Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Conference mulls shifting cross-strait power balance

WOOING WASHINGTON A recent report says that the US' Asian policy is becoming ocean-oriented, and that this offers opportunities for Taiwan to play a larger role

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The recent concurrent military exercises launched by Taiwan, China, and the US have raised alarm over China's military buildup, offering a reminder that the Taiwan Strait remains one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints, experts said yesterday.

At a conference held by the Taiwan New Century Foundation in Taipei, scholars and experts discussed the shifting military balance across the strait and explored strategies to enhance the country's geopolitical value to the US in face of a growing threat from China.

"The US' annual report on China's military clout issued in May made it clear that China is emerging as a regional hegemon. China's surging military power has significantly altered the strategic balance in Taiwan-US-China relations," said presidential advisor Chen Lung-chu (陳隆志).

The report from the US Defense Department indicated that China's annual defense spending is between US$50 billion and US$70 billion a year, giving it the world's third-largest military budget.

Experts also turned the spotlight on China's eighth annual military drill around Dongshan Island. "The PLA's (People's Liberation Army) joint forces exercise rehearsed an invasion of Taiwan and [served as] a practice to capture air and sea dominance in the Strait. The exercise tells of China's readiness for a full-fledged war," said Wang Kung-yi (王崑義), a Tamkang University associate professor of international affairs and strategic studies.

Wang's observation is supported by the Chinese People's Daily. The state mouthpiece pointed out that the Dongshan exercise was conducted on the assumption that Taiwan proclaimed independence. In that case, the newspaper declared, the PLA would immediately take the Penghu Islands, forming a deterrent and an outpost position for racing to control Taiwan.

"As before, the military maneuvers are to deter Taiwanese from moving toward indepen-dence," Wang said.

Others contended that the US' current global deployment of seven aircraft carriers for an exercise named Summer Pulse 2004 shows that the world's leading power is concerned with the strained cross-strait relations. They said the concurrent military display implies that the US is also eyeing its interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

"After the power transfer in Iraq, anti-terrorism ceased to be the sole focus. The issue of security in the Asia-Pacific region has now returned to the US agenda. Taiwan's geopolitical importance is now on the rise," said Yan Jian-fa (顏建發), vice chair of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' research and planning committee.

According to Yan, some unnamed US consultants took part in Taiwan's Han Kuang maneuvers in July, demonstrating high-level contacts between US and Taiwan military commanders. However, experts agreed that securing US support requires multilateral efforts in a wider regional context.

"We must maximize our mutual interests with the US to win Washington's persistent support," said Chen Min-tong (陳明通), a former Mainland Affairs Council vice chairman.

He said that seeking greater overlapping of the two nations' respective national interests can entrench Taiwan's strategic position in the archipelagos arching alongside Russia and China.

Chen cited the much-discussed Nye Report, a blueprint for the Bush administration's East Asia policy, to emphasize the role Taiwan can play in an ocean-oriented framework of warfare.

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