Mattis’ statement affirming US commitment to Taiwan’s defense sends a reassuring signal to other allies and partners in the region that the United States remains committed to the regional security order. Indeed, as one senior Asian military officer reportedly told a Japanese newspaper: “Our fear is driven by the reality that it is only the US that is powerful enough to set red lines with China.” In response to Secretary Mattis’ statement, Lieutenant General He Lei (何雷), vice president of the Academy of Military Science of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and leader of the Chinese delegation, said at a press briefing that the Chinese government and Chinese people strongly oppose US arms sales to Taiwan. “On the Taiwan issue, one should not just mention the Taiwan Relations Act, the three China-U.S. joint communiqués should also be mentioned, thus giving a full picture of the issue,” he said.
As the Trump administration considers its first arms sales to Taiwan, the questions on experts’ minds are: when and what will Beijing’s response be? There was speculation in the Western media that a long-due arms sales to Taiwan is being delayed because of the Trump administration’s desire to get Beijing to apply more pressure on North Korea. In point of fact, Beijing spares no effort in asserting that US arms sales to Taiwan is the major obstacle standing in the way of better US-PRC relations and the primary destabilizing force in the Taiwan Strait.
Yet, according to a study conducted by the Project 2049 Institute and the US-Taiwan Business Council, arms sales to Taiwan actually have the effect of promoting stability in the Taiwan Strait because it strengthens Taiwan’s ability to negotiate with China from a position of strength. Indeed,
[t]he potential for PRC coercive use of force to resolve political differences with Taiwan has been the primary flash point in the region and likely will remain so for the foreseeable future. … Guided by the TRA, the US has helped Taiwan maintain a strong defense, which has enabled Taiwan to withstand PRC coercion. The island has thereby been able to foster democratic institutions, and it has also given Taiwan and its people the confidence needed to deepen and broaden cross-Strait economic and cultural interactions.
Although one speech will not quiet all concerns or solve the region’s problems, at the very least, Secretary Mattis’ remarks at the SLD represents a much needed articulation of US defense policy towards Asia that is broadly consistent with the Trump administration’s commitment to maintaining US military strength in the Indo-Pacific. The Secretary of Defense’s comments also seem intended to ameliorate concerns that, despite the administration’s best efforts to apply “maximum pressure” on North Korea, and seeking Beijing’s help in such efforts, Taiwan would not be used as a “bargaining chip.” Against the backdrop of regional uncertainty, Secretary Mattis’ statement represents a step in the right direction—but more could and must be done.
The main point: Secretary Mattis’ statement on Taiwan stands out not because it broke any new ground in longstanding US policy towards Taiwan’s defense. Rather, the significance of the Secretary’s statement is in the political signal that it sends, not only to Beijing, but also, perhaps more importantly, to Asian allies and partners.
Wu Den-Yih’s Election as KMT Chairman: The View from Beijing
Lauren Dickey is a PhD candidate in War Studies at King’s College London and the National University of Singapore where her research focuses on Chinese strategy toward Taiwan.
On May 20th, former Taiwanese Vice President and Premier Wu Den-Yih (吳敦義) was elected as the next chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT) party with 52.24 percent of the votes. His win is an important turning point as the opposition party seeks to redefine itself. In terms of cross-Strait relations, it suggests a return to an outlook far more moderate than Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) blatant support for unification. Soon after the election was called, Wu’s comments suggested that respect for the so-called “1992 Consensus” and continued support for the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations is key for the KMT to win in Taiwan’s next round of local and presidential elections. Yet, given comments made by Wu both prior to and throughout his campaign, Beijing remains concerned that his centrist or pro-status quo outlook will slow, if not altogether impede, the development of cross-Strait relations in the PRC’s interest.
According to reports in Taiwanese media, as the election results became clear, Wu and the KMT waited in trepidation to receive a congratulatory message from Chinese president Xi Jinping. Both a symbolic olive branch between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and a tradition that has continued uninterrupted since 1988, the telegraph from Xi arrived within 90 minutes. In it, Xi noted that peaceful cross-Strait development since 2008 has been enabled by the recognition of a common political framework. He urged the chairman-elect and the KMT to uphold the “1992 Consensus”—entitling each side of the Strait to their respective interpretations of One-China—and to commit to the opposition of Taiwanese independence. Xi voiced his hope that the two parties would prioritize the well-being of people on both sides of the Strait in sticking to the path of peaceful development and in jointly pursuing the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
In Wu’s reply, the chairman-elect echoed Xi’s wishes to carry forward peaceful, productive cooperation. He acknowledged that the KMT and CCP reached a “conclusion” in 1992 of adhering to the “One-China” principle, but emphasized the right to different oral interpretations of what “One-China” means. Although Wu had stressed that the KMT’s trajectory toward reclaiming political power in Taiwan required a respect for the “1992 Consensus,” in his reply to Xi, he did not explicitly accept the “1992 Consensus” as the cornerstone of cross-Strait relations. While Beijing officials may have been heartened to hear of Wu’s commitment to leading the KMT in ensuring the well-being of Taiwanese and deepening interactions across the Strait, his diplomatic maneuvering around the “1992 Consensus” immediately raised concerns in Beijing.
