Taiwan’s Hsiung-feng III missile is displayed during the National Day parade in Taipei. Photo: Twitter

Taiwan has announced it will double its missile production capacity, a move that aims to increase the self-governing island’s defense self-reliance. The move comes as China warns pointedly against US moves to expand ties with Taiwan, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying this week that such moves will “bring unbearable consequences for the US side.”  

According to a report from Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense, the military-owned National Chung Shan Institute of Science & Technology (NCSIST) is aiming to build 34 new facilities to increase production of the Tien Kung surface-to-air missile, the Tien Chien air-to-air missile, the Wan Chien air-launched cruise missile and the Hsiung Feng anti-ship missile.

The new missile production facilities aim to boost Taiwan’s missile production rate from 207 to 497 rounds per year, with production peak starting in 2023.

Since 2018, NCSIST has spent US$249 million to upgrade 80 missile-related facilities. At present, 50 facilities have completed upgrades with the rest projected to be finished by June this year.

Aside from missiles, Taiwan also plans to start producing attack drones, with an annual production target of 48 units. Other weapons systems Taiwan also aims to indigenously produce include high-tech warships and submarines.

Apart from producing its own missiles and other weapons, Taiwan is receiving substantial assistance from the US, its traditional security partner. The US recently approved a $498 million deal for Taiwan, specifically for the Harpoon Coastal Defense System.

The deal includes 100 Launcher Transporter Units, 25 Radar Units and HCDS training equipment. The contract is expected to be finished by December 2028. Last month, the US also approved a $100 million upgrade package for Taiwan to sustain, maintain and improve its existing Patriot missile batteries.

In response to the US sale of Patriot missile upgrades to Taiwan, China has enacted sanctions on US arms contractors Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, targeting specifically rare earth exports to these companies.

Taiwan’s increased spending is part of a $8 billion over the next five years to bolster its defenses against an increasingly assertive China, with 64% of the budget going to naval weapons such as anti-ship missiles and warships.  

A Taiwanese flag is seen behind standard Type II missiles on the destroyer Kee Lung during a drill near Yilan naval base, Taiwan, on April 13, 2018. Photo: Agencies

These developments have been spurred on by China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the Taiwan Strait. In January 2022, China sent 39 warplanes to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), prompting Taipei to launch its own aircraft and deploy missile batteries in response. In October last year China sent nearly 100 warplanes into Taiwan’s ADIZ over a four-day period.

As Taiwan’s military is substantially dwarfed by China’s, it must resort to asymmetrical warfare to hold out until the US can potentially intervene in a conflict scenario. This includes building its own anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities such as naval mines, torpedoes, mobile missile batteries, stealth fast attack craft and submarines.

Any successful defense of Taiwan against a Chinese invasion would depend on US intervention, which as a matter of policy the US is ambiguous and non-committal about.

Strategic ambiguity helps to skirt US political sensitivities for a possible military intervention, keeps China mollified by avoiding any official support for Taiwanese independence and prompts Taiwan to harden its own defenses against invasion.

China views Taiwan as a renegade province, which must eventually be reunified to the mainland preferably through diplomatic means, although China does not rule out using force to achieve the goal.

It has repeatedly warned that Taiwan’s declaration of independence is a red line; Foreign Minister Wang said this week, “Taiwan will eventually return to the embrace of the motherland.”

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has sparked concerns a similar crisis could soon erupt over Taiwan, a democratically governed island of more than 23 million people and key global source of semiconductors. Wang dismissed the comparisons in his comments, arguing that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi sees Taiwan as part of the Chinese “motherland.” Image: AFP

“Some, while being vocal about the principle of sovereignty on the Ukrainian issue, have kept undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on the Taiwan question — this is a blatant double standard,” Wang said. 

However, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has stated that Taiwan does not need to declare independence, and that China needs to accept this reality. To emphasize this, she pointed out that Taiwan has its own government, military, and elections.

She has warned an invasion would be extremely costly for China. President Tsai contends that the strategic situation has changed, and that maintaining “ambiguity” over Taiwan’s political status no longer serves the purpose it once did.