Taiwan's Precarious Position

Kirsten L. Armstrong


Taiwan, a relatively small, densely inhabited island, scarcely 200 km from Mainland China, is at the heart of one of the world's most volatile current geopolitical dilemmas. Separated both physically and politically from the PRC since Chiang Kai-Shek retreated there in 1949, Taiwan has evolved into a wealthy and democratic political and economic entity.[1] Yet Taiwan's status remains ambiguous and precarious. Although Taiwan functions in many ways as an independent nation, China continues to consider Taiwan a renegade province, and is eager to bring the island back under Chinese control-by force, if necessary. Taiwan, on the other hand, prefers the status quo, and its de facto independence, to reunification. For the moment, there exists a peculiar balance, as neither side of the Taiwan Strait sees a clear benefit in acting against the other. Both China and Taiwan are actively modernizing their military, and taking other steps to ensure that, if a conflict does occur, its side will emerge victorious. Years of slowly escalating tensions have eroded what minimal stability there once was, making it dangerously easy to reach the flash-point for confrontation.

Taiwan's current situation is exceedingly complex. To understand the Taiwanese situation, it is essential to consider Taiwan's peculiar international status, its trade and diplomatic relations with other nations, its relationship with China, and its relationship with the United States. Understanding Taiwan's position vis-à-vis China also necessitates an examination of the size, structure, and capability of the island's military forces. An essential part of Taiwan's military modernization and economic development has been the development and procurement of high technology space-based systems. Since many space assets are dual-use in nature, and have significant military utility, Taiwan's use of, or access to, such assets can play an important part in the area's strategic balance of power. Taiwan's fate will have a key role in the resolution of political and economic tensions in East Asia.


Taiwan- An Introduction

The island of Taiwan is 13,900 square miles in size, and currently supports a population of about 21 million people. Taiwan has long been the site of international disputes. During the 1600s Taiwan was occupied by both the Spanish and the Dutch. From the late 1600s until 1895 Taiwan was under Chinese control. From 1895 until the end of World War II, Taiwan was a Japanese possession. The modern entity of Taiwan came into existence in 1949, after the forces of Chiang-Kai Shek, leader of the nationalist Goumindang Party, were defeated by Mao's army. They retreated to the island of Taiwan, establishing the Republic of China there. From 1949 until 1991 the Taiwanese government maintained that their island, not the People's Republic of China, was the legitimate seat of the Chinese government.

Since 1949, China and Taiwan have effectively been two separate nations, governed by two distinct governments: the former, communist, and the latter, non-communist. As time passed, the two entities grew farther apart in terms of their economic systems, political systems, culture, and acceptance of each other. Originally a highly authoritarian state, Taiwan increasingly liberalized and is now democratically governed. Taiwan's economy has developed and flourished in recent years. The island enjoys great prosperity, and trades heavily with the United States, Japan, and other nations. Taiwan's pursuit of support and recognition worldwide are based on the highly international nature of its economy, as well as on security concerns vis-à-vis the PRC. Many Taiwanese fear reunification with China, fearing that would bring a reversal of its economic success and democracy. China, on the other hand, wants to resolve what it calls the "Taiwan issue," and bring Taiwan under its control. This desire has intensified since China has regained control over Hong Kong and Macao, and since Taiwan has solidified its status as a democracy.


Current Political and Strategic Considerations

Taiwan has two unique relationships: one with China, and one with the United States. With regard to China, Taiwan prefers to maintain and stabilize the status quo, but China insists on reunification. The United States recognizes China and Taiwan as one unit diplomatically, but sells arms to, and is an unofficially ally of, Taiwan.

