Fri, Aug 01, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US warns of increasing China threat

GROWING ARSENAL China is deploying more missiles with even greater killing power across the Strait, and may be more inclined now to use them

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

China's military modernization and accelerating missile deployments across the Taiwan Strait could indicate an increased willingness to attack Taiwan, the Pentagon warned Wednesday.

While increased economic ties could ease tensions, cross-strait relations will remain sensitive "and could quickly deteriorate if either side perceives that the other has made a provocative statement or action," the Pentagon said in its latest annual report to Congress on China's military power.

"The PRC's ambitious military modernization casts a cloud over its declared preference for resolving differences with Taiwan through peaceful means," the report said.

The report said that China now has 450 short-range ballistic missiles in its Nanjing Military Region aimed at Taiwan, and is expected to add 75 a year for the next several years. If that prediction pans out, the number of missiles could double before the end of the decade.

In addition, the accuracy and lethality of the missile force is increasing, and the People's Liberation Army is developing variants of the CSS-6 missile that could allow them to be deployed further inland.

The 52-page report also warns that China's air force modernization is beginning to erode Taiwan's military superiority. China will eventually have a greater number of modern fighters than Taiwan and its missile force could be used to disrupt and soften Taiwan's air defenses.

"Over the next several years, given current trends, China likely will be able to cause significant damage to all of Taiwan's airfields and quickly degrade Taiwan's ground-based air defenses and associated command and control through a combination of SRBMs [short-range ballistic missiles], LACMs [land-attack cruise missiles], anti-radiation weapons, SOF [special operations forces], and other assets, unless Taiwan undertakes the defensive upgrades needed and to which it is committed," the Pentagon said.

"The PLA's offensive capabilities improve as each year passes, providing Beijing, in the absence of an effective response by Taiwan, with an increasing number of credible military options to intimidate or actually attack Taiwan," the report said.

China's military spending will double between 2000 and 2005, the Pentagon projects. It estimates that current defense spending may be three times the officially announced US$20 billion.

"Should China use force, its primary goal likely would be to compel a negotiated solution on terms favorable to Beijing. Beijing would most likely seek a rapid collapse of Taiwan's national will to preclude the US from intervening on Taipei's behalf," the report said.

Taiwan's susceptibility to coercion from threats depends on many factors, the Pentagon calculated. Perhaps the most important, it said, "is the degree to which Taiwan's leaders and populace perceive themselves to be different and separate from the mainland. Will they perceive that there is something real and significant to be protected by resisting the PLC?" the authors ask.

Other factors include Taiwan's assessment of the US and international reaction, the nature of Beijing's demands, Taiwan's military capabilities and the ability of Taiwan's leaders to "forge and maintain a consensus" among the nation's government and people.

While the report spoke favorably about Taiwan's efforts to reform its military, particularly through the two defense reform laws passed in January 2000, it expressed concern over declining defense spending.

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