Thu, Mar 12, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan ‘driving Chinese military goals’

PLAYING WITH FIRE An expert said that a recent incident between Chinese vessels and a US navy submarine surveillance ship was part of a dangerous game of cat and mouse

By William Lowther  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON WITH AFP , BEIJING

US National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told a congressional hearing that “preparations for a Taiwan conflict” still drive the modernization goals of the Chinese military and that the recent naval incidents in the South China Sea were part of a plan by Beijing to expand its influence.

Testifying before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services committee on worldwide threats, Blair said: “Taiwan, as an area of attention in US-China relations, has substantially relaxed. Leaders on both sides of the straits are cautiously optimistic about less confrontational relations.”

“Nonetheless, preparations for a Taiwan conflict drive the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army. But in addition to that, China’s security interests are broadening. A full civilian and military space capability, formal capabilities in cyberspace are rapidly developing,” he said.

“China will attempt to develop at least a limited naval projection capability, which is already reflected in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, and we can talk about the incident that happened recently in the South China Sea,” Blair said.

Washington military circles remain dominated by reports from the US Navy that five Chinese ships harassed the US submarine surveillance vessel USNS Impeccable on Sunday in the latest of seven incidents over the last few days.

On Tuesday, Blair said that the confrontation was the most serious military incident involving the two powers since a US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet near Hainan island in April 2001.

Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project for the Federation of American Scientists, said that it was all part of “a wider and dangerous cat and mouse game between US and Chinese submarines and their hunters.”

Pentagon reports said US surveillance vessels have been “subjected to aggressive behavior, including dozens of fly-bys by Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft.”

The incident on Sunday occurred in international waters about 120km south of the Chinese naval base near Yulin on Hainan.

Kristensen says China has started operating new nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines from the base and the US is “busy collecting data on the submarines and seafloor to improve its ability to detect the submarines in peacetime and more efficiently hunt them in case of war.”

The Federation of American Scientists is reporting that the Impeccable is equipped with the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS), a passive linear underwater surveillance array attached to a tow cable.

SURTASS was developed as a submarine detection system for deep waters and the US Navy wants to add an active low frequency array to improve long-range detection of submarines in shallow waters.

Intelligence sources say that Impeccable was actually monitoring the Shang-class (Type-093) nuclear-powered attack submarine, a new class China is building to replace the old Han-class and which has recently been seen at the Yulin base.

“The incident begs the question who, or at what level, in the Chinese government was the harassment in international waters ordered,” Kristensen said.

“The incident will make life harder for those in the Obama administration who want to ease the military pressure on US-Chinese relations and easier for hardliners to argue their case,” he said.

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