Taiwan poll won't alter China's missile
deployment By David
In Taiwan's presidential election and
referendum Saturday, President Chen Shui-bian will also
seek a public condemnation of China's growing missile
threat and its refusal to renounce the use of force
against Taiwan. He also is proposing a new constitution
with implications for sovereignty and independence. The
Chinese government in Beijing believes that Chen's
proposals would move Taiwan much closer to permanent
separation from the mainland, and so Beijing has
threatened coercive measures to prevent such an outcome.
Whatever the results of the referendum, it is
virtually unthinkable that China would remove its
missile threat, according to military analysts focusing
on China, Taiwan and the United States.
original referendum proposed to condemn China's growing
deployment of missiles across the Taiwan Strait and ask
that this threat to Taiwan's security be removed. Under
pressure from Washington, however, Chen modified the
wording. The new version asks voters whether China
should be asked to remove the missiles, and if China
refuses whether Taiwan should purchase more advanced
anti-missile systems. Taiwan says - and analysts agree
that the intelligence is accurate - that 496 missiles
are aimed at Taiwan from bases in southern China.
Regardless of the outcome of the polls, the
current tension between China and Taiwan is not likely
to ease. One of the likely outcomes is that China will
continue to deploy more medium-range missiles targeted,
beyond the 500-some already deployed, against Taiwan. In
turn Taiwan will continue to look for defense against
Taipei might at some point seek more
explicit protection under the US Ballistic Missile
Defense (BMD) program.
If it did seek more US
protection - how would China react? Badly, some say. Ted
Carpenter, vice president of defense and foreign policy
studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian US domestic
and foreign policy think tank, "China has always been
hyper about Taiwan being under the US BMD umbrella. That
upsets them a lot. If Chen wins a second term, it
[China's hyper-sensitivity] might grow."
Beware overreaction to China's
reaction But Carpenter also says fears of China's
reaction and oversensitivity might be an over reaction.
"There is a big question as to whether Taiwan is capable
of operating such a sophisticated system at this point
in time," he said in an interview.
A report by
the Institute for Defense Analysis, a federally funded
contractor in Alexandria, Virginia, sheds light on the
question of China's specific reaction in terms of
possible missile deployment. In a report last year, it
suggested that China's thinking has evolved over time.
China's policy on US Ballistic Missile Defense
(BMD), according to the report, can be divided into five
periods: Strategic Infancy 1955-1982; Star Wars Era
1983-1991; Persian Gulf War and Aftermath 1992-1998;
Full Court Press Against TMD (Theater Missile Defense)
and NMD (National Missile Defense); 1999-2001, and After
US ABM Withdrawal: 2002 and Beyond.
these stages has produced its own reaction from Chinese
policymakers, influenced both by domestic developments
such as its own "minimum deterrent" force and foreign
developments such as US and Russian research into
ballistic missile defense. Further, China's thinking has
been influenced by its own increasing awareness that it
was and is a great power on the world stage.
since China was nearly silent when the US unilaterally
withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in
2002, many observers have said that its prior opposition
to US withdrawal was primarily rhetorical.
China would try to neutralize US missile
advantage That does not mean, however, that China
would not take actions to neutralize possible future US
advantage - if Washington decides to aid Taiwan in
acquiring advanced missile defense technology.
The report by the Institute for Defense Analysis
states, "Based on six decades of Chinese thinking about
talking about strategic stability, it is easy to predict
that China's nuclear force posture will evolve in order
to maintain a viable second-strike capability. The
evolution will be both qualitative and quantitative. To
be sure, qualitative and quantitative improvements to
China's forces have long been under way and would likely
occur in the absence of a US BMD program. But this
historical review suggests that those improvements will
be tailored to meet the new requirements of survivable
second-strike posed by US BMD."
the report author, said in a telephone interview with
Asia Times Online: "The period of the 1980s remains
important, as it allowed Chinese experts to debate
central issues and that debate is raging today. There is
deep concern with space militarization and they remain
seized with [concerned with, closely following] the
prospect of neutralizing American advantage in this
Yet various factors complicate gauging
how China will respond to US ballistic missile defense
developments. These include China's own efforts to
develop BMD, the willingness of the Chinese leadership
to make investments in its nuclear forces in order to
keep up with US BMD deployments, and the impact of the
nuclear moratorium on China's ability to field new
The report notes that a
"middle way" has been promoted by some Chinese experts
that balances efforts to increase the survivability of
China's ICBM force with the deployment of penetration
aids - more powerful weapons.
over-promises that US will aid Taiwan According
to John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military
analysis firm, outside Washington DC, "It's unclear what
the Chinese will do about Taiwan. The state of relations
is very much in flux. The [US President George W] Bush
administration has over-promised both China and Taiwan
that when push comes to shove they'll get Taiwan out of
But Pike says that in the short term
China is likely to remain relatively quiet. "China won't
say anything to adversely influence the US election."
Others disagree. Roberts, author of the China
missile report of the Institute for Defense Analysis,
said, "I've grown rather skeptical that the PRC took the
lesson from its prior electoral interference in
Taiwanese politics when it brandished a big stick." This
was an apparent reference to China's firing missiles
over and around Taiwan in an effort to intimidate voters
on the eve of the island's 1996 election.
report also notes that regardless of how China responds
to US ballistic missile defense developments, Beijing is
unlikely to abandon political efforts to shape US
actions and the international environment.
possibility would be to reverse its policy of the past
two decades of increased participation in international
arms control efforts and abandon forms of restraint
accepted in recent years. For example, it might argue
that since the US has found it convenient to withdraw
from its obligations to the ABM Treaty, China also has
the right to do the same. Another possibility is that
China would put increased emphasis on multilateral arms
control regimes while downplaying bilateral cooperation
with the US.
"The Chinese are going to keep
their powder dry," Pike said. "There is not much to talk
about a construction one calls "arms control".
David Isenberg, a senior analyst with
the Washington-based British American Security
Information Council (BASIC), has a wide background in
arms control and national security issues. The views
expressed are his own.
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