TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan seems set to unveil a cruise missile — capable of hitting targets in China — at next week's National Day observance, a military official said Wednesday, in a move likely to ratchet up tensions between the rivals.
A defense ministry liaison, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media, said it was "probable" that Taiwan's "tactical shore based missile for fire suppression" would be displayed in Taipei on Oct. 10, when the island holds its first National Day military parade in 16 years.
Tensions have recently been rising between China and Taiwan, which split amid civil war in 1949. Communist China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and has threatened to attack if the democratic island takes steps to formalize its de facto independence.
Western analysts say the weapon being discussed is the "Hsiung Feng IIE" surface-to-surface missile, which Taiwan has reportedly tested but has neither displayed nor deployed.
It is believed to have a range of about 1,000 kilometers (630 miles), which would enable it to strike China's financial center and biggest city, Shanghai.
Beijing has blasted Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's recent steps to underscore the island's claim to sovereignty. A ruling-party congress passed a resolution last weekend emphasizing Taiwan's separateness from the mainland.
China says that resolution, and a Chen-inspired effort to enter the United Nations, threaten stability in the perennially volatile Taiwan Strait.
Washington, fearing an outbreak of hostilities in the strait, has also criticized the U.N. initiative as a threat to peace.
The development of a long-range Taiwanese missile was first confirmed by the former defense minister, Lee Jye, in April.
Lee told lawmakers the missile was defensive in nature.
He said it "will be ... used in counterattacks against China's ballistic missiles," and "will be restricted to hitting airfields and radar stations."
However, some analysts wonder if the missile can be fired successfully without the provision of sophisticated satellite guidance technology from the U.S., Taiwan's major weapons supplier.
Wang Kao-cheng of Taipei's Tamkang University said the cruise missile program would founder without U.S. technology.
"The U.S. has objected to Taiwan developing mid- to long-range missiles, fearing it could embolden the island's authorities to take more provocative policies toward China," he said.
Defense experts say Taiwan is developing its cruise missiles to counter China's aggressive military buildup in recent years. Taiwanese leaders say the mainland has deployed 900 missiles targeting Taiwan.