As far as China is concerned, the democratic island nation of Taiwan, which acheived independence from the communist Chinese mainland in the wake of a post-World War civil war — is no more than a rebellious province. The eventual retaking of Taiwan has long been the engine driving Chinese military modernization. But until recently, the mainland lagged behind Taiwan in the most critical categories of weapons including fighter jets and air-to-air missiles, thanks to the Taiwan’s quiet alliance with the U.S. and steady supplies of the most modern weapons. But now Taiwanese legislative squabbles threaten to derail those supplies, leaving the island vulnerable to attack.
For years, dueling between Taiwanese political parties has held up the most recent proposed U.S. arms package, Voice of America reported as far back as 2005:
The package with a price tag of $11 billion dollars, includes a Patriot anti-missile system, eight diesel submarines and 12 anti-submarine aircraft. However, Taiwan’s legislative opposition, led by the Kuomintang or KMT, has blocked consideration of the deal more than 30 times. … Some also question why Taiwan should spend so much on weapons at a time when the island’s economy is weak, and there are demands for the government to spend on social welfare.
A more recent proposed sale of 66 Lockheed Martin F-16C fighters is stuck in limbo, too. China, of course, is doing all it can to ensure the purchases never happen, the Boston Globe reports:
China’s envoy to the United States stepped up pressure on Washington on Thursday to abandon arms sales to Taiwan following recent pro-independence comments from Taiwan’s president. While stressing that Sino-U.S. relations “continue to make new progress,” Beijing’s envoy to Washington said the United States was sending the wrong signals to independence forces in Taiwan, a territory China claims as its own.
While protesting Taiwanese efforts to re-equip with new weapons, China has accelerated its own arms buildup, adding new J-10 fighter jets, new destroyers and submarines and hundreds of ballistic missiles likely capable of destroying Taiwan’s airfields in just hours. Taiwan is (voluntarily) disarming while its sworn enemy only grows in strength.
There have been consolation prizes for the island’s beleagured military. Over the past two years the navy has bought four used but very capable Kidd-class destroyers from the U.S. Navy, as I described at Defense Tech:
Two of the four Kidds sailed for Taiwan in October . The other pair is getting a facelift at Detyens shipyard in Charleston, S.C, before its 2007 handover. The Kidds will replace Taiwan’s 60-year-old Gearing-class destroyers. Combined with recent procurement of Perry- and Knox-class frigates and French-built Lafayette frigates, the $415-million Kidd deal significantly improves Taiwan’s ability to oppose a Chinese amphibious assault on the island. Which is why many Chinese … oppose the transfer.
Leaving aside American and Japanese Aegis vessels, the Kidds are the most powerful warships in the region. The government has also approved the purchase of air-to-air missiles and a new version of its indigenous Ching-Kuo light fighter (pictured), which according to one Australian newspaper boasts “upgraded mission computers and an advanced fire control radar system, and would be armed with four medium-range air-to-air missiles.” But the modernization Taiwan desperately needs – new medium fighters, patrol planes and submarines to control the straits plus Patriot interceptors to shoot down China’s ballistic missiles — are still stuck in limbo, with no hope of escape.
And that’s bad news for Taiwanese independence.