- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

BEIJING In its biggest military show in 35 years, China has made clear that it views the United States as potential enemy No. 1.

Besides blowing up targets, test-firing missiles and driving tanks, the military displays at four land and sea sites in northern China in the middle of this month proved new capabilities to attack stealth warplanes and cruise missiles, state media reported.

Meanwhile, a Chinese defense policy paper issued Oct. 16 once again raised threats of force against Taiwan and pointed to the United States as chief troublemaker.

Should Beijing's Communist leaders order the People's Liberation Army to recover the island that split from China 51 years ago, Chinese generals are planning against expected U.S. military intervention.

"Do they prepare against the United States? My answer is very clear: Yes," said Yan Xuetong, an expert in international security at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University.

Mr. Yan believes war with Taiwan is inevitable. Others are less pessimistic. In a report Thursday, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said China is preoccupied this year with domestic issues, among them preparing to enter the World Trade Organization. It forecast only "a remote possibility" of confrontation over Taiwan.

Moreover, China-U.S. relations have improved this year, and their militaries have expanded contact through reciprocal ship visits and trips by Chinese officers to the United States.

Beijing itself says it wants to peacefully recover Taiwan through negotiations a goal repeated in the defense policy paper.

But talks are stalemated, and the paper said the situation "is complicated and grim." It reiterated that China would "adopt all drastic measures possible, including the use of force," if Taiwan formally splits from China or continues indefinitely to refuse to negotiate unification.

China's generals have to assume an attack on democratic, capitalist Taiwan might provoke a U.S. military response. That is why they are preparing for the worst.

Chinese fears were sharpened by NATO's air war on Yugoslavia last year to protect ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Beijing saw unsettling parallels with its own restive minority regions, like Tibet, and felt NATO's intervention on human rights grounds set a dangerous precedent for meddling over Taiwan.

That scenario seems dubious. Unlike Yugoslavia, such a conflict at worst could go nuclear, and even if it didn't, it could wipe out U.S.-China trade worth nearly $95 billion last year, according to U.S. figures, and trigger global economic catastrophe.

Still, Chinese suspicions have been heightened by Washington's efforts to develop anti-missile shields, by congressional attempts to expand military ties with Taiwan and by continued U.S. arms sales to the island. Mr. Yan said the Pentagon was moving more submarines to the Pacific and stockpiling cruise missiles on the Pacific island of Guam.

What should China's leaders conclude from that? "That the U.S. military has prepared for war against China," Mr. Yan insisted.

The Chinese defense paper was peppered with criticisms of the United States, among them that U.S. support has emboldened Taiwan's anti-China camp.

With prospects for a peaceful unification of Taiwan and China "seriously imperiled" and because of "hegemonism and power politics" Beijing's code words for U.S. meddling "China will have to enhance its capability to defend its sovereignty and security by military means," said the paper.

But it also sought to allay foreign concerns by saying the military buildup was "purely for self-defense," and that this year's defense budget of $14.6 billion is just 5 percent of Washington's. Overseas analysts, however, believe China spends up to five times more than it says it does.

The Gulf war shocked Beijing by exposing its technological inferiority. It has since focused attention on the importance of air power in modern wars. Military experts say Chinese generals have studied how Yugoslav forces hid equipment from NATO attacks, have installed Russian-made surface-to-air missiles on the coast opposite Taiwan, and have improved air defenses around big cities.

But analysts say the Chinese military would be hard-pressed to take Taiwan, and lags far behind the United States.

"The gap is enormous. They're just not in the same league," said Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific editor for Jane's Defense Weekly.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide