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Sino-Taiwan relations – of missiles and military spending

Updated On: Mar 09, 2007

Taiwan test-fired the Hsiung-feng 2E (Brave Wind) cruise missile, currently capable of a range of 600 kilometres (360 miles) from the southern Chiupeng missile base on 2 February 2007.

This was the latest out of three types of missiles that Taiwan has indigenously created that are able to strike China’s east coast.

The tests came close to President Chen Shui-bian’s vow to push for independence and a new constitution. Chen spoke to the pro-independence group Formosan Association for Public Affairs: "I want to say this again, 'four wants, one no'. That is, Taiwan wants independence, Taiwan wants to change its name, Taiwan wants a new constitution, Taiwan wants development." "There is no such problem as left and right in the path of development but there is only the problem of independence and reunification," said Chen.

And the missiles carried teeth since they were land, air and naval-capable and can hit Shanghai or Hong Kong. Its range could be further increased to 1,000 kilometres. Taiwan plans to produce 50 of the Hsiung Feng 2E missiles before 2010 and up to 500 after 2010. To show their support of the missile program, President Chen, defence minister Lee Jye and another senior politician from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) personally witnessed the missile test. However, such stunts have the potential to backfire since Washington is not keen to rock the boat in the Taiwan Straits, especially since it is tied down in the Middle East.Washington called Chen's latest pledge to push for independence "unhelpful" and spoke out against the independence drive in Taiwan.

While the Taiwanese efforts for self-defense were commendable, they are largely ineffective in the face of overwhelming firepower from China. At any time, Chinaalready has 800-1000 short and medium range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, ready to take out all major sites in the island. In terms of sophistication, Taiwan’s missiles seemed to be overshadowed by the internationally-sensational successful Chinese test-fire of an antisatellite weapon and the release of the PLA’s third generation, indigenously produced state-of-the-art jet fighter, the J-10. The J-10 has already negated any air advantage that Taiwan has in their F-16 or proposed IDF fighters.

In addition, military spending, which has expanded in recent years, would rise another 17.8 per cent in 2007 to 350.9 billion yuan (about 45 billion dollars). This is considered an underestimation of the actual budget according to the intelligence estimations of other countries observing the Chinese buildup. EU, Japanese and American estimates can be as much as four times more than the declared budget. China’s defence budget expanded at an average of 15% annually from 1990 to 2005 with the largest single expansion this year as it rose by 19.4% in 2002. This is all in accordance with its newfound economic power. Much of the budget would focus on advanced weaponry to enable China to fight electronic warfare but also to take Taiwan quickly in the event of an invasion. An attack on Taiwan is likely to be hi-tech, given that China has reduced its PLA manpower by 200,000 to 2.3 million soldiers.

Right now, any Chinese attacks would have to take into consideration the US Pacific 7th fleet and its carrier groups. But even this fear may soon decline as Chinabuilds up its own capability in aircraft carrier construction. China could build its first aircraft carrier by 2010 if its technological research proceeds smoothly as reported by the Beijing-funded Wen Wei Po newspaper in HK. To be fair, this was nothing new as a sensational announcement since China has already studied carrier construction extensively and has even converted a secondhand Soviet carrier into an amusement/theme park facility in Shenzhen. This was in line with the Chinese President Hu Jintao’s December 2006 powerful navy doctrine which had to be prepared 'at any time' for military struggle. China needs to get over the barrier of funding as well as carrier aircraft technology before it can successfully build one. To many, it is just a matter of time.

Defiant even in the face of criticisms voiced by US Vice President Dick Cheney of the Chinese military budget, Premier Wen Jiabao vowed that China would continue to strengthen its armed forces. "Building a solid national defence system and a powerful people's army is a strategic task in socialist modernisation," Wen said. The message was clear, nothing, not even Washington concerns, would stop China’s march to a great power status in power projection.

Wen’s defiance can be seen as a rebuke to recent US weapons deal of sales of more than US$400 million in air and ground missiles to Taiwan. Chinese officials and powerful pro-China lobbies in Washington are still trying hard to persuade the US government to reverse the deal so as not to send “mistaken signals” to Taiwan. China is aware that its military spending is still a fraction of the US’s Defense Department’s $481.4 billion budget (not including its Iraqi and Afghan campaigns).  (8 March 2007)

Sources:

China says aircraft carrier possible by 2010 (The Straits Times, 7 March 2007)

Taiwan test-fires cruise missile capable of striking China: report (Channelnewsasia, 6 March 2007)

China says military poses no threat (Channelnewsasia, 6 March 2007)

China's Wen pledges stronger military (AFP, 6 March 2007)

Beijing Accelerates Its Military Spending (NY Time, 5 March 2007)