US DOD concerned about Chinese military threat

Washington, 11 December 1997

On 11 December 1997, the top-ranking official at the Pentagon responsible for Asia warned that the United States must keep closer tabs on potentially threatening Chinese military modernization, particularly in view of recent reports that the PLA intends to take further steps to intimidate Taiwan.

"I think there actually are areas that we don't know about, that we think there's more to know about,'' Kurt Campbell, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs, said at a National Press Club forum on possible future Chinese threats.

Such unknown areas chiefly involved Beijing's military intentions but also included its interest in ``asymmetrical'' warfare, or taking advantage of perceived U.S. vulnerabilities, Campbell said. "Those are capabilities that take advantage of certain intense areas of effort in terms of missiles or satellites or information,'' he said. "Those are areas that I think we're going to have to watch very carefully as we move forward. I think it's something that we are putting a higher level of effort into, both in terms of our ability to gather information and to analyze it,'' he added.

Campbell said the U.S. approach to China should be "a mixture of strength and respect'' while pushing for greater transparency in military matters. "`If your strategy toward China has too much strength, then you find yourself veering toward confrontation and conflict which is in no one's interests. But ... if you have too much respect you find yourself kowtowing to the Middle Kingdom,'' he said.

Campbell spoke as the United States and China began their first-ever formal defense "consultative talks,'' a bid to foster better understanding and communication between the Chinese and U.S. military establishments. The two-day session at the Pentagon brought together Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, and Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe.

The PLA general became infamous in the beginning of 1996, when during the escalating crisis preceding the Taiwan Presidential elections, he made a threat of nuclear strikes on Los Angeles.

At the height of the confrontation, General Xiong made headlines in America when he told a US academic: "Americans care more about Los Angeles than Taiwan." The remarks were widely interpreted as a veiled threat of nuclear strikes on America's West Coast, and helped fuel the crisis in which Washington sent two aircraft carriers to the western Pacific to counter Chinese missile tests off Taiwan.

"He is now indelibly engraved in the American consciousness as the man who wants to nuke Hollywood," joked former CIA director James Woolsey. The visit is the first of what US officials hope will be an annual review of security issues and military-to-military relations.

"These talks are designed to increase understanding, to increase transparency," Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. "They're based on the very simple premise that the world's most powerful nation and the world's most populous nation have to be able to deal with each other in an adult, mature way both in areas where they agree and areas where they disagree."

Richard Fisher, a Chinese military expert at the Heritage Foundation, a private research group in Washington, told the National Press Club forum that China was preparing to use missile, air and naval forces "`if it deems necessary'' to retake Taiwan and "to deter and if necessary engage'' U.S. forces coming to Taiwan's defense. Since nationalist forces went into exile on Taiwan following their defeat in a 1949 civil war, communist authorities in Beijing have regarded the island as a renegade province subject to reabsorption under mainland sovereignty.

Voicing doubt Beijing would attempt an outright invasion of Taiwan, Fisher said a more likely scenario involved large-scale missile strikes to ``butter up'' the island followed by a blockade by air and naval forces. "`To be sure, the PLA (People's Liberation Army) will have to develop enormously to be able to accomplish these envisioned missions around Taiwan,'' Fisher said.

Without referring specifically to this assessment, Campbell said he wished to associate himself with ``almost everything that Richard Fisher has said because I think he's perhaps our best analyst on Chinese military capabilities.''

For further information about the Chinese military threat, read the latest issue of Taiwan Communiqué.

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