Taiwan takes a broad view of its national security. Not only does it wish to protect its physical security, but its political and economic security as well. It has a four-pronged approach to national security:

• Under the stipulation of the ROC constitution, to safeguard all rights and interests to reach the

goal of national unification,

• To ensure territorial integrity and sovereignty,

• To protect people's rights of security from invasion, and

• To maintain economic prosperity and social stability.[2]

Taiwan's national security doctrine responds to a variety of potential threats, but most experts believe the most relevant and proximate threat to be the PRC. Thus, the PRC remains at the center of Taiwan's foreign policy and defense strategies. Taiwanese military and national security experts believe China is likely to attack if and when:

• The ROC on Taiwan declares itself independent o internal upheaval occurs on the island

• The ROC's armed forces on Taiwan become comparatively weak

• Any foreign power interferes in the ROC's internal affairs

• The ROC on Taiwan protractedly refuses to talk with the PRC about the issue of unification

• The ROC on Taiwan develops nuclear weapons[3]

In addition to these factors, most knowledgeable observers believe that a Taiwanese declaration of independence would motivate PRC action.

A secondary motive for Chinese aggression has recently emerged. Recent PRC military doctrine states that Taiwan's excessive delay of reunification talks would also be a cause for Chinese action. A February 2000 policy paper threatening "to use force against Taiwan unless island leaders agree to negotiate a peaceful reunification" shocked US policy makers.[4] Chinese officials have stated that, when it comes to safeguarding of China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, or to the reunification of the China and Taiwan, "the Chinese government has the right to resort to any necessary means."[5]

The high tensions in the area have led analysts to predict how a conflict could unfold. China has propagandized six particular tactics to instill "fear" in the Taiwanese. "First, fear of missile attack; second, fear of maritime blockade; third, fear of combined-arms landing operations; fourth, fear of people's war; fifth, fear of the undependability of 'western weapons;' and sixth, fear of 'foreigners' backing off."[6] Invasion is considered unlikely, as there are much less cumbersome ways to launch an offensive. "Analysts generally agree that the PRC is more likely to stage some 'unorthodox tactics' to harass Taiwan rather than launch an all-out assault at the island. These tactics may include testing armed or unarmed missiles in and around Taiwan's land and maritime territories, cruising submarines near or in Taiwanese waters, or flying fighters to skirt Taiwan's airspace."[7] The latest tactic has been cyber-warfare. "Instead of aircraft carriers and bombers, China is investing heavily in electronic jamming and intercept techniques to thwart the Pentagon's satellite-based combat communication, just in case the U.S. gets in Beijing's way."[8]

The most probable offensive tactic would be a missile attack on Taiwan. Taiwan's proximity to the mainland makes missile attack an attractive offensive option to China. "China is building a missile base in Fujian province, directly opposite Taiwan...From Xianyou, most of Taiwan would be within the missiles' range of 300 kilometers (186 miles)...The report also said that China had built a dummy base at Zhangzhou, also in Fujian province, but Taiwan's military authorities had not been fooled."[9] Missile attack is also appealing because Taiwan lacks missile defenses. The Chinese army has a store of short-range conventional missiles that could reach Taiwan.[10] Further, the Pentagon "estimates that China could have 800 missiles by 2005, all aimed at Taiwan."[11]

The jury is still out on which side would prevail should conflict occur. The PLA has clear quantitative advantages over Taiwan in sheer military strength, yet it could not commit all its forces to an attack at one time.[12] As well, Taiwan is further along in its military modernization than China. Nevertheless, although Taiwan has an impressive military, it is still at serious risk. One missile attack scenario envisioned by an American analyst could transpire in less than an hour. "[A] massive, coordinated air strike employing hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles could cripple Taiwan's air defenses and early warning systems, destroy its command, control and communications center and demolish Taiwan's eight primary airfields, thereby neutralizing the Taiwanese air force as well as its naval ports. Beijing's military analysts write that China could achieve air superiority over a paralyzed Taiwan within 45 minutes, suffering few casualties."[13]

