The lifting of a European Union arms embargo would remove another barrier to an accelerating Chinese military buildup that is rapidly tilting the balance against Taiwan, raising the risk of conflict, US anlaysts said Wednesday.
China has relied heavily on Russia until now to turn its huge but antiquated military into a force equipped with advanced fighter aircraft, warships and submarines capable of projecting power well beyond its shores.
But the United States fears the entry of European players would give China freer access to dual use technologies in areas such as communications, electronics, sensors and space surveillance, enabling it to integrate its forces more effectively and further expand their reach, US analysts say.
"The military balance is already shifting towards China from Taiwan," Peter Brookes, an analyst here at the conservative Heritage Foundation, in an interview. "So what this will do is accelerate that, depending on what they transfer."
Taiwan in the past offset China's much larger army by dominating the skies over the strait with more advanced fighter aircraft and maintained a qualitative edge in surface warships.
But that edge has been eroded by Beijing's steady buildup of short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan and its acquisition of Russian Su-27 and Su-30 fighters, Kilo class diesel electric submarines and Sovremennyy-class destroyers.
One aim of the buildup is to complicate US military intervention if Beijing attacked Taiwan. A longer term US suspicion is that China seeks to ultimately supplant the US military as the dominant force in the region.
Taiwan's own assessment is that the military balance would tip in China's favor this year, said Richard Fisher, an expert who closely tracks the Chinese military buildup.
"This is the year when the military balance in most categories starts to accelerate in China's favor. The margin of deterrence in the Taiwan Straits starts declining dangerously starting this year," he said in an interview.
For the EU to lift the embargo, he said, "is putting a gun to Taiwan's head as well as to their own."
Even under the embargo, China has employed dual-use European technology since the mid-1990s to improve its weapons systems, he said.
"This will be ratcheted up," he said. "In terms of electronics, the French have sold submarine sonar, ship sonar and certain ship-based electronic warfare defenses. I expect the French, for example, to begin marketing far more expansive electronic systems.
"And this is a real fear on the part of the Pentagon that companies like Thales will start to market advanced network centric command and control systems or far more modern electronic intelligence and electronic defense and offensive systems," he said.
If the embargo is lifted, he said, Britain, France and Germany will likely face greater internal pressure to start selling China high resolution satellites, he said.
Although Russia is currently China's main supplier of sophisticated military hardware, Fisher sees China turning to European defense contractors for next generation technologies that will allow it to move beyond its existing weaponry and make it competitive with the US military.
"This is where Europe's move to lift the embargo takes on a malevolent strategic character," said Fisher.
"The Europeans, in my assessment, are looking to China to provide cash investments into their defense sectors so they can also remain competitive against the Americans. And we're beginning to see these tie-ups," he said.
"I expect these sorts of tie-ups to proliferate, and will become the military expression of those European leaders who seek a so-called multi-polar world in which American power is contained.
The EU's move toward China comes amid parallel moves by the United States and Japan to update their military alliance in the face of the Chinese military buildup.
Japan referred to the Taiwan question for the first time in a joint statement with the United States last week, declaring that easing tensions in the Taiwan Strait was a "common strategic objective."
"The People's Republic of China is a country that we hope and pray enters the civilized world in an orderly way without the grinding of gears, and that they become a constructive force in that part of the world and a player in the global environment that's constructive," US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told senators last week.
"We don't know how they're going to shake out," he said.
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Bush To Seek EU Support Against China's Rising Military Might: Analysts
Beijing (AFP) Feb 21, 2005
US President George W. Bush is expected to use his visit to Europe this week to seek more support in his administration's bid to keep China's growing military might in check, analysts said.
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