Sat, May 27, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: US defense paper misses one target

One of the more intriguing sections of Military Power of the People's Republic of China 2006, this year's US Department of Defense report to Congress, refers to the increasing use by China's military of ancient warfare and strategic texts such as Sun Zi (孫子) and Sun Bin (孫臏). In particular, the study and implementation of "strategic deception" has become entrenched in the Chinese military, the report says. Then, in the next paragraph, the report expresses concern at the lack of transparency in Chinese military affairs: "China takes a selective approach to transparency restricted to secondary areas of military activity such as military exchanges, joint exercises, and confidence-building measures involving visits to previously secret facilities."

Which is just a polite way of saying that the Chinese can't be trusted, and that the slogan "peaceful rise" is little more than public relations pap. Reinforcing this is the report's skepticism that China's "no first use" policy for nuclear weapons will continue unamended as its nuclear arsenal expands.

More worryingly, the report demonstrates how the Chinese are growing more able to match ideology with technical sophistication. The civil example of this in recent years has been Beijing's shadow over the Internet and its easy deals with Internet firms to monitor "dissidence." But it is the military aspect of this harmonizing of ideology, level-headedness and skill that should give the region the gravest cause for concern. Gone are the days of voluntarism when mass invocation of Chinese righteousness and invincibility alone could move mountains and trigger miracles. Today, the experts, technicians and academics have returned with a vengeance, and they may soon be competent enough to perform whatever military or strategic miracle is necessary.

The report's discussion of cross-strait tension offers up the chestnut that there exists a "status quo" to be disrupted, even as it contends that the flowering of missiles along the Chinese coast constitutes only a threat to and not destroyer of this "status quo." Even at the Pentagon, how remarkable it is that the bar for China to wound the "status quo" is set so high -- and how low the bar is set for Taiwanese leaders. The Chinese can walk under it; the Taiwanese regularly trip over it.

Though it was buried inside the report, the following unequivocal statement offers considerable comfort, however: "Beijing's planning must calculate the virtual certainty of US intervention, and Japanese interests, in any conflict in the Taiwan Strait."

Disappointingly, though, the report makes no mention of the Taiwanese domestic angle in China's "defense" affairs. Taiwan is presented as more or less monolithic, united but slothful, "modest" in its commitment to defense. There is a certain amount of tip-toeing going on here, which is not unexpected.

But the picture is incomplete if there is nothing on pan-blue camp legislators being feted by autocrats in China; nothing on the people who work in Taiwan to promote Beijing's interests; nothing on the manipulation of public opinion through pro-China media outlets or through select distribution of funds to the patriotic and the opportunistic. Most notably, there is absolutely nothing on Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) refusal or inability to bring his party's legislators into line and unblock essential defense spending, let alone stand up for a comprehensive defense package that can stop the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait from tipping irrevocably in China's favor.

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