The winter and early spring of 2000, the time leading up to Taiwan's 2000 presidential election, was an extremely tense period in Chinese- Taiwanese relations. PRC officials stepped up their warnings and rhetoric toward Taiwan. Beijing's opposition was largely based on the fact that the presidential front-runner- and eventual winner of the presidency, Chen Shui-bian, is a strong supporter of Taiwanese sovereignty. Chinese saber-rattling included releasing a white paper on the "One China Principle and the Taiwan Issue" in February. This white paper warned that either a Taiwanese declaration of independence or the indefinite delay of talks for reunification would prompt a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The Chinese also sent several of their destroyers through the Taiwan straits. Since the election tensions have subsided somewhat. President Chen Shui-bian, has made several overtures towards China. Recently, referring to the historic summit meeting between North and South Korea, he suggested that "leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait could 'rewrite and create history.'"[14]


United States- US-Taiwanese relations are friendly, but guarded. During the initial Cold War era, the United States supported Taiwan, the Republic of China, instead of the People's Republic of China, because Taiwan, while not a democracy, was not communist in nature. The United States treats Taiwan as an unofficial ally and has protected Taiwan on many occasions over the last 50 years. A mutual defense treaty was signed in 1954, in which the United States pledged to defend Taiwan. The United States maintained diplomatic recognition of the Republic of China (not the People's Republic of China) as the legitimate Chinese state until 1979. US support for the Taiwanese state faded, however, as the United States began to realize the vast potential benefits of recognizing the PRC. However, the United States did not give up a close relationship with Taiwan after recognizing the PRC. Taiwan was increasingly democratic, and an increasingly valuable trading partner, two factors that encouraged further US involvement with and support of the island. Thus, the US Congress in 1979 passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which allowed the United States to continue to sell arms to Taiwan. Although the United States no longer technically recognizes Taiwan as a nation, de facto US recognition and support have continued.

The Taiwan Relations Act is the core of current U.S. foreign policy with Taiwan.

In general, the purpose of US arms sales policy toward Taiwan is to assist the people of the island to defend themselves from China's coercion by military and economic means. By providing sufficient defensive weapons to Taiwan, the United States hopes to maintain the military balance between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, thus lessening the chances of military action by China against the island, and, in turn, allowing the United States 'to respond in a flexible manner to any effort to resolve the Taiwan issue by other than peaceful means.[15]

The TRA allows the United States to accommodate the interests of both China and Taiwan. Although the United States wishes to support a democratic Taiwan, it has strong motives to avoid confrontations with China over the island's political status.[16] Further, the TRA did not violate prior agreements with either party.[17]


US Agreements Affecting Relations with Taiwan and China[18]



Mutual Security Treaty with Taiwan


Communiqué agreeing to one China


Carter administration switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing


Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress


Communiqué between Reagan administration and Beijing to limit arms sales to Taiwan


Six Assurances proposed by Taiwan



New legislation is currently being debated to shift the balance of US foreign policy back in the direction of Taiwan. The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act would

Require the Pentagon to cooperate with Taiwan in defense planning, threat analysis and training programmes, including staff training and personnel exchanges at the general officer level. It also would require the U.S. executive branch to offer Taiwan specific weapons systems-including missile-defense equipment, air-to-air missiles and diesel-powered submarines-which Taiwan has previously been denied, partly on grounds that they could be offensive.[19]

The House overwhelmingly passed the legislation on February 1, 2000, and was referred to the Senate.[20] House Resolution 1838, "To Assist in the Enhancement of the Security of Taiwan, and for Other Purposes," was read twice in the Senate, but no further action occurred before Congress's 2000 adjournment. While this act, and similar Congressional actions designed to support Taiwan is intended to ensure Taiwanese safety, overly hasty US actions could spark conflict between China and Taiwan, and actually decrease the island's security."[21]


The Koreas- Taiwan is not directly involved in the events on the Korean peninsula. However, like other Pacific Rim nations, Taiwan pays careful attention to relations among the two Koreas, the United States and the PRC. Taiwan sees certain parallels between the Korean situation and its own relationship with China because both involve divided nations, with one democratic and one communist half. Taiwan has significant economic ties with South Korea that it does not wish to see disrupted. Taiwan does not have an immediate stake in the reunification of the Koreas, and hopes that if such a reunification occurred it would result in a democratic, capitalist Korea, with a US orientation.


