Taiwan President Denies Nuclear Weapons Research
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
President Chen Shui-bian on Oct. 29 denied media reports and claims by the political opposition that the country is developing nuclear weapons. He also elaborated on Taiwan’s land-attack cruise missile program.
“A lot of people are concerned that Taiwan will start to develop nuclear weapons, Chen said during a rare question-and-answer session, arranged by the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents Club. “Some legislators tend to exaggerate and tell untruths. It is deeply regrettable. So I think it is necessary again on behalf of the government of Taiwan and the people of Taiwan that I have to reassure you all and also pledge that Taiwan will definitely not develop nuclear weapons, we will definitely not bring in nuclear weapons, and we will definitely not use nuclear weapons. In other words, we have a three no’s policy when it comes to nuclear weapons. We will stand by this policy.”
Chen’s press conference came 10 days after the Ministry of National Defense denied press reports about nuclear research.
“According to Taiwan policy and international treaty, we do not produce, develop, acquire, store or use nuclear, biological or chemical weapons,” ministry officials said in an Oct. 19 press release.
Taiwan’s nuclear weapon ambitions were brought to a screeching halt during the 1980s after a senior program official handed over evidence of the effort during a much-publicized CIA operation. The program was run by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST).
Today, CSIST develops missiles, including a new land-attack cruise missile (LACM) dubbed the Hsiung Feng-2E (Brave Wind). Formally known as the Tactical Shore-based Missile for Fire Suppression, it can reportedly carry a 400-kilogram warhead 600 to 1,000 kilometers, which would allow it to strike as far north as Shanghai and as far south as Hong Kong.
Former National Defense Minister Lee Jye confirmed the existence of the missile in April, and the ministry listed the missile in its 2008 defense budget. However, the legislature recently killed the Hsiung Feng-2E budget and it appears funding will not be restored till 2009. Sources have said that Taiwan initially plans to build 100 Hsiung Feng-2Es.
Addressing concerns about the missile in Beijing and Washington, Chen said, “What we believe is that there should be effective deterrence and solid defense. This is what we will constantly uphold.”
Chen said his island needs defensive countermeasures to keep China from attacking it.
“When we are talking about our national defense, we continuously talk to the U.S. about our intentions. We report to the U.S. about our development. Everything is open and transparent,” he said.
Of the Hsiung Feng-2E, he said, “First, this is a defensive countermeasure. Second, it is a tactical missile. Third, it will never be used to attack civilian communities. Fourth, this is part of our national security measures. And, lastly, any use of this tactical missile has to be first consulted with the U.S. and we place great emphasis on the views of the U.S.”
Chen said the weapon would be used to delay China’s invasion, allowing time for U.S. forces to intervene.
“It is only with these kinds of weapons that we can protect our nation,” he said. “So that we can have a buffer and gain some time in case another nation [such as the United States] is coming to our rescue should China launch an offensive against us. Furthermore, this is not a missile that any commander can launch. It has to go through a very complex national security mechanism. And prior to the launch of the missile, we would consult intensively with the U.S. and only if the U.S. gave us the OK would we use the missile.”
But a senior Taiwan military official later clarified the latter comment.
“I think what he meant is that we will consult with the U.S. government prior to actual use of the weapon,” the official said. “We can have many ways to communicate, including the American Institute in Taiwan [the de facto U.S. embassy], the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representatives Office [the de facto Taiwan embassy in the United States], and others. But that is the intention.”
Noting that close to 1,000 Chinese short-range ballistic missiles, Dong Feng-11s and Dong Feng-15s, are aimed at Taiwan, Chen argues that despite China’s call for peace and prosperity, it is clearly preparing for war.
“During the past seven to eight years, China has not given up the intention of violating Taiwan, and eight years ago there were only 200 missiles, but now the number has reached 988 and is still growing at a rate of 140 to 150 missiles [a year],” he said. “China also has the anti-secession law, the so called legal basis of using military force against Taiwan, and it is also conducting three-stage preparations for a military maneuver against Taiwan. They are already implementing the first stage, and based on our intelligence we know they actually intend to build up combat capabilities for large-scale military engagement by the year 2015; this will ensure victory in a decisive battle.”
Chen said China is reaching a point at which it will have the military capability of overpowering Taiwan in a war.
“Of course, we cannot solely rely on military might to oppose China or confront China,” he said. “As I mentioned before, it is not our intention to conduct an arms race with China. What we want to do is reinforce and strengthen our national defense, to be able to strengthen our defensive capabilities, and we are very confident. When it comes to protecting our country, we cannot just rely only on our armed forces — we have to resort to our economic power, our society at large, as well as our legacy of democracy, freedom, these universal values. This kind of soft power sometimes yields greater influence than military might. We are also not naïve to think that based on our current military capabilities and weapons, that with our 300,000 soldiers we will be able to confront the military might of China.”