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Taiwan flagTaiwan

Overview Last updated: December, 2014

Taiwan does not possess nuclear weapons, although it historically possessed a nuclear weapons program. Taiwan is not believed to have biological or chemical weapons programs, but it has been accused of possessing such programs in the past. Because of its unique status, Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, and cannot participate in nonproliferation regimes as an internationally-recognized state would. Taiwan asserts that it maintains policies in accordance with widely followed export control regimes, despite not being able to participate in them in an official capacity.

Taiwan is not legally considered a sovereign state by most countries or international organizations, including the UN, thus it cannot participate in international nonproliferation treaties or export control regimes. [1] Both the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) lay claim to the island of Taiwan, but it is under de facto control of the government in Taipei. Taiwan does not possess nuclear weapons, although it attempted to acquire them in the past. [2] Despite some suspicions of offensive and defensive chemical and biological weapon programs, there is no conclusive evidence that Taiwan developed or deployed either.

In 1968, Taiwan — then recognized as the Republic of China by the UN — signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). After the seat for “China” in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council reverted from Taipei to Beijing’s control in 1971, [3] the NPT and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) coordinated only with the Beijing government on issues related to China. Nuclear safeguards are applied in Taiwan under a trilateral agreement with the U.S. and the IAEA. [4] Taiwan has since implemented the IAEA's "Program 93+2" safeguards. [5] In January 2014, Taiwan and the United States renewed an agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation. The agreement, which includes a new 123 Agreement, will take effect after the existing one expires on 22 June 2014. [6]

While acknowledging that there is only "one China" in the Three Joint Communiqués, the United States believes that the conflict over the status of Taiwan should be resolved by peaceful means through cross-strait dialogue, and with the support of the people of Taiwan. [7] The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), enacted by U.S. Congress in 1979, states that the United States will, inter alia, "maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” [8] Section 3 of TRA states that, “in furtherance of the policy […], United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” [9]

Cross-strait relations grew strained under Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian’s administration (2000-2008). However in January 2008, Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was defeated in legislative elections, and in March the DPP lost the presidency to the Nationalist Party (KMT) with the election of KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou. Compared to their low point during Chen’s presidency, relations between Taipei and Beijing have improved significantly under Ma. Ma was reelected by a comfortable margin in January 2012.

In December 2008, President Ma called for the establishment of "military confidence-building measures," including "prudent consideration [of] the withdrawal of missiles deployed... against Taiwan." [10] His outreach appeared to be acknowledged by Chinese President Hu Jintao in a speech less than three weeks later, which mentioned engagement and exchange "on military issues and exploratory discussions on the issue of establishing a mechanism of mutual trust for military security." [11] In a demonstration of improved relations, Taiwan, has implemented cuts in its military budget, and is planning a reduction in troop levels. [12]

In 2010, a defense study reported that Mainland China will have 2,000 missiles targeted at Taiwan by 2011. [13] “The analysis of China’s attack capabilities also found that if Beijing actually decided to launch the missiles this year, 90 percent of targets in Taiwan would be destroyed,” says the report published in the Taiwanese Defense Ministry’s naval studies journal. [14] The prospect for a Chinese missile drawdown in response has been the subject of several media reports.

In September 2010, during an interview with Taiwanese media in New York, then-Premier Wen Jiabao expressed that “as peace progresses across the Taiwan Strait, the mainland may dismantle its hundreds of missiles aimed at the self-rule island [温家宝形容,两岸关系应该按照先易后难,把握节奏,循序渐进的原则发展,相信最终撤走对台导] (unofficial translation).” [15] Wen Jiabao also stated that the political relations between Mainland China and Taiwan have reached the most promising point in decades, “following the progress on their economic ties.” [16] Taiwanese government officials welcomed Wen’s comments as evidence of progress. Speaker Wang Jin-pyng of the Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party commented that Wen’s remarks have given “positive assistance” to cross-strait relations. [17] However, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense remained skeptical because Mainland China has yet to renounce the use of force and may deploy new missiles in the future. [18]