The Spratly Islands- Taiwan, like the PRC, is involved in another of the Asia-Pacific's most volatile tensions, the dispute over the control of the Spratly Islands. The Spratly Islands, some 200 small islands, reefs and rocks, are scattered throughout the South China Sea, which is the world's second busiest sea lane. The Spratly Islands are valuable because control over them may allow nations to reap both economic benefits- from the oil and gas deposits thought to lie deep beneath the sea- and political benefits. The nations directly involved (as claimants of some or all of the Spratly Islands and/or surrounding sea) are: Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. As both Taiwan and the PRC consider themselves to be the effective legitimate government of China, both entities have similar claims on the Spratly Islands. Taiwan, thus, "claims all of the islands and most of the South China Sea for historical reasons."[22] Taiwan's actions and rhetoric concerning the Spratly Islands have largely focused on countering China's right to claim the islands, not on the claims of other nations. There were reports in early 2000 that Taiwan had stepped up missile deployment on several of its claims in the South China Sea.[23]


Japan- Taiwan and Japan have a contentious mutual history. The island of Taiwan was under Japanese control during the first half of the 20th Century, and throughout World War II. Japanese control of Taiwan included a compulsory "Japanization" of the island. Since the founding of the modern nation of Taiwan, however, Japan and Taiwan have developed a better relationship with each other. Both nations are close allies with the United States, and have faced many of the same regional security issues, factors that nudged them into a closer relationship. As both nations' economies developed, Japan became one of Taiwan's most important trading partners. In 1997, 25.4% of Taiwan's imports came from Japan, and 10% of its exports went to that nation.[24] While Japan has been careful not to provoke the PRC in its dealings with Taiwan, Japan has indicated an understanding of Taiwan's security dilemma vis-à-vis China, and a certain sympathy for the fate of one of the few other stable Asian democracies. At the same time, Japan's first priority is to safeguard its own security. Thus, any Taiwanese declarations of independence, or other actions that would provoke China, would not be welcomed by Japan. Japan has stressed the necessity of a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan situation.


Military- Structure, Doctrine, and Technologies

Taiwan is a small state, both in size and population. Taiwan's military is reflective of these characteristics. The island has ground, navel, air, and other forces composing its military capability. Taiwan has been actively modernizing and upgrading the capability of its armed forces. Even with recent improvements, Taiwan still has vulnerabilities it wishes to minimize.

Since the retreat to Taiwan and the Republic of China's establishment on the island in 1949, the island's defense strategy has experienced a curious reversal. In the 1950s the ROC maintained a relatively large army to support its ultimate goal of retaking the Communist mainland by force.[25] With the diminishing likelihood of, and desire to, recover the mainland, Taiwan focused on a more defensive strategy. Taiwan's relationship with the PRC worsened as the island began to prosper economically and the government began to move towards democracy. The exacerbation of tensions led Taiwan to begin today's focus on defensive military strategies. "Taipei's force development plan focuses on three specific areas: maintaining air superiority over the Taiwan Strait and the waters contiguous to Taiwan; conducting effective counter-blockade operations; and, defeating an amphibious and aerial assault on the island."[26] The ROC maintains active duty forces of 425,000 and 3,000,000 reservists in order to deter attacks. The implementation of this strategy is currently reflected in the armed forces of Taiwan.

