Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 8 News List

The story that should have been

By Richard Fisher, Jr

On the last day of the year it offered a brief ray of hope, but alas it was only a story that should have been true.

For this analyst it started mid-morning on Dec. 31, when Washington-based Liberty Times reporter Nadia Tsao (曹郁芬) called inquiring about Internet-sourced reports of a US sale to Taiwan of the 300km-range Lockheed-Martin MGM-168 Advanced Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), the US Army’s principal heavy short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). If true, such a decision would have marked a very significant expansion of the US State Department’s quite restrictive definition of the phrase “defensive weapons” in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which has limited the capabilities of US arms sold to Taiwan even as China’s military threats grow unabated. However, it was not to be. Within the hour, Nadia had checked with multiple Taiwanese government sources, who stated there had been no such sale of ATACMS.

Taiwanese media were aware of this report because the China Daily and the Global Times had reported the sale as fact, which then went viral on numerous Chinese Web pages. In the main, Chinese Web posters reacted with intense anger, with many saying China should respond by selling missiles to Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. China’s Propaganda Department, which controls both publications, is both slipshod and prone to mischief. The Chinese reports were likely based on Dec. 24 reports on the Israeli online magazine Defense Update, and/or the US online newsletter Defense Industry Daily, which concluded from a Dec. 23 US Department of Defense announcement of “tactical missile” sales to Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates that ATACMS were being sold to both countries. However, the actual Dec. 23 announcement, carried on a Department of Defense Web page listing foreign military sales, contained no mention of the ATACMS missile, referring only to “tactical missiles.” Tsao was told it actually referred to the sale of Patriot PAC-3 missiles, which are “defensive weapons” against China’s nearly 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles targeting Taiwan.

While the ATACMS story has not yet warranted comment from any government spokesmen in Beijing, Taipei or Washington, the China Daily’s C-130 canard did contribute to a two-day kerfuffle in Washington. However, the false ATACMS story is perhaps more troubling, as it highlights the -inadequacy of US Taiwan policy.

Sale of a missile like ATACMS to Taiwan has been justified since about 2000, when China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started to base deadly S-300 anti-aircraft missiles on the coastal areas opposite Taiwan, followed a few years later by YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missiles with a range of more than 300km in the same region. These PLA missiles are intended to attack Taiwanese defensive aircraft and ships, to help prepare the way for amphibious invasion. In the late 1990s, China watched closely as US and NATO air strikes failed, until there was a credible threat of land invasion, to compel Serbia to make peace over Kosovo. The PLA has spent the past decade building up and modernizing its formal and informal amphibious invasion forces as a key element of its military strategy toward Taiwan. Such an attack would employ hundreds, perhaps thousands of civil or “reserve” ships to transport soldiers and equipment.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top