Roaring out of the sky, an F-16V fighter jet lands smoothly to rearm and refuel on an unremarkable freeway in rural Taiwan, surrounded by rice paddies.
In different circumstances, this could be alarming sight. Taiwan’s fighter pilots are trained to land on freeways between sorties in case all of the island’s airports have been occupied or destroyed by an invasion.
Luckily, this was a training exercise.
There’s only really one enemy that Taiwan’s armed forces are preparing to resist – China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). And as China’s reputation as an economic and military superpower has grown in recent years, so too has that threat of invasion, according to security experts.
Taiwan has been self-governed since separating from China at the end of a brutal civil war in 1949, but Beijing has never given up hope of reuniting with what it considers a renegade province.
At a regional security conference in June, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said: “If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs for national unity.” In some shops in mainland China, you can buy postcards and T-shirts emblazoned with patriotic emblems promoting the retaking of Taiwan.
But for seven decades, China has resisted attacking Taiwan partly for political reasons, including the prospect of a US intervention and the potential heavy human toll. But the practical realities of a full-blown invasion are also daunting for the PLA, according to experts.
Ferrying hundreds of thousands of troops across the narrow Taiwan Strait to a handful of reliable landing beaches, in the face of fierce resistance, is a harrowing prospect. Troops would then have a long slog over Taiwan’s western mudflats and mountains to reach the capital, Taipei.
Not only that, but China would face an opponent who has been preparing for war for almost 70 years.
At mass anti-invasion drills in May, Taiwan military spokesman Maj. Gen. Chen Chung-Chi said the island knew it had to always be “combat-ready.”
“Of course, we don’t want war, but only by gaining our own strength can we defend ourselves,” he said. “If China wants to take any action against us, it has to consi