Thursday, February 17, 2005

China’s military buildup is “tilting the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait” in ways threatening to the United States, say U.S. intelligence officials, whose blunt comments contrast sharply to past intelligence assessments of the communist country’s capabilities.

“Improved Chinese capabilities threaten U.S. forces in the region,” CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Wednesday.

“China continues to develop more robust, survivable nuclear-armed missiles, as well as conventional capabilities for use in regional conflict,” he said.

Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in prepared testimony to the panel that China is adding numbers and more capable ballistic missiles to its arsenal to “improve their survivability and war-fighting capabilities, enhance their coercion and deterrence value, and overcome ballistic missile defense systems.”

“This effort is commensurate with its growing power and more assertive policies, especially with respect to Taiwan,” Adm. Jacoby said.

The officials’ testimony shows an apparent effort to define the dangers posed by China’s rising military power, which critics said have been minimized in the past, in part so as not to offend the country with markets coveted by U.S. businesses. The CIA, in particular, has been criticized in the past for underestimating Chinese military and security developments.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, yesterday asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing about Mr. Goss’ testimony that “sounded the alarm about China’s modernization of its navy.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said China is boosting defense spending by “double-digit” rates and most of the buildup is being carried out in secret.

“They’re purchasing a great deal of relatively modern equipment from Russia,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “And as you point out, they have been expanding their navy and expanding the distances from the People’s Republic of China that their navy ventures.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said “we hope and pray” China enters the civilized world “without the grinding of gears.”

“We don’t know that, how they’re going to shake out,” he said.

The communist government faces internal tension caused by “competing pressures between the desire to grow, which takes a free economy as opposed to a command economy, and their dictatorial system, which is not a free system,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Goss said China increased the number of missiles deployed opposite Taiwan last year and deployed several new submarines.

The Washington Times first reported in December that China rolled out the first of its 094-class ballistic missile submarines, and in July China revealed a new class of attack submarine that took U.S. intelligence agencies by surprise.

“If Beijing decides that Taiwan is taking steps toward permanent separation that exceed Beijing’s tolerance, we assess China is prepared to respond with varying levels of force,” Mr. Goss said.

Adm. Jacoby identified three new missile systems, the DF-31, DF-31A mobile intermediate range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and JL-2 submarine launched missile, noting that by 2015 China will have increased its nuclear warhead arsenal to several times the current level.

The DIA estimated in 2000 that China had a total of 157 nuclear warheads for long- and short-range missiles, and will have 464 warheads for its missiles by 2020.

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