US warns China over Taiwan

Threats of war aimed at vote: spokesman


Tuesday, March 7, 2000

Washington -- Beijing's heightened threats of military action against Taiwan represent an effort by the Communist regime to meddle in the island's approaching election, rather than a sudden deterioration in affairs between the two feuding parties, Washington says.

But the United States is sufficiently concerned about China's bellicose warnings to raise the issue with Beijing and restate the long-standing U.S. pledge to defend Taiwan, a State Department spokesman said yesterday.

"We would consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means as a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the U.S.," James Foley said.

Mr. Foley suggested that there may be "a certain amount of posturing involved" on the part of Beijing, adding: "It is probably not accidental that these comments are being made in the context of the run-up to the election on Taiwan in two weeks' time."

For years, China has warned that any formal declaration of independence on the part of Taiwan would amount to a declaration of war. Last month, Chinese Communist leaders raised the stakes by saying that any attempt by Taiwan to "indefinitely postpone" reunification talks would also be a justification for war.

On the weekend, Chinese President Jiang Zemin threatened "drastic measures," while Premier Zhu Rongji said Beijing would not sit idly by and watch attempts by Taiwan to break away from the mainland. Yesterday, China's military kept up the rhetoric, with the main army newspaper saying troops were ready to "resolutely smash" any move toward independence.

China and Taiwan split after Mao Tsetung's Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists from the mainland in 1949.

Beijing's threats are being made in the context of manoeuvring by the Chinese military for a sizeable increase to its already huge budget as it attempts to transform itself from a technologically inferior conscript force into a modern power. The Taiwanese election give it an opportunity to rattle its rusty sabres.

Despite China's tough talk, most analysts regard as empty its periodic threats to invade Taiwan. Although it has a huge army, China lacks the airlift and sealift capacity and sophisticated strike aircraft necessary to stage an invasion.

"China's military threat is nothing to worry about in the short term," David Shambaugh, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, wrote in yesterday's New York Times.

"Taiwan surely knows that, which in part explains why its leaders have refused to negotiate seriously about reunification, and why they have challenged the one-China principle, which states that the island is part of the Chinese nation."

An arms race is under way on both sides of the Formosa Strait.

China announced a 12.7-per-cent increase in military spending yesterday, boosting its already huge defence spending to $14.5-billion (U.S.) as it extends its 10-year drive to modernize its military.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has given Washington a $6.5-billion shopping list that includes four guided-missile destroyers equipped with ultra-sophisticated Aegis radar systems capable of tracking and shooting down aircraft and missiles. Taiwan also wants to buy batteries of Patriot missiles -- the same kind of antimissile missiles that Washington has supplied to Israel and used against Iraqi Scud attacks during the Persian Gulf war.

Original article