Beijing’s emphasis on “One-China” as the political foundation for KMT-CCP interactions was further elaborated by Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson An Fengshan (安峰山) on May 25. During the Q&A session, An was asked by several journalists about the implications of Wu’s election for the KMT and the CCP-KMT relationship. His remarks were— predictably – consistent with the content of Xi’s congratulatory letter to Wu. He elaborated upon the “1992 Consensus” as different oral expressions of the two sides of the Strait belonging to one China. Shared acceptance of the Consensus, An noted, would allow for intra-party cooperation amid cross-Strait relations otherwise belabored by current complexities (i.e., by President Tsai Ing-wen’s refusal to recognize “one-China”). His comments highlight the CCP’s preference for working with the KMT given its historically pro-China political agenda as contrasted to the outlook of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Beyond official media, those with whom the author has spoken in Beijing have been hopeful that Wu’s familiarity with officials on the mainland, and indeed, his experience working with former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on cross-Strait issues, will facilitate a smooth period of KMT-CCP relations. In 2012, Wu met Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) and then-TAO Director Wang Yi (王毅) at the Boao Forum in Hainan in his capacity as advisor to the Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation (兩岸共同市場基金會). According to press reports, his conversations with Wang and Li were characterized by mutual emphasis on the necessity of continuing the trends of peaceful development of the cross-Strait relationship. This recent history has led to many concluding that Wu will take a pragmatic stance on cross-Strait relations, not straying far from the “three nos”— no independence, no unification, and no war—of the Ma Ying-jeou era. In other words, as KMT chairman, Wu could seek to maximize benefits for the Taiwanese people by engaging with the mainland, but with little change to the political terms and conditions of the cross-Strait relationship likely.
Still others expressed their concern surrounding Wu’s election. His emphasis on the “different interpretations” clause of the “1992 Consensus” is widely interpreted as a warning signal. Moreover, unlike Hung who overtly supports unification with the the PRC, Wu sees both Beijing’s ambitions for unification under “one country, two systems” and Taiwanese pursuit of independence as destabilizing options. He has advocated for peace as the best choice for the Taiwan Strait at the present time. From Beijing’s perspective, this pro-status quo view has, however, been weakened by Wu’s remarks that any Taiwanese in favor of unification should move to the PRC rather than implicating 23 million Taiwanese in their efforts. As chairman-elect, Wu’s ambiguity about whether he will support the KMT’s status quo of developing cross-Strait relations or pursue an anti-unification agenda has thus fueled an initial perception on the opposite side of the Strait that he cannot be trusted.
In the words of one scholar-practitioner I spoke with in Beijing, the KMT under Wu is unlikely to be much different than the DPP: one seeks to maintain an independent Taiwan (the KMT), while the other aspires to achieve Taiwanese independence (the DPP). For now, Beijing can only wait and see whether Wu orients his policies toward the status quo in a manner reminiscent of Ma Ying-jeou, or if he seeks to more aggressively shift the KMT’s agenda toward formally preserving the separation across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing thus faces a decision between engaging with the KMT under Wu, consolidating the “1992 Consensus,” and deepening cooperation or, on the other hand, shunning the party altogether in response to a perceived agenda that threatens Beijing’s long-term goals of reunification and national rejuvenation.
The main point: From Beijing’s perspective, KMT chairman-elect Wu Den-Yih’s previous comments on cross-Strait relations are disconcerting and have nurtured a perception that he cannot entirely be trusted. Wu’s ambiguity on how the KMT seeks to manage the cross-Strait relationship presents a challenge to the status quo of intra-party engagement between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the KMT.
Will Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans “Win Just One for the Gipper?”
Dennis Halpin is a visiting scholar at the US-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins University). He previously served as an analyst in the INR Bureau at the State Department and on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives as an adviser on Asian issues, from 2000 to 2013.
