Taiwan stands to gain significant military benefits if the US goes ahead with plans for a major expansion of missile defenses in Asia.
The plans were reported this week by the Wall Street Journal and the administration of US President Barack Obama did not deny them yesterday.
As previously reported by the Taipei Times, the Journal story said the planned buildup could cover large parts of Asia, with a new radar system in southern Japan and another in Southeast Asia tied to missile-defense ships and land-based interceptors.
The move is aimed at countering the North Korean missile threat and China’s aggressive policies in the South China Sea.
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow on Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the Taipei Times that any US plan to upgrade US-led missile defenses in Asia deserved the funding and bipartisan political support necessary to make it happen.
“Placing X-Band radar in both Japan and the Philippines offers the option to create a regional radar network that would include Taiwan’s new SRP long-range radar and perhaps future similar radar in India, so that all network members benefit from a common large view of China,” he said.
Fisher said such a network would impose a much needed degree of “military transparency” on China that would not only provide warning of missile strikes, but on the full range of potentially threatening Chinese military activity over and near its territory.
“Such a radar network would greatly increase deterrence in the Taiwan Strait by providing Taiwan with overlapping radar coverage, from Japan and the Philippines, forcing China to attack both countries and the US forces therein in order to successfully strike Taiwan,” he said.
US Department of State spokeswoman Virginia Nuland was asked yesterday about Chinese objections to putting a second X-Band radar installation in southern Japan.
She said there had been regular conversations with Beijing and that expanded missile defenses would reflect concerns about North Korea.
Reporters pressed Nuland, pointing out that a new system in Japan and another to the south would overlap and “could track what’s happening in and around Taiwan.”
The reporters said that the Taiwanese situation might “raise hackles in Beijing.”
She was asked: “Has the US anticipated that? Have there been discussions between this building and the Pentagon about whether or not this is an appropriate way to refocus the US’s defense posture in the region?”
Nuland replied that missile-defense plans were the subject of interagency planning. She said the Phased Adaptive Approach being worked on in Asia mirrored the work being done in Europe and the Middle East.
“These are defensive systems. They don’t engage unless missiles have been fired. They are not directed at China. And we do ... have broad dialogue with the Chinese, both in mil-mil channels and in political channels, about the intention of these systems,” Nuland said.
Asked if the southern X-Band radar system would be placed in the Philippines, she refused to comment.
The Wall Street Journal story said the Pentagon was particularly concerned over growing power imbalances across the Taiwan Strait.
It quoted the director of Monterey Institute of International Studies’ East Asia non-proliferation program Jeffrey Lewis as saying a missile-defense deployment covering Taiwan would “alarm” China.
“If you’re putting one in southern Japan and one in the Philippines, you’re sort of bracketing Taiwan,” Lewis said. “So it does look like you’re making sure that you can put a missile defense cap over the Taiwanese.”
According to Washington-based “Global Security” think tank head John Pike, any new missile defense system that covered Taiwan would be certain to “complicate Chinese attack planning.”
While it was true the Pentagon could not be certain about how well a missile defense system would work if Taiwan were attacked, it was also true that China did not know how well it would work.
“That uncertainty would be sure to make the Chinese think two or three times before they launched an attack and that would make Taiwan a safer place,” Pike said.
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