Chinese Whispers by Edward Teague

10 March 2005

Taiwan’s defense minister Lee Jye said up to 800 missiles would be targetted at them last week.

China has 700 ballistic missiles deployed opposite Taiwan, “The number is estimated to increase to 800 next year,” Lee warned in a call for support of a new 480 Bn Taiwan dollar (15.24 billion US) arms package aimed at deterring China. He said land-based cruise missiles being developed by China could “ launch a long-distance strike blitz on Taiwan.”

Military analysts say Taiwan’s military commands, communications, airports and sea ports would be vulnerable to surprise Chinese missile attacks. Many people in Taiwan are afraid that these legal and military moves signal a dangerous direction. “There is growing concern in Taiwan and the US that the balance in tilting,” said Arthur Ding professor of international relations at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “With a growing economy, China is more able to afford advanced weapons systems. In the long term, things are moving their way,” he said.

The 3,000 member National People’s Congress is expected to approve a military budget of 247.7 billion yuan (US$29.9 billion) at its annual meeting, when security issues are unusually high on the agenda. They will also debate a law threatening Taiwan with punitive action, including, ultimately, a military attack, if it pushes for independence. Beijing has said again it was prepared to use force to bring the island to heel but only after all other avenues are exhausted.

The alternative to force was peaceful reunification using the one country, two systems model adopted by Hong Kong, according to Wang Zhaoguo, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress.

Beijing has announced an increase in military spending of 12.6 percent this year to 247.7 billion yuan (29.9 billion dollars). For the past decade the defense budget has been growing by double figures, outstripping even the super-charged economy.

Taiwan’s arms budget calls for the purchase of six US-made Pac-3 anti-missile systems, eight conventional submarines and a fleet of submarine-hunting P-3C aircraft from the United States over 15 years beginning this year. Taiwan has already put into service three US-made PAC-2 anti-missile systems to protect the greater Taipei area.

Since Chen Shui-bian’s re-election in March, Beijing has stressed its long-standing vow to take Taiwan by force should it declare formal independence. Chen said China would increase the deployment of missiles targeting Taiwan by 75 per year.

Should war break out, China’s elite combat troops and marines could attack Taiwan’s airports and harbours while its “Fifth Column,” or agents, could strike from within, Lee said.

Taipei’s cabinet last year approved a special weapons budget of 610.8 billion Taiwan dollars but the opposition called it excessive and demanded a cutback to 300 billion dollars. In a bid to win a pacifist parliament’s approval, the government last month cut the package by 25%. Washington is said to have warned there would be “repercussions” if Taiwan fails to approve the budget. Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the United States is obliged to provide arms “of a defensive nature” to the island.

Last month CIA Director Porter Goss said that the strategic balance in the Strait was shifting toward China. Since early 2004, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has expressed concern about the expansion of the Chinese navy. In a break in diplomatic niceties the US and Japan been mentioning Taiwan as a shared concern in the latest review of their security alliance.

Internal critics in Taiwan claim the spending is worthless as the weapons will not be delivered in time to fend off any attack from China in coming years. Others warn of an arms race with Beijing.

The EU imposed an arms embargo after the Tienanmen Square movement was crushed and are currently contemplating, against the wishes of the US a relaxation or removal of such an embargo.

The EU has promised a strict code of conduct to minimize the impact of the change, Washington is afraid that the EU will allow sales of advanced communications and electronic equipment that could strengthen China’s ability to take Taiwan by force.

Members of the US Congress said last week that they might retaliate by restricting European access to US military technology.

However Israel is China’s second largest arms supplier. Coincidentally, the newest addition to the Chinese air force, the F-10 multi-role fighter, is an almost identical version of the Lavi (Lion). The Lavi was a joint Israeli-American design based upon the F-16 for manufacture in Israel, but financed mostly with American aid. Plagued by cost overruns, it was canceled in 1987, but not before the U.S. spent $1.5 billion on the project.

