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Seven surefire ways of holding China in check


Whatever stance Beijing takes regarding Taiwan, the US has at least seven courses of action to hold China's actions in check, according to a political analyst

By Cao Chang-Ching 曹長青
The Taipei Times
Saturday, March 11th, 2000

No matter how China maneuvers, threatening or pretending to be sweet -- as it has done recently -- it simply is at the end of its rope and will not be able to do anything to Taiwan regardless of whom the Taiwan people choose to be their next president on March 18. In addition to Taiwan's own strength, Washington has at least seven courses of action to hold Beijing's reckless actions in check:

First, the US Congress will vote on whether or not to grant China a permanent normal trade relationship status after next Saturday's election in Taiwan. There certainly will be repercussions if Beijing takes any careless actions.

Beijing, of course, is looking forward to passage of the bill in Congress, for it means a green light to enter the WTO.

While it will hurt the US economy to some extent if Congress doesn't pass the bill, it definitely will be much more detrimental to the China side, since US-China trade has been increasingly favorable to China for the past decade. China's surplus was US$3 billion in 1990 and the figure jumped to US$70 billion last year, which is about 45 percent of China's total foreign currency reserves. Having a stagnant economy, as it has had for the last couple of years, China simply cannot afford to lose such huge profits.

Even though the Clinton administration and US business groups have given powerful support to the bill, opposition in Congress and labor organizations is by no means weak. More than half of the Democratic Party members in Congress have already said they will vote against the bill. And the hundreds of organizations that successfully messed up the annual WTO meeting in Seattle last year have moved to Washington to protest Beijing's entrance into the WTO.

Second, the Senate will vote on the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) after Taiwan's presidential election. The TSEA means an expansion of US military relations with Taiwan. Despite the Clinton administration's opposition and fear of damaging US-China relations, the House passed the bill by an overwhelming 341-70 vote last month.

One sees Beijing's concerns about the Senate vote when Chinese National Defense Minister Chi Haotian (浩田) emphasized to the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific forces, Admiral Blair, when he was visiting Beijing last month, that "China strongly disapproves of the passage of the TSEA in the US Congress."

The Senate's decision to delay the vote until after Taiwan's election also comes out of concerns over Beijing's behavior.

Although Clinton has made it clear that he was going to veto the bill, his term will end in less than 10 months, and it is possible for the next US president to sign the bill.

Third, the US will also discuss whether or not to provide Taiwan with four Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyers. This will enable Taiwan to intercept People Liberation Army missiles at certain levels.

Again, the Clinton administration opposes the sale, but the Pentagon and many members of Congress support it. This will be the main topic at the annual US-Taiwan arms sales meeting in April.

Whether China will behave itself during the run-up to Taiwan's election on March 18 will pretty much determine whether or not the US will provide Taiwan with those destroyers -- because the US always decides on its arm sales to Taiwan in accordance with Beijing's conduct.

Fourth, calls for including Taiwan in the Theater Missile Defense System (TMD) in Washington have increased after China's latest paper missile threat. The augmentation of China's threats increases support for the TMD, and the establishment of TMD will put China's potential missile attacks in jeopardy.

Fifth, as an obvious warning to Beijing, US warships have repeatedly visited Hong Kong recently, and one of its aircraft carriers has been hanging around in the Japan sea.

In a recent book titled Preventive Defense, former US Defense Secretary William Perry said that the Pentagon had carefully calculated just how many aircraft carriers it should dispatch to the Taiwan Strait four years ago when China fired missiles to threaten Taiwan's first presidential election in 1996. Perry said that sending just one aircraft carrier might cause Beijing to underestimate Washington's seriousness, while sending scores of ships might look provocative. The Pentagon finally decided to dispatch two carriers to give Beijing a warning and allow it to save face.

The current moves of warships and an aircraft carrier in Asian waters explains the same US strategy and determination.

Sixth, forging an alliance with Japan against China. On his way to visit China a week after Beijing's release of its white paper, Admiral Blair stopped in Tokyo and met with Japan's defense minister. Blair explained clearly US opposition to the white paper. As one of the most important US allies in Asia, Japan may join with US forces to contain any potential China's rash actions on Taiwan.

Seventh, taking India as a possible ally. President Clinton will visit India for five days beginning on March 20. It will be the first US presidential visit to India in 22 years, and it will make some impact on Asia's military strategy. It is possible for India to form an alliance with the US against China.

While directly confronting only Pakistan, India has always considered China its "No 1 adversary," not only because of an old border grudge between the two, but also because it is the strongest backer of Pakistan.

Over the past seven years, India's economy grew 6 percent on average, and speedily augmented its military strength. It also successfully conducted five nuclear tests in 1998, and produced long-range missiles that can reach Beijing and Shanghai. Moreover, India stated recently that it would increase 28 percent of its military spending, making it the largest increase in half a century.

Conclusion

Faced with all these constraints, it is impossible for Beijing to take any actual action besides launching paper missiles. Therefore, as long as the Taiwanese people are not afraid of this kind of threat, the paper tiger's true face -- China -- will come out in the wash.

The Chinese leaders' recently softened tune came only after Washington's strong opposition to the Feb. 21 white paper and the Taiwanese people's distinctive unyieldingness to threats. This show best explains the nature of all thugs: bully the weak and give in to the tough.

Therefore, the people of Taiwan should understand clearly that both strength and justice are on their side.


Cao Chang-ching is a writer and journalist based in New York.

2000-03-11

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