Sunday, September 02, 2007

Military Imbalances

In his delightfully cutting book The Ugly Chinaman, critic and satirist Bo Yang acidly describes the Chinese person as a fellow who, after selling his body to the butcher, is still haggling over the price as the knife is coming down on his neck. But Bo Yang's Chinese had nothing on today's Taiwanese companies. From Max Hirsch at Kyodo News comes the story of Taiwanese firms transferring weapons technology to North Korea, Iran, and -- it goes without saying -- China.

A recent spate of illicit technology transfers by Taiwanese companies to North Korea, China and Iran, possibly allowing those countries to manufacture weapons of mass destruction, has triggered a crackdown in Taiwan on local machine-tool makers as the island, under pressure from the United States, tries to shore up its export control regime.

Several machine tool makers sold stuff to N Korea and Iran, but the most obnoxious of them was Johnson, who sold to our friends across the Strait:

Among the four other companies currently under investigation, Taipei County-based Johnson Trading and Engineering Co. is suspected of exporting advanced computer chips used in missile systems to China via Hong Kong for the past two years, the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, added.

Although Johnson is under investigation for one instance of illicit transfer this year, ''the company has done this sort of thing many times in the past,'' said another senior bureau official in Taichung, without elaborating.

So rampant is Johnson's proliferation of sensitive technology that the United States has asked Taiwan to investigate the company after discovering that its ''high-tech strategic commodities'' had fallen into the wrong hands in China, local media reported in June, after a senior Johnson official was arrested for illicit transfers that month.

You'd have to be pretty sick to sell weapons technology to people who point missiles at your family and friends. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones....

In April of last year, Taiwanese and Japanese media reported that the Chinese military often uses Taiwan-made machine tools to either build or service ballistic missile batteries targeting Taiwan, as well as weapons systems on Chinese attack helicopters that could be used against the island.

Meanwhile, why do the Bad Guys deal with Taiwan?

Royal allegedly smuggled the lathes, outfitted with Japanese industrial computers, by sea and air, using Beijing as a point of transit for air transport, and either receiving cash payments there or wire payments to a bank account in Malaysia from North Korea for the shipments, the trade bureau said, without elaborating.

''The reason why North Korea has turned to Taiwan for help (in acquiring restricted technologies) and not companies in China, a fellow communist nation, is probably because North Korea fears getting ripped off by Chinese companies,'' it added.

Then comes the Beijing-centric background, added by the editors, of course:

China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province that must be united with the mainland, has threatened to attack the self-governing island of 23 million people if it moves too far toward formal independence. It targets Taiwan with approximately 1,000 ballistic missiles

The "renegade province" propaganda is alive and well; I saw it in a VOA piece by David Gollust the other day on the State Department's comments about the UN referendum (Gollust's piece contains other problems I'll get to in another post).

The journal Asia Policy recently sponsored a roundtable on China's military buildup. It's quite informative, and nearly every piece discusses the Taiwan issue from some perspective. For example, assessing the external threat, Michael Chambers writes:

While this strategic encirclement or containment by the United States is a potential problem over the long term, the more pressing security challenge is possible U.S. intervention to protect Taiwan in the event of a cross-Strait conflict; such intervention would threaten the territorial integrity of China. The United States has promised to assist Taiwan should the PRC launch unprovoked aggression against the island, even as Washington has sought to restrain Taipei from taking steps which could provoke such aggression from Beijing. Because the PLA has pledged to protect the territorial integrity of the nation and prevent the formal separation of Taiwan from China, Chinese civilian and military leaders must plan for the possibility of confronting U.S. military forces in the event of war with Taiwan. To prepare for such an eventuality, Beijing will need to acquire not only modern weapons systems that could defeat the U.S. 7th Fleet and other forces that would be used against the PLA in a Taiwan conflict but also the weapons systems necessary to project adequate power to subdue the island. In order to implement an area-denial maritime strategy in China’s littoral areas to thwart a U.S. intervention, the PLA Navy (PLAN) will also need to acquire new naval assets.

Plenty more in that vein..... There's a widespread perception that the military balance is tipping in China's favor, as this feature at Monsters and Critics makes clear:

China`s improved position in the air is evidenced by the changes in the quantity and quality of its third-generation combat aircraft from 1999 to 2007.