The main strength of Taiwan's military lies in its two ground forces: the ROC army and the Armed forces police, which, in 1997, numbered, respectively, 268,000 and 21,000 men.[27] A 1999 estimate is that the army is made up of 220,000 troops.[28] The mission of the army is to defend the territory of the ROC, which includes the main island of Taiwan and smaller offshore islands.[29]



Table 1-Organization of the ROC Army


¨       Three armies

¨       Quemoy, Matsu, Penghu, and Hualien-Taitung headquarters, and Airborne and Special Operations Command

¨       Tungyin Island Command and Chukuang Island Command

¨       Two mechanized infantry divisions

¨       Thirteen heavy infantry divisions

¨       Seven light infantry divisions

¨       Six armored brigades

¨       Two tank groups

¨       Two airborne brigades

¨       Two aviation commands

¨       One air defense missile group[30]

Source: Hickey, 16 and U.S. Department of Defense, 211



Taiwan's ground forces utilize an assortment of weapons and equipment, including: tanks, self-propelled artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, rocket systems, antitank missiles, and surface-to-air missiles.[31] More specifically, the Taiwanese army maintains some 450 M-48H and 300 M-48A5 medium tanks and over 1,000 much older M-41 and M-24 light tanks, plus 42 AH-1W Cobra attack and 26 OH-58D Kiowa scout helicopters.[32]

Since Taiwan is an island, particular emphasis is placed on its naval capabilities. Taiwan's navy totals about 68,000 men, including some 30,000 marines, whose mission is to exert control over Taiwan's territorial waters and keep open vital sea lanes.[33] "The navy also provides aid to Taiwanese fishing boats requiring assistance, and patrols the waters in the Taiwan Strait and, more recently, the South China Sea."[34] Taiwan's naval forces (Table 2) are roughly equivalent to 40 major surface combatants, 4 submarines, 100 patrol boats, 30 mine warfare ships, and 25 amphibious vessels.[35] Taiwan also has a small naval air force utilizing some 20 helicopters and 30 aircraft.[36]


Table 2-Taiwan's Naval Forces


¨                   Destroyers (two destroyer fleets and one frigate fleet)

¨                   Amphibious forces (one landing fleet and one landing vessel fleet)

¨                   Submarines (one submarine group)

¨                   Mine forces (one mine vessel fleet and one mine-sweeper/layer fleet)

¨                   Logistic forces (one service fleet and one rescue fleet)

¨                   Speedboats (one Hai-chiao group)

¨                   Aviation forces (one antisubmarine helicopter group)

¨                   Shore-based missiles (one Hai-feng group)

¨                   Marine corps (two marine divisions, one landing tank regiments and one operations service regiment)

Source: Hickey, 17 and U.S. Department of Defense, 211


Taiwan's air force (Table 3) is approximately the same size as its navy, at about 70,000 men. With over 400 combat aircraft, "the current inventory includes approximately 180 older F-5E/F fighter and over 100 more modern Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs)."[37] "Taiwan has established an air defense early warning network which, when used in conjunction with its ground-based SAMs and fourth-generation tactical aircraft, appears to pose a credible deterrent against an air attack from the mainland."[38]


Table 3-Taiwan's Air Force


¨                   Six tactical combat aircraft wings

¨                   One transport/antisubmarine wing

¨                   One tactical control wing

¨                   One communication and air traffic control (ATC) wing

¨                   One weather wing

¨                   Five separate teams

¨                   One air-defense artillery guards command, which contains four commands, fourteen air-defense battalions, and eleven guards battalions[39]

Source: Hickey, 19


In addition to ground, navel, and air forces, Taiwan also maintains a coast guard and a large contingent of reserves. The coast guard , which numbers around 26,000 men, patrols the coast to protect against intrusion and smuggling. As a deterrent to attack, Taiwan supports a military reserve force of nearly 4 million.

While Taiwan maintains a comprehensive array of military assets, it needs to modernize its entire military force, to streamline the structure, update its weapons, and maximize its effectiveness. The ground and naval forces are receiving particular attention. The army goal is to reduce the number of troops to 200,000, while making them more effective. Much of the navy's fleet is comprised of World War II ships, which have outlived their life expectancy. Taiwan is replacing these and adding antiblockade and antisubmarine capabilities.[40] In addition to upgrading existing weapons systems, Taiwan is working to acquire new systems.

