Taiwanese who spent the evening of September 7 zapping through TV channels saw the president of Taiwan’s National Culture Association meeting China’s visiting culture minister. In unison, both officials heralded the Chinese culture being the greatest denominator in cross-strait relations. Apart from having chosen meaningful colors for their neckties -blue for Taiwan, red for China- the two somehow looked like of a kind: cousins, or maybe golfing buddies.
Yet, what followed on the news programs stood in the sharpest contrast. It was reported that Taiwan’s government expects its much-anticipated missile defense shield to be ready next year, and in a few months, finally deploy its own cruise missiles. Targeted by Taiwan’s arms-build up is China, the very country that woos the Taiwanese to put a cheery cultural agreement to the benefit of mandopop stars and starlets as well as the movie industry next on the cross-strait agenda.
According to Taiwan’s government-leaning media, the Taiwanese military is to invest as much as US$9.4 billion for the set up of a shield that defends Taiwan against the missiles that China’s People’s Liberation Army(PLA) has stationed across the narrow Taiwan Strait. The anti-missile initiative is said to consist of two parts, an active and a passive one. The first of which aims to prevent the launch of China’s ballistic missiles in the first place by destroying China’s military bases along the coast, whereas the passive part’s objective remains shooting down incoming PLA missiles that in spite of Taiwan’s bombardment of China’s coast made their way. For the latter’s purpose Taiwan is to deploy two batteries of Patriot 2 (PAC-2) missiles that have received a significant upgrade to the third version of the weapon system (PAC-3) and additionally procured four batteries of PAC-3. The PAC-3 missile system is almost entirely developed for the mission of intercepting anti-ballistic missiles.
To support the PAC-3, Taiwan is to deploy a long-range early warning radar system that will give Taiwan an estimated 7 to 10 minutes warning time that provide the military with the ability to effectively monitor Chinese medium and short-range missiles that were launched within a 3000km radius. The radar, which will be installed at the Hsinchu Leshan base located at Taiwan’s northwest coast, is to be even more sophisticated than the US’s own long-range radar stations in Alaska.
Both items, Patriots and radar system, are US-made.
To attack China’s missile launch bases, however, Taiwan plans to primarily resort to locally-produced weaponry. Taiwan’s AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-kuo jet fighters, commonly known as the Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), have been improved and are to be outfitted with Tien Chien-2A (Sky Sword) anti-radiation missiles as well as cluster bombs which objective it is to destroy China’s airfields, ports and radar stations along China’s southeastern coast. Nonetheless, the most powerful weapon Taiwan is according to government circles about to deploy is the Hsiungfeng 2E cruise missile which, with an estimate range of around 800km, could besides China’s missile bases strike Chinese mega-cities such as Shanghai and Hong Kong.
How these all-out efforts on Taiwan’s government behalf to deter China from attacking the island go together with President Ma Ying-jeou’s Beijing-friendly platform remains mysterious to many.
By interviewing Taiwanese academics who are experts on the KMT’s cross-strait policy and military affairs, Asia Sentinel seeks to shed light on the apparent discrepancy between the Taiwanese government’s feasting and dining with its Chinese counterpart and the upgrading of advanced weaponry to keep China’s PLA at bay.
“Ma Ying-jeou thinks like Ronald Reagan”, believes Professor George Tsai, Research Fellow at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations. “Reagan said: We want to negotiate [with the Soviets], but not under fear”, Tsai quotes the former US president credited with putting an end to the cold war. According to Tsai, the KMT government has no choice but boosting Taiwan’s arsenal of weapons if it wants to appear in a confident shape at the cross-strait negotiation table.
That the Taiwanese arms-build up could be of good use to the KMT’s standing with the public implies the interview Professor Huang Juei-min of Taichung’s Providence University has given to Asia Sentinel. He says: “I believe that most of the Taiwanese support arms-procurements, regardless whether they are in favor or against Taiwanese independence since the regime in Beijing is still deeply mistrusted.”
Huang then cites the Neue Ostpolitik, or New Eastern Policy, which West Germany had applied to deal with then-communist East Germany in the 1970s, as what could possibly be an inspiration for Ma Ying-jeou’s policymaking. The West Germans put huge resources into their military, but simultaneously engaged the East German leaders by a certain degree of collaboration. Prior to the implementation of the Neue Ostpolitik, West Germany had sought to ignore and isolate East Germany, a policy that didn’t yield much success.
According to some Taiwanese military experts, to answer the question why Ma Ying-jeou’s government in spite of the easing cross-strait tensions still needs many more weapons, the bigger picture has to be seen. The Taiwanese government has to think out of the box of the traditional scenario where the PLA tries to invade Taiwan to prevent Taiwanese independence.
In the eyes of Wang Jyh-Perng, an associate research fellow at Taiwan’s Association for Managing Defense and Strategies, in times when the Yellow Sea is the scene for naval war games by both China and the United States as a consequence of the growing tensions on the Korean peninsular “future actions by the North Koreans are a key variable to the situation”. Wang predicts: “If there again were an incident like the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan to happen, huge changes are bound to come immediately.”
On its web site, China National Radio hinted on an attack on the USS George Washington with China’s newest anti-ship ballistic missiles, the Dengfeng 21D, in case the supercarrier were to enter the Yellow Sea. On the first glance, the US wants to assist its ally South Korea with boosting anti-submarine warfare abilities, but China’s national radio station’s headquarters in Beijing think the US’s long term aim is surveillance.
According to simulations published by the US defense journal Orbis, the Dengfeng 21D were to sink the US aircraft carrier within a very short period of time.
It can safely be assumed that the development of such a capable Chinese weapon and calls by the state-run media to put them in use lets alarm bells ring in Taipei since it would make it somewhat more difficult for the US to come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an outbreak of a future conflict with China.
What seems to be Taiwan’s government’s conflicting policies in dealing with China is therefore quite plausible to the local scholars. In their eyes, Taiwan’s arms-build up is not only supported by historic examples and according to the wishes of the majority of the Taiwanese, but also necessary.
“The Taiwanese want to keep the status quo, and the Taiwanese want to improve cross-strait relations. And the Taiwanese need advanced weapons to feel at ease”, Professor Tsai concludes.