Agence France Press

China's military buildup raises concerns in US

Sunday, April 25 2004

China military buildup WASHINGTON (AFP) - From the Pentagon to Capital Hill, China's military buildup is causing renewed concerns in the United States as the Asian giant arms itself to deter any separation moves by Taiwan or American involvement in a cross-strait conflict.

Compounding the concerns is a prospective European plan to lift a 15-year embargo on arms deliveries to China that US experts fear could exacerbate the military imbalance in Asia and speed up Chinese capability to manufacture even more powerful weapons systems.

China's military prowess increasingly appears to be shaped "to fit a Taiwan conflict scenario and to target US air and naval forces that could become involved," officials from a key bipartisan panel warned at a Congressional hearing last week.

Roger Robinson and Richard D'Amato, the chairman and vice chairman respectively of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said "a significant component" of China's defense modernization strategy was to develop capability to deter US military involvement in any flareup over Taiwan.

"The United States cannot wish away this capacity," warned the two officials from the commission, entrusted to report to Congress on the security implications of the rapidly growing US-China bilateral trade and economic ties.

"We cannot assume China will stay its hand because it has too much at stake economically to risk military conflict over Taiwan," they said in a joint statement.

The United States is Taiwan's biggest ally and arms supplier and is bound by law to provide weapons to help Taiwan defend itself if the island's security is threatened.

But Washington also acknowledges Beijing's position that Taiwan is part of China.

Taiwanese President Chen Shiu-Bian has recently angered the Chinese leadership with his persistence in wanting to give the island a new constitution, a move Beijing fears will lead to independence.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory despite a split 55 years ago at the end of a civil war, and has said it will invade if the island declared independence or descended into chaos.

Richard Lawless, US deputy undersecretary of defense, said China was expected to spend 50 to 70 billion dollars on defense expenditures this year -- more than double the 25 billion dollars that had been budgeted.

He said the determined focus of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) on preparing for conflict in the Taiwan Strait "raises serious doubts over Beijing's declared policy of seeking 'peaceful reunification' under the 'one country, two systems' model."

The PLA is the largest purchaser of foreign military weapons and technology on the back of China's rapidly growing economy, experts say.

"What I am worried about is we are going to end up facing a communist military backed by a capitalist industrialist base of enormous power," said Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.

Some experts forecast a scenario where the United States, tied down by the Iraq and Afghanistan crises, can only afford to send one aircraft carrier to Taiwan's rescue if China launches a surprise strike.

"The forces that China is putting in place right now will probably be more than sufficient to deal with a single American aircraft carrier battle group," said Richard Fisher, Asian Security Studies Fellow at the US-based Center for Security Policy.

China already has 500 to 550 short range ballistic missiles deployed opposite Taiwan and Fisher said "land attack cruise missiles will be deployed against the island, if not already, at least by next year."

"Taiwan is the near term objective, the longer term objective is hegemony in Asia and removing the American military network from Asia and to contain India," he said.

China has repeatedly said it has no military ambitions and wants peaceful co-existence with neighbours.

Fisher warned that if the European Union lifted its arms embargo on China soon, as speculated, the PLA could create new arms industry alliances that would further accelerate its access to and use of advanced military technologies and worsen the arms imbalance in Asia.

Arthur Waldron, professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, said the Chinese military "is the only one being developed anywhere in the world today that is specifically configured to fight the United States of America.

"My own view is that no objective reason exists why China, if she stays on her present course, should not eventually pose an even greater threat to the United States and its friends and allies than did the Soviet Union."