Associated Press

Defense Secretary-designate Gates: U.S. must help if China attacks Taiwan

Thursday November 29, 2006

Washington DC - The Associated Press

President Bush’s choice to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary says China wants to peacefully take over rival Taiwan but is boosting its military force in case of a war with the island.

Robert Gates, a former CIA director, said in written testimony submitted to Congress that the U.S. must monitor China’s huge military growth, stand ready “to resist China’s use of force or coercion against Taiwan and assist Taipei in maintaining its self-defense.”

U.S. military officials believe China’s military buildup is intended to back up threats to attack Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own territory. The two sides split in 1949 amid civil war.

China vows to keep the island from independence by force if necessary. The U.S. has pledged to provide Taiwan the means to defend itself.

Gates said China, as it works toward its goal of becoming Asia’s pre-eminent power, is “expanding its political and economic influence in the region and generating options for military coercion.”

But China’s “near-term focus is on generating sufficient combat power to rapidly erode Taiwan’s will to resist and to deter or deny effective intervention in a cross-Strait conflict,” Gates said.

The U.S. and China have recently cooperated on attempts to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons, and Gates praised Beijing for that, as well as for “improved behavior on proliferation” and “increased transparency.”

But critics demand that China explain a military budget with an average annual growth rate that Beijing puts at nearly 16 percent from 1994 to 2004.

Officials say Gates is likely to assume the Pentagon post before year’s end if he is confirmed by the Senate as expected.