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Can Taiwan Truly Rely On The US

General Hu's caution that the United States may not necessarily rush to help if Taiwan is attacked reflects rising concern in the Pentagon and among senior figures in the U.S. Navy that the balance of military power is shifting significantly in China's coastal waters.
by Martin Walker
Washington (UPI) Feb 08, 2006
A senior Taiwanese military commander has thrown complicated new factor into the latest skirmish in the recurrent war of words between politicians across the Taiwan Straits.

General Hu Chen-pu, the head of the General Political Warfare Bureau in the Ministry of defense, has publicly warned his civilian leaders that they cannot take American military assistance for granted, and that Taiwan has to be able to defend itself with its own resources.

"The U.S. has never promised to come to Taiwan's aid in the event of cross-strait hostilities. Nor has Taiwan anticipated such aid from the U.S. for we can never be sure if it would render us assistance," Hu said during a press briefing held this week at the ministry's new combat-maneuver training center.

General Hu's warning, which came as Beijing scolded Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian as a "troublemaker and saboteur," were also intended to put pressure on the Taiwanese parliament finally to authorize the $18 billion re-armament plan that has long been stalled in the legislature. The U.S. has already agreed in principle to provide the Patriot anti-missile system, maritime patrol aircraft and submarines.

General Hu's caution that the United States may not necessarily rush to help if Taiwan is attacked reflects rising concern in the Pentagon and among senior figures in the U.S. Navy that the balance of military power is shifting significantly in China's coastal waters.

Recently retired naval officers have told United Press International that "it is now an open question" whether the Navy could again deploy two aircraft carrier task forces to the Taiwan Straits, as the Clinton administration did in 1996 when Chinese missile "tests" threatened to restrict shipping access to Taiwan's ports. The U.S. move, intended as a warning to Beijing, then calmed the situation, but China's re-armament program is changing the military balance.

The Pentagon's latest Quadrennial Defense Review, released last week, claims that China has "the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could, over time, offset U.S. military advantages absent U.S. counter strategies."

"China continues to invest heavily in its military, particularly in its strategic arsenal and capabilities designed to improve its ability to project power beyond its borders. Since 1996, China has increased its defense spending by more than 10 percent in real terms in every year except 2003," says the QDR.

"The pace and scope of China's military build-up already puts regional military balances at risk. China is likely to continue making large investments in high-end, asymmetric military capabilities, emphasizing electronic and cyber-warfare; counter-space operations; ballistic and cruise missiles; advanced integrated air defense systems; next generation torpedoes; advanced submarines; strategic nuclear strike from modern, sophisticated land and sea-based systems; and theater unmanned aerial vehicles," the QDR goes on.

China's purchase of Kilo-class submarines and advanced Su-30 strike warplanes from Russia represents a serious military threat to the U.S. carriers, on which reinforcement of a threatened Taiwan would depend. Senior U.S. naval officers are concerned that the Bush administration has not yet thought through the implications of this, and of the possibility of losing an aircraft carrier to enemy action.

"That could mean losing 6,000 sailors - double the losses we suffered on 9/11," one newly retired admiral told this reporter recently. ""How do we retaliate for that? Do we counter-strike the Chinese mainland, when there are thousands of U.S. civilians and businessmen there, and corporate America is besieging Washington to warn that we might be hitting our own factories and essential trading partners?"

General Hu's remarks reflect similar concerns among the Taiwanese military, whose Integrated Assessment Office expects China to deploy some 1,800 ballistic missiles over the next 5 years, and to deploy a total of 50 diesel and nuclear submarines over the coming decade. By 2015, China is expected to deploy 38 new warships like the impressive new home-built "Shenzhen" destroyer, and there are plans to build aircraft carriers. For the moment, however, China's main naval asset is the fleet of 4 Russian-built Sovremenny-class missile destroyers, each carrying 54 Sunburn missiles, Russia's highly advanced SS-N-22 anti-ship missile that is a serious worry for the U.S. Navy.

Ironically, the integration of the economies of China and Taiwan has never been closer. China is Taiwan's biggest customer, taking 38 percent of Taiwanese exports last year, worth over $70 billion. After Japan and South Korea, Taiwan's is China's third largest source of imports.

But the cross-straits politics have been delicate since Taiwan elected President Chen, who last week suggested that the island should "forget about" reunification with the mainland and proposed to scrap the largely moribund National Unification Council. President Chen has lately backed away from his proposal for a new Taiwanese constitution to spell out the country's independence; a move that China says would provoke military action

Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office slammed Chen this week, saying: "This demonstrates once again that he is a troublemaker and saboteur of cross-strait relations and peace and stability in Asia."

U.S. State department spokesmen also criticized President Chen's remarks, stressing that the U.S. maintained its long-standing policy of "one China" and opposes Taiwanese independence. But President Bush's statement, early in his first term, that the United States would "stand by Taiwan" in the event on an attack, and the offer of U.S. arms, has emboldened the pro-independence movement.

The concern that is growing in the U.S. Navy is that Taiwan is being politically provocative to Beijing while declining to boost its own defenses, largely because President Chen seems convinced that American protection is guaranteed - a complacency that Taiwan's own military now seems at pains to challenge.

Source: United Press International

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