- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2000

New Chinese air-defense missiles near Taiwan could be used against U.S. forces, as well as Taiwan's warplanes, defense officials said yesterday.
The Chinese "have learned the lessons of Kosovo air defenses are incredibly important," said one official in response to a report on the missile activity in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times.
U.S. intelligence agencies recently discovered that two new bases are being built opposite Taiwan for Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missiles, officials told The Times. An existing base at Longtian already deploys S-300 batteries.
Meanwhile, White House National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger arrived in Beijing yesterday for talks with Chinese leaders. An administration official said Mr. Berger would not discuss U.S. plans to sell arms to Taiwan with the Chinese.
Mr. Berger's meetings come shortly after the election of a new Taiwanese president, Chen Shui-bian, whose Democratic Progressive Party has advocated independence in the past.
The defense officials said U.S. intelligence agencies believe the decision to build the new bases was prompted by NATO air strikes last year on Serbian forces in Kosovo province and other parts of Serbia.
The Chinese military, as it did during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, closely monitored the 78-day Balkan war and saw the need to increase its air-defense posture opposite Taiwan, specifically against U.S. air power, they said.
The S-300 batteries are highly capable air-defense missile systems with radar and tracking equipment. They can shoot down aircraft and some short-range ballistic and cruise missiles from as far as 45 miles.
The Taiwan Relations Act stipulates that "it is the policy of the United States to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means … of grave concern to the U.S."
One likely scenario for U.S. forces in such a conflict would be to use aircraft carrier-based warplanes and cruise-missile attacks from ships and submarines. China's current push to buy and develop its own version of advanced air-defense missiles would increase its capability to attack U.S. forces, the officials said.
"It suggests they are doing this not just to counter Taiwanese forces," said one defense official.
China began issuing new threats against Taiwan in the weeks before the March 18 presidential elections there.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon declined to comment directly on The Times report yesterday. But he seemed to support the contention of other defense officials about China's priority for building advanced air defenses.
Mr. Bacon said new site construction for air defense is not limited to areas near Taiwan. It is happening in other parts of the country and includes some deployments of Russian S-300s. "They've been building air defenses throughout the country," he said in an interview.
Asked if the Pentagon is worried that the defense missiles will undermine the military balance across the Strait, Mr. Bacon said he would not "interpret" what the construction means.
At the State Department yesterday, spokesman James Foley played down the deployment of the S-300s as part of a gradual Chinese military buildup.
Mr. Foley said the Chinese began a "slow but steady" military-modernization process under then-President Deng Xiaoping.
"We have not seen a fundamental shift in the balance of power in that region," he said.
As for China-Taiwan tensions, "we monitor the situation in the Taiwan Strait very closely, and we continue to uphold our one-China policy, insisting that there be a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences and, of course, we continue to urge both sides to engage in dialogue," Mr. Foley said.
Asked if the new air-defense missile activity could lead to sales by the Clinton administration of advanced arms to Taiwan, Mr. Foley said the administration has provided Taiwan what it needs.
"Under the Taiwan Relations Act, we have a commitment to provide Taiwan with its legitimate defense requirements," Mr. Foley said. "And I think the record, especially of this administration, has been extraordinarily strong in that regard."
Administration critics say the White House has imposed a de facto arms-sales moratorium on Taiwan under policies that favor Beijing.
China opposes all sales of U.S. weapons to the island, which it views as a breakaway province.
This year, Taiwan has requested four Aegis battle-management-equipped warships and made appeals to buy U.S. HARM anti-radar missiles and advanced air-to-air missiles, as well as long-range-warning radar. A decision on the arms request is expected next month.
"The new Taiwan leadership has not made its own arms-sales request, and does not know the requests of past governments," said Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon official who was an election observer for the incoming Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Mr. Pillsbury said the new government could take a harder line toward the mainland because its party platform has called for possible pre-emptive missile strikes against China.
A DPP defense white paper issued in November states that Taiwan should develop the forces to "deter or pre-empt potential aggression by blockading the ports of the enemy and precision strikes against inland enemy targets," Mr. Pillsbury said.
Under new DPP leaders, Taiwan could develop land attack missiles both air-launched and surface-to-surface to carry out such strikes because its weapons technology base is fairly advanced, Mr. Pillsbury said.
The DPP opposes development of nuclear weapons.
A prominent DPP legislator, Parris Chang, who may become the new foreign minister, has said that as long as the United States provides conventional arms needed for Taiwan's defense, there is no need for nuclear weapons, Mr. Pillsbury said.

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