During an online keynote speech on June 12, Legislative Speaker You Si-kun (游錫堃) said that when he was premier, he already knew that the Yun Feng (雲峰, Cloud Peak) medium-range supersonic land-attack cruise missile developed in Taiwan could reach Beijing.
If Beijing were to attack Taiwan, Taipei would respond by firing the missiles and China would regret its aggression, he said.
You’s comments were met by immediate criticism from political commentator Lai Yueh-tchienn (賴岳謙), who said that the Cloud Peak relied on guidance from the US’ Global Positioning System (GPS) to find its target.
If war broke out in the Taiwan Strait, the US would most likely shut off its GPS, as China would demand in the strongest terms to do so, Lai said, adding that if the US refused, China would destroy the GPS, negating the effect of the Cloud Peak missile.
Lai then said that You should not talk about things he did not understand.
The news site Storm Media then published Lai’s criticisms as news, headlining the article: “You Si-kun says Cloud Peak could reach Beijing, academic points out major flaw, says he shouldn’t talk about things he does not understand.”
There might have been problems with what You said, but he understands well what he is talking about, and in fact it was Lai who was in the dark.
First, the Cloud Peak is not a ballistic missile. It is a medium-range land attack cruise missile that can fly a distance of about 2,000km.
As it is a land attack missile, its main guidance system, which is also the most difficult to obtain, tracks the attack route stored in a digital file, allowing it to use the terrain contour matching guidance system, not the GPS.
Second, although it is by no means clear whether the US will send its forces to assist Taiwan in the event of war across the Taiwan Strait, the provision of high-precision coordinates through its GPS would be a major benefit to Taiwan’s armed forces. The US is highly unlikely to shut it down under pressure from Beijing.
Finally, although China has developed the high-orbit Dong Neng-3 anti-satellite weapon, which is capable of destroying GPS satellites, if hostilities broke out in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing authorities would have to think very carefully before they gave an order to attack the US’ GPS, even if Washington continued to provide the system’s support to Taiwan.
There are three reasons that Beijing would hesitate.
First, it would want to avoid a war between superpowers. After Russia invaded Ukraine, Washington demanded that Beijing place economic sanctions on Moscow, but Beijing not only refused to comply with Washington’s demands, it has continued to assist Russia with its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System — China’s answer to the US’ GPS — to help Russian forces make precision strikes against Ukrainian targets.
Despite this, and although it possessed anti-satellite weapons 20 years before China, the US has refrained from military action that would prevent China’s BeiDou system from operating. The reason is none other than Washington does not want to see a contained conflict from escalating into a war between two nuclear powers.
Similarly, a war in the Taiwan Strait would be a contained war, and China would probably not want to see it escalate into a conflict of mutualy assured destruction just for the sake of the GPS issue.
Second, destroying the GPS would cause a major international incident, threatening the livelihoods of people around the world. The GPS has a wide range of civilian applications beyond its military uses, and the vast majority of the world relies on it.
If the GPS system is taken out, a conflict in the Taiwan Strait would no longer be a regional issue; it would become a threat that extends to people around the world. Beijing would not take lightly any contemplation of its destruction.
Finally, China’s best option would be to interfere with the operation of the GPS. Electrical interference would make it impossible for Taiwan’s armed forces to attack China, and the People’s Liberation Army would be able to use this option without attacking the GPS in an open and easily discoverable way.
Lai seems to be the kind of person who enjoys appearing on TV, but does not have the time to do the requisite research before he speaks publicly. He is content to accuse others of not knowing what they are talking about, even when they themselves have a better understanding.
Lin Tsung-ta is the founder of International Military Affairs Magazine.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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