Financial Times

China 'will crush Taiwan independence moves'

By Richard McGregor in Shanghai and Caroline Gluck in Taipei
Published: December 28 2004

China said yesterday its armed forces had a "sacred responsibility" to crush moves towards independence by Taiwan, whatever the cost, and described relations with the island as "grim".

The warning followed Beijing's announcement this month that it would submit an "anti-secession" bill to the National People's Congress next March.

Joseph Wu, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, described the bill as "a serious provocation and an absolutely unnecessary escalation of tension. China has gone too far. This is an urgent call to the international community to stop China before it's too late," he said.

But the paper, a biannual guide to Beijing's latest thinking on defence philosophy and force structure, also highlighted weaknesses in China's 2.3m-strong People's Liberation Army which would make any military action against Taiwan risky.

China has also been enraged at Japan's recent issuance of a visa to Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's former president and a strong supporter of more autonomy for the island. Mr Lee arrived in Japan yesterday.

Details of the anti-secession bill have yet to be announced. However, it may enshrine in law some scenarios under which China could consider military strikes against Taiwan.

Yesterday's defence white paper, the fifth to be published since 1995, said: "Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of 'Taiwan independence', the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost."

The PLA navy was focusing on training amphibious combat forces, while the airforce was continuing to switch its emphasis from territorial defence of China to both "offensive and defensive operations", the paper said.

Both amphibious landings and the projection of air power across the ocean would be prerequisites for an operation against Taiwan.

The paper also emphasised the need for China to continue pruning its armed forces into a smaller, more skilled and technologically advanced force.

"The PLA . . . aims at building qualitative efficiency instead of a mere quantitative scale, and transforming the military from a manpower-intensive one to a technology-intensive one," the paper said.

Defence analysts in Taipei said they were not surprised by the paper's emphasis on China's determination to develop high-technology weapons systems and a joint operation capability.

"They want to give a crystal clear message to the outside world: don't underestimate our determination to use force if Taiwan continues its independence process," said Andrew Yang, defence analyst at the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei.

China's defence policy paper may help Taiwan's government persuade the legislature to approve a special budget of $18.2bn (9.4bn) to purchase weaponry from Washington over a 15-year period.

Beijing has been lobbying the European Union to lift its arms embargo on China, in place since the killings near Tiananmen Square, a move Washington has interpreted as an attempt to counterbalance the potential weapons sale to Taiwan. The Pentagon has reacted angrily to EU moves to lift the ban.

In addition to the navy and airforce, the white paper also focused on the PLA's "second artillery force", which is responsible for China's nuclear deterrent and its growing conventional missile armoury.

The combination of all three, says the paper, is aimed at "winning both command of the sea and command of the air, and conducting strategic counter-strikes".