Nuclear

Under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, the island built its first nuclear reactor at National Tsinghua University in 1956 and began training atomic energy specialists. [19] Late in the 1960s, Taiwan initiated an ambitious program for the procurement and operation of nuclear power facilities on Taiwan. The Chung-Shan Science Institute (CSSI) was established by order of Chiang Kai-shek shortly after the People’s Republic of China detonated its first nuclear device in October 1964. [20] The Institute was largely funded by the military for research projects in nuclear, electronic, chemical, and missile areas. Chung-Shan Science Institute had close ties to the government’s Committee for Science Development, to its Atomic Energy Council, and to Tsinghua University. [21]

According to Professor Wu Ta-you, former president of the Academia Sinica in Taipei and then-director of the Science Development Advisory Committee of Taiwan’s National Security Council (NSC), the "Hsin Chu" program, “included the purchase of a heavy-water reactor, a heavy water-production plant, and a plutonium separation plant.” [22] The military-controlled Institute for Nuclear Energy Research (INER) secretly developed a small reprocessing facility and acquired a research reactor; such actions raised questions among the U.S. and other international officials. [23] As the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate indicated in 1972 that “Taiwan’s present intention is to develop the capability to fabricate and test a nuclear device. This capability could be attained by 1976; two or three years later is a more likely timeframe.” [24]

During 1976-1977, IAEA officials inspected the activities managed by INER. [25] They discovered discrepancies in the activities that included a Canadian-supplied research reactor, other equipment from the United States, Germany, and France, including U.S.-supplied heavy water, uranium from South Africa, and technical advice from Norwegians and Israelis. [26] In September 1976, the U.S. tried to extract a pledge from Taipei to forswear an independent nuclear weapons capability. [27] The United States insisted Taiwan shut down the research reactor, and in “1977 every fuel element in the core was radioactively scanned by scientists from Los Alamos National Library.” [28]

In 1987, INER began building a hot cell facility for reprocessing that violated commitments made in 1976. In this case, IAEA inspectors discovered that fuel rods were missing from one of Taiwan's nuclear power facilities. The program was shut down and the laboratories and test sites sealed in 1988 shortly after the INER Deputy Director, Col. Chang Hsien-yi, defected to the United States. [29] Since 1988, the Taiwanese leadership has consistently maintained that the Island will not seek nuclear weapons in the future.

Taiwan now possesses six nuclear power reactors, and two which are under construction. These reactors are housed in three nuclear power plants with an installed capacity of 5,877 megawatts net. [30] Nuclear power accounts for 16.7% of the country’s total power supply. [31] According to the Taiwan Atomic Energy Council, “the three nuclear power plants at Chinshan, Kuosheng and Maanshan operated by state-owned utility Taiwan Power Company (TPC), with two operating units at each site, generated 42.13 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity (gross) in 2011.” [32] The power reactors use low-enriched uranium obtained from the United States and South Africa or transferred from a third country via the United States. Taiwan has no indigenous uranium enrichment capability.

After the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster took place, Taiwanese citizens became highly concerned about the future use and expansion of nuclear power. On 15 March 2011, President Ma Ying-jeou declared that “there was no need to cease operations of the existing three nuclear plants," and stated that construction of a controversial fourth facility should continue. [33] Construction continues at Lungmen, where two ABWR units are 97% complete in terms of construction and 64.7% complete for pre-operations testing as of 30 April 2012. [34] Taiwanese authorities announced that they “would not consider building a 5th nuclear power plant and the existing nuclear power plants must be operated with paramount priority to safety.” [35] In early August 2013, an analysis of the safety standards for the Lungmen plant revealed that it was not up to the standards set at the three other Taiwanese nuclear power plants, and that it would be difficult to estimate when fuel rods could be tested in the reactors. [36] China and Taiwan signed an accod on nuclear safety and emergency reporting in 2011. [37]

Taiwan possesses much of the technological expertise necessary to develop nuclear weapons, but would face significant obstacles in doing so—namely, U.S. opposition, international pressure, and the threat of a pre-emptive strike by China. Recent assessments indicate that it would take Taiwan between one and eight years to develop a complete nuclear warhead, and most likely much longer to design one light enough to be carried by any of Taiwan's current land-attack missiles. Regardless, most analysts agree that under the current political situation, Taiwan is very unlikely to pursue a nuclear weapons capability. [38]

Biological

Taiwan signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1972 as the Republic of China  though it was no longer a member of the UN. The ratification of the BTWC was deposited with the United States, which at that time still recognized Taipei as the sole representative of the government of China. With the US switchover of diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979, Taipei's role in this treaty is no longer officially recognized. [39] Media sources indicated that in 1993, the U.S. intelligence community believed that Taiwan had maintained a biological weapons (BW) program from the 1970s. [40] While Washington no longer suspects Taiwan has a BW program, its advanced biotechnology infrastructure and human capital base provide Taipei with a potential breakout capability. [41] In December 1998, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) denied that the island is developing biological weapons. [42]

Chemical

Taiwan cannot join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or the Australia Group. In 1990, U.S. government officials testified before Congress that Taiwan could have acquired an offensive chemical weapons (CW) capability. [43] While acknowledging production of small quantities of CW agents for defense research purposes, Taiwanese authorities have consistently denied any offensive CW capabilities. [44] Nonetheless, Taiwan has a large dual-use chemical industry and the technical know-how to develop chemical weapons.

Missile

Taiwan's short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) program is based at the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), which has developed a range of missiles including the Hsiung Feng series of anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles, the Tien Chien series of air-to-air missiles, and the Tien Kung series of surface-to-air missiles. [45] These systems have provided Taiwanese scientists with technological expertise in areas such as composite materials, guidance, and fire control systems, which are essential for development of longer range surface-to-surface missiles.

The Ching Feng missile is reported to have been developed by CSIST during the late 1970s. [46] Taiwan first displayed the surface-to-surface ballistic missile at a National Day parade in Taipei in October 1981. The missile’s reported range is 130 kilometers. [47] Jane’s suggests that the Ching Feng is a modified U.S. MGM-52 Lance missile. Taiwan also developed coastal defense missiles based on Israeli Gabriel Mk 2 technology. [48]

In 1981, CSIST started development of the Tien Kung 1 (Sky Bow 1/TK-1) missile system. [49] The TK-1 missile is designed for mid-range interception against an aerial saturation attack. It is equipped with a semi-active radar homing seeker. Modularized hardware increases reliability while reducing production costs. [50] Taiwan successfully launched its indigenously-developed Tien Kung II (Sky Bow II/TK-2) surface-to-air missile (SAM) during a live-fire exercise on 10 May 2002. [51] The adoption of an active radar homing seeker has increased the range of the TK-2. It is especially effective in multiple engagement scenarios. [52]

The Kung-Feng 6 multi-launched rocket system (MLRS) is a high-powered, mobile artillery rocket system designed to fire against amphibious assault. [53] Developed by the Missile and Rocket Systems Research Division of the CSIST, Ray-Ting 2000 (RT2000) multiple launch rocket system was developed to replace the aging Kung Feng VI. [54]

The Tien Chi, first test-fired in 1997, is a solid-fueled, two-stage missile with a 300km range that can reach China's southeastern coast. The Tien Chi incorporates GPS technology and has an estimated payload of 100-500kg. [55] One report claims that as many as 50 Tien Chi missiles have been deployed on Tungyin Island and at an unidentified second location. [56] Tien Ma 1 was a two-stage solid propellant ballistic missile with a range of 950km and a payload of 350 kg. The program was believed to have been halted in 1993, but restarted in 1996 following the Chinese ballistic missile tests near Taiwan in 1995 and 1996. [57]

Hsiung Feng II is a medium/long-range anti-ship missile with an all-weather dual seeker and electronic countermeasures (ECCM). [58] It is 4.6 meters long, weights 685 kilograms and has a range of 80 kilometers. [59] First test-fired in early 1998, the supersonic anti-ship missile Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) reportedly has a range of hundreds of kilometers, a speed of Mach 2 and a weight of 1,500kg. [60] Taiwanese media reported that, “the HF-3 was first unveiled during the 2007 Double Ten National Day military parade.” [61] A variant of the HF-3 was test-fired on October 2012 with an operational range of 400km, and top speeds of Mach 3.0. [62] In August 2013, the Taiwanese navy displayed a prototype HF-3 road mobile launcher. [63]The Hsiung Feng II-E land-attack cruise missile has a range of 600km and can attack multiple targets. [64] Research on its successor, the increased-range Hsiung Feng II-ER, has been the subject of conflicting reports. Expected to have an increased range of up to 1,250km, the missile could be capable of striking a number of high-value targets on the Chinese mainland, including the Three Gorges Dam. [65]

The Hsiung Feng II-E began production with a target output of 50 missiles before 2010. Upon taking office in May 2008, Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou reportedly stopped the development of all missile units with a range above 1000km—including variations of the Hsiung Feng II-E. [66] The Hsiung Feng II-E missile may give Taiwan some deterrent capability. If deployed at the Matsu missile base just off the Chinese coast, its range would place Shanghai just within reach. [67] However, until Taiwan is able to produce a larger number of these systems and deploy them, this deterrent effect will remain weak. The HF-2E, which has a range of about 600km and was developed by the Chung-Shan Institute for Science and Technology, has not officially entered military service. [68] Capable of striking Chinese coastal targets, the HF-3 and the Hsiung Feng II-E cruise missile would enhance Taiwan’s ability to deter a Chinese invasion. [69]

Analysts said “the new Taiwan Missiles, ‘Chuifeng and Chichun missiles,’ could hit targets in south-eastern China.” [70] Taiwan’s former Defense Minister, Tsai Ming-hsien, revealed in his memoir that “[the missile] was capable of reaching major Chinese cities including Beijing, Chengdu and Shenyang with a 2,000-kilometre (1,250-mile) range.” [71]

Various sources give conflicting estimates on the number of Chinese cruise and ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. In 2010, Taiwanese estimates stated that China would have 2,000 missiles targeted at Taiwan by 2011. [72] According to the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense's China Military Power Report 2012, China had 1,600 cruise and ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan in 2012. [73] However, according to the New Frontier Foundation Defense Policy Advisory Committee, the number of missiles targeting Taiwan was roughly 1,400 in 2013, and is expected to decrease as Chinese missiles become more advanced and precise. [74] The Taiwanese government has invested heavily in the development of an anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) system designed specifically to intercept the short-range ballistic missiles deployed across the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan currently possesses the U.S.-made anti-tactical Patriot Advanced Capability II (PAC-2) system. Taiwan bought 171 Stinger air-to-air missiles in November 2009, in a sale valued at $45.3 million. [75] Additionally, a $2.82 billion arms sale package approved in January 2010 included 330 Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) defensive missile systems, 32 Harpoon sub-launched SLAMs, and 182 Javelin guided missiles. [76] However, delivery was met with significant delays in 2011 and 2012. [77] In February 2012, Lockheed Martin Corporation announced that Taiwan had placed a $921 million order for PAC-3s. [78]

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[78] J. Michael Cole, “Taiwan Places US$921m Order for PAC-3 Missiles,” Taipei Times, 2 February 2012, www.taipeitimes.com.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Taiwan

  • Asserts it adheres to the BTWC, CWC and MTCR even though it is not eligible for membership
  • Owns six nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of 5,144 MW
  • Acquired small quantities of chemical weapons agents for defensive purposes, but denies developing any offensive capabilities