Taiwan faces a choice in its military modernization. Taiwan can procure its weapons domestically, and build up its internal capacity for production. However, in doing so Taiwan risks fielding systems that are not as technologically advanced as weapons it can purchase from the United States or Europe. On the other hand, external purchases increase Taiwan's dependence on the willingness of foreign governments to continue supplying parts. Through external purchases Taiwan may access top-of-the-line technology but may also "increase its dependencies on foreign weaponry, with all the insecurities and vulnerabilities that attend."[41] Taiwan has resolved the make-or-buy decision by producing a few items, like the Indigenous Defense Fighter, small arms, and artillery systems, and purchasing the majority of its military technologies abroad (Table 4).[42] Taiwan's main weapons suppliers are the United States and western European nations. As one writer noted, "Taiwan...is armed to the teeth with billions of dollars worth of U.S. and French warplanes, frigates, submarines and missiles."[43]



Table 4-Selected Recent Weapons Purchases by Taiwan


¨                   150 F-16 Warplanes from the United States

¨                   Sixty Mirage 2000-5 Warplanes from France

¨                   Modified Air Defense System based on the U.S. Patriot missile

¨                   Four Air-Warning Aircraft (AWACS) from the United States

¨                   Twelve Helicopters from the U.S.

¨                   Sixteen Lafayette-Class Frigates from France

¨                   Six Knox-Class Frigates from the U.S.

¨                   200 M60-A3 Tanks from the U.S.


Source: Hickey, 77-83.


Even as its pursues modernization of its armed forces and acquisition of cutting-edge weapons systems, Taiwan's biggest vulnerability remains its dependence on other nations for these very systems. "Taiwan lacks-and will likely continue to lack-the infrastructure, financial resources, and technical capabilities to keep up with the state-of-the-art in armaments production. Consequently, Taiwan has found it both necessary and expedient to expand its acquisition of foreign military equipment, and this dependency has subsequently increased."[44] This dependence is further compounded when purchases are made from a number of countries, which leads to a wide variety of weapons types, many of which are not compatible with others.[45] Lack of compatibility and interoperability is a serious obstacle for Taiwan, as integration is key to military efficiency.

Even with its impressive recent acquisitions, Taiwan still has a modernization wish list depending largely on future foreign purchases (Table 5). Current Taiwanese desires for new or improved weapons include submarines, warships, combat vehicles, missiles, electronic operations systems, fighters, smart weapons, and theater missile defense.[46] Taiwan has recently been focusing on acquiring three particular systems from the United States. In the spring of 2000, Taiwan lobbied heavily to be allowed to buy four Aegis destroyers, equipped with anti-missile systems, and advanced combat monitoring capabilities, for about $6 billion. However, the United States delayed this sale because of concern about the Chinese reaction. Taiwan would also like to purchase additional Patriot anti-missile systems and sophisticated long-range early warning radar.[47] The most controversial of Taiwan's recent defense pushes is its desire for Theater Missile Defense, which it would like to bring into service by 2005.[48] Realistically, Taiwan is interested in whatever military capabilities would give the island a defensive edge over mainland China.




Table 5-Taiwan's Modernization Goals for Its Armed Services


(1)    A centralized, automated command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) structure for national air defense, integrating air-, sea-, and land-based early warning, surveillance, and reconnaissance;

(2)    Across-the-board improvements in national air defense capabilities (e.g., fourth-generation combat fighters, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles, and advanced surface-to-air missiles-and possibly including theater missile defenses);\

(3)    Improved three-dimensional ASW capabilities (including airborne assets);

(4)    Next-generation sea-and shore-based antiship defenses;

(5)    Improved tanks and anti-tank weapons; and

(6)    Advanced electronic and information warfare capabilities.


SOURCE: Bitzinger, pp. 77-78.