During an interview with Reuters on April 28, 2017, President Donald Trump suggested that he would consult with China’s Xi Jinping before taking another phone call from Taiwan’s president. Waving off, at least for the time being, the idea of taking a second phone call from President Tsai Ing-wen, Trump said: “Look, my problem is I have established a very good personal relationship with President Xi. I really feel that he is doing everything in his power to help us with a big situation,” referring to signs that China may be working to head off any new missile or nuclear test by Pyongyang. “So I wouldn’t want to be causing difficulty right now for him,” Trump added. “I think he’s doing an amazing job as a leader and I wouldn’t want to do anything that comes in the way of that. So I would certainly want to speak to him first.”
The Reuters interview followed the Trump-Xi Florida summit in Mar-a-Lago earlier in April, where the pair reportedly reached an understanding on greater cooperation with regard to the North Korea nuclear issue and a new give-and-take on trade policy. There has been no official report from Mar-a-Lago of any wide ranging discussion on cross-Strait issues. Given Beijing’s long history of invariably bringing up Taiwan as a “core interest” in any high-level discussions with Washington, however, it is hard to imagine that Taiwan was not raised in some form.
Any reassurances sought or given on cross-Strait security-related matters would enter an area of discussion largely considered taboo by previous US administrations. Any adjustments made on Beijing’s North Korea policy in exchange for Washington’s adjustments made on Taiwan, a sort of quid-pro-quo, could come perilously close to violating the Congressional intent codified in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) as well as crossing a line with regard to the Six Assurances. President Trump has, however, indicated that he is not wedded to past diplomatic practices in seeking to achieve results. As he noted in the Art of the Deal, “I never get too attached to one deal or one approach. For starters, I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first.”
The TRA, of course, stipulates with regard to arms sales that, “the President and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan, in accordance with procedures established by law.” The Six Assurances include President Reagan’s pledge that “the United States would not consult with China in advance before making decisions about US arms sales to Taiwan” and that ‘the United States would not mediate between Taiwan and China.”
Reuters had originally carried an earlier report indicating that the new Trump Administration was considering a robust defensive arms sales package for Taiwan, including “advanced rocket systems and anti-ship missiles to defend against China, US officials said, a deal sure to anger Beijing.” In speaking of the potential sale of F-35 aircraft to Taiwan, however, President Trump said “Oh, I haven’t been informed. I’d have to think about that. I’d have to speak to my people about that. They (Taiwan’s government) do buy a lot of equipment from us.” However, Beijing made it perfectly clear on March 20 that “China firmly opposes US arms sales to Taiwan, this is consistent and clear-cut,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) told a regular press briefing. “We hope the US side fully recognizes the high sensitivity and serious harmfulness of its sales to Taiwan.” Thus moving forward with a Taiwan arms sales package could prove a deal breaker for the new Trump-Xi rapprochement.
The Republican majority in the US Congress had long been critical of the previous Obama Administration for not more vigorously pursuing Taiwan arms sales. Obama’s hesitancy was allegedly due to concern over an adverse impact on Beijing’s cooperation with such then priority issues as climate change. Republican Congressional critics called for a more formalized structure for Taiwan arms sales in December 2015: “Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for a ‘more regularized process’ for considering requests for arms sales to Taipei ‘to avoid extended periods in which a fear of upsetting the US-China relationship may harm Taiwan’s defense capabilities.’” On the House side, Representative Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee stated that “We should handle arms transfers to Taiwan just as we would for any other close security partner.”
Even the new Trump administration joined the chorus of Republican critics of the previous administration’s Taiwan arms sales policy: “The Obama administration blocked a $1 billion arms sale to Taiwan in December that was needed to improve the island’s defenses despite approval from the State Department and Pentagon, according to Trump administration officials.” In the meantime, a Republican Congress sought in 2016 to reaffirm both the TRA and the Six Assurances through resolutions sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio in the Senate and Representative Steve Chabot in the House.
When President Ronald Reagan entered uncharted waters over the problematic issue in Sino-American relations of Taiwan arms sales, he sought immediately to clarify American policy. Reagan delivered the Six Assurances to Taiwan President Chiang Ching-kuo, via his representative in Taipei, James Lilley, even before the issuance of the Third Communiqué, on August 17, 1982. This communiqué, extensively negotiated by Kissinger protégé and then-Secretary of State Al Haig, included the United States declaring its intent “gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan.” This prevaricating language led to what Ambassador Lilley once referred to this author as “a needed course correction” by the deliverance of the Six Assurances on July 14 in Taipei. These included the statement that “The United States “had not agreed to set a date for ending arms sales to the Republic of China.” By then, Al Haig was gone from the State Department and the US policy of continued arms sales to provide for Taiwan’s defensive needs had been enshrined by a Republican President. Given the widening security gap in the Taiwan Strait, these assurances have become even more critical today than they were in the summer of 1982.
