- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China is threatening Asia’s security by aiming missiles at Taiwan, boosting annual military spending by double digits and preparing for a possible conflict with U.S. and Japanese forces, Taiwan’s leader said yesterday.

Leader Chen Shui-bian criticized China as his island, formally called the Republic of China, held a massive air show featuring advanced F-16 and Mirage fighter planes. The planes and Mr. Chen’s words were reminders that the Taiwan Strait is one of the world’s most dangerous potential flash points.

Taiwan and China have been locked in a sovereignty dispute for five decades. Beijing says the island is Chinese territory and must accept communist rule or face war. But the Taiwanese, who have elected their leaders for more than a decade, have refused to accept rule by unelected leaders in Beijing.

Chinese leaders have shown signs that they’re getting impatient with Taiwan and might be leaning toward using force to unify the two sides, which split when the communists won a civil war in 1949. A conflict could quickly involve the United States, which has long served as Taiwan’s bodyguard.

Speaking at a conference on democracy yesterday, the Taiwanese leader warned that a bellicose China was a threat to the region, not just Taiwan.

“In recent years, China has been aggressively increasing its military might,” Mr. Chen said. “It has been increasing its annual military spending by double digits. It has been deploying missiles directly aimed at Taiwan. And it’s planning to have the ability to stop U.S., Japanese and other international forces from getting involved in the Taiwan Strait.”

Mr. Chen added: “China’s plans to use its military to intimidate Taiwan is not only a challenge to Taiwan’s democratic system, it’s a challenge to the region’s safety and security.”

Taiwan’s advanced jets and ships have long given the island an edge over China’s huge but clunky military. For years, China couldn’t match the French-made Mirage and U.S.-built F-16s that streaked across the skies yesterday at the air show in northern Taoyuan County.

But China has been stocking up on advanced planes, destroyers and submarines from Russia. And the balance of military power is expected to soon tip in Beijing’s favor.

Mr. Chen also said he was worried about China’s recent talk about adopting a law mandating that Taiwan accept unification. It’s not clear how the law would be enforced, but Mr. Chen said he suspected Beijing wanted to use the law as a legal foundation to attack Taiwan.

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