China is increasingly confident in the accuracy and capability of its strategic missile force — much of it positioned within range of Taiwan, a new study by two associate professors at the US Naval War College said.
The People’s Liberation Army Second Artillery Force (PLASAF) has demonstrated that it can win in a regional conflict, “preventing US intervention therein,” they said.
The artillery force, which controls China’s land-based nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles “is an increasingly formidable force,” said the study, published this week by The Jamestown Foundation.
The study was written by Andrew Erickson and Michael Chase, associate professors at the War College.
“Substantial, rapid improvements have yielded not only a sophisticated, survivable arsenal of nuclear missiles capable of putting regional and continental US targets at risk, but also the world’s most numerous, diverse and comprehensive conventional, ballistic and cruise missile force,” they said.
As a result, the force has become “an increasingly dynamic and important component of the PLA,” they said.
In addition to increasing the numbers of its short-range ballistic missiles — more than 1,000 of them pointed at Taiwan — China has also improved their capabilities in range, accuracy and types of warhead.
“While cross-strait relations have reached a new zenith, Beijing still fears Taiwanese opposition to integration and strives to maximize related deterrent and coercive capabilities, while increasingly insisting that missiles are targeted principally at outside parties that might seek to intervene,” they said.
Potential targets for conventional missile strikes include command centers, communications facilities, radar stations, guided missile positions, air force bases, naval facilities and railway stations, the authors wrote.
Bridges, logistical facilities and energy production facilities could also be considered likely targets, they added.
“Beijing’s emphasis on deterring rival claimants in ‘Near Seas’ disputes and other potential adversaries from harming its homeland security and regional interests, and the US from intervening in such disputes, imposes new requirements on PLASAF,” the study said.
The study comes as author and China analyst Gordon Chang (章家敦) has published an article in The National Interest magazine saying that the recent visit to Taiwan of Chinese official Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) showed that Beijing was further away than ever from peaceful “unification.”
Chang said that Zhang’s visit and unfavorable reception could force China to make a “final push” to absorb Taiwan.
“It seems that the harder China tries to promote political union, the less the people on Taiwan want it,” Chang said.
“Beijing leaders evidently think their window for peaceful political integration with Taiwan is closing,” he said.
“Taiwan’s President Ma [Ying-jeou (馬英九)], who looks like he wants to stitch up a political deal with Beijing, has an approval rating hovering around 10 percent, about the same percentage who want unification with China,” says Chang.
He concludes that central Chinese leadership is worried that the incumbent’s plunging popularity will lead the KMT to lose its hold on power in the nation’s next presidential election in 2016.
“Therefore, China’s officials apparently think they will have to act while Ma remains in office, their last chance to grab sovereignty,” Chang said.