China-Taiwan Up Missile Ante

In spite of thawing ties along the Taiwan Strait, Beijing is reportedlydeploying more sophisticated missile systems in the coastal provinceacross Taiwan.  The director of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau(NSB)—the island’s principle intelligence agency—confirmed independentreports at a legislative hearing that China has deployed eightbattalions of advanced S-300PMU2 long-range surface-to-air missiles inFuqing county in Fujian province’s Longtian Military Airbase. Accordingto NSB Chief Tsai Der-sheng, “It is impossible to deny that Beijingstill sees military intimidation as an effective tool in preventingTaiwan from moving toward [de jure] independence,” adding that thenumber of missiles targeting the island has climbed to nearly 1,400(Taiwan Today, March 18).According to Tsai, the Taiwanesemilitary obtained intelligence about the new Chinese missiles two yearsago even before the beginning of cross-Strait direct flights, whichserves as the first milestone of cross-Strait rapprochement under theMa Ying-jeou administration. Tsai’s statement can be seen as an effortto downplay the news that sparked an uproar from theopposition-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan’s parliament,which has been critical of the current Ma administration’s “pro-China”policy (Xinhua News Agency, March 30).
Following reports aboutthis and other recent Chinese missile installations (e.g. Shandong inNortheastern China), a Taiwanese-weekly magazine, Next Weekly, revealedthat the Taiwanese military plans to test its indigenously designedHsiung Feng (Brave Wind) IIE surface-to-surface cruise missile in Juneand produce 80 units by the end of the year.  This missile, with arange of 800 kilometers (497 miles), is capable of striking targetsalong coastal provinces within China (Next Weekly [Taiwan], March;China Times [Taiwan], March 23). In response to questions concerningthe reported June test, Taiwan’s Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yangneither confirmed nor denied the report, instead stating:  "We [Taiwan]have the capacity to develop high-tech missiles. He added, “Research isan ongoing process. We need to consolidate our indigenous defenseabilities and missiles are part of it". Further, Yang believed thatdeveloping cruise and surface-to-surface missiles was "a step in theright direction" (Liberty Times [Taiwan], March 30; Reuters, March 30).

According to China Times, in October 2007, Taiwan successfullytest-fired a Hsiung Feng IIE missile, a land attack cruise missilevariant with a range of 600 kilometers (373 miles), which wasreportedly being deployed on a small scale (China Times, September 1,2008). The same report claimed that Taiwan also successfully test-firedan advanced Hsiung Feng missile with a range of 800 kilometers inJanuary 2008, which is believed to be another variant of Hsiung FengIIE that at the time had not reached mass production stage (Ta Kung Pao[Hong Kong], September 1, 2008).

The Beijing authorities’refusal to renounce the use of force, despite President Ma’sconciliatory overture since the Kuomingtang’s (KMT) landslide electoralvictory in 2008 (a lead that has been ebbing with each by-election),has largely kept military relations between the two sides on ice.According to NSB Chief Tsai, “[Taiwan’s] intelligence indicates thatBeijing has conducted a risk-benefit assessment of removing themissiles targeting Taiwan, but not surprisingly, policy on this issueis still yet to surface.” He continued, “regardless, even if thefixed-base missiles are withdrawn, mobile launchers can be positionedany time to pose a potential threat” (Taiwan Today, March 18). Tsai’sstatements underscore one of the many concerns that Taiwan’s militaryhave identified over engaging in cross-Strait confidence buildingmeasures with China. Moreover, at the legislative hearing where Tsaidelivered a NSB report, KMT Legislator Chang Hsien-yao pointed out thatChina had not relaxed its military preparedness against Taiwan. Changnoted that China had conducted 31 military drills and exercises in2009, 74 percent of which involved scenarios targeting Taiwan (TaiwanToday, March 18).

According to Tsai, the Russian-madeS-300PMU2 deployed along the Fujian coastline is designed to counterU.S. and Indian ballistic missiles and should not be seen as anoffensive threat (Taiwan Today, March 18; Radio Taiwan International,March 17). Yet, the S-300PMU2 long-range surface-to-air missiles have arange of 200 km, so Taiwanese fighters entering airspace in thenorthern Taiwan Strait could be susceptible to its attack.

AsChina continues its acquisition, development and deployment of newballistic and cruise missile systems, the region appears to be slowlyedging toward a missile race as China's neighbors equip themselves withboth offensive and defensive systems to hedge against Beijing's growingarray of strategic weapons. Current developments in Taiwan appear tofollow the policy reversal set in motion at the onset of the Maadministration, which discontinued any additional research indeveloping anti-ship missiles or surface-to-surface missiles that havea range beyond 1000 kilometers (621 miles) (See “Amid Warming TiesTaiwan Scraps Plans for Developing Long Range Cruise Missiles,” ChinaBrief, September 3, 2008). Yet, in light of a lack of reciprocalresponse in China’s missile deployments across the Taiwan Strait, whichhas in fact increased in the past couple of years, the balance of powerbetween the two sides is rapidly changing. Deputy Minister Yang’sopen-ended response about Taiwan’s missile ambitions raises thequestion about the Ma administration’s policy toward future missiledevelopments.
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