Tue, Jun 07, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Taking Rumsfeld's warning to heart

At the Asian security conference in Singapore on Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld vehemently criticized China's continued acquisition of missiles and the development of its air force and navy. This, he said, was not only creating a military imbalance in the Taiwan Strait, it was also threatening the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.

Rumsfeld's talk was intended as a preview of the Pentagon's annual report on China's military to be released later this week. This report maintains the Defense Department's consistently held concerns embodied in the so-called "China Threat" theory, but it also specifically switches the focus from the Taiwan Strait to the entire Asia-Pacific region. It advises caution in no uncertain terms over the danger presented to the region by the expansion of the Chinese military.

The US is not the only nation to feel uneasy. Last year a Japan Defense Agency report identified China as a potential security threat, and the question of including Taiwan in the scope of the US-Japan Security Pact was discussed. In March and April, massive anti-Japanese protests erupted in China. Sino-Japanese relations were further tested with the appearance of Chinese submarines and other vessels in Japanese waters, giving Tokyo all the more reason for concern.

China has long chanted its mantra of "peaceful rise" in an attempt to calm its neighbors and the international community as a whole over its military, economic and political expansionism. But with passage of its "Anti-Secession" Law in March, the international community saw the true face of China. Criticism and censure followed, and the EU decided to postpone lifting its arms embargo.

The "China Threat theory" is no longer a possibility -- the threat is a reality. Taiwan has had to deal with this threat on its own for some time, but now other countries are gradually beginning to get the message. The Singapore meeting is just the starting point for international action, and hopefully we will see even more countries facing up to the threat posed by China's expansionism with more concrete action. Perhaps this will all lead to new policies designed to contain China.

Taiwan is at the center of the First Island Chain, the front line constraining China's expansion. It has shouldered this burden for more than 60 years, but now people in Taiwan and the US are becoming increasingly concerned that it will become a breach in the chain. The hurdles faced by the arms procurement bill in the legislature means that the imbalance in military strength between the two sides of the Strait will increase. The lack of commitment to self-defense might encourage China to take advantage of the situation with a military move.

China is now trying "panda diplomacy" to win over the Taiwanese people. The high status accorded to the visits of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) was simply a carrot-and-stick routine to manipulate Taiwanese politicians. Unless Taiwan is willing to become China's docile pet, it should bare its teeth and win some respect. It needs defensive weapons to do this. The military gap between the two sides of the Strait is widening daily, causing the international community to lose its faith in commitment of the Taiwanese people. Eventually, if this is left unchecked, Taiwan will lose its self-confidence.

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