Thursday, July 31, 2003

The White House yesterday said China’s buildup of missiles opposite Taiwan is destabilizing the region.

“We’ve made it very clear that China’s rapid buildup of weapons, particularly missiles, opposite of Taiwan is something that is destabilizing,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday.

Mr. McClellan was commenting on a Pentagon report made public Wednesday that said China is rapidly building up its short-range missile forces opposite Taiwan. China has now deployed 450 CSS-6 and CSS-7 missiles within striking distance of Taiwan, an increase of 100 since last year.

Additionally, the report said China is boosting the range and accuracy of its CSS-6 missiles to target U.S. troops in the southern Japanese island of Okinawa and to hit Taiwan from locations farther from the Chinese coast.

Currently, all of the 450 short-range missiles are deployed along the southeastern Chinese coast opposite Taiwan.

Asked whether President Bush would assure Taiwan that the United States will back them in a conflict with China, Mr. McClellan said: “Absolutely. We have always remained committed to the Taiwan Relations Act, and … we’ve expressed concerns about the Chinese taking steps to increase their weaponry.”

Chinese Embassy spokesman Sun Weide said China’s military buildup is defensive. He would not comment directly on the missile buildup opposite Taiwan, but said Beijing seeks “peaceful reunification” under its plan for having “one country and two systems.”

China has not ruled out the use of force to retake Taiwan, Mr. Sun said, but he said the threat to use force is directed against “foreign intervention forces” and those on Taiwan seeking independence.

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act was passed by Congress after the United States recognized Beijing and withdrew diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. The act states that the United States will provide defensive arms to Taiwan and will prevent the use of force to reunite the island with the mainland.

Larry Wortzel, a specialist on the Chinese military with the Heritage Foundation, said the report exposed a recent offer by China to move its short-range missiles from the coast as “specious.”

Jiang Zemin, China’s then-president, offered during a meeting with Mr. Bush last year to reduce China’s short-range missile buildup in exchange for U.S. cuts in support for Taiwan. Mr. Bush rejected the offer.

Mr. Jiang stepped down as president earlier this year but still controls the Chinese military.

“By deploying these longer-range missiles and targeting both U.S. forces in Okinawa and Guam, and Taiwan, it should be very clear that part of the target here is America,” Mr. Wortzel said.

“Also, any offer by Jiang Zemin to move shorter-range missiles away from the coast is a specious offer because they will still maintain the capability against Taiwan and the United States,” he said.

Mr. McClellan said China and Taiwan should seek a dialogue to resolve their differences.

The spokesman pointed out that the United States cooperates with China on other issues like North Korea.

“And we will fulfill our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act,” he said. “But again, the best way for these two sides to resolve their differences is through a peaceful dialogue. And we encourage the parties to pursue that dialogue.”

The Pentagon report said that China’s military buildup is focused on “preparing for a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.”

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