Wed, Aug 03, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China's playing chicken

By Huang Jei-hsuan

Major General Zhu Chenghu (朱成虎) of the People's Liberation Army declared on July 15 that China might use nuclear arms on "hundreds" of cities in the US, in case of a US intervention to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan. And, reflecting the communist nation's resolve, China is prepared to lose all cities east of Xian, according to Zhu.

Zhu's talk, which doubtlessly was sanctioned by Beijing's top leadership and conveyed to the international media only after thorough deliberation, attempted to both give an assessment on the consequence of the conflict -- and deliver an apparent threat at the same time.

Nevertheless, his estimate on the extent of destruction China might receive appears to be on the conservative side.

For instance, if the US could survive the first strike, its retaliation would only stop at the complete destruction of China.

And, far more likely, the US would initiate a pre-emptive strike at the first hint of a pending Chinese attack on Taiwan now that the US is made aware of Beijing's intention to widen a heretofore mutually understood local confrontation into a global calamity.

In other words, China's military is not strong enough for Beijing to use the threat of mutually assured destruction as a tool to stop the US from intervening on Taiwan's behalf.

Furthermore, Zhu was implying that China would sacrifice countless Chinese civilians, all for the cause of "taking back" an island that it never actually owned.

What's most striking is how a "tradeoff" in loss of lives between the two sides can even be included in the calculation as a way of scaring off the opponent. Beijing obviously is saying that human lives mean much less to China than to the US, and that China can "afford" -- and is "willing" -- to lose millions of its own people.

Beijing is shamelessly flaunting China's "human wave" advantage again. This is in spite of the economic progress of the last 10 years. Any vestige of a delusion the Taiwanese people might have regarding unification with China should now vanish completely.

So should China's carefully cultivated "peaceful rising" image.

As for scare tactics, Zhu's talk actually evoked more alarm than fear internationally.

For example, on July 18, US President George W. Bush inked an agreement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India to share dual-use nuclear technology with the world's second most populated state.

This is in spite of the fact that India has not signed the Treaty on Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and that the animosity has not ceased between India and Pakistan -- an ally of the US in its war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Bush has decided that the need to build up India's military capability as a counterbalance to the rise of China outweighs all those concerns.

Then, on July 27, the US' top commander in Iraq, General George Casey, told the press that American troops will start withdrawing from Iraq around mid-2006. That means the problems associated with a high concentration of military resources in Iraq at the expense of other trouble spots -- including the Taiwan Strait -- may see some relief.

What's remarkable is that Casey's comment seems to have the tacit support of both US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Bush, who barely a month ago vehemently voiced their objection to setting any kind of timetable for withdrawal.

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