Taiwan Communiqué No. 80, April 1998

China's military threat

Dangerous misperceptions

In a recent report for the US Defense Department's Office of Net Assessment, titled "Dangerous Chinese Misperceptions: the implications for DOD", Dr. Michael Pillsbury gives an analysis of Chinese military thinking, based on some 100 Chinese books and articles about military warfare, and 60 interviews with Chinese military officers, conducted during four visits to Beijing in 1995-96.

The principal finding of the report is that China's military leaders hold a number of dangerous misperceptions that may well cause serious political friction or even military conflict with the United States. The report groups the Chinese misperceptions in five areas:

{short description of image}
Chinese military exercises: attempting to intimidate the Taiwanese during elections in 1996
  1. Overestimating U.S. hostility to the PRC. Chinese authors seem obsessed with the notion that the US is actively trying to "subvert their government and dismember their nation." Chinese military books even discuss the necessity of taking "preventive military action against a more powerful opponent."
  2. Overestimating U.S. military weaknesses; in particular after the Gulf War, a number of Chinese military analysts portrayed the U.S. as only barely defeating Saddam Hussein.
  3. Overestimating the future rate of decline of the United States. According to the report, this misperception "...could generate an expectation of the U.S. compliance or surrender to firm Chinese demands, especially in a crisis over an issue of supreme importance to China like Taiwan's political status."
  4. Underestimating the costs and risks of future wars involving China. The report states that in the view of prominent military leaders in China, warfare and the use of force are "...normal and legitimate ...to resolve international disputes."
  5. Underestimating the reactions of third countries to China. The report states that Chinese leaders do not understand the fears of its neighbors regarding its rise as a military power.

In each of the five areas, the author gives a number of illustrations and sources for his observations. He also describes five scenarios of conflicts which could erupt as a result of these misperceptions. One of these is a

"...pre-emptive strike by China against U.S. naval forces in the area of Taiwan in the mistaken belief that the consequences of attacking U.S. forces in a limited fashion would not bring disastrous retaliation against China. Chinese publications have discussed pre-emptive surprise attacks on command centers as a key element of future warfare. U.S. concepts of rational deterrence tend to rule out this type of scenario as fundamentally "irrational" and therefore not worth preparing for."

This book by Dr. Pillsbury is a "must-read" for those studying the East Asia in general, and developments surrounding Taiwan and China in particular.

Aircraft carrier casino ?

For several years, the hull of the Varyag, an incomplete aircraft carrier, has been lying in a dock in the Ukraine. Construction was stopped when the former Soviet Union fell apart in the late 1980s.

Also for several years, the Chinese navy has been attempting to obtain aircraft carrier technology, anxious to expand itself into a real blue-water navy with capabilities to surround and blockade Taiwan.

Eyebrows thus went up around the world when the Chong Lot Tourist and Amusement Agency in Macau recently won a tender for the aircraft carrier, and announced that it was planning to turn it into a casino.

It now turns out this is a farce: in an article in its April 9th 1998 issue, titled "Scrap value", the Far Eastern Economic Review discloses that Chong Lot carries a non-existent address in Macau, and that according to Portuguese officials in Macau the company did not seek the requisite approvals to undertake any tourist business or open a hotel in the enclave.

The Review article also disclosed that three of the five directors of Chinluck Holding, the parent company of Chong Lot, are Chinese nationals from Shandong, which happens to be the home of the Chinese navy's North sea fleet.

Heritage Foundation: Need for better military ties with Taiwan

At the end of March 1998, the Washington-DC based Heritage Foundation published an important Backgrounder paper by Richard D. Fisher jr. urging the U.S. Administration to improve its military ties with Taiwan.

The paper argues that the Clinton Administration's increasing military ties with China under the National Defense University's Capstone program, added to China's broad military modernization, assisted by access to foreign technology, and Washington's reluctance to maintain high-level military contacts with Taiwan is undermining the balance across the Taiwan Straits.

{short description of image}
{short description of image}
China's purchases of Russian fighter aircraft and Kilo-class submarines: new threat to Taiwan

Thus, it causes Beijing to perceive that it can isolate Taiwan further from Washington and eventually use military force to coerce or subdue Taiwan. The paper describes how China has been building up its armed forces with the specific purpose of threatening and intimidating Taiwan, and how China is refusing to renounce the use of force in settling its dispute with Taiwan.

The paper also argues that the lack of high-level communications with Taiwan will handicap both the US and Taiwan in a possible future confrontation with China across the Taiwan Straits, since it may result in "friendly fire" incidents between the US and Taiwan in such a crisis.

After an analysis of China's increasing military capabilities, the paper urges the United States to take the following steps in order to redress the shifting balance across the Taiwan Straits:

  1. Reaffirm the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which remains the only law governing relations with Taiwan and China. It has as its most important elements: a) US relations with China are premised on the expectation that China will settle its differences with Taiwan peacefully; b) the US will continue to sell defensive arms to Taiwan; and c) the US will maintain the military capability to defend Taiwan.
  2. Upgrade US military communications with Taiwan, both in terms of level of personnel involved, as well as in terms of security of voice and data links.
  3. Urge Taiwan to improve its military deficiencies, in particular in the area of combined air, land, and sea operations.
  4. Consider new weapon sales to Taiwan, in particular advanced targeting and missile defense systems, high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, vertical take-off fighters and support aircraft, and modern conventional submarines. The paper argues that the US allows US shipyards to build and sell a European-designed conventional submarine to Taiwan. Taiwan presently has two aging US submarines, and two modern Dutch-built Zwaardvis-class submarines.
  5. Last but not least, the paper argues that the US uses the expanding military dialogue with the Chinese PLA to impress upon it the importance of reducing military tension in the Taiwan Straits.

The paper is available from the Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington DC, 20002-4999, or can be read at its internet site: http://www.heritage.org

Back to: Table of Contents

Copyright © 1998 Taiwan Communiqué