Taiwan calls for a joint missile defense
The Washington Times
July 16, 2001
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Chen Shui-bian compares China's missile threats against the island to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and says the United States, Japan and Taiwan should jointly develop missile defenses.
"Recently there was a very famous American movie called 'Thirteen Days,'" he said, referring to last year's historical drama about the Kennedy-era showdown between the Soviet Union and the United States. That crisis ended when the Soviet Union agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba.
"But for the 23 million Taiwanese people, our missile threat is not only a 13-day threat. Rather we have lived for a very long time under a missile threat on a daily basis," Mr. Chen said.
Asked about Taiwan's plans for missile defenses, Mr. Chen said increasing missile deployments by the communist Peoples Republic of China (PRC) are the reason the United States and Japan are conducting research and development on missile defense systems.
"Asia Pacific peace and stability is in Taiwan's interest; it is also the common interest of the United States and Japan," Mr. Chen said. "I believe that peace in the Taiwan Strait is key to the overall stability of the Asia Pacific region. So maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait and avoiding a PRC threat against Taiwan is something that the U.S., Japan and Taiwan must jointly deal with in a manner of division responsibilities and cooperation."
Taiwan's defense agencies are "actively studying and evaluating the possibility of taking part or investing in the [theater missile defense] project," he said. "But so far we don't have a conclusion" about whether the program will move ahead.
Mr. Chen was elected last year as Taiwan's first opposition political leader since 1949. In an interview focusing on national security topics, Mr. Chen also said the United States and Taiwan should increase military cooperation and exchanges to secure peace and stability in Asia.
"The U.S. and Taiwan do not have official diplomatic relations," Mr. Chen said. "As such it would be difficult to achieve a military alliance. However, in terms of military exchange and cooperation there is still much more room for improvement. Currently, relations are much better than in the past and have made significant progress, but they can still be upgraded."
Mr. Chen said he was encouraged by the Bush administration's decision in May to sell advanced U.S. arms to the island. But he said hardware transfers are "only one part" of Taiwan's military buildup, which is needed to create a military balance with the mainland. "What is more important are the personal exchanges and cooperation," he said. "The uplifting of battlefield management training capabilities, as well as joint training exercises between the different divisions of the military, are also important."
China's military budget has been increasing annually at "double-digit" rates since 1989, a rate far greater than its economic growth rate, he said. The economic boom has helped Beijing to add more resources to its "military expansion and missile deployment."
"The PRC threat is directed not only against Taiwan. It is at the same time also a threat to the United States and Japan," Mr. Chen said. China is opposing U.S. development of theater missile defenses [TMD] as well as natiional missile defenses [NMD] against long-range missiles, he said.
But Beijing's Communist leaders "never look to the source" of the problem, he said. "Why is there an issue of TMD and NMD? The key is that the PRC is increasing its missile deployment by 50 to 70 missiles a year at this growth rate, and it is a significant threat to the peace and stability of the Asia Pacific region. It is because of this threat that there is an issue of developing TMD and NMD."
China has deployed about 300 M-9 and M-11 short-range ballistic missiles in Fujian province, directly across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan. The missile buildup, which began several years ago, is viewed by the Pentagon with alarm because the missiles are destabilizing the already tense region.
Mr. Chen, 51, spoke Friday during an interview inside the sprawling presidential office building here built by the Japanese in the 1900s. The interview took place hours before China was awarded the controversial bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games.
"My greatest concern is not in which city will gain the sponsorship but rather the spirit of the Olympic Games," Mr. Chen said. "I think the spirit of the Olympics is in peace. It is against war and it is against missile deployment."
China has refused to renounce the use of force to reunite Taiwan, which it views as a breakaway province, with the mainland. China last year added a new condition for the use of force, threatening to take military action if Taipei failed to engaged in negotiations for reunification.
Mr. Chen said he believes it will be very difficult for China to give up on its threats to use force for the foreseeable future because "this is the fundamental substance of their regime."
Mr. Chen said he hopes leaders from both China and Taiwan can resume the dialogue that was suspended several years ago after then-President Lee Teng-hui called for "state-to-state" relations with Beijing. The remarks angered Beijing's Communist leaders and triggered a crisis between China and Taiwan for several months.
"I believe that as long as we can sit down and resume the dialogue across the strait, we can discuss any issue," Mr. Chen said. "We would not rule out discussion of any issue, including the so-called one China question." "And of course this may also include a cross-strait peace resolution."
Mr. Chen said Beijing's formula for "one-China, two systems" is unacceptable to a large majority of Taiwan's 23 million people.
The president noted that a recent Pentagon report to Congress on the military balance across the Taiwan Strait stated that by 2005 the military balance could shift in Beijing's favor. The U.S. government considered Taiwan's defense needs "in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act" and offered an arms sale package that would significantly increase Taiwan's air defense, anti-submarine and underwater and surface defense capabilities," Mr. Chen said.
The arms sale will "greatly strengthen Taiwan's overall self-defense as well as elevate the confidence of the Taiwanese people, and we welcome this decision with great appreciation," he said.
The arms package also will give Taiwan's people the confidence to go forward with a dialogue with China and "to protect Taiwan's hard-won democracy," he said.
Asked if Taiwan might develop its own ballistic missile forces or land-attack cruise missiles in addition to missile defense, Mr. Chen said no. "Taiwan's broader defense strategy is effective deterrence to defend ourselves," he said. "As such we will not initiate war, neither will we initiate the first strike."