In a sign that tensions are rising across the straits, Taiwan has marked its national day with a military parade for the first time in 16 years.
Importantly however, the island’s first long range cruise missile was not on display. The Hsiung-feng 2E is believed to have a range capable of targeting the Chinese mainland, including Shanghai. Its display would have been considered extremely provocative by China and reports suggest the missiles’ absence was a direct result of pressure from Taiwan’s ally, the United States.
Two other Taiwanese developed missiles were included in the parade. The Hsiung-feng III which is designed for ship-to-ship combat, and an anti-tactical ballistic missile called the Tien-kung III featured alongside around two thousand troops and fighter planes.
A speech made ahead of the parade by President Chen Shui-bian clarified the target of this show of strength. He hit out at China’s “relentless military build-up” and demanded international pressure on Beijing to withdraw the missiles along its coast which target Taiwan. By the end of 2006 the Pentagon estimated around 900 short-range ballistic missiles were aimed at the island, a number which continues to rise. Over the past few years, this continuing provocation has led to a fundamental shift in Taiwanese strategic doctrine towards a more offensive posture. The parade, though not showing off the full capabilities of Taiwan’s military, should therefore be seen within this context.
The President also pledged to make further efforts to secure Taiwanese membership of the UN. Presidential elections are taking place in March and Mr Chen wants to take the opportunity to hold a national referendum on the issue. This is likely to provoke Beijing, whose ‘One China’ policy means it views Taiwan as a renegade province. China has threatened to invoke the Anti-Secessionist Law, which authorizes the use of force if Taiwan takes steps to declare formal independence. This parade was a clear signal to China that the island is prepared to defend itself in the event of an attack.
Andrew Legon is a Research Associate with the Asian Programme in the International Security Studies Department at RUSI. He is contactable at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed here do not nessecarily reflect those of RUSI.