Wednesday, August 31, 2005

China is preparing for nuclear war with the United States over Taiwan, and a conflict is likely in the near future because of divisions among Beijing’s leaders, a Chinese democracy activist says.

Wei Jingsheng, a leading international advocate for political reform in China, said in an interview with The Washington Times that President Bush and other U.S. leaders do not fully understand the chance of a conflict breaking out and must do more to avert it.

“Sino-U.S. relations are reaching a crucial point and most of the American public does not know about,” said Mr. Wei, who spent almost 18 years in Chinese prisons before his release in 1997. “The United States needs to pay more attention to the possibility of nuclear war with China.”

Mr. Wei said he has heard from government officials in China, including some within the military, who are worried by the growing chance of a nuclear war.

Recent Chinese military exercises and a Chinese general’s threat to use nuclear missiles against U.S. cities are two signs of the danger, said Mr. Wei, who has an office in Washington.

“In the past, China may have felt that it was not time for them to confront the U.S.,” Mr. Wei said. “Now, things are different. Now the Chinese feel that they need to use these kind of nuclear threats. China is very serious about that. The nuclear threat from China is a substantial threat, not theoretical.”

The comments come as Chinese President Hu Jintao is set to visit Washington next week. They also echo Pentagon concerns that China is preparing to attack Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, in the next few years.

Mr. Wei also said that social unrest is growing rapidly in China and that hundreds of demonstrations in recent months have weakened Communist Party rule.

In Chinese history, he said, unrest has been a sign that a ruler is about to fall, prompting concern among Beijing’s communist leaders.

China’s leadership is divided by factions headed by Mr. Hu and former President Jiang Zemin, Mr. Wei said. Additionally, there are elements within the military who think that a war to retake Taiwan should begin as soon as possible, Mr. Wei said.

“There are many conflicts within the military,” he noted.

Politically, differences between Mr. Hu and Vice President Zeng Qinghong, who in the past was considered a Jiang loyalist, appear to have been resolved temporarily, Mr. Wei said.

The accommodation appears related to a decision to use force in the future against Taiwan, Mr. Wei said, adding that Mr. Hu favors a conflict as a way to consolidate power over the military. Growing nationalist sentiment in China also has led to public calls for war over Taiwan.

“Many wars in the past have started from such conditions,” he said.

To avert war, Mr. Wei urged the Bush administration to put more pressure on China’s government in the area of human rights and trade, try to influence the Chinese military by finding and supporting anti-war military leaders and drive a wedge between China and the communist government in North Korea.

“The goal should be to reduce the voice of the people who want to go to war,” he said.

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