(CNA file photo)
Taipei, March 20 (CNA) Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) on Monday confirmed that there is a growing military threat from China, which he said has been deploying a new type of medium-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Taiwan.
Since 2016, China has been pushing military reform, including streamlining its armed forces to improve joint combat capabilities, Feng said in a report to the Legislature on Taiwan's responses to the changing situation in East Asia since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
In recent years, China's air and naval forces have built main and auxiliary combat ships and produced the J-10, J-11 and J-15 fighter jets, bought Russian Su-35 fighter jets and unveiled their most advanced stealth J-20 fighter jets, Feng said.
As part of the weapons modernization program to strengthen its combat power, China has also been deploying Dong Feng-16 (DF-16) ballistic missiles capable of launching precise attacks on Taiwan proper, Feng said.
In a report last year, the U.S. Pentagon said that the DF-16, with a range of 800-1,000 km, coupled with the already deployed conventional land-attack and anti-ship variants of the CSS-5 (DF-21C/D) medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), would improve China's ability to strike not only Taiwan, but other regional targets.
The DF-16 represents an increased threat to Taiwan because it is difficult to intercept with anti-ballistic missiles systems such as the MIM-104 Patriot PAC-3, according to U.S. media reports.
Currently, at least 12-16 DF-16 missiles are in service and judging from the fact that they are deployed in southern China's Guangdong Province, they are likely targeted at Taiwan, Forbes quoted U.S. defense expert Mark Stokes as saying in February.
Forbes said in a report on its website that the DF-16's range gives it the capability to strike targets along the first island chain -- the physical island features that sit between the Chinese coast and the Western Pacific, including the main islands of Japan, the Ryukyu chain, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
However, Feng said Taiwan has advanced surveillance systems that can detect any unusual movements by Chinese forces around the island and has weapons capable of fending off any DF-16 missile attacks from outside its borders with the U.S.-made PAC-3 system.
Over the past few months, he said, China's air and naval forces have conducted six drills and training sessions near Taiwan and in the Western Pacific Ocean.
During one such exercise last December, China's only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, cruised into the Western Pacific Ocean for the first time via the waterway between Okinawa and Miyakojima Island, Feng said.
In addition, China's retired military officers have been exaggerating the potential for military conflict across the Taiwan Strait in an apparent intimidation effort to force Taiwan into accepting Beijing's plans for relations between the two sides, Feng said.
Turning to the situation in East Asia, Feng said the U.S. is likely to adjust its security policy in the Asia Pacific in line with its ambition to dominate affairs in the region.
On the issue of Taiwan's response to any regional instability, Feng said Taiwan will improve its early warning systems and hone its combat forces to display its defense capabilities, while maintaining its role as a peacemaker to expand cooperation with other countries in the region.
The hotspots include the Korean Peninsula, the Diaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, and the South China Sea area, he said.
(By Hsieh Chia-chen and Evelyn Kao)