On March 20, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with China's leaders in Beijing. Prior to her arrival, Rice had already set the tone for Sino-US relations over the next few years through subtle handling of the media and in her public pronouncements: the US sees China as a national security threat.
Two days before Rice's arrival in Beijing, on March 18, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun revealed that Ukrainian arms dealers had exported 12 strategic X-55 cruise missiles to Iran and six to China in 2001. He stressed that the missiles weren't equipped with nuclear warheads.
In Seoul two days later, Rice said that the US was concerned about China's increasing military strength. She also warned the EU over helping China use European technology to advance its military modernization, bluntly saying that it, in fact, is the US, not Europe, that protects the Pacific.
These two incidents are closely related to each other. Rice's March 20 statement can be seen as a strategic assessment of the March 18 information, the release of which was intended to have an impact on Rice's visit to Beijing.
According to the first Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START 1) between Russia and the US, the X-55 missiles should have been transported back to Russia. Still, China and Iran have spent several million US dollars each on the illegal purchase of such missiles, components and Russian teams to keep them operational.
The X-55 has a range of 3,000km, can carry a nuclear warhead and be fired from a commercial aircraft. The missile defense system under development by the US and Japan is not capable of stopping it.
By illegally obtaining the X-55, Iran and China have revealed their true intentions: Iran's goal is to obtain nuclear weapons, and China's is to punch a hole in the defensive net provided by the US' missile defense system. What's more, the range of these missiles is sufficient to bring Japan within China's reach, while it gives Iran the ability to attack Israel or US military bases in the Middle East.
The X-55 smuggling incident is no small matter. Both the US and Japan are being forced to treat it seriously and to re-evaluate the Chinese military threat, as past assessments may now be too conservative. Rice's statement in Seoul was a reflection of this re-assessment. She mentioned China's military modernization and the US's Pacific defenses. Reading between the lines, Rice is saying that China's military modernization poses a threat to the US.
The Taiwanese people, who see no further than the Taiwan Strait, should not rashly interpret Rice's statements as a reaction to the passage of China's "Anti-Secession" Law. First, Rice was talking about Pacific defenses, not the defense of Taiwan. Second, she confirmed that China is the main geopolitical threat to the US in the Pacific.
This fundamental approach will define Pacific politics over the next few years. Geopolitical confrontation, not the mirage created by talk of economics and peace, is what really holds the centerstage in our time, and it revolves around the US-China conflict. Although the US-China relationship still hasn't reached breaking point, both sides are pushing in that direction. China has to decide how far it really wants to push this stand-off with the US, while the US must decide whether it can afford a conflict with China at a time when it is involved in a global war on terror.