Taiwan improves missiles to counter China military expansion

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2013, file photo, Taiwan's navy practices loading surface-to-air SM-2 missiles from a Kidd class destroyer during the Hai-Biao (Sea Dart) annual exercises off the northeastern coast of Taiwan. Taiwan is responding to China’s defense buildup by developing missiles and interceptors of its own that could reduce Beijing’s military advantage over the island, defense experts say. (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)

TAIPEI: Taiwan is responding to China’s arms buildup by developing missiles and interceptors of its own that could reduce Beijing’s military advantage over the self-ruled island, defense experts say.

Since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, Taiwan has deployed one set of missiles, perfected another and sped production of a third, the analysts say, in the latest sign of how it’s handling a Chinese military threat that is raising the chances of an armed confrontation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has taken a hard line against advocates of independence for Taiwan and has sent warships, bombers and fighter planes on training missions circling the democratic island in a show of strength.

While Beijing has an increasingly overwhelming military advantage, Taiwan’s missile systems advance its odds of holding off China in asymmetrical warfare, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. The term refers to effective resistance of an enemy with targeted firepower rather than overwhelming force.

“Taiwan with limited resources can only invest in the area that would create some kind of asymmetrical advantage, which would dissuade the Chinese from taking actions,” Huang said. “President Tsai has committed more or at least expressed willingness to invest more in the asymmetrical capability.”

The two sides have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, and China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan. Beijing has not ruled out using force to unify the sides, a threat it has highlighted amid Tsai’s continuing rejection of its demand that both interact as parts of a single Chinese nation.

Hsiung Feng IIE missiles built in Taiwan have been deployed to hit military bases in China up to 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away, said David An, senior research fellow with the policy incubator Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, D.C.

Those missiles also underwent a “substantial upgrade” last year to increase their effectiveness against ships, An said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has stepped up production of its indigenous Wan Chien air-to-ground cruise missiles by about 100, An added.

Backing up those improvements, the locally developed Tien Kung system can now intercept Chinese missiles at ranges of up to 200 kilometers (124 miles), An said. PAVE PAW, a US long-range early warning radar system located in Taiwan’s high central mountain range, would track incoming missiles or aircraft.

Taiwanese Defense Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi declined to confirm deployment of the Hsiung Feng IIE missiles after the military news website Kanwa Defense Review posted photos indicating they were situated about 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of the capital, Taipei, near the island’s major international airport. Kanwa did not answer requests for comment.

China’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comments on Taiwan’s missile program.