China to Target 1,800 Missiles at Taiwan

Michaela Dodge /

According to the most recent news, China will likely target Taiwan with 1,800 missiles by the end of next year. The deployment of an additional 200 missiles with increased range and accuracy compared to previous types comes amid the easing of the tension between China and Taiwan following the 2008 election of President Ma Ying-jeou. The Taiwanese president ran on a platform of pursuing a more China-friendly policy. But pursuing such a policy has not affected Chinese efforts to improve its ballistic missile and long-range firepower capabilities.

Ballistic missiles are a weapon of choice for China for many reasons. First, they are highly survivable and mobile—deployed in underground facilities and on the railroads, they are hard to target or destroy. Second, the number of deployed ballistic missiles would defeat any countermeasures Taiwan might take. Third, ballistic missiles have significant political value to Chinese military planners. China can actually threaten with a massive ballistic missile attack in an effort to compel the Taiwanese government to bend to Chinese demands regarding the status of the island or any other issue.

This can significantly complicate U.S. efforts to support Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. This law, signed in 1979, signals continued U.S. support for Taiwan and authorizes U.S. defensive weapons exports to the country. U.S. interests and security assurances to Taiwan are jeopardized by the massive Chinese military buildup, and particularly the expansion of China’s ballistic missile forces, which are aimed at denying any opponent the ability to prevent China from achieving its objectives.

In addition, Chinese military spending in 2011 is officially expected to increase from 532.1 billion renminbi ($81 billion) in 2010 to 601.1 billion renminbi ($91.5 billion). These official figures do not reflect true Chinese military spending and say nothing about China’s strategic intentions. Nonetheless, these figures signal China’s interest in countering the U.S. In particular, Chinese military spending on anti-access/area denial systems, such as the “carrier killer” missile aimed at aircraft carriers—the backbone of U.S. dominance in the Pacific—and counterspace capabilities against U.S. space infrastructure in order to secure space dominance for the People’s Liberation Army, suggest that China is intending to eventually challenge the United States.

All these developments should concern policymakers in the United States and Taiwan. The United States cannot afford to violate its obligations towards Taiwan, because it would ruin U.S. credibility in more than 30 countries that share the benefits of U.S. security guarantees around the world.