Space Technologies and Applications

Taiwan's space capability and utilization remains quite limited. While Taiwan has established a civil space agency and is working to develop a reliable launch capability, it continues to rely on commercial services and products to supplement its indigenous space assets. These have included remote sensing imagery and satellite telecommunications. At this time, Taiwan does not own any military space systems. However, some of Taiwan's civil space systems could have utility in a military conflict. As well, several of the defense systems Taiwan is seeking to acquire are, at least in part, dependent on space-based capabilities.

Taiwan began its civil space program in October 1991, with the establishment of the National Space Program Office. The mission of the agency is to implement the country's Fifteen-Year Space Program, with the goal of creating the infrastructure and systems engineering capability sufficient to necessary for the ROC to develop its own space technology.[49] Taiwan initially plans to build three satellites and then to develop the associated tracking, telemetry and command structure to operate them. It is also building remote sensing receiving stations and processing capabilities.[50]

Taiwan's three satellite programs are ROCSAT-1, -2, and -3, which are in varying stages of development and operation. ROCSAT-1 carries several instruments: an ocean color imager, experiments on ionospheric plasma and electrodynamics, and a Ka-band communication test payload.[51] This is Taiwan's first satellite and was successfully launched January 26, 1999, on an Athena I rocket from Spaceport Florida.[52] ROCSAT-2 will be a remote sensing satellite designed to sense oceans and landmass of the island and its environs. Taiwan hopes to utilize the imagery data in land use, agriculture and forestry, natural disaster evaluation, environmental monitoring, education, and international scientific cooperation applications. ROCSAT-2 is currently being manufactured and is scheduled for launch in June 2002. ROCSAT-3 is in the planning and design phase. The project is a collaborative effort with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research for a "constellation of eight low-earth orbiting satellites for operational weather prediction, space weather monitoring, and climate research."[53] ROCSAT-3 is expected to be launched late in 2002.

Table 6- Taiwanese Satellite Programs[54]





Technology Testbed

Operating On Orbit


2m Resolution Remote Sensing

Launch mid-2002


Weather/Climate Constellation

Launch late 2002


China has made it difficult for Taiwan to carry out its space activities. China put pressure on the Germany not to issue an export permit to Dornier Satellite Systems, the planned manufacturer of Taiwan's Rocsat-2 Although Taiwanese officials insist that the satellite is for scientific research, it would be capable of resolving objects as small as two meters in size, giving it modest military capabilities. Indeed, as a result in part of Chinese pressure, the German government postponed granting an export permit three times.[55] On December 9, 1999, the chairman of Taiwan's science council announced that Matra Marconi Space will supply Rocsat-2. Though the losing bidder in the original selection, the firm was able to secure an export license from the French government.[56]

Taiwan has not extensively employed satellite technologies for either civil or military use, except to connect Taiwan with its offshore islands. INTELSAT has provided this service, and also the international connections to the outside world. When the commercial application of very small aperture terminals (VSATs) started in 1989, satellites began to assume a larger role. New satellite systems for both domestic and international use are likely in the near future. [57] Satellite communications have not been utilized for military purposes to this point. Thus, "Taiwan has no satellite-communication link to give early warning information in case of an attack."[58]

Taiwan has begun preliminary use of remote sensing imagery through commercial purchases from SPOT Image and other sources. This has begun to allow Taiwan to conduct observe activities on the Chinese mainland. Reports surfaced in May 2000 that Taiwan might be purchasing high resolution Ikonos imagery of mainland China, specifically of several PRC airfields.[59] Taiwan neither confirmed nor denied the purchases of Ikonos imagery; however, experts noted that Taiwan's military has likely been using commercial satellite imagery for some time.[60]

