The plan is a sound one, except that its proponent fails to mention the most belligerent and powerful protagonist in the dispute
Rarely a week goes by where Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee does not propose the development, or deployment, of a new weapon system.
While a good number of the proposals he has made over the years never saw the light of day, and although Lin has a long history of voting according to the direction of the prevailing political winds, he raised some interesting points in the legislature today that warrant further consideration.
During a Q&A with Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱), Lin said the military had an obligation to assist the Coast Guard Administration (COA) in defending islets in the South China Sea that are the object of a longstanding dispute between Taiwan and other claimants.*
One of those islands is Taiping Island (太平島), which is administered by Taiwan and is also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and China. Taiwan completed a 1,150m airstrip on the islet in 2008 under the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration.
Saying that the 20mm and 40mm machineguns used by the CGA on Taiping were insufficient, Lin asked Kao whether the military could augment defenses by deploying either the Air Force’s Antelope air defense system — a derivative of the indigenous Tien Chien I “Sky Sword” (天劍一, TC-1) air-to-air missile used on the CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighter — or the US-made (and ageing) M48A2 “Chaparral.”
Kao said such deployments were feasible, provided a request by the CGA was made and the appropriate funds released.
Where things get really interesting, however, is not so much what Lin said to sell the idea, but rather what he didn’t say.
Vietnam, Lin said, has 27,000 marine personnel, and the Philippines have 8,300, adding that in two to three years, Vietnam’s fleet of Su-27SK and Su-30MK2 combat aircraft could expand to as much as 36. Those pose a serious threat to the country’s defense arrangements on Taiping Island, Lin said.
So here we are. Not once did Lin (or Kao) mention the other claimant to the disputed islands, the one that has been the most belligerent and whose military within the same timeframe will be more formidable by orders of magnitude than that of Vietnam of the Philippines: China.
I leave it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions from this, and will only add that Chinese officials, as well as a good number of academics on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, have in recent months called for the joint defense of the Spratlys and other contested islands in the South China Sea.
*The Marines pulled out in 1999, ceding responsibility to the CGA.