Ex-Minister: Taiwan Launched Missile
Confirms 2008 Test During Chen’s Last Days
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Former Taiwan Defense Minister Michael Tsai confirmed the early 2008 test-launch of a “medium-range missile” during a recent interview.
The test was conducted in March or April during the final months of President Chen Shui-bian’s administration, Tsai said. However, the former defense minister was unsure as to whether the missile was a surface-to-air missile, possibly the Tien Kung 3 (Sky Bow), or a ballistic surface-to-surface missile program under development during the Chen era.
“The missile exceeded short range and entered medium range,” he said. Tsai served as vice minister from 2004 to 2008 and was appointed defense minister the final three months of the Chen presidency from February to May.
Taiwan defense analysts have said the missile was part of Taiwan’s ballistic missile program, which is considered politically sensitive in both Beijing and Washington. It is unclear whether Taiwan continued the program after Chen left office.
The U.S. was concerned about the test, he said. A senior U.S. State Department official “came to see me at my office” about the test, he said. “He asked whether Taiwan had launched a missile the week before, and I told him that it was only a test and it was not in production.” Tsai reassured the official that if the missile were deployed, it would be used only in self-defense. Taiwan has a no-first-use policy regarding military engagements with China.
“The purpose of Taiwan’s missile development is for deterrence capabilities,” he said. Taiwan is not going to “fire the first shot against China” and would strike only Chinese missile launch sites on the mainland, not civilian populations.
China has 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles, Dong Feng 11/15s, aimed at the self-governing island. Taiwan has procured both the Patriot Advanced Capability-2 and -3 missile defense systems in response to China’s ballistic missile threat.
“I told [the official] that after a second missile barrage from China, we will communicate with the U.S. government in a concerted effort to prevent the People’s Liberation Army’s continued aggression against Taiwan and to prevent an escalation of the conflict across the Taiwan Strait,” Tsai said.
The U.S. lacked coherence in its policy toward Taiwan during the Chen years, he said.
“The U.S. kept telling us we have to be determined to defend ourselves and warned us not to be too provocative with China ... don’t create a flashpoint,” Tsai said.
Yet the U.S. continued to deny Taiwan’s request for the eight diesel submarines and 66 F-16C/D fighters during the Chen administration.
“There’s a contradiction between the U.S. pushing Taiwan to show more seriousness in its own defense, but at the same time denying [the F-16s and submarines],” Tsai said.
Taiwan’s requests for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters for $5.5 billion and a $4.5 billion upgrade package for 146 F-16A/B Block 20 fighters have been on hold since 2007 and 2009, respectively. China has warned that the sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan would be a “red line.” The George W. Bush administration offered to sell Taiwan submarines in 2001, but was unable to go forward on the deal for a variety of manufacturing and political hurdles.
Despite U.S. reluctance to release F-16s and submarines, arms sales over the past 10 years include PAC-3s, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, Kidd-class destroyers and P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft.
The releases have come with a political price tag for the U.S. China twice canceled military dialogue following arms deals to Taiwan totaling $13 billion in 2008 and 2010.
China just concluded a visit by a senior Chinese defense official, Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, to Washington last week. The visit is an overall effort to improve military ties between China and the U.S.
The week before, Washington hosted the third Strategic and Economic Dialogue with Chinese officials. Both are evidence of Washington’s efforts to better ties with China in the wake of the 2008 and 2010 arms sales to Taiwan.
“Taiwan agrees the U.S. has to have a better relationship with China, but not at the cost of losing Taiwan,” Tsai said.
The former defense minister said “it is now too late” for F-16s and submarines to be released: U.S. efforts to improve relations with China and Taiwan’s new policy of improved cross-Strait relations have created an environment that is hostile to improving Taiwan’s national security.