Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui said today that the island wants to take part in a proposed regional missile-defense shield being considered by the United States, while China's army newspaper blasted Lee for buying billions of dollars of American weapons.
The dueling messages underscored Washington's sensitive position in the latest crisis across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait and illustrated how leaders in Beijing and Taipei are trying to sway the opinions of policymakers in Washington, military analysts said.
The Chinese government wants the Clinton administration to cut weapons sales to Taiwan, and to push Lee to retract his July 9 declaration that ties between China and Taiwan should be considered "special state-to-state relations," according to a Western diplomat. Beijing considered Lee's statements a step toward a formal declaration of independence, which it has vowed would be met with an invasion.
"We would rather lose a thousand soldiers than lose an inch of land," said the Liberation Army Daily, China's military newspaper.
Taiwan's government, meanwhile, wants the Clinton administration to agree to sell it more advanced weapons. Lee said after a classified briefing on missile defense today that such a system "not only meets the needs of the current situation but also is in line with the long-term interest of the country." Defense Minister Tang Fei added that "building a missile defense system is necessary for the sake of national self-defense."
A missile defense umbrella for Taiwan would require extensive cooperation with the United States, which is researching the idea of building a missile shield in Asia. The technology for such a system, known as Theater Missile Defense, has not been developed, and Washington has not decided whether to deploy it or whether Taiwan would be included.
A senior Chinese official warned earlier this year that including Taiwan under a U.S. missile shield would be an infringement on Chinese sovereignty and would be the "last straw" in Sino-American relations.
Andrew Yang, a senior military analyst at the Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, said Lee made the strong statement in support of joining the proposed missile defense system today as part of an effort to test the intentions of the Clinton administration, and to garner support in Congress, which is considering measures to buttress Taiwan's security.
"It's to test the U.S. attitude and it's policy to protect Taiwan," Yang said.
Military analysts say that it will take years to develop a Theater Missile Defense system. As a stopgap, Yang said, Taiwan wants Washington to sell it the latest version of the Patriot missile, which is designed to shoot down offensive missiles at a low altitude.