Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Taiwan developing long-range missiles: analysts

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , TAIPEI

The firing ramp for two Hsiung Feng II missiles on a Cheng Kung class frigate is shown in this file photo from March 28.

PHOTO: CHEN CHING-MIN, TAIPEI TIMES

Faced with a threatening military buildup by China, an outgunned Taiwan is quietly proceeding with plans to develop missiles that could strike China, defense and security experts say.

Taiwan has in recent months tested a land attack cruise missile with a range of 1,000km that could carry a 360kg warhead to targets as distant as Shanghai, according to military analysts.

Some Taiwanese military specialists have argued for decades that Taiwan should develop offensive weapons, including missiles, as a deterrent to China, which has threatened to attack the self-governing island if it moves toward formal independence. The US Defense Department estimates that China has deployed 900 missiles opposite Taiwan.

Taiwan's military currently has no long-range missiles that could be used to attack distant targets in China.

Senior military officials and lawmakers in the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) have confirmed that the land attack cruise missiles were under development.

They said these missiles were essential to Taiwan's defense because China's soaring defense spending was tilting the military balance in the China's favor.

"They want to make mainland China hesitate before launching any attack," said Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based expert on the Chinese and Taiwanese militaries and editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review magazine. "These missiles could not only destroy military targets, but financial and economic targets as well."

"They want to create massive panic," he added.

There have also been unconfirmed news reports in Taiwan that the military is developing short-range ballistic missiles.

Chen's administration refuses to comment on the existence of a ballistic missile program.

The administration of US President George W. Bush has signaled that it opposes any effort by Taiwan to develop offensive weapons, including missiles.

At a time when DPP campaigns its proposal to hold a referendum on the island's bid to join the UN under the name "Taiwan," and not its official name the Republic of China, the deployment of missiles capable of striking China could further increase tensions.

There were reports in the Taiwanese media this month that the Chen administration, under pressure from Washington, had dropped plans to deploy surface-to-surface missiles on Taiwan's outlying island of Matsu near the coast of China's Fujian province.

Missiles deployed on Matsu would be able to strike targets in China where there are concentrated air, missile and land forces opposite Taiwan.

Taiwan's military refused to comment, but Beijing this week reacted sharply to the reports.

"We sternly warn the Taiwan authorities not to play with fire," Li Weiyi (李維一), a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, told a regular news briefing on Wednesday, according to a report carried by China's official Xinhua news agency. "Whoever plays with fire will get burned."

But analysts believe it will be difficult for the Bush administration to restrain Taipei while China continues its rapid buildup of missile forces that could be used to conduct strikes against military targets and vital infrastructure facilities on Taiwan.

The US and Taiwanese militaries estimate that China adds up to 100 new missiles a year to its forces arrayed against Taiwan.

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