China mulls Taiwan ‘contingencies’

POTENTIAL CONFLICT::Leon Panetta said the US should monitor China’s military capabilities and develop a strategy to preserve peace and stability in the region

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 - Page 1

Outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta, US President Barack Obama’s pick for US secretary of defense, said China was preparing for “potential contingencies” involving Taiwan, which could include potential military clashes.

In written answers to questions posed by the US Senate Armed Services Committee, Panetta said China’s military expansion was geared toward building the capability “to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity conflicts” close to home.

He was almost certain to be questioned further on the issue at his senate confirmation hearings in Washington yesterday.

Bloomberg, which gained access to Panetta’s 79-page set of answers to the committee’s questions, reported that he said China’s “near-term focus appears to be on preparing for potential contingencies involving Taiwan, including possible US military intervention.”

Panetta added that the US should continue to closely monitor China’s military capabilities and develop a strategy “to preserve peace, enhance stability, and reduce risk in the region.”

“The complexity of the security environment, both in the Asia--Pacific region and globally, calls for a continuous dialogue between the armed forces of the United States and China to expand practical cooperation where we can and to discuss candidly those areas where we differ,” Panetta wrote.

The son of Italian immigrants, 72-year-old Panetta is a popular choice for secretary of defense and is expected to be quickly confirmed in the job.

He will take over from US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who retires at the end of this month.

As secretary of defense, Panetta will play a major role in advising Obama on whether to sell advanced F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan.

In his written answers, Panetta said the US must be prepared to confront potential adversaries armed with air defense systems, long-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles.

“Given the importance of power projection for US operations, naval and air assets will undoubtedly play a key role in these future military engagements,” he wrote.

Reacting to Panetta’s comments, Shi Yinhong (時殷弘), director of the Center on American Studies at Renmin University of China said they could be seen as a provocation by the US to exaggerate tensions between China and its neighbors.

Shi said although there was some friction between China and its neighbors, Beijing has strongly emphasized improving regional relations this year.

On the eve of the nomination hearings, CNN described Panetta as “the ultimate insider.”

A former congressman, director of the Office of Management and Budget and chief of staff for former US president Bill Clinton, Panetta is said to have Obama’s total trust.

Former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin said Panetta’s time at the CIA, during which al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed, would act as a “pretty good schooling” for the kinds of decisions he would have to make at the Pentagon.

“We’ve just come off 10 years where the CIA has been closer and more intimately connected to the military than anytime in its history. There’s a kind of intimacy between the military and the intelligence cultures that probably didn’t exist 10 to 15 years ago,” McLaughlin said.