The missiles of November
Washington, November 28, 1999
It is difficult to imagine a better argument in favor of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, overwhelmingly endorsed by the House International Relations Committee in October, than the news last week of mainland China's plans for a new missile deployment aimed at Taiwan.
Nearly 100 advanced short-range missiles, reported The Washington Times' Bill Gertz, are to be deployed at a base some 275 miles from Taiwan, this according to satellite spy photographs taken in mid-October of construction going on near the town of Yangang. Ultimately, the weapons will be part of a deployment of 500-600 Chinese missiles near Taiwan.
Obviously, they are not there for any deterrent purpose. The 22 million people on Taiwan certainly presents no danger to the 1.3 billion people of the still communist People's Republic of China across the strait. No, the missiles will be there for one reason and one reason only - to threaten and intimidate the Taiwanese, whose successful and prospering democratic society remains a thorn in the side of Beijing's autocrats.
Not surprisingly, the Taiwanese want to take steps against the threat directed at them. Some find here further reasons in favor of declaring outright independence for Taiwan, so said President Lee Teng-hui in a response to the news on Thursday. Mr. Lee has been pushing for "state-to-state relations" with the mainland since this summer, an idea that invariably infuriates Beijing, which continues to claim Taiwan as a renegade province.
Another Taiwanese reaction is to take defensive steps, which brings the United States into the picture. The Taiwanese have expressed an eager interest in American missile defense systems, such as the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense system, THAAD, currently under development.
As of now, the Taiwanese have limited abilities to counter an actual attack, including an early version of the Patriot anti-missile system, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and a number of air-defense systems. Given the growing missile threat facing Taiwan, there is clearly a feeling that its needs exceed these.
The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 clearly commits the United States to helping Taiwan defend itself. Unfortunately, that act has been watered down by successive U .S. administrations, Republican and Democrat alike.
It is the idea of reinforcing that commitment that stands behind the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, a responsible piece of legislation that regrettably has now been put on hold in the House as per White House request.
Where the Clinton administration has held back on arms sales to Taiwan out of concern for Beijing's reaction, the new legislation mandates that Congress be given a voice in such arms sales and that only Taiwan's security should be considered in the decision-making process. It includes provisions for an annual assessment of Taiwan's security needs and establishes secure military-to-military communications between the United States and Taiwan.
As the Clinton administration has leaned further and further towards Beijing in this relationship, forsaking an impartial American stance, it has been left up to Congress to provide a counterbalance. It could well be that Taiwan's continued freedom as a nation depends on it.