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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Taiwan Likely to Unveil Cruise Missile at National Day Parade

04 October 2007

Taiwan is developing a cruise missile that will be capable of hitting land targets in China. The weapon was first tested in March and the military says it will stay under wraps. Andrew Ryan has more on this story from Taipei.

The missile is the Hsiung Feng 2E, which military analysts say could reach targets up to 600 kilometers away

Taiwan defense officials say it is a land-based missile designed to strike military sites in China that could fire on Taiwan, such as airfields and artillery sites.

The military says the new weapon is part of defenses against the hundreds of missiles China has aimed at the island. Defense officials say it will never be used in a first strike or against civilian targets.

China sees self-governed Taiwan as part of its territory, and has not ruled out using force to bring it under Beijing's control. Tension between the two sides has increased in recent months with Taiwan's attempts to join the United Nations.

Many security experts had expected the government to display the missile at this year's National Day Parade in Taipei, on October 10th. But at a news conference, military officers said the missile stays under wraps.

Tamkang University Professor Alexander Huang says any display of the missile would be aimed at impressing the island's residents.

"I do not think by showing one or two batteries of that cruise missile would really bring about a diplomatic crisis," said Huang. "I do not think there is an intention to derail U.S.-Taiwan relations or compromise the future collaboration between the two militaries."

The military apparently debated over displaying the missile, earlier in the week a Defense Ministry official said it would be at the parade.

But a public unveiling of the first Taiwan-made land-based cruise missile could anger Beijing and Washington.

The United States has said it is committed to helping Taiwan defend itself from attack and the U.S. frequently sells the island weapons. But Washington has indicated it does not support Taiwan efforts to develop weapons that could enable it to attack China.

A former vice defense minister in Taiwan, Lin Chong-pin, says Taipei needs to show Washington that the new missile is crucial to Taiwan's defenses. He says the weapon will help delay an attack by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) until U.S. forces could arrive in the Taiwan Strait.

"If handled carefully by Taipei, it should perhaps not openly or publicly, but quietly assure the United States that Taiwan does have resolve to defend itself, it also assures the United States that the time needed for U.S. troops to arrive in the strait can be assured to be more sufficient," said Lin Chong-pin. "Because if Taiwan does not have any capabilities, if the PLA launches attack, there is no time for U.S. forces to arrive to do anything, and that would really increase Washington's worries."

Military analysts say the Hsiung Feng 2E is still in the early stages of development. But Tamkang University's Alexander Huang says one of the main goals of the missile is not to actually launch it, but to use it as a bargaining chip.

"I think Taiwan also believes that to acquire such a capability is for the purpose of deterrence, and not necessarily using it," he said. "Sometimes military modernization is not for military operations, it is for political negotiations."

So far, reports of Taiwan's new missile have yet to prompt a major response from Beijing. Former Vice Defense Minister Lin says China has shifted its way of dealing with Taiwan.

"Beijing has not really rattled its saber. Neither has Beijing given a lot of barrage of verbal attacks, and not even a communiqué has been sent to the embassies. Now the new approach Beijing has this time around, is what I call the tactic of 'going through Washington to contain Taipei.' And I think Beijing is satisfied, at least privately," said Lin. "Although on the outside, Beijing will keep telling the Americans, 'You have not done enough. Do more!'"

Analysts say that even with opposition from Beijing and Washington, Taipei is likely to continue developing the cruise missiles.

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