- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

China is "almost certain" to become a superpower this century and could emerge as a threat to the United States, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says.

The No. 2 Pentagon official also said China's dispute with Taiwan is the central point of U.S.-Chinese relations. The United States is firmly committed to seeing the issue be resolved without force, he said.

"I would say overall we're concerned about the direction of Chinese policy, and the developments we see there," Mr. Wolfowitz said in an interview with The Washington Times.

"I think the right way to think about China is that it's a country that is almost certain to become a superpower in the next half-century, and maybe in the next quarter-century, and that's pretty fast by historical standards."

The question is whether the emerging China will live at peace with its neighbors "or will it go the way of traditional power diplomacy, which I think in this era with these weapons would be tragic mistake for everybody," he said.

"I don't think China has to be a threat, but I think if we're complacent, then we could actually contribute to the opposite effect."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld took a similar position in a recent interview. "My view of China is that its future is not written, and it is being written," he said.

The deputy defense secretary said he is concerned China might miscalculate by underestimating the U.S. resolve to defend Taiwan from being taken by force.

"We can more than adequately back up the commitments that are enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act and which the president affirmed," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "So the Chinese would be making a great mistake if they thought they could settle this thing on their terms by using force."

President Bush said several months ago that the United States would do "whatever it took" to defend democratic Taiwan from an attack by communist China under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. The law states that the United States would prevent the forcible reunification of the island with the mainland.

China has said it hopes to resolve the issue peacefully but has been building up its forces opposite the island, which it views as a breakaway region.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia who is considered the Bush administration's most experienced Asia hand, said both Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld have been "very clear" that the United States will defend Taiwan from Chinese attack.

"Indeed, I think the country as a whole is united on that," he said.

"In some ways, it's the central point of U.S.-China relations," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "Looking to the future, I think it's terribly important that everybody behave sensibly and maturely and keep that situation … a peaceful one, which it has been for quite a long time now."

Asked about a report in The Washington Times that China has increased the total number of missiles opposite Taiwan to over 300, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday: "I would point out what the [defense] secretary said when he was in China, what other U.S. officials have frequently said that China's deployments obviously have an effect in how we see the balance and stability of the situation there."

Mr. Wolfowitz said the continuing buildup of short-range missiles opposite Taiwan violates Beijing's pledge to resolve the standoff with the island peacefully. "I also don't believe that that effort at intimidation will ultimately succeed," he said.

Asked the prospects of China's communist leaders making political reforms in the future, Mr. Wolfowitz said that "over the long run the Chinese political system is going to have to change."

"Does that mean it will quickly or overnight? Absolutely not," he said. "And I don't particularly like being associated with theories of economic inevitability because so many of them have been wrong in the past."

Taiwan, by contrast, is a model of both economic and democratic reform, he said, something that makes the communist leaders in Beijing "uncomfortable."

Taiwan's system shows that for one of the first times in four millennia of Chinese history "you have a Chinese entity governed democratically," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

"And it's a stirring example, and to some people on the mainland, it's probably a disturbing example."

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