Pointing to China’s expanding force of ballistic missiles across the Taiwan Strait, the United States is trying to convince Taiwan to invest more in missile defenses, but Taipei has tightened its belt on military purchases.
At a joint U.S.-Taiwan defense industry conference in February, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stokes reported that China has deployed at least 450 conventional ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan and that the force is increasing by at least 75 missiles per year. This is a faster pace than the 50 missiles per year that the Pentagon estimated last summer.
Stokes said that Chinese missiles pose the “most significant [Chinese] coercive threat to Taiwan.” China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, says it wants a peaceful reunification between itself and the island. Yet, Beijing reserves the right to use force.
A Taiwanese official interviewed May 22 said that Taipei recognizes the threat, but that missile defense systems are expensive. Taiwan, which possesses some older model Patriot systems, is evaluating potential missile defense options, including buying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems. Taiwan is not expected to buy any time soon.
Taiwan still has not finalized any deals from the broad package of arms that the Bush administration offered Taiwan in April 2001. That package included four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, eight diesel-powered submarines, and a dozen P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft.
In his briefing slides, Stokes warned that Taiwan could not depend upon the United States to protect the island against Chinese missile attacks, “particularly in the opening phases of a conflict.” He further recommended that Taiwan’s leadership “commit to defending against ballistic and land attack cruise missiles.”
A Pentagon spokesperson said May 16 that the United States is not pushing any particular system but is emphasizing that Taiwan needs to reckon with the ballistic missile threat.