The key questions for the current Republican administration is whether it will abide by those assurances given 35 years ago to Taipei by the great Cold War President Ronald Reagan, despite whatever deal could be possibly crafted with Beijing with regard to North Korea? Will Taipei get the F-35 aircraft and technological assistance in the construction of diesel-electric submarines it so desperately needs to narrow the emerging strategic gap in the Taiwan Strait? Will Donald Trump and the Congressional Republicans “win just one for the Gipper?” Only time will tell.
The main point: Provision of defensive arms for Taiwan’s security is a matter to be strictly determined by a needs assessment of the cross-Strait security situation, as determined by both the Administration and the U.S. Congress, according to the TRA. Any prior consultation with Beijing on Taiwan arms sales is strictly forbidden, according to the Six Assurances. President Ronald Reagan would have expected such as he sent a “non-paper” to Taiwan President Chiang on July 26, 1982 stating that “the U.S. does not agree to the PRC’s demand to have prior consultations with them on arms sales to Taiwan.”
Han Kuang 33: New Strategy, Old Problems
Kevin McCauley served over 30 years in the US government as a senior intelligence officer. He writes primarily on Chinese and Taiwan defense and security affairs, and publications include, “PLA System of Systems Operations: Enabling Joint Operations” and “Russian Influence Campaigns against the West: From the Cold War to Putin.” @knmccauley1 tweets current Chinese, Taiwan and Russian military news.
Taiwan has just concluded the annual Han Kuang 33 (漢光-33) joint exercise. This key exercise included a joint computer wargame followed by field exercises. Initially, no field exercise was planned for 2017 due to the drafting of a new military strategy, although this was quickly reversed. The two-phase exercise appears intended to demonstrate the newly-minted military strategy, with multiple offensive and defensive actions taken by joint forces.
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) under President Tsai Ing-wen‘s administration has adopted the military strategic concept of “resolute defense, multi-domain deterrence” (防衛固守、重層嚇阻). The MND views the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) capabilities to conduct a blockade of Taiwan and to seize the islands that Taiwan controls as its primary threats. PLA joint fire strikes, information operations, and the “Three Warfares” also pose major threats to Taiwan. The new military strategy seeks to protect command and control infrastructure, preserve forces, enhance joint countermeasure capabilities, and achieve a multi-layered defense of the Taiwan Strait including PLA strike. Multi-domain deterrence seeks to adopt innovative and asymmetric joint capabilities to deter People’s Republic of China (PRC) operations against Taiwan. These multi-domain, innovative, and asymmetric capabilities of deterrence appear to include the following: protection of critical infrastructure, electronic warfare, air defense, long-range fire strike, stealth vessels, mobile missiles, and rapid mining and mine sweeping.
The joint computer wargame was held from May 1-5 in the Joint Operations Command Center (聯合作戰指揮中心) simulating PLA blockade and landing operations. The wargame featured 2025 forces and equipment, including three PLA Navy aircraft carriers. Taiwan simulated F-35 stealth multi-role fighters with a short takeoff and landing capability to mitigate the loss of Taiwan Air Force Bases from PLA joint fire strikes. National Defense University personnel served as the opposing force. This phase of Han Kuang featured joint intelligence, air defense, anti-blockade, and anti-landing operations.
The field and live fire exercise phase was conducted at various locations from May 22-26 and involved 3,900 personnel from the services as well as the Coast Guard. Rehearsals for the field exercises began on May 9. The locations included the Penghu Defense Command, Kinmen Defense Command and throughout Taiwan. The MND stated the field training activities would feature base and force protection, joint air defense, anti-landing, electronic warfare, and post-combat force reorganization. The goal of the training was to improve combat readiness and joint training effectiveness, as well as test the results of the computer wargame.
At the start of the field training aircraft P-3C anti-submarine aircraft, Mirage 2000 and F-16 fighters conducted emergency evacuations from air bases in western Taiwan to Hualien and Cha shan air bases (佳山空軍基地) on the east coast for protection. Cha shan is a large underground base that can accommodate 200 aircraft and is connected by taxiways to the Hualien Air Base runways.
