China Reportedly Notified US On Its Intention to Use Force to Reunite Taiwan

Jay Moore research at
Tue May 2 09:46:46 MDT 2000

FYI.  From "Jane's Foreign Report", March 21, 2000


China warns America

The warning was stark. If the US intervenes to defend Taiwan from any attack
from mainland China, it would pay a "high price" with the added risk of
"extreme long-range strikes"; a scarcely-veiled reference to China's new
arsenal of strategic missiles, now capable of striking targets along
America's western seaboard. Was this bellicose message, printed in the
official People's Liberation Army Daily, a serious threat to peace or just
another salvo in the war of words the Chinese government has been waging in
its attempts to reunify Taiwan with the motherland?

 After reclaiming Hong Kong, and more recently the former Portuguese colony
of Macao, winning back Taiwan ­ regarded as a renegade province of China ­
is the top diplomatic priority for the mainland government. Every other
issue, including China's entry to the World Trade Organisation, is eclipsed.
Regaining Taiwan has become an obsession for the leadership. Hard-liners,
with growing political influence, are pushing for a tougher stance,
involving military force if necessary.

Last year, Taiwan enraged the mainland government with a statement that any
relationship across the Taiwan Strait should be considered
'state-to-state' ­ a de facto acknowledgement of Taiwan's sovereignty. Since
then, during the run-up to the Taiwanese presidential election on March
18th, the main candidates have gone out of their way to appear conciliatory,
promising reduced tensions and closer links. But China has continued a war
of words, insisting for the first time that if Taiwan rejects talks on
reunification, military action may be used to drag it into the fold.
Previously, force was threatened only if Taiwan tried to formalise its
independence or if foreign forces intervened on the island. Even the
'routine' deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk from its base in
Japan has failed to cool the rhetoric.

Next came statements by the Chinese foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, regarded
as a moderate, during his visit to Moscow last week. Jiaxuan repeated the
threat of military action following foreign interference "in China's
internal affairs" or a Taiwanese 'declaration of independence'. Tang might
be reflecting dwindling patience over the issue inside the mainland
leadership; there are signs of a "now or never" mentality pervading Chinese
thinking. On the other hand, the Chinese statements could be a giant bluff.
In any event, Chen Shui-bian, a front-runner in the Taiwanese election,
says: "Cross-strait relations are at an historically low point. I don't
think it can get any worse than this." But could they?

Everything now hinges on the result of the election and the annual talks in
April between Taiwan and the US on future transfers of sophisticated
weaponry. The Clinton administration is split over whether to supply more
high technology arms and China has already reacted angrily to attempts to
include Taiwan in a theatre missile defence plan covering the region. The
Pentagon believes more weaponry is needed to defend Taiwan; the State
Department and the National Security Council says new arms transfers would
provoke China further.

Not enough firepower

Despite reports of growing Chinese military power, intelligence sources
believe that Chinese naval forces are still ill-equipped to take on the
might of the American Seventh Fleet, despite the acquisition of four 'Kilo'
class diesel-electric submarines from Russia and the first of the new 7,940
ton 'Sovremenny' class destroyers, Hangchow, which recently completed its
sea trials in the South China sea. This ship represents a significant
upgrade in Chinese anti-ship capability with its advanced, wave-hopping
Raduga SS-N-22 Sunburn missiles with a range of 160 km and brings a big
improvement in air defence. But it is still only one hull, another is being
delivered by Moscow towards the end of this year. And China still lacks the
ability to transport a viable amphibious force across the 160-km wide Taiwan
Strait. In these circumstances, a sudden 'out-of-the-blue' attack looks
unlikely if not suicidal, when faced with Taiwanese anti-ship missiles and
local air superiority.

More potent are China's huge stocks of sophisticated sea mines. These
include so-called 'intelligent' mines which 'count' the number of ships that
pass on the surface before exploding. The mines are activated by acoustic or
magnetic sensors and can wait for up to 250 days before arming. The mere
hint of deployment would be enough to make the Clinton administration think
twice about sending carrier battle groups into the region, particularly as
its mine sweeping/mine hunting abilities are so limited. The use of mines
has the political advantage of being more or less deniable. Low-cost,
low-risk sea mines represent the best military option to bring Taiwan back
into the fold.

Our prediction: Will China resort to military action? Army leaders have
pledged: "When it comes to the unity of the motherland, we will absolutely
not compromise or retreat." China needs to wait until after the Taiwanese
election. If they demonstrate the flowering of democracy, it will be hard
for the Chinese to destroy it. Wiser heads may prevail in Beijing.

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