US expert warns of PRC economic trap

STAR WARS::Barry Watts warned that the weaponization of space is under way, and while China’s capabilities are limited now, ‘a space Pearl Harbor’ is possible in future

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Sat, May 14, 2011 - Page 1

A US military expert said China may be trying to take over Taiwan by using a strategy of “economic entanglement.”

Barry Watts, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told a US congressional commission this week: “Why use military force if economic entanglement leading to economic capture is succeeding?”

In testimony before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Watts said that the most common scenarios for a conflict between the US and China were built around a Chinese attempt to invade Taiwan.

“The first point to be made about the likelihood of such an attempt is that China has been fairly successful in pursuing the economic entanglement of Taiwan,” he said.

Watts, who was testifying on China’s military space program, said that he had discussed the possibility of a Chinese attack on Taiwan with senior Taiwanese national security officials in Taipei.

“What struck me during that trip was the growing migration of Taiwan’s advanced technologies and businesses to mainland China, lured by such incentives as lower labor costs,” Watts said.

“Since then, the indications are that the gradual economic entanglement of Taiwan has continued, and that it is leading — in the long run — to Taiwan’s eventual economic capture by the People’s Republic of China [PRC],” he said. “If this assessment is correct, then the chances of the PRC initiating a military takeover of Taiwan in 2012 or even 2020 appear to be quite low. Note, too, that this approach embodies Sun Tzu’s (孫子) dictum that the acme of strategy is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Since China is a rising power whose conventional military forces remain substantially inferior to those of the US, Watts said, it was imperative for China to avoid a direct military conflict with the US “for the time being.”

“What role might China’s space capabilities play should such a conflict occur nonetheless?” he asked.

Watts — former head of the Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation at the Department of Defense — quoted one study by the Commission on US National Security in Space that warned that unless steps were taken to reduce the vulnerability of the US’ space systems, the country would face the real possibility of a “space Pearl Harbor.”

However, he said that after the PRC’s successful anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) test in January 2007, it was concluded that even with months of planning, the best China could do against US space capabilities would be to attack nine Low Earth Orbit satellites.

The short-term consequences of such an attack would be “limited,” and even under a worst-case scenario, a Chinese all-out ASAT attack would “only reduce” the US’ use of precision-guided weapons and satellite communications.

Watts said that it was not possible to forecast whether the balance might shift more in China’s favor beyond 2020, but that the “weaponization of space” was already under way.