Beijing's offer exposes real threat

By the Liberty Times editorial  / 

Sun, Dec 01, 2002 - Page 8

Taiwan's representative to the US Chen Chien-jen (程建人) said recently that while China's policy toward the US has been increasingly flexible and soft, its basic policy toward Taiwan remains unchanged.

He also said that during the recent meeting between US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民), Jiang took the initiative in proposing that China withdraw missiles deployed along its southeast coast in exchange for a US reduction in arms sales to Taiwan.

Reportedly, the two leaders did not pursue the issue any further. Bush is said to have told Jiang, "You [Chinese] are not naive, and neither are they [Taiwan.]" Jiang had quite evidently been indulging in wishful thinking.

The exchange at least proves, however, that China has indeed deployed a large number of missiles along its coast, aimed at Taiwan. Pentagon reports had said that this was the case. Now we know from the mouth of the Chinese leader himself that the missile threat is genuine.

One recalls that when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) asked China to withdraw the missiles, Chinese officials pretended that they knew nothing of them. Foreign Minister Qian Qichen (錢其琛) also forwarded a claim through Taiwan's pro-unification media that China's national defense deployments were carried out in accordance with the needs of the country. It was not a matter for discussion, he said. His words suggest that Jiang's proposition to Bush was entirely misleading.

China has more than 400 missiles aimed at Taiwan, and the number increases by 50 each year. This is well-known in the international community. Recently, various parliaments including the European Parliament have passed resolutions, demanding that China withdraw these missiles. The US has also long indicated that it will not take China's military threats to Taiwan, including the missile threat, lying down.

So while China's missiles threaten Taiwan, China must weather strong condemnation from the international community. As a result, the question of how to alleviate pressure from the international community on the one hand -- and on the other hand still maintain the threat -- has become an important issue for China. Jiang probably made the proposal to Bush to avoid being put on the spot again and for propaganda purposes.

Actually, before the summit meeting between the two, pro-China experts in the US had openly suggested that Jiang would use the opportunity to announce the withdrawal of missiles targeting Taiwan in exchange for a freeze on US arm sales to Taiwan.

As anyone can tell, if that deal had come off, China would have emerged a big winner.

Why?

Obviously, the military threat that China poses to Taiwan consists of much more than just the 400 or so missiles. China has been speeding up the modernization of its naval and air offensive capabilities.

Some Americans have frankly pointed out that the arms sales to Taiwan are being made in consideration of the collective threats faced by Taiwan, not just the missiles. In addition, arm sales to Taiwan are mandated by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The issue cannot be simplified into a formula of "fewer arms sales for fewer missiles."

All else aside, withdrawal of the missiles won't eliminate the military threat posed to Taiwan. After all, once the missiles had been removed, China could move them back again at any time.

According to a Washington Times news report, China has been conducting missile tests in the Bo Hai Gulf (渤海灣). Its missile range has exceeded US estimates, to the US government's considerable surprise.

The report went on to say that around the time of the meeting of the 16th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), JH-7 fighter jets flying out of the Bo Hai Gulf fired a YJ-83 anti-ship cruise missile, with a range of 250km. The SM-2 surface-to-air missile that will come with the Kidd-class destroyers that the US is planning to sell to Taiwan, will obviously be no match for the YJ-83.

This one example demonstrates that Jiang's proposal was not at all what it sounded like. The people of Taiwan would be naive to consider it a welcome development.

President Chen called on China during his speech on this year's Double Ten Day to withdraw the missiles immediately and to publicly denounce the use of force against Taiwan.

Chen is absolutely right to highlight the missile threat while giving equal weight to other military deployments that China may use to attack Taiwan. This is the only way to avoid entrapment by the so-called " withdrawal of missiles in exchange for a reduction in arm sales."

By contrast, although opposition lawmakers also voted for the passage of a resolution near the end of October, calling on China to withdraw the missiles, they continue to lack an understanding of the nature and the level of the military threats posed by China.

In fact, they began to pressure the government to open up direct transport links and visited China to negotiate direct charter flights before China had even responded to the resolution for missile withdrawal. Such conduct hardly demonstrates that they have the welfare and the safety of Taiwan and its 23 million people at heart.

Jiang's proposal to Bush was either empty words or some sort of trick disguised as a concession. Isn't it precisely due to China's refusal to renounce the use of force against Taiwan that the US is selling defensive arms to Taiwan?

The cross-strait military situation exists because China has deployed large amounts of offensive arms, forcing Taiwan to strengthen its defensive capabilities. China poses a severe military threat to Taiwan, while Taiwan couldn't possibly launch an offensive against China with the defensive arms it has purchased. The two side's military capabilities are completely different in nature.

China has repeatedly condemned the US for selling arms to Taiwan, conveniently forgetting that China started all this. China is the one consistently trying to use military threats to create bargaining chips, to force concessions from the US and Taiwan.

These are the tactics of "rogue diplomacy." Anyone in Taiwan who is thinking about echoing Jiang's proposal should first think about what Taiwan will use to neutralize the threat posed by Chinese nuclear missiles and submarines.

Not long after Jiang made the proposition to Bush, he reiterated during the meeting of the CCP's 16th Central Committee that, "We will never promise to refrain from the use of force." It isn't hard to figure out what Jiang has in mind.

It is nevertheless a great thing that Jiang made the proposition to Bush, but the good in it lies not in the proposed deal but in its implicit admission that China has indeed deployed war heads targeting Taiwan.

It goes without saying that what is at stake here is peace in the Taiwan Strait. So China should stop trying to haggle with the US and Taiwan, withdraw its missiles, openly renounce the use of force, and allow the UN to intercede to help the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to resolve their differences.

Such a resolution would truly be consistent with the common interests of the international community.