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China’s military surge looks beyond Taiwan

Sunday, March 16, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

UNITED NATIONS — A double-digit surge in Beijing’s military spending has raised serious but discreet concerns in the international community concerning the rise in China’s military might. And while the 18 percent jump in the 2008 military budget to an officially understated $60 billion has largely been focused on force modernizations, there’s little doubt that the People’s Republic of China has become a looming threat to democratic Taiwan’s sovereignty and as well as that of other regional states.

An incisive and thoughtful study by Washington’s respected American Enterprise Institute conceded, “Current trends are unfavorable to Taiwan. And consequently they pose challenges to U.S. interests.” The Report Strengthening Freedom in Asia, stated, “China’s growing power has provided Beijing with the resources to alter the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait, upsetting the dynamic equilibrium that has prevented the outbreak of major cross-Strait conflict for more than fifty years.” Thus the report adds, “Taiwan remains a potential international flash point for a great power war

Indeed the PRC’s modernized and growing missile, naval, and air force arsenal arrayed offshore against Taiwan, has already likely tipped the balance of power towards Beijing. And on the diplomatic front, Beijing has played a hardball and increasingly successful game to isolate Taipei internationally, especially from the United Nations. And even once close USA/Taiwan ties have become frayed in a maze of misunderstandings.

A newly released Pentagon annual report to Congress on the “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2008,” offers less than pleasant details of Beijing force modernization and arms purchases. The document says that “China's near-term focus on preparing for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait, including the possibility of U.S. intervention, is an important driver for its modernization. However, analysis of China’s military acquisitions, and strategic thinking suggests Beijing is also developing capabilities for use in other contingencies, such as conflict over resources, or disputed territories.”

Since the formal division of China in 1949, the PRC has claimed the island of Taiwan and never renounced the use of military force against its territory. Thus the Republic of China on Taiwan, may face incremental harassment, blockade, or frontal attack. The People’s Republic arrogantly presents the Taiwan dispute as a “domestic” issue regarding an “errant province.” Thus it’s easy for Beijing’s communists to claim that their growing military buildup “pursues a national defense policy that is defensive in nature… China’s limited military capability is solely for the purpose of safeguarding independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity and does not pose a threat to any other country.”

Still according to the Pentagon report, “By November 2007, the PLA had deployed between 990 and 1,070 CSS- and CSS-7 short range ballistic to garrisons opposite Taiwan.” The numbers are being increased about 100 per year. Equally expansion of submarine and navy capabilities, insures that the PRC communists could impose a maritime blockade on the island of Taiwan.

But beyond a plethora of conventional weapons, the Pentagon report cites the PRC’s growing space warfare capacity as witnessed by the January 2007 shoot-down of a satellite. Space warfare would be aimed at crippling the enemy’s vital command and control communications prior to or during a conflict. As troubling, are an array of cyber-warfare developments which could in effect use computer warfare to disable the computers of “technologically superior adversaries.” The U.S. Defense Department estimates that Mainland China’s total military spending in 2007 was between $97 billion and $139 billion.

Equally troubling in the Pentagon report is a map showing PRC “defensive” island chains which besides incorporating Taiwan, also extend deep into the South China Sea to include the Spratly islands (disputed by six claimants). A second island chain defense perimeter is situated well east of the Philippines. China also has territorial disputes with India.

Yet, according to the American Enterprise Institute report, “Taiwan faces the most daunting military challenges in the world, including the most difficult conventional ballistic and land-attack cruise missile, mine warfare, antisubmarine warfare, computer network attack, and information dominance threats.”

Though Mainland China has historically been deterred both by Taiwan’s technological military edge and by close informal defense cooperation and military sales from the United States, the balance may be shifting. Moreover Taiwan’s robust democracy has in turn created a fractious domestic political debate over whether to keep its current de facto status or to provocatively seek formal de jure “independence” outside the context of China. The latter move would certainly cross Beijing’s “red line” and provoke the PRC militarily.

On March 22nd Taiwan will hold Presidential elections, a major theme of which will center on these two conflicting visions for Taiwan’s future status. Beijing will be watching ominously.

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