Although Taiwan has no indigenous military space program, its military is well aware of the utility of space-based systems. Taiwan's military modernization has included a significant focus on procuring high-technology weapons systems, systems that very often depend, at least in part, on space-based capabilities. One of the weapons systems the United States has recently sold to Taiwan is the PAVE PAWS long-range radar system. This radar system can "detect missile launches within a distance of 3,000 miles and can link up with anti-missile systems under development by the United States." [61] (The United States will not, however, sell Taiwan the Aegis destroyers it had sought to buy, destroyers that would have been integral to TMD.) Some US officials have discussed including Taiwan in Theater Missile Defense. "The proposed TMD, if successfully deployed, would cover the entire island. Most important, the project may benefit Taipei politically since entrance into the TMD would form an implicit military alliance with both the United States and Japan. This would increase the military costs that China would bear in mounting an attack on the island and would be of tremendous security assistance to Taiwan."[62] Although officials in both Taiwan and the United States think this is a worthy idea, it would seriously anger the PRC. "TMD in Japan is delicate enough, but what really has the Chinese steaming is the possibility that the U.S. would help Taiwan install the system, too. Missiles are a key part of Beijing's strategy to get Taiwan's leaders to the bargaining table."[63] Considerable caution on the part of the United States and Taiwan is necessary as this action might provoke a clash in the Taiwan straits.

[1] Chen, p. 27

[2] Hickey, p. 8

[3] Hickey, p. 11

[4] Pomper and Nitschke

[5] "China's Statement: 'The Right to Resort to Any Necessary Means,'" The New York Times 22 Feb 2000:

[6] "Chinese Military Researcher Says 'Western Weapons' Cannot Help Taiwan."

[7] Wang

[8] Crock, Barnathan, and Magnusson,

[9] "China Building Missile Base Opposite Taiwan."

[10] Crock.

[11] Robert Kagan

[12] U.S. Department of Defense, 197.

[13] Kagan.

[14] "President Chen..." June 20, 2000

[15] Wang, 119.

[16] "Be Clear on Ties with China, US Urged,"

[17] Wang, 127-128.

[18] Wang, 115-116 and Kerry Dumbaugh,

[19] Julian Baum, "Silent Running,"

[20] Miles A. Pomper, "Administration Says House Vote to Shore Up Taiwan Relations Endangers U.S. China Strategy,"

[21] Julian Baum, "Silent Running."

[22] Spratly, FAS

[23] DoD News Briefing, 1/13/00

[24] Taiwan, CIA World Factbook

[25] Hickey, 15.

[26] U.S. Department of Defense, "The Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait February 26, 1999,"

[27] Hickey, 16.

[28] U.S. Department of Defense, 211.

[29] Hickey, 16 and U.S. Department of Defense, 211.

[30] Hickey, 16.

[31] Hickey, 16.

[32] U.S. Department of Defense, 211-212.

[33] Hickey, 17.

[34] Hickey, 17.

[35] U.S. Department of Defense, 208.

[36] U.S. Department of Defense, 210.

[37] U.S. Department of Defense, 203.

[38] U.S. Department of Defense, 204.

[39] Hickey, 19.

[40] U.S. Department of Defense, 208.

[41] Richard A. Bitzinger, p 96.

[42] Bitzinger, 86.

[43] Jeremy Page

[44] Bitzinger, 79.

[45] "Chinese Military Researcher Says 'Western Weapons' Cannot Help Taiwan,"

[46] Hickey, 88.

[47] Lawrence Chung, "China Defence Fuels Arms Race-Taiwan Analysts," R

[48] "Taiwan to Test Anti-Missile System," SpaceDaily 02 Jan 2000

[49] National Space Program Office Website,

[50] National Space Program Office Website.

[51] National Space Program Office Website.

[52] Craig Covault, "Athena Fires Taiwan's Satellite Into Space,"

[53] National Space Program Office Website.

[54] National Space Program Office Website.

[55] "Chinese Pressure Delays Satellite Launch," Satellite News 11 Oct 1999

[56] "MMS to Build Taiwanese Sat," Aviation Week & Space Technology

[57] U.S. Department of Defense, 218.

[58] Baum, 28 May 1998

[59] Loeb

[60] Loeb

[61] "US Agrees Sale of Arms...", FAS

[62] Wang, 134.

[63] Landers, Lawrence, and Baum, "Hard Target,"