- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2000

Russia recently delivered the first shipment of supersonic cruise missiles to China for a new missile destroyer and more of the weapons will be sent later this year, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
The deployment of the 24 SSN-22 anti-ship cruise missiles on a Chinese Sovremenny-class destroyer is the most significant recent weapons development by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) naval forces, according to Navy officials.
The missile shipment was sent by a manufacturer from the Pacific port of Vladivostok to China within the past several weeks, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The missiles will be deployed on China's new Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyer, the first of two advanced warships bought by the PLA navy. The first guided-missile destroyer sailed to China earlier this year without the sea-skimming anti-ship missiles.
A second delivery of the high-speed missiles is expected in the next several months, the officials said.
Naval officials told The Washington Times the cruise-missile destroyer represents a major boost in Chinese surface warship firepower.
"The Sovremenny arrival is obviously the big issue that really did change the capability of the surface force," one official said.
The arrival of the first missiles, known as Sunburns, was reported to senior officials in intelligence reports Thursday. Details were disclosed by two Russian news agencies on Monday and Tuesday.
The missile delivery comes at an awkward time for the Clinton administration as it seeks to lobby Congress for passage of a trade bill to help China. The president has said improving trade relations with China will boost U.S. national security.
The administration last month also refused to authorize the sale to Taiwan of four Aegis radar-equipped missile destroyers and high-speed anti-radiation missiles that could be used by Taiwan's forces to counter the new warships.
Taiwan arms sales have been blocked by pro-China officials at the White House and State Department who fear U.S. transfers will upset Beijing.
Russian weapons designers originally built the SSN-22 for the Soviet Navy to use against U.S. warships during the Cold War. The missile has a range of between 80 and 85 miles. Its supersonic speed is what makes the missile a major threat.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and sponsor of a bill to punish Russia for the missile transfers, said the anti-ship missiles could be used against Americans in the future.
"The Chinese communists now have the ability to sink American aircraft carriers and kill thousands of Americans," Mr. Rohrabacher said in an interview. "If they ever decide to use these weapons, the American people have a right to ask who's to blame. But maybe we should ask that question before Americans start dying."
A bill sponsored by Mr. Rohrabacher passed the House International Relations Committee two weeks ago that would block any U.S. debt relief for the Russian government if future Sunburn missile sales are not stopped. The full House could vote on the measure in the next several weeks.
Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the Jamestown Foundation, said Russia's delivery of the missile weeks after the Clinton administration's rejection of guided missile ships to Taiwan is "a humiliation on top of a retreat."
"From Eisenhower to Bush, the operative American policy was to promote deterrence on the Taiwan Strait by selling Taiwan's military a technical edge over the PRC," Mr. Fisher said. "In the year 2000, the Clinton administration has abandoned this long-standing U.S. policy and has decreased deterrence for the foreseeable future."
Mr. Fisher said Taiwan's navy currently is defenseless against the supersonic cruise missile deployed on the new Chinese warship. "It has no defensive system that can take out this missile besides a pre-emptive attack on the destroyer itself, which increases instability on the Taiwan Strait," he said.
As for U.S. ships, any Navy ships operating outside the protection of aircraft carrier battle groups or Aegis ships "are dead meat for the Sunburn."
The Navy officials said the purchase of Russian warships and advanced missiles is part of a buildup of naval forces by Beijing in case it decides to use force against Taiwan, which the communist government views as a Chinese province.
"I don't think the Chinese military is in a big hurry to deal with Taiwan militarily," one official said.
However, if a conflict erupts, China's military leaders "recognize that if called on, they will go, they have to go, and the systems they are getting will have some capability to do that," the official said.
China also has four advanced Kilo submarines and has purchased Su-27 fighter-bombers from Moscow.
The weapons purchases are part of a growing strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing, an alliance based in part on opposition to the United States.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit Beijing in July as a sign of the developing alliance.
According to the Navy officials, China's short-term military goal is to develop or buy the forces needed for fighting Taiwan. The longer-term objective is to build better command, control and communications systems that will assist their war-fighting capabilities, they said.
"They are focused on the Taiwan scenario, and all their efforts have been recently on systems that are important for Taiwan," the official said.
Capt. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, recently sought to play down the Russian warship sale as not a new development.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide