- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

BEIJING China's test-firing of a new air-to-air missile shows it has taken a significant step forward in its arms race against Taiwan, military analysts said yesterday.
China has spent billions of dollars on Russian fighter jets, submarines and other weapons to counter Taiwan's better-equipped air force, which has hundreds of U.S.-made fighter planes.
"Until recently, the Chinese didn't have guided advanced missiles in their inventory," said Robert Karniol, Asia Pacific editor of Jane's Defense Weekly. Now, he said, "the Chinese have acquired advanced systems."
The missile fired was a Russian-made AA-12 Adder, The Washington Times reported. The AA-12s are "beyond visual range" missiles, which means the pilot doesn't have to see the target. They have a range of up to 31 miles, can home in on flying aircraft and travel four times the speed of sound.
"Before, Taiwan had air superiority. The AA-12 will reduce this superiority," said Erich Shih, senior editor of Defense International, a Taiwanese military magazine. "It will be dangerous for Taiwan."
China and Taiwan split in 1949 after a civil war, and many Taiwanese are wary of unifying with the mainland as long as the Communist Party is in power.
The Beijing government claims Taiwan as its territory and has repeatedly refused to rule out using force to take control of the island.
"Taiwan has been trying to maintain its qualitative edge over China to keep its deterrence robust," said Denny Roy, senior research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.
Taiwan's Defense Ministry shrugged off the potential threat. Ministry spokesman Huang Shuey-sheng said the island is well armed with air-to-air missiles bought from the United States and France, and has made its own as well.
The test prompted concern about a shift in the military balance and generated debate over whether the United States should allow Taiwan access to similar missiles to defend itself.


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