Admiral warns of perilous Chinese missile buildup
By Bill Gertz
Washington, March 28th, 2001
The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress yesterday that China's ongoing missile buildup opposite Taiwan is "destabilizing" and will lead to a U.S. response unless halted. "Over the long term, the most destabilizing part of the Chinese buildup are their intermediate-range and short-range ballistic missiles, the CSS-6s and CSS-7s, of the type that were used in 1996 to fire in the waters north and south of Taiwan," said Adm. Dennis Blair, the Pacific Command leader.
Adm. Blair said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he informed officials in China last week that the continuing deployments will prompt a U.S. response to stabilize the military balance across the Strait.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that a U.S. spy satellite detected a new shipment of short-range missiles to Yongan, in Fujian province, opposite Taiwan, in the past two weeks. Earlier, the Times reported that China had deployed nearly 100 short-range ballistic missiles and mobile launchers there. A second short-range missile base, near Xianyou, also targets Taiwan.
The several hundred Chinese short-range missiles are "weapons of terror and destruction" because of their inaccuracy and are not "militarily significant," Adm. Blair said. "But as their numbers increase and as their accuracy improves, [they will] become militarily significant, will force a response by the United States eventually in order to maintain that sufficient defense, and that really is the most troubling aspect of the buildup," the four-star admiral said.
The Bush administration is considering sales to Taiwan of Aegis-equipped destroyers that in the future could be used for advanced regional missile defenses.
Adm. Blair sought to play down China's announced boost of 18 percent in annual defense spending as money to be used mostly for personnel expenses and some weapons acquisition. And he noted China is having "mixed success" in deploying weapons bought from the Russians, including guided-missile destroyers and warplanes.
Adm. Blair said the overall military balance across the Taiwan Strait today is "stable," although he noted that "there are certain trends that have to be addressed in order to keep it stable."
Adm. Blair said he believes the Chinese agree with him that military force is not the solution to differences between the island and mainland. "They want a peaceful resolution as well, but as you know they . . . maintain the right to use force and we maintain that resolution must be peaceful," he said. "And that's where we are."
Adm. Blair did not disclose his recommendation to the Pentagon and White House on Taiwan's annual arms sales request, which includes warships, missiles and Patriot anti-missile defenses. "My recommendation is to take the actions necessary to maintain that balance, and I believe that that balance is well attainable under current conditions," he said.
Adm. Blair said the U.S. 7th Fleet and other forces under his command "can ensure that China would not be successful in aggression against Taiwan should the decision be made to commit our forces." "When you look at the whole picture, China right now cannot be successful in aggressing, and therefore coercing Taiwan, and that's the job that we have," he said.
"I don't think that a military confrontation between the United States and China is inevitable, and I believe that we should pursue policies which make it less likely rather than more likely," he said.
Asked by Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, if China's Russian-made Sunburn anti-ship cruise missiles threaten U.S. aircraft carriers, Adm. Blair said: "The carriers in the Taiwan Strait can carry out their jobs, Sunburn missiles or no Sunburn missiles."
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told reporters that China's deliveries of short-range missiles to Fujian province opposite Taiwan are being watched closely.
China's military modernization, which includes the missiles near Taiwan, "could be force for stability there in that region, or it could be a force for instability and obviously we hope it's the former," he said.
China is expected in the next few days to ship additional missiles to Yongan from a factory in central China, according to U.S. intelligence sources.