Taiwan is in the process of modernizing its missiles in an effort to close the gap between its own and China’s rapidly improving military capacities. The decision comes during a time when China, which has long threatened Taiwan with military force if it sought independence, is substantially increasing its defense budget in an effort to develop a powerful military force.
According to the Washington Post and Defense News, Taiwan has added several new weapons to its arsenal, including the new Tien Kung guidance system—which is claimed to have the capability of intercepting Chinese missiles at a distance of 124 miles—and Hsiung Feng IIE missiles. The new Hsiung Feng IIE missiles designed to blow downward once a target has been hit, thus effectively guaranteeing that any ship struck will not only be destroyed, but also pushed beneath the water’s surface. Additionally, Defense News has stated that Taiwan is trying to increase the range of its Tien Chien II air-to-air missiles to 56 miles.
In doing this, Taiwan hopes to gain the strategic upperhand over China through the development of systems capable of downing Chinese fleets. Says Alexander Huang, a strategic studies professor at Tampkang University during an interview with the Washington Post: “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.”
Taiwan’s actions come at a time when tensions are high between the two countries. Earlier this month, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen made an official visit to the region’s allies in South America and made a two-day stop in the United States, as well—something China had vehemently insisted the U.S. cancel.
China has openly stated that it would attack the island region if it sought independence, and America’s acceptance of an official visit from a Taiwanese political leader comes dangerously close to recognizing the legitimacy of the sovereignty of the island. But, while the accumulation of powerful modern missiles may serve as a deterrent to an attack by the Chinese in the near future, the continuance of this arms race can only serve to deepen gap between the two regions.
China has always viewed Taiwan as a part of the nation, with the exception of a brief period after the Sino-Chinese war, when it was forced to cede the island to Japan. In the mid-1900’s the Chinese Nationalist Party, the KMT, lost to the Communists and fled to the island. KMT leadership always desired to regain power and reunite China and Taiwan as one country: the Republic of China. The name is a slight variance from the mainland’s People’s Republic of China, which came into being only with the Communist victory over the KMT in the twentieth century. In the 1990’s, the KMT signed the 1992 Consensus by which both sides agreed that there was one China, and that the mainland would refrain from the use of military force if Taiwan did not seek its own independence. For years, this agreement provided the baseline for negotiations between the two regions. However, the 1992 Consensus has gone largely ignored by President Tsai Ing Wen. And she has been actively pro-independence, a fact that has alarmed Chinese officials, especially with her late visit to the Americas. As a result, China has increased its focus on the islands, with considerable military drills in the region.
It is unlikely that either side will change its position on this matter. Although Taiwan’s current military advancements may serve to preserve the tenuous peace between itself and China for the short term, it risks a war by increasing tension on both sides—especially while China prefers to bully Taiwan to keep it from openly seeking independence, and to keep outside nations from formally recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign state. In order to preserve the peace, the international community should come together to discourage a Chinese offensive on the island and to help both regions work towards demilitarization in the South China Sea.
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