By Ben Blanchard
TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan started mass production of a long-range missile and is developing three more models, a senior official said on Thursday, in a rare admission of efforts to develop strike capability amid mounting pressure. China.
China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up military activity near the island, while trying to force the Taipei government to accept Beijing’s claims of sovereignty.
Taiwan’s armed forces, dwarfed by China’s, are in the midst of a modernization program to provide a more effective deterrent, including the ability to strike back at bases deep within China in the event of conflict.
Responding to questions from lawmakers in parliament, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said that developing a long-range strike capability was a priority.
“We hope it will be long-range, accurate and mobile,” he said, adding that research on such weapons by the state-owned Chung-Shan National Institute of Science and Technology “never stopped.”
Standing next to Chiu, the institute’s deputy director, Leng Chin-hsu, said that a long-range land missile had already entered production, with three more long-range missiles in development.
Leng said it was “not convenient” for him to provide details on how far the missile could fly.
The institute, which leads Taiwan’s weapons development efforts, has conducted a series of missile tests off its southeast coast in recent months.
Media in Taiwan has broadcast images of the missile launch and aircraft have been instructed to stay away from the test area, but the tests have been kept secret.
The Taiwanese armed forces have traditionally focused on defending the island from a Chinese attack.
But President Tsai Ing-wen has emphasized the importance of developing an “asymmetric” deterrent, using mobile equipment that is difficult to find and destroy, and capable of hitting targets far off the coast of Taiwan.
Washington, Taipei’s main foreign arms supplier, has been eager to create a military counterbalance to Chinese forces, building on an effort known within the Pentagon as “Fortress Taiwan.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)