During that period, China`s Su-27 SK remained steady at 48; its J-11 A/B went from two to 95; its Su-27 UBK`s increased by 28; Su-30 MKK/MK2 from zero to 100; J-10A from five to 64; JH-7A went up from zero to 24; KJ-2000 from zero to 4 and KJ-200 from zero to two.

Based on these figures, the number of third-generation combat aircraft in the fleet of the People`s Liberation Army Air Force was only a modest 55 in 1999, while in 2007 the number has jumped to 369. In 2008 it will further surpass Taiwan`s fleet.

With the import of Su-30 MKK fighters, China`s inventory of H-59ME and H-29TE TV-guided air-to-surface missiles, or ASMs; 1,500-pound Russian TV-guided bombs; H-31A anti-ship missiles; and H-31P anti-radiation missiles has also increased steadily over the last seven years. China has imported more than 1,000 RVV-AE active radar-guided air-to-air missiles, or AAMs, from Russia, while the number of AMR AAMs in the Taiwanese air force is no more than 120 now.

In addition, China continues to import a substantial number of RVV-AE AAMs every year. The critical change here is that in 1999, the PLAAF did not even have the capability to use such advanced AAMs as the PL-12RVV-AE AAM and the precision guidance land-attack weapons that they have now.

Given another two to three years, all the pilots of the PLAAF`s 369 third-generation fighters will have accumulated flight time of more than 1,000 hours. Around 2009 or 2010, the overall quality of the military personnel ready to take to the air over the Taiwan Strait will be fundamentally reversed, in favor of the PLA air force.

In other words, China now has as many advanced fighters as Taiwan has fighters of all types, period. Meanwhile, Taiwan is turning to export sales to underpin an expansion of its weapons industry.

Faced with growing difficulty in buying arms from its main ally and supplier, the United States, Taiwan is turning to homegrown weapons production to counter a perceived threat from neighbouring China. China’s military spending is growing at double-digit rates, while chronic political wrangling in Taiwan has all but grounded the island’s procurement of key weapons.

Taiwan’s military currently procures only around 30 percent of its equipment domestically, with the remainder sourced largely from the United States. Vice Admiral Wu Wei-rong, head of the Defence Ministry’s armaments bureau, says Taipei now wants to boost its homegrown procurement to 60 percent by 2017.

“Whatever the civilian businesses can do, we will try our best to hand it off to private industry,” Wu said at this month’s Taipei Aerospace and Defence Technology Exhibition.

The defence ministry is aiming to allocate $2 billion of its 2007 budget, or around 22 percent of total military spending, for procurement from domestic firms, and raise that figure still further to 90.6 billion Taiwanian dollar by 2011.

The Taipei Times reported this morning that the legislature voted to fund development of cruise missiles. These are capable of hitting targets in China. The US, whose position on Taiwan's defense is riddled with contradictions, has objected to Taiwan's development of such weapons, as I noted before:

The US position is gibberish. On one hand, it accuses Taipei of not wanting to buy US weapons and thus, not being serious about defense. On the other, it says Taipei is too serious about defense, for it is building "offensive" weapons. From yet another angle, it complains that Taiwan is building offensive weapons and that is bad, but then it is criticizing Taiwan for not buying US submarines, weapons that the US refused to sell Taiwan for twenty years because.....they were offensive weapons. And let's not forget: citing the legislature's intransigence on the arms purchase, the US has refused to sell requested (and needed) F-16s to Taiwan -- and then it accuses Taipei of not being serious about its own defense!

If any human held the US positions, it would immediately be put in a straitjacket.

Meanwhile, as Taiwan and the US bicker, China laughs and builds up its military.


Anonymous said...

Not sure if you had a look at this one before. Havent seen it myself yet. It is about Taiwan straight relations. Maybe interesting.

TicoExpat said...

I guess the Taiwanese electronics producers are selling these illegal items to the "enemy states" because 1. they are not competitive enough to become big sellers with the rest of the world 2. they can make more profits faster 3. there is no weaponery internal market to sell to.

Hence, it could be concluded that US opposition in preventing the island from developing its own weapons causes the sellers to empower these states.