Sat, Apr 24, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Pentagon warns of rising missile threat

CROSS-STRAIT THREAT A top US defense official told a Senate hearing that not only are the numbers of missiles increasing, their accuracy and lethality are, too

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

China has substantially increased its missile force facing Taiwan, a Pentagon official disclosed on Thursday.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless told a Senate hearing that China now has as many as 550 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) deployed against Taiwan. That is 50 missiles more than the 500-missile figure US authorities and other experts have been using in assessing the missile threat to Taiwan.

Lawless, whose job is to oversee Asia-Pacific security affairs, said the new figure will be used in the annual report on Chinese military power that the Pentagon will soon send to Congress.

"China continues to improve quantitatively and qualitatively the capabilities of its conventional armed SRBM force," Lawless told a hearing of the East Asian and Pacific affairs subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The deployed inventory number is 500 to 550 SRBMs, all deployed opposite Taiwan, and increasing at a rate of 75 a year. The accuracy and lethality of this force also are expected to increase through use of satellite-aided guidance systems," Lawless said.

The 75-a-year increase is the same figure that has generally been used over the past year or two.

Lawless told the committee that China in recent years has accelerated its capability to move against Taiwan if needed, aided by growth in the Chinese economy which has allowed Beijing to boost its defense budget to a figure estimated by the Pentagon to be US$50 billion to US$60 billion for this year.

"In recent years, the PLA [People's Liberation Army] has accelerated reform and modernization so as to have a variety of credible military options to deter moves by Taiwan toward permanent separation or, if required, to compel by force the integration of Taiwan under mainland authority," Lawless said.

"A second set of objectives, though no less important, includes capabilities to deter, delay or disrupt third-party intervention in a cross-strait military crisis," he said, referring to Beijing's continued efforts to impede Washington from coming to Taipei's aid in the case of hostilities.

"The PLA has made progress in meeting those goals through acquiring and deploying new weapons systems, promulgating a new doctrine for modern warfare, reforming institutions and improving training. The PLA's determined focus on preparing for conflict in the Taiwan Strait raises serious doubts over Beijing's declared policy of seeking `peaceful reunification' under the `one country, two systems' model," he said.

Meanwhile, the congressionally established US-China Economic and Security Review Commission studying China's Taiwan policy will recommend later this month a basic review of Washington's policy toward Taiwan, it was learned. The panel feels the review is warranted in view of the growing Chinese military might and Beijing's efforts to isolate and marginalize Taiwan internationally.

The commission's chairman and vice chairman, Roger Robinson and Richard D'Amato, told the Senate committee that their panel will recommend that Congress be given an enhanced role in Taiwan policy-making, in order to better coordinate US defense assistance to Taipei in the face of a growing Chinese threat.

Congress and the administration should also eye ways to get more directly involved in a resumption in official cross-strait talks, they said.

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