Taiwan should be “very concerned” by reports that China’s navy will soon begin the first sea patrols of a new class of strategic missile submarines, a US military expert said on Tuesday.
“While these missiles may not be aimed at Taiwan per se, they are aimed at America’s capacity to resist Chinese aggression against Taiwan,” International Assessment and Strategy Center senior fellow Richard Fisher said.
He was responding to questions from the Taipei Times following publication by the Washington Times this week of a report that US defense officials believe Beijing will begin the first sea patrols of three new Type 094 missile submarines next year.
The subs will carry the new JL-2 ballistic missile, which is thought to be equipped with multiple warheads capable of hitting the US.
Pentagon sources say the JL-2 poses a “potential first strike” nuclear missile threat to the US.
“Even with their initial deployment of three nuclear missile submarines, if patrols can be maintained off the eastern coast of North Korea, then China would have the option of launching a first strike that could reach America’s main nuclear missile submarine base at Kitsap Naval Base near Seattle,” Fisher said.
He added the emergence of China’s nuclear missile submarine fleet would make the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) far more desirous of conquering Taiwan.
According to Fisher, Taiwan’s eastern coast has immediate access to some of the deepest waters of the Pacific and would present the most ideal patrol areas for China to defend its submarines, compared with bases in the South China Sea.
“Should it ever fall to Chinese control, I would expect that Taiwan would become a major PLA nuclear forces base — for nuclear missile submarines, bombers and for land-based missiles,” said Fisher, an expert on Chinese military affairs.
He said this would be done not just to take advantage of Taiwan’s key geostrategic position in Asia, but also to ensure that the “problem” of Taiwan’s politically “unreliable” population becomes “solved” by potential nuclear retaliation against PLA nuclear forces in Taiwan.
The Washington Times quoted a US defense official familiar with recent intelligence assessments as saying that the US was anticipating combat patrols of Chinese submarines carrying the new JL-2 missile to begin next year.
The patrols will be the first time China conducts submarine operations involving nuclear-tipped missiles far from its shores, despite having had a small missile submarine force since the late 1980s, the Washington Times said.
Fisher said that all of this points to the necessity for Taiwan to build a “far more robust” capability to independently deter Chinese attack.
“It will also require that Taiwan have far better defense relationships with its neighbors Japan and the Philippines, in order to develop the means for overlapping and redundant early warning and surveillance,” Fisher said.
“This alone has tremendous potential to increase deterrence in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
Fisher said that if the PLA knows that it will have to attack Japan and the Philippines in order to deny Taiwan the information it needs to defend itself, then China “is much less likely to attack Taiwan in the first place.”