Mon, May 01, 2006 - Page 8 News List

China's clever use of `soft power'

By Sushil Seth

Chinese President Hu Jintao's(胡錦濤) US visit has passed unremarkably. Taipei apparently felt relieved that US President George W. Bush this time spared President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) embarrassment by refraining from making any untoward comments, such as those made during an earlier visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).

For instance, no comment was made on Chen's dissolution of the National Unification Council, even though China regarded it as changing the "status quo" and hence provocative.

Ever since Sino-US relations were normalized in the 1970s, China has sought to influence US policy to facilitate its annexation of Taiwan. During the 1970s and 1980s, the two countries' "strategic partnership" against the Soviet Union provided an important point of leverage that Beijing sought to exercise.

But the US, under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, maintained its commitment to help Taiwan defend itself against an armed invasion from China. The US did subscribe to the "one China" principle, but has urged peaceful unification. And that is where things stand today.

During his visit, Hu maintained that the US was committed to "opposing" Taiwan's independence. The US position, though, is that it does not support Taiwan's independence. That might seem a matter of semantics, but the two formulations are not quite the same. The first would suggest an active role for the US, while the second is rather passive. What China wants is for the US to dump Taiwan, and let Beijing do the rest.

This obviously is not going to happen, judging by a statement from the Pentagon's spokesman on Asia-Pacific security.

According to Bryan Whitman, "It is US policy to encourage China to emerge as a responsible international partner."

He added: "However, there is also a lack of transparency and some uncertainty surrounding China's future path. Therefore, we and others have to naturally hedge against the unknown."

It is known that the US is not happy about hundreds of Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan and military build-up in the region. Taiwan looks like an integral part of the US' Asia-Pacific strategic architecture though problems could arise if China managed to destabilize Taiwan from within.

The US is reorienting its military deployment, focusing more on Asia than Europe. According to a French Press Agency report, "Guam is being transformed into a hub for long-range bombers, intelligence and surveillance aircraft, and logistics support. The military plans to move 8,000 marines to Guam from Okinawa, Japan, by 2012."

It adds: "The US Navy is adding a sixth aircraft carrier to the Pacific Fleet and has decided to make the Pacific theater the home port of 52 attack submarines -- 60 percent of its fleet by 2010."

According to Whitman, "We're looking at changing from being a garrison military to being a globally expeditionary force, shifting the strategic balance, enabling the military to be more agile."

This reorientation of global strategy is designed as much to fight terrorism as it is to confront any new challenge to US political and military supremacy, with China as the obvious candidate.

Apart from military redeployment, the US is also strengthening its relations with important Asian countries. It has revamped security ties with Japan, with Tokyo taking a more active role. It is now strategically engaging with India. Even though Australia doesn't want to be seen as part of a China-containment ring, it still is part of the US-led regional and global security architecture.

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