Missiles bolstered opposite Taiwan
|The Washington Times
April 29th, 2002
China delivered a new shipment of missiles to bases near Taiwan last week as part of a mounting buildup under way since the beginning of the year, U.S. intelligence officials said.
"It is a concern," said one official familiar with intelligence reports of the missile deployments. The official said the stepped-up deployments are "not surprising" to U.S. intelligence agencies, which have been monitoring the increases for the past several years.
Disclosure of the latest missile shipment comes as China's Vice President Hu Jintao began his first visit to the United States on Saturday in Hawaii. Mr. Hu, considered the Communist Party choice to succeed President Jiang Zemin, will meet President Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney this week.
It could not be learned whether U.S. officials will discuss the missile buildup opposite Taiwan during Mr. Hu's visit. The Chinese vice president, however, is expected to repeat China's opposition to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, a senior U.S. official said.
According to intelligence officials, the latest shipment was identified at a Chinese railway station near Lianxiwang, where a major nuclear missile base is located.
The shipment included eight rail cars bearing missile canisters. The missiles are believed to be CSS-6 Mod 2 missiles that are headed for short-range missile bases at Leping and Fuzhou.
The new missiles are expected to replace or augment older CSS-6s currently deployed there, the officials said.
The new missiles are the fifth or sixth delivery since the beginning of the year and follow increased Chinese government anger at the Bush administration for increasing political and military support to Taiwan.
"China is continuing to deploy and in fact has accelerated recently its deployment of missiles which range Taiwan," Adm. Dennis Blair, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told reporters in Hong Kong April 18.
An intelligence official said the missile shipments to areas within range of Taiwan have increased the danger to the island, which Beijing views as a breakaway province. "These missiles are 7½ minutes flight-time from Taiwan," said a second intelligence official. The short flight time is what worries U.S. defense and intelligence officials, the source said, adding that the missiles are destabilizing the region and pose a threat to Taiwan.
China in 1996 had fewer than 50 short-range missiles within striking distance of Taiwan. Today, U.S. intelligence estimates that China's military forces have more than 350 missiles in the region.
Adm. Blair said the missile buildup is worrying and could lead to the future sale of missile defenses to Taiwan. "The missile balance across the Taiwan Strait is also of concern," Adm. Blair said. The four-star admiral, who will be leaving the post next month, said the missiles "can cause a great deal of destruction to Taiwan."
However, the missile forces alone "cannot make a decisive military difference yet. But if they continue to increase in number and accuracy, there will come a time when they threaten the sufficient defense of Taiwan," Adm. Blair said.
The United States is committed to maintaining a stable military balance through providing arms to Taiwan, and when the military balance shifts in favor of China, "I'm sure there will be consideration of missile defenses for Taiwan," Adm. Blair said.
The United States has developed an advanced Patriot PAC-3 missile defense and is working on a sea-based regional missile defense based on U.S. warships.
Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian said in an interview with The Washington Times in July 2001 that Taiwan, the United States and Japan should join forces to develop regional defenses against the growing Chinese missile threat.
In earlier remarks to reporters in Hong Kong, Adm. Blair said a conflict between China and Taiwan would be a "lose-lose-lose" situation. "It would be a loss for Taiwan, it would be a loss for China, it would certainly be a loss for the region as a whole," he said. "It would interfere with the economic development of this part of the world, there would be a great deal of destruction and there would be no solution from anybody's point of view."
China's missile buildup has been a worry of the Bush administration. Last year the administration sharply increased arms sales to Taiwan, including offers of four Kidd-class guided missile destroyers and up to eight diesel electric submarines. Sales of advanced Arleigh Burke-class missile ships, which carry Aegis battle management systems, have been deferred with the idea of negotiating with China for a reduction of the short-range missiles near Taiwan.
The Pentagon recently updated its war planning should U.S. forces be called upon to defend Taiwan from an attack by the mainland. The upgrade followed statements by Mr. Bush last year that the United States would do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan.
China's government in March barred a U.S. warship from visiting Hong Kong following the visit to the United States by Taiwan's defense minister. A Chinese government spokesman said at the time that the United States "has done a series of things that interfere with China's internal affairs and undermine China-U.S. relations."
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said two weeks ago in response to reports of the missile buildup that "these missiles are clearly designed to project a threatening posture and to try and intimidate the people and the democratically elected government of Taiwan." Chinese naval deployments also pose a threat to sea lanes near Taiwan and access to Taiwanese ports, Cmdr. Davis said.