Taiwan Communiqué No. 65, April 1995

China's Military Threat Increasing

Buying Submarines from Russia

In the beginning of February 1995, the Wall Street Journal reported that China was purchasing four Kilo-class diesel-powered submarines from Russia, and that the first vessel was already on its way to China aboard a Chinese freighter. The ship arrived in a Chinese port on 27 February 1995.

The first Russian Kilo-submarine on its way to China

The move significantly raises the tension level in the East Asia region, because it enables China to project its power at greater distances from its shores than was possible until now. The new submarines in particular could be used by China in case of a blockade of Taiwan, and in a conflict with neigboring South East Asian Nations around the Spratley Islands (see below).

In the beginning of March 1995, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that China had agreed to buy six more submarines from Russia, and had held discussions with the Russians to buy another 12 Russian submarines later this decade, bringing the total purchase to 22 submarines, a major force under any circumstances. This report was confirmed in a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jeremy Boorda.

The Spratley Move in the South China Sea

Another significant event during the first three months of 1995 was the occupation by Chinese forces of Mischief Shoal, a horseshoe-shaped reef in the Spratley Islands which is closest to the Philippine's Palawan island, and is generally considered to be part of the Philippine's territory in the island group. A report on this was published in the Washington Post (China takes over Philippine-claimed area of disputed island group, February 11, 1995).

Chinese forces constructed several buildings atop the reef, and claimed they were ``shelters for fishermen.'' However, the Philippine government published pictures of several Chinese navy supply vessels and a submarine-support ship around the reef.

President Fidel Ramos stated that the Chinese actions were inconsistent with international law, and with the 1992 Manila Declaration on the Spratley's, which was endorsed by China and other South East Asian nations claiming parts of the island group.

The Chinese move was also strongly condemned in the US Congress, where Congressman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a Resolution declaring that peace and stability in the South China Sea is a matter of strategic national security interest to the United States, its friends and allies.

In his remarks introducing the Resolution to the House, Mr. Gilman mentioned that in 1992 the PRC's Congress had passed a statute asserting its claim to all of the South China Sea and declaring it to be PRC territorial waters. The full text of Mr. Gilman's resolution is as follows:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

  1. declares the right of free passage through the South China Sea to be in the national security interests of the United States, its friends, and allies;

  2. declares that any attempt by a nondemocratic power to assert, through the use of force of intimidation, its claims to territory in the South China Sea to be a matter of grave concern to the United States;

  3. calls upon the Government of the People's Republic of China to adhere faithfully to its commitment under the Manila Declaration of 1992; and

  4. calls upon the President of the United States to review the defense needs of democratic countries with claims to territory in the South China Sea.

The Israeli Aircraft Technology Sale

At the end of December 1994 the Los Angeles Times published a report by Mr. Jim Mann that Israel was assisting China in the development of a new fighter aircraft, based on Lavi-technology (see Taiwan Communiqué no. 64, pp. 16-17). At the time China denied that the cooperation was taking place at all, while Israel denied that American technology was involved.

In mid-March 1995, the US-publication Aviation Week & Space Technology gave further details on the Chinese aircraft development and the Israeli involvement (New Chinese Fighter Nears Prototyping, March 13, 1995). The article stated that the Chinese F-10 next-generation fighter resembles a cross between the US F-16 fighter and the Israeli Lavi. According to the report, a prototype will fly within the next one or two years, while the aircraft will be fully operational in the beginning of the next century.

The article also gave details on the assistance given by Israel to the Chinese, which consisted of an advanced radar package and avionics which would enable the Chinese fighter to engage in ``over-the-horizon'' air combat. For the propulsion system, the Chinese are looking to the Russians, which sold China some 50 Sukhoi Su-27 fighters three years ago. The engine for the Chinese F-10 would be based on the Su-27's durable Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F turbofan engine.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: we urge the Israeli authorities to stop the transfer of the radar and avionics technology to China immediately. This sale to China provides assistance to a repressive regime which has openly stated it will use violence against its much smaller neighbors.

Being a small country in between a number of hostile larger neighbors in the Middle East, Israel should be sensitive to the view that Taiwan and other small neighbors of China consider this assistance a threat to their safety and security and a destabilizing factor in the East Asia region. Just like Israel does not wish any country outside the Middle East to enhance the military capability of countries such as Syria, in the same way, Taiwan and other East Asian countries do not like to see Israel enhance the military capability of China.

The US Response: A New Security Strategy

The increasing capability of China to project its military power at greater distances from its shores was one of the major reasons for the United States to halt the withdrawal of US troops from East Asia, and to decide to maintain the overall troop level in the region at approximately 100,000.

The new policy was announced by the US Department of Defense on 27 February 1995 in a strategy paper titled ``United States Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region.''

On China, the report noted that Peking's military build-up had generated uncertainty about its plans, and urged greater transparency in China's defense programs, strategy, and doctrine.

A few days after publication of the report, the commander of the US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Richard C. Macke, expressed his concern about China's new aggressiveness in an interview with the International Herald Tribune (US Admiral warns of China's Big New Navy, 8 March 1995).

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