Greater anxiety in China over Taiwan than at any time in 25 years: expert
BEIJING (AFP) Jun 09, 2004
There is a greater level of anxiety in China over the Taiwan issue than at any previous time over the past quarter century, one of the world's leading experts on Chinese military affairs said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, China's military -- the People's Liberation Army (PLA) -- has already managed to achieve superiority over Taiwan, said David Shambaugh, a professor at the George Washington University.

"I've been coming to China every year for the last 25 years. I've never sensed a higher level of anxiety over the Taiwan issue than at the present time," he told reporters in Beijing.

Most predictions have China achieving the upper hand in the arms race with Taiwan later this decade.

But according to Shambaugh, who previously served with the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the National Security Council, it has already happened.

"I'd say they've already tipped the balance in many areas," he said. "The mainland Chinese military capabilities are in my view superior to those of Taiwan."

Taiwan appears to know this, with Vice Defense Minister Tsai Ming-hsien on Wednesday calling for the passage of a special budget seeking to boost the island's military might.

Cross-strait tensions have flared up again after the re-election this year of the island's independence-minded President Chen Shui-bian for another four-year term.

Chen has promised constitutional revisions, triggering Chinese fears that this could push the island, ruled separately since 1949, towards a higher degree of formal independence.

The Chinese military has boosted its capabilities not just by buying new and more sophisticated hardware, but also by improving the educational level of its officers corps and rank and file.

"The PLA is increasingly able and ready to use coercive means across a whole range of contingencies against Taiwan," Shambaugh said, arguing invasion was only one among several potential Chinese actions against the island.

China's military build-up in the vicinity of Taiwan, most spectacularly with the deployment of hundreds of missiles along its east coast, is partly the result of experiences reaped in a crisis over the island in 1996.

At that time, the Chinese military was ordered by Beijing to intimidate the island's voters with missile tests ahead of a presidential election, and failed, having to back down amid US pressure.

"The last thing any military wants is to be ordered to do something by the civilian leadership that they are actually incapable of doing," he said.