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China would gain swift air superiority over Taiwan, US leaks show

By AFP - Apr 16,2023 - Last updated at Apr 16,2023

WASHINGTON — China would probably gain air superiority very quickly in any attack on Taiwan, something Russia crucially failed to do in its invasion of Ukraine last year, leaked US intelligence documents show, according to media reports on Saturday.

The classified documents, allegedly leaked by a US national guardsman in the worst US security breach in a decade, reveal that Taiwan's military leaders doubt their air defenses can "accurately detect missile launches", while only about half of their aircraft are capable of effectively engaging the enemy.

China views democratic, self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory to be retaken one day, by force if necessary. The island lives under the constant fear of a Chinese invasion, and Beijing has stepped up its rhetoric and military activity around it in recent years.

The intelligence reports said that Taiwan fears it could take up to a week to move its aircraft to shelters, leaving them vulnerable to Chinese missile strikes.

In addition, China's use of civilian shipping, including passenger ferries, for military purposes has hampered the US intelligence community's ability to predict when an invasion might be pending, The Washington Post reported.

The Pentagon criticised Taiwan’s missile drills as too highly scripted, which could leave their armed forces and leadership unprepared for a “real-world event,” the Post said.

President Xi Jinping has undertaken a huge overhaul of China’s army to expand and modernize it. The People’s Liberation Army is estimated to be 14 times the size of Taiwan’s own armed forces.

Taiwan’s defence ministry told the Post that its response to recent Chinese shows of force in the vicinity demonstrate that its military is “absolutely capable, determined and confident” it can defend the island.

Last week, Taiwan staged large-scale emergency response drills enacting a wide array of scenarios, including attacks by missiles and chemical weapons.

The drills came just days after China held its latest military exercise around the island, just 100 miles off the coast of the Chinese mainland. 

Chinese jets and warships continued circling Taiwan even after the conclusion of the massive drills.

Taiwan’s defence ministry detected seven Chinese naval vessels and 26 aircraft between Wednesday and Thursday morning.

It said 14 aircraft had crossed the unofficial median line that separates the island from mainland China. 

On a visit to Beijing Friday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that “a military escalation in the Taiwan Strait... would be a horror scenario for the entire world”.

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