Training at Penghu archipelago included live fire, simulated PLA amphibious landings and Taiwan anti-landing operations. The 66th Marine Brigade simulated PLA forces conducting a landing operation on Penghu targeting critical infrastructure and strategic locations. Marine amphibious reconnaissance forces removed obstacles on the approaches to the beach. Thunder 2000 multiple rocket launchers and M60A3 tanks lined up side-by-side conducted indirect and direct fire strikes on the “PLA landing force.” The use of tanks as vulnerable and static pillboxes was a poor application of this maneuver and counterattack asset. Army Aviation landed troops and conducted live fire, and four indigenous defense fighters (IDF) simulated PLA Air Force (PLAAF) air strikes on Taiwan defenses. The training on Penghu was observed by President Tsai.
Training in the 5th theatre of operations (TO) in central Taiwan included a simulated PLA attack on the Ching Chuan Kang Air Base (清泉崗空軍基地) near Taichung on 26 May. The simulated PLAAF attack included air strikes and an airborne landing. Taiwan Air Force (TAF) aircraft flew missions to protect the air base as well as simulating PLA air strikes. Participating TAF included two Mirage 2000s from Hsinchu Air Base, four IDFs from Tainan Air Base, and four F-16s from Hualien Air Base. Taiwan special operations forces conducted paradrops simulating PLAAF airborne troops. Taiwan Army and Marines conducted anti-airborne and counterattack actions. A smoke screen was generated, and obstacles were placed on the runway defended by armor units. The simulated assault on the Ching Chuan Kang Air Base assumed PLA joint fire strikes on Taiwan air and naval bases, and other political and military targets degrading the country’s radar and air defense systems. The 5th TO Chiayi Reserve Brigade practiced mobilization and transit by sea to reinforce the outer islands on May 24. Reservists also conducted defensive actions.
In the 3rd TO in northern Taiwan, armor units conducted counterattacks against simulated PLA special operations forces, while securing important facilities. The Guandu Area Command conducted a live fire exercise and armor units defended the Tamsui River against a simulated PLA attack on May 24. TAF air defense units defended Taipei’s Songshan Airport against enemy air attacks.
In the 4th TO in southern Taiwan, training included an enemy raid simulated by Army troops against a radar station on May 22. Garrison troops established a defense of the radar facility until reinforcements arrived. Training in the Pingtung area included the 333rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, 75th Signal Group, 39th Chemical Defense Group, 43rd Artillery Command, 601st Army Aviation Brigade from the 3rd TO, a tactical reconnaissance unit, a psychological warfare unit, and the TAF 443rd Tactical Fighter Wing’s IDF fighters. Special operations troops conducted paradrop training from C-130 air transports at the Pingtung airborne training area.
Various support activities took place during the exercise. This included refueling and rearming Army Aviation, rearming of TAF IDF aircraft, emergency repairs and maintenance, runway repairs, and medical treatment of casualties.
In other areas, Army amphibious reconnaissance forces stationed on Kinmen infiltrated the island and conducted a raid to rescue hostages on May 23. The Coast Guard held a defensive drill on Taiping Island (Itu Aba), the largest island in the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) from May 24-26.
The hawkish state-owned PRC press Global Times called the exercise a “joke” and claimed that the Taiwan military was no match for the PLA. The Taiwan MND communications division reported a “flood” of negative and misleading information about the exercises on online forums similar to the Russian use of internet trolls to spread disinformation and influence public opinion. The MND also reported cyberattacks. The Taiwan military provided numerous photographs, press releases, radio broadcasts, and videos of the exercise to inform the public.
In the final analysis, Han Kuang-33 contained both positive and negative elements. The exercise involved more theaters and commands than previous years with forces throughout Taiwan and several of the outer islands participating. While the exercise responded to multiple types of PLA operations and threats to Taiwan as called for in the new military strategy, the number of troops was small, and the rehearsals demonstrated the scripted nature of this premier exercise. The need for rehearsals to practice the scripted exercise scenarios with no free play displayed a lack of confidence in unit training levels and competency. The MND’s stated intent of the second phase training was to validate the wargame’s results, but the staged training events appeared to have the as its main intention favorably influencing public opinion. For instance, the MND states that a PLA blockade is a primary threat, but there was no unit training to counter this likely PLA campaign. To truly improve readiness, Taiwan should move away from these highly scripted demonstrations, and adopt reforms to implement realistic joint and combined arms training to improve combat capabilities and deterrence.
The main point: The second phase field exercises in Han Kuang always appear scripted with no free play by forces testing unit capabilities and readiness. It is not known how beneficial the first phase wargame is for testing jointness within the Taiwan armed forces and the new military strategy. President Tsai’s administration has much to do to improve military capabilities; implementing realistic training, employing opposing forces in unscripted training to test unit capabilities, and conducting more joint training vice joint live fires would begin to improve training and enhance combat capabilities.