Taiwan's Hot-Cold Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwanese citizens who spent the evening of Sept. 7 zapping idly through TV channels saw the president of Taiwan's National Culture Association meeting China's visiting culture minister.

In unison, both officials heralded the Chinese culture as the greatest denominator in cross-strait relations. Apart from having chosen meaningful colors for their neckties – blue for Taiwan, red for China – the two looked of a kind; cousins, perhaps, or maybe golfing buddies.

Yet, what followed on the news programs stood in the sharpest contrast. It was reported that Taiwan's government expects its much-anticipated missile defense shield to be ready next year, and in a few months, to finally deploy its own cruise missiles. China is of course the target of Taiwan's arms-build – the very country that is wooing the Taiwanese to put a cheery cultural agreement to the benefit of mandopop stars and starlets as well as for the movie industry next on the cross-strait agenda.

According to Taiwan's government-leaning media, the Taiwanese military is to invest as much as US$9.4 billion for the establishment of a shield to Taiwan against the missiles that the China's People's Liberation Army has stationed across the narrow Taiwan Strait. The anti-missile initiative is said to consist of two parts, an active and a passive one. The first aims to prevent the launch of China's ballistic missiles in the first place by destroying military bases along the coast, whereas the passive part's objective remains shooting down incoming PLA missiles that get through despite Taiwan's bombardment of China's coast.

Taiwan expects to deploy two batteries of Patriot 2 (PAC-2) missiles which have been upgraded to PAC-3 status and bought four batteries of PAC-3s. The PAC-3 missile system has been almost entirely developed for the mission of intercepting anti-ballistic missiles.

To support the PAC-3s, Taiwan is to deploy a long-range early warning radar system that will give an estimated 7 to 10 minutes warning time that provide the military with the ability to effectively monitor Chinese medium and short-range missiles that were launched within a 3,000 km radius. The radar, which is to be installed at the Hsinchu Leshan base on Taiwan's northwest coast, is to be even more sophisticated than the US's own long-range radar stations in Alaska. Both the Patriots and radar system are US-made.

To gain the ability to attack China's missile launch bases, however, Taiwan plans to resort to locally-produced weaponry. Its Ching-kuo jet fighters, commonly known as the Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), have been improved and are to be outfitted with Tien Chien-2A (Sky Sword) anti-radiation missiles as well as cluster bombs with the ability to destroy China's airfields, ports and radar stations along China's southeastern coast. Nonetheless, the most powerful weapon Taiwan is about to deploy, government officials say, is the Hsiungfeng 2E cruise missile which, with an estimated range of around 800 km, could strike Chinese mega-cities such as Shanghai and Hong Kong as well as military bases.

How these all-out efforts on Taiwan's government behalf to deter China from attacking the island go together with President Ma Ying-jeou's Beijing-friendly platform remains a mystery to many.

How do Taiwanese academics who are experts on the KMT's cross-strait policy and military affairs, reconcile the apparent discrepancy between the Taiwanese government's feasting and dining with its Chinese counterpart and the upgrading of advanced weaponry to keep China's PLA at bay?

"Ma Ying-jeou thinks like Ronald Reagan," said George Tsai, Research Fellow at Taiwan's National Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations. "Reagan said ‘ We want to negotiate [with the Soviets], but not under fear.'"

The Kuomintang government, Tsai said, has no choice but to bring up the level of Taiwan's arsenal of weaponry if it wants to appear confident at the cross-strait negotiating table.

The arms-build up could be of good use to the KMT's standing with the public, said Huang Juei-min of Taichung's Providence University in an interview. "I believe that most of the Taiwanese support arms-procurements, whether they are in favor or against Taiwanese independence, since the regime in Beijing is still deeply mistrusted."

Huang then cited the Neue Ostpolitik, or New Eastern Policy, which West Germany applied to deal with then-communist East Germany in the 1970. The West Germans put huge resources into their military, but simultaneously engaged the East German leaders in a certain degree of collaboration. Prior to the implementation of the Neue Ostpolitik, West Germany had sought to ignore and isolate East Germany, a policy that didn't yield much success.

Some military analysts say to look at the bigger picture. The Taiwanese government has to think outside traditional scenarios in which the PLA tries to invade Taiwan to prevent Taiwanese independence.

Wang Jyh-Perng, an associate research fellow at Taiwan's Association for Managing Defense and Strategies, pointed to the current situation in the Yellow Sea, the scene for naval war games by both China and the United States as a consequence of the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

"Future actions by the North Koreans are a key variable to the situation". Wang predicted: "If there again were an incident like the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan to happen, huge changes are bound to come immediately."

On its web site, China National Radio hinted at the possibility of an attack on the supercarrier USS George Washington with China's newest anti-ship ballistic missiles, the Dengfeng 21D, if the ship were to enter the Yellow Sea. According to simulations published by the US defense journal Orbis, the Dengfeng 21D could sink the carrier within a very short period of time.

It can safely be assumed that the development of such a capable Chinese weapon and calls by the state-run media to put them to use caused alarm bells ring in Taipei since it would make it somewhat more difficult for the US to come to Taiwan's aid in the event of an outbreak of a future conflict.

What seem to be conflicting policies in dealing with China are therefore quite plausible to the local scholars. In their eyes, Taiwan's arms build-up is not only supported by historic examples and according to the wishes of the majority of the Taiwanese, but also necessary in a region where the challenge to long-standing US defense hegemony appears ripe for ominous change.

"The Taiwanese want to keep the status quo, and the Taiwanese want to improve cross-strait relations. And the Taiwanese need advanced weapons to feel at ease," Professor Tsai concluded.