- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

All would have been well had Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's March 11 "closed-door speech" to the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council remained just that. But after the Freedom of Information Act outed the text, People's Republic of China (PRC) officials protested angrily at a subsequent news conference in Beijing.

Also attending that Business Council meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla., were Taiwanese and U.S. military and defense officials including Taiwan's defense minister, Tang Yiau-ming. As Bill Gertz indicated in The Washington Times on April 11, Mr. Wolfowitz's speech focused on "helping Taiwan better integrate its military forces" even as it emphasized the massing of short-range PRC missiles opposite the island. Scrapping earlier policies allowing arms sales to Taiwan only once a year, Mr. Wolfowitz underlined the administration's obligation "to make available to Taiwan defense articles and services that enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."

Despite Mr. Wolfowitz's protestations that "China is not an enemy," Beijing later insisted his comments "interfered with China's internal affairs." President Bush's recent reference to Taiwan as a "country" did not help the situation, nor did disclosure that the Pentagon is prepared to use nuclear weapons should there be serious conflict over Taiwan. And don't forget PRC annoyance with U.S. anti-free-trade steel tariffs, last year's EP-3E spy plane incident and the mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

Beijing is angry. It has already barred a scheduled courtesy visit by the Aegis guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) to Hong Kong, and Chinese heir-apparent, Vice President Hu Jintao, may use this week's U.S. visit to voice serious Chinese displeasure over recent Washington-China-Taiwan policy.

Thus, with this persistent cycle of tensions between the United States and China entering another rising phase, we need to examine significant short-of-conflict options open to the PRC should there be more serious escalation. What would be our response?

At issue ongoing Taiwan-PRC stresses regarding Taiwan's autonomy and PRC sovereignty over what it considers a breakaway province.

Sovereignty issues, territorial and political, loom large with the PRC leadership. Border disputes brought the PRC into armed conflict with India in 1962, the Soviet Union in 1969 and Vietnam in 1979. Politically, we may be looking at potential end stages of a 75-year civil war in which (with an uneasy hiatus following the invasion by Japan) the communists have been battling since 1927 to control the hearts and minds of the Chinese people against the Kuomintang and their Nationalist successors on the island redoubt of Taiwan, the sanctuary to which Chiang Kai-shek and his 2 million followers fled from the mainland in 1949.

When it appeared in 1996 that potential separatist Lee Teng-hui might be elected Taiwan's president, the PRC conducted threatening naval and missile-firing exercises near the island. The United States dispatched two carrier battle groups to the Taiwan Strait, both sides heaping gunpowder around the unlit fuse.

Following revelation of this latest in the Bush administration's secret proceedings, tensions with China are again increasing. Possibilities of escalation demand proactive consideration of international law, available PRC counter-moves and U.S. response options.

First, according to statutes officially recognized by the United Nations, how far offshore does PRC sovereign territory airspace and sea surface extend? Three miles? 12? 200? Has Taiwan been officially granted separate territorial rights?

Second, has World Court adjudication of the Taiwan autonomy impasse been suggested to both sides?

Third, given December 1978's official U.S. recognition of the PRC as China's legitimate government, how exactly should the United States justify to the world community its military support of Taiwan?

In any major Taiwan-related confrontation, China possesses potent options short of actual conflict. For example:

Following favorable self-definition of its territorial waters, PRC naval war games could include "practice" mine-laying exercises in the approaches to Taiwan's main harbors, halting shipping and triggering huge international financial losses. Available to the PRC: their EM52 rocket-boosted rising mine with a 308-lb. warhead, ship-counting and electronic sensing capability, deployable in depths up to 350 feet; the C-3 mine, with its magnetic/acoustic pistol, deployable in 20-160 foot depths; the C-5 pressure mine; and the T-2-1, which can be command-triggered. Several of these have anti-sweep features. (And mine countermeasures are not the U.S. Navy's strongest suit.)

There might also be orchestrated disruptions of U.S.- or Taiwan-initiated Hong Kong banking transactions through detailed, time consuming PRC review of all off-shore transfers.

Also: Disruption of targeted foreign economies through staged sick-outs at subcontractor manufacturing sites producing jetliner parts for Boeing, cars for DaimlerChrysler and electronic components widely exported to assembly plants in the United States and Europe; through hacker-generated virus attacks on Taiwanese and U.S. corporate and government computer systems; through unofficial escalation of piracy in foreign-copyrighted computer software, CDs and videos.

Thus, without providing a clear casus belli or threatening a logistically unsupportable cross-strait invasion, the PRC could strangle Taiwan's economy and severely penalize countries trading with both Taiwan and the PRC. How would the international community respond? Or the United States?

There are no easy answers. But instead of relying on a knee-jerk carrier battle group reaction, the Bush administration needs to take the proactive step of looking beyond today's U.S.-PRC tensions to expand its scope of contingencies considered and to evaluate, with other world leaders, a broader range of possible responses to these and other equally volatile options open to the PRC.


Lee Gaillard, an independent analyst, writes about defense issues and military technology.

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