In 2001 when the Navy EP-3E surveillance plane was forced to land in China after a Chinese F-8 fighter flew into its propeller, photos showed Israeli-built Python 3 missiles under the fighter’s wings.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and China were established in 1992, but military ties go back to the early 1980s. Until formal diplomatic ties were established, the military relationship was covert. Israel has supplied about US$4 billion worth of arms during a covert courtship. In the 1990s, the Sino/Israeli  military relationship grew rapidly. It appears that arm sales have contributed to the strengthening of the diplomatic engagement. It has also led to a diplomatic contretemps. According to reports in the media, US Under Secretary of Defense Doug Feith believes that Israeli Defense Ministry director general Amos Yaron misled him on Chinese arms sales. Reports said Feith had demanded Yaron’s resignation but this is denied.

Most well known is the row that brewed up in 2000 for Israel to scrap a $250 million deal to sell China the Phalcon airborne radar system (similiar to US AIWACS) equipped with advanced Israeli-made aeronautics on board a Russian-made plane. Washington’s argument was that providing Beijing access to the technology would upset the military balance over Taiwan and threaten US interests in the region. When the US Congress threatened to cut the annual $2.8 billion military aid to Israel they gave in and scrapped the deal. Subsequently it was reported that Israel forked out $350 million in compensation to China.

Israel has of course much to lose by angering the Chinese but it has more to lose by angering the US. The cost of not complying with Washington’s demands could result in a cutback in the annual $2 billion in foreign military assistance that the US provides. It could result in political and diplomatic costs, too, for Israel will have to do a fine balancing act if it wants to maintain its military ties with China without poking Washington in the eye.

Similiarly if the EU re-commences arms sales to China they risk US retaliation over trade. The IHT report today that Britain is pushing to strengthen and increase safeguards so that weapons exports to China will not surge once the European Union’s arms embargo is lifted, according to British and European officials.

Supported by the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Ireland, among others, the UK is aimed at allaying concerns in the United States and Australia that more arms sales to China results in regional instability. President Chirac has publicly commented, “The present embargo has no justification and in fact is of no consequence,” during a visit to China. “We cannot treat China as a partner while continuing to marginalize it on the strategic and military level,” said Chirac. Fears that Paris may make its own move without EU consent was re-enforced by recent meetings in Paris between Chinese Defense minister Gen. Cao Ganchuan and French Defense minister Michele Alliot-Marie.

China is said to have expressed interest in French Mirage and Rafale jet fighters as well as the German Leopard tank. However, most of Beijing’s interests are said to be  communications, night vision gear, hardened computer networks, and attack helicopters.

The French Crotale air defense missile system is in use in China  and French-made sonar systems are installed on attack submarines. China has reportedly also used a French Navitac command and control networks and systems for its newest warships such as the Jiangnan destroyer, which is armed with a Russian missile defense system said to be based on the the U.S. Aegis battle platform.

There has been further US/EU  friction generated by the use of the EU Galileo GPS system threatening US “Space Control” as proposed in the PNAC vision of the 21st Century.

Business Week reported last year that the U.S. threatened to attack the Galileo network if China or other adversaries such as terrorists use it during time of war. This threat is said to have come after EU Galileo officials refused U.S. requests that the global navigation system be shut down during wartime crisis or armed conflicts. U.S. defense officials are said to be concerned that China, Iran or independent terrorists may use the European navigation system to attack U.S. or allied forces.

It has also to be remembered, Russia and Israel, which are large exporters to China, fear they will lose out to competition from the Europeans, particularly from France, which has led the move to lift the embargo.

Certainly Washington is getting concerned the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported mid 2004, concerning Israel, Commission Vice Chairman Dick D’Amato told Reuters that while Washington had made “strenuous” efforts to restrain it from selling to China, “there’s still not the level of cooperation and assurance that has relieved our concerns. We’re very worried about this relationship.”

The report said that Israel had assured Washington it would not sell items to China that could harm U.S. security. The commission highlighted that they “understand that Israel has offered training facilities, including one for urban warfare, to train China’s security forces for the Olympics.” In the past year, “reports indicate Israeli firms have discussed a range of projects with China, including export of sensor and observation systems, security fences, microwave and optics, training, metal detectors and packages for airport and vital facilities security” .

However removal of the Baghdad regime has lost the Russians, Israelis and the French a valuable customer and they must replace those sales somehow. The salesmen with guns in their bags, are more concerned about making money than making friends.

 

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