Just how strong is China’s military compared to Taiwan?


With a massive defence budget of $230 billion, China completely outguns Taiwan on the ground, in the air and at sea. This raises fears that the self-ruled island would be lost if Beijing chose to attack

The world is witnessing as China conducts its largest military exercise, a retaliation after United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and offered America’s ironclad support in maintaining democracy.

China said the military drills in seas around Taiwan are “necessary and just” and its defence ministry has admitted that some exercises may breach Taiwan’s territorial waters.

It launched several Dongfeng ballistic missiles into waters around Taiwan’s northeast and southwest coasts and also fired several small projectiles into the Taiwan Strait, as Beijing’s military announced “long-range live ammunition firing” in the area.

On Thursday, as Beijing carried out “precision missile strikes”, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it was closely watching the drills and had activated related defence systems, adding that it condemned China’s irrational action, which destroyed regional peace.

The actions have led to concerns of whether China will take Taiwan by force. As this situation continues to loom large, we take a Just how strong is the Chinese military vis-à-vis Taiwan.

Just how strong is Chinas military compared to Taiwan

A woman uses her mobile phone as she walks in front of a large screen showing a news broadcast about China’s military exercises encircling Taiwan, in Beijing. AFP

Boots on the ground

If there is a war between China and Taiwan, how many people will be able to join the army?

As per 2019 figures, China has by far the world’s largest military; there are currently two million active soldiers in the Chinese military. Whereas, there are 1.7 lakh (0.17 million) active soldiers in Taiwan.

China has more than five lakh (.5 million) reserved personnel, but on the other hand, Taiwan has an upper hand in this with 1.5 million reserves. Taiwan ranks number one in terms of reserve forces, while China is at number six.

When it comes to paramilitary services, China outmans Taiwan — 6.24 lakh compared to Taipei’s 11,500 soldiers.

War machines

China supports its troops with 5,250 tanks while Taiwan has only 1,110 of them. China also boasts of having 35,000 armoured vehicles while Taiwan has just 3,472.

In matters of towed and mobile rocket projectors too, China outdoes Taiwan, putting the self-ruled island at a great disadvantage.

Air power

The comparison in the air is also starkly lopsided. China’s air force has a total of 3,285 aircraft whereas Taiwan’s force is made up of 741 birds.

Of this, China has 1,200 fighter jets, including a fleet of stealth fighter jets, including the J-20, China’s most advanced warplane. On the other hand, Taiwan has only 288 fighter jets.

China also has 450 specialist bomber aircraft and 286 transport aircraft, whilst Taipei only has 19 transport planes and no bombers.

Naval strength

China has the world’s largest navy with a fleet strength of 777. Taiwan lags behind with 117.

Beijing also holds a massive naval advantage, with Taipei having no equivalent to its two aircraft carriers.

The Chinese can deploy 41 destroyers and 49 frigates, as against four and 22 respectively for Taiwan.

In submarine warfare, Beijing is utterly dominant, with nine nuclear attack and six ballistic missile submarines.

Taiwan doesn’t have any of either, and only has two diesel attack submarines versus 56 for China.

Just how strong is Chinas military compared to Taiwan

China is way more powerful than Taiwan in the skies. Beijing has a total of 3,285 aircraft, including the J-20 stealth fighter. AFP

Nuclear stockpile

China has not disclosed how many warheads it has, but the US Defence Department’s 2021 report on the Chinese military stated that China’s warhead stockpile was “currently estimated to be in the low-200s”, while the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put the number at 350.

China, it said, “likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030”.

China’s nuclear build-up is being seen as one of the biggest threats to Western military supremacy.

Hypersonic future

Western experts believe that China also boasts of hypersonic missiles after the Asian behemoth carried out two tests last summer, a claim denied by Beijing. It’s unclear exactly what systems China may be developing, but the threat remains constant.

Dr Leoni in a BBC report said that while hypersonic missiles may not — on their own — be a gamechanger, they will make some targets highly vulnerable to attack.

“Hypersonic missiles make aircraft carriers in particular much more difficult to defend,” he said.

Not all lost for Taiwan though

Despite China outgunning and outmanning Taiwan, Beijing won’t be able to invade the island so easily, if they wanted, as they could face the United States and Japan forces.

The United States has historically maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over its intentions if Taiwan is invaded. However, in October 2021, President Joe Biden said the US has a “commitment” to defend Taiwan.

Japanese support for Taiwan has also become more forceful over the past couple of years, breaking with its previous policy. In June 2021 Yasuhide Nakayama, Japan’s then deputy defence minister, told a conference “we have to protect Taiwan, as a democratic country”.

With inputs from agencies

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