While on the surface all seems quiet on the Taiwan Straits front, there are a number of disconcerting developments, all pointing to a continued effort by China to build up its military capabilities.
While the Chinese exercises and missile firings of March 1996 caused a major crisis in East Asia, a more recent and even larger 10-day exercise by the Chinese navy went virtually unnoticed in the Western press. According to an Associated Press report of 21 July 1997, the maneuvers in an area north of Taiwan were the largest held by the Chinese navy since 1964, and involved "testing missiles and other advanced weaponry."
A number of other reports also point to a systematic buildup by China in order to threaten and intimidate Taiwan. Below we present an overview:
From the 5th through the 12th of July 1997, a mission of military experts consisting of a number of former US generals and admirals visited Taiwan at the invitation of the Taiwan Institute of Political, Economic and Strategic Studies (TIPESS).
The delegation was led by US Army general John W. Foss, and consisted of former generals and admirals from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The mission made an assessment of Taiwan's national security and defense requirements, and concluded that China's aggressive modernization constituted a significant threat to Taiwan, and a destabilizing factor in East Asia as a whole.
The delegation described the traditional analysis that China is simply trying to modernize its armed forces in a "normal" way as badly out of date. The mission concluded that China is aggressively seeking a power projection role in its attempt to have the balance of power in East Asia shift in its favor.
The delegation stated that contemporary developments show that China is extending the range and lethality of its naval forces, upgrading its nuclear weapons and missile programs (both ballistic and cruise missiles), acquiring modern attack submarines from Russia, importing advanced technology from the East and West, and conducting military exercises intended to intimidate neighboring countries.
The delegation stated that the end of the Cold War and the downsizing of both Russian and American forces is creating a power vacuum, which China is trying to fill with its power projection capabilities. This has a negative impact on all of China's neighbors in East and Southeast Asia, but in particular on Taiwan, which is in any case the main target of the PRC's political and military aggressive moves.
The delegation concluded that Taiwan would need to maintain a deterrent military capability that "...insures a high threshold of pain in the event of a PRC military operation before the need arises for military support from the United States or other potential allies." In particular, the delegation mentioned that Taiwan needed additional submarines, in view of the Chinese buildup with Russian K-class submarines. The delegation stated that if no other nations were willing to sell Taiwan additional submarines, it should establish an indigenous submarine industry.
The delegation also concluded that "...considerably more help from the United States in the form of arms cooperation" would be needed to take account of the military developments in the PRC.
In the beginning of July 1997, the Washington Times reported that China is deploying a new type of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the solid-fuel CSS-5 Mod 1 ("New Chinese missiles target all of East Asia", by Bill Gertz, 10 July 1997).
The report quoted a classified Pentagon study by the National Air Intelligence Center, and gave details of the new missile, which has a range of about 1,333 miles and can be launched from mobile launch complexes. The CSS-5 can target Russia, India, most of the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan and are designed to provide strategic dominance of East Asia.
The CSS-5 is gradually replacing the older liquid-fuel CSS-2, and is being deployed at three general launch locations: at Tonghua, near North Korea, at Lianxiwang, opposite Taiwan, and at Jianshui, near the Vietnam border. According to the report, the Chinese also have an upgrade of the CSS-5 under development.
In an excellent article by its Washington correspondent Nigel Holloway, the Far Eastern Economic Review recently published an overview of China attempts to modernize its armed forces straight into the information age ("Revolutionary defense", FEER, 24 July 1997).
The article states that the conventional wisdom in the West that
perceives the PLA as a slow dinosaur just might be wrong. A new assessment
is being made by US analysts,
which concludes that China is attempting to leapfrog its way to parity with the US, thereby skipping the evolutionary stage.
Much of the new assessment is based on some 40 essays and speeches on
future warfare by senior Chinese military officers and strategists. These
were translated and recently published in a book titled "Chinese
Views of Future Warfare", edited by Michael Pillsbury, senior
fellow at the Atlantic Council.
The writings reflect a widespread new thinking in the PLA, which "...is positively digital-era." According to the article, the writings have shaken up some Western notions about the backwardness of Chinese strategic planning.
Kilo-class submarine purchased from Russia
Apparently, the new ideas are not just in the concept stage. The article reports that according to a Pentagon assessment made to Congress earlier this year, China is building "small high-tech forces for flexible use in regional contingencies." These would rely on satellite imaging systems, airborne early-warning sensors, global positioning systems for guiding missiles, and modern command-and-control networks.
China is reportedly also attempting to lure Western technology for its defense development: on 13 July 1997, China announced that it was opening its defense industry to foreign investors and that it was inviting foreign industry to display its wares at next year's International Defense Electronics Exhibition.
In a report issued at the beginning of July 1997, the US Central Intelligence Agency stated that China was still deeply involved in exporting weapons of mass destruction to hot spots around the world, especially Iran and Pakistan. These weapons included ballistic missiles, poison gas weapons, and a capability to make nuclear arms.
Chinese missiles: up for sale
The report to Congress said that China had actually displaced Russia as the principal supplier of arms to Iran and was providing "a tremendous variety of assistance" to both Iran's and Pakistan's ballistic missile programs ("China Top Trafficker in mass destruction weapons", Aviation Week & Space Technology, 4 August 1997).
China also was the primary source of nuclear-related equipment and technology to Pakistan and a key supplier to Iran of such equipment. The report also stated that China supplied Iran with equipment to make poison gas.
On a related issue: in our June 1997 issue we reported on the disclosure that China had sold C-802 ship-based cruise missiles to Iran, and that Iran was testing a land-based version ("China's arms trading", Taiwan Communiqué no. 76, p. 13). Subsequently, during a June trip to the Gulf region, US Secretary of Defense William Cohen stated that Iran had started testing an air-launched version of this type of missile in the beginning of June 1997.
According to a recent article in Defense News ("Missile Sales to Iran spur Agency debate on Sanctioning Beijing", 25-31 August 1997) the momentum is building in the Pentagon and the U.S. Congress to invoke sanctions prescribed in the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-proliferation Act sponsored by then Senator Al Gore and Arizona Senator John McCain.
In a related development: according to a recent Aviation Week & Space Technology report (25 August 1997, page 17), China itself is purchasing an advanced missile from Russia, which could be launched from the Sukhoi Su-27 supersonic aircraft, which China is also purchasing from Russia. The X-31 Mach 3 missile was developed by Zvezda-Strela, and when fired from high altitude has a range of up to 125 miles. The missile comes in anti-ship, anti-radar, and anti-AWACS versions.
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