- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2001

PublishDat=0:00BodyText1 =During last years debate on permanent normal trade relations, we often heard that China is becoming a

reliable nation committed to playing by international rules.

The events of the past few days should give pause to those who endorse this view of China. As the episode of the downed U.S. reconnaissance plane demonstrates, China will try to push the limits of acceptable conduct at every opportunity. We need to make clear to China that this attitude would be especially dangerous in its relations with Taiwan.

President Bush can send this signal by agreeing to sell destroyers equipped with the Aegis battlefield management system to Taiwan. The sale of these advanced defensive weapons would signal unambiguously to China that the United States will stand by democratic Taiwan and will not acquiesce in any attempt at a military resolution to the issues between China and Taiwan. Instead of being a provocation to China, as critics charge, the decision to sell the Aegis system can serve to encourage China to put aside the military option and instead pursue a gradual, diplomatic solution to the issue.

Making the Aegis system and other military equipment available to Taiwan would be in keeping with the requirement in the Taiwan Relations Act that "The United States make available to Taiwan such defense articles … as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability." The thrust of U.S. policy for the last 20 years has been to ensure that a balance is maintained between Taiwan and the PRC so that it is clear to the PRC that a military solution to the question of reunification is not realistic. Obviously, any determination of whether Taiwan´s defense capabilities are sufficient must be made by looking at the military capabilities of the People´s Republic of China.

I have become concerned that the balance we have worked to sustain appears to be tipping in favor of the PRC. I am especially concerned about China´s growing arsenal of short-range conventional ballistic missiles and Taiwan´s corresponding vulnerability to a missile attack.

The Congress has received a steady stream of Pentagon reports detailing growing Chinese military muscle aimed at Taiwan, most notably some 300 short-range missiles located directly across the Taiwan Strait and pointed at both the population centers and military installations of the island. This number is expected to grow to between 650 to 800 within the next five years.

China has also added new missile-equipped Russian destroyers and submarines to its fleet. The PRC is also now capable of producing its own Kilo-class submarines which are equipped with 75-mile-range anti-ship cruise missiles.

China´s growing missile capability has not been met by a proportionate increase in Taiwan´s capacity to defend against a missile attack. Taiwan is becoming increasingly vulnerable to missile strikes that could quickly paralyze Taipei and incapacitate Taiwan´s air force on the ground. Such strikes could leave Taiwan defenseless in the face of follow-up attacks by China´s air forces.

Recognition of the plausibility of this scenario has prompted Taiwan to request four Aegis destroyers for at least the last three years. These destroyers would provide Taiwan with better ability to track China´s offensive weapons and coordinate Taiwan´s defenses, including its Patriot anti-missile batteries, against them. Providing equipment of this type would go a long way toward redressing the imbalance which is emerging between Taiwan and China.

A December 2000 Pentagon report, "Implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act," notes that a secure Taiwan fits tightly into U.S. national interests for the region: "The overarching U.S. goal is to avoid any use or threat of force to resolve differences in the Taiwan Strait. Thus, our goals include that the PRC be persuaded against or deterred from attacking or threatening attack, that if a threat is made it is unavailing, and that if an attack is made it is unsuccessful."

Our relationship with China is multidimensional and represents one of our most significant foreign-policy challenges. We have an important national interest in integrating China into the world economy and in promoting the growth of democracy and human rights in a nation that will play a vital role in the coming century. Our overall relationship cannot possibly develop positively, though, if China continues to seek a military solution to the critical problem of its relations with Taiwan. Selling Aegis to our democratic friend Taiwan will help take the military option out of China´s plans.

Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, is a member of the United States Senate´s Foreign Relations Committee.

Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, is a member of the United States Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.

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