TAIPEI, Taiwan, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Taiwan has admitted that it is mass producing long-range cruise missiles capable of reaching mainland China.
The announcement, made by Chao Shih-chang, Taiwan's deputy defense minister, confirms years of speculation by military analysts that the island was developing the Hsiung Feng 2E land attack cruise missile and the Hsiung Feng 3 anti-ship cruise missile.
The announcement also signals lingering military tension between Taiwan and China despite a thawing in political and economic ties in recent years.
Military analysts suggest the announcement marked a major break in Taiwan's long-standing strategy of preparing to thwart possible Chinese military attacks across the Taiwan Straits, developing, instead, a retaliatory capability as far-reaching as mainland China.
China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949. Beijing, however, considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must be brought back into the fold. It has used a number of means, diplomatic and military, to deter other nations from officially recognizing Taiwan as an independent state.
Even so, relations between both sides have increasingly thawed, allowing Taiwan to pursue trade deals with other countries that have long been reluctant to antagonize Beijing.
Speaking to legislators, Chao said that "mass production" was "going smoothly." He refused to elaborate.
A senior official quoted by the Defense News Web site said that "a few [missiles] have been fielded and could be fielded in a case of war."
China continues to retain more than 1,000 ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan and while Beijing traditionally accuses Washington of aiding Taipei, it hasn't issued a response to Taiwan's cruise missile production.
Washington has tried to bolster Taiwan's defenses, including selling the Taiwanese $6 billion worth of missile defense systems in a deal announced last January, while allaying China's concerns of relations being undermined. Beijing though has urged the U.S. administration to reconsider the move, threatening the suspension of military contacts with the United States as well as slapping sanctions on companies manufacturing the weapons bound for Taiwan.
Washington is required under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself. The United States remains the island's top arms supplier.
A leading lawmaker and member of Taiwan's defense council said the missiles weren't intended to threaten China. Still, Lin Yu-fang said: "We have to be pragmatists. It will take time to persuade China to remove those missiles."
"I think at long last Beijing will come to realize that to remove those missiles will be in their best interest, it will help promote their image as a major power in East Asia," Lin was quoted saying by The Wall Street Journal.
The legislators said the timing of the announcement was irrelevant to brewing military tension North and South Korea and their respective allies, China and the United States.