Tuesday, February 22, 2005

US signals hard line on China military threat

The image “http://www.geocities.com/martincartoons/images/missilesrefw.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Mr Di Rita cautioned that several branches of the US government, including the intelligence agencies and the state department, and not just the Pentagon, were paying close attention to China’s rise as a military power. He added: “The PRC is going through its own emergence as it seeks to join the global community of nations. As it does so, it is undergoing a military modernisation and is developing capabilities that have the attention and interest of many in the region.”



US signals hard line on China military threat

By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and James Harding and Daniel Dombey in Brussels and Mure Dickie in Beijing


The Pentagon is preparing to ratchet up its assessment of the threat of China’s expanding military, in a signal that the Bush administration is increasingly concerned about China’s growing ambitions in the region.

The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, the formal assessment of US military policy, will take a more pessimistic view of the challenge posed by an emerging Chinese superpower than the 2001 overview.

Last week Douglas Feith, the under-secretary of defence for policy, said that the rise of China was one of the most important issues being examined in the review, which is expected to be completed this autumn.

”The manner in which the national security capabilities are organized to address the global war on extremism will continue to dominate our ongoing activities,” said Larry DiRita, Pentagon spokesman. “But it is important to step back and examine the strategic landscape beyond these ongoing activities, and the PRC’s emergence as a global actor is one undeniable reality.”

China’s military expansion will loom over discussions in Brussels on Monday, where President George W. Bush will meet Nato and European Union leaders for two days of talks at the start of his four-day trip to the continent.

Europe is looking to lift its embargo on selling arms to China at a time when Washington is increasingly nervous about the expansion of the country’s armed forces and the advance of its military technologies. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate foreign relations who is generally seen as pro-European, told the Financial Times on Friday that he would support curbs on US sales of advanced military technology to the EU if it could not provide guarantees that such technologies would not end up in China’s hands.

On Capitol Hill last week, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, Porter Goss, Central Intelligence Agency director, and Admiral Lowell Jacoby, head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, delivered a series of warnings.

They focused on the increasing number of missiles that are being deployed across the Taiwan Strait, the acceleration in Chinese defence spending, and the rapid increase in the size of Beijing’s navy.

Mr Di Rita cautioned that several branches of the US government, including the intelligence agencies and the state department, and not just the Pentagon, were paying close attention to China’s rise as a military power.

He added: “The PRC is going through its own emergence as it seeks to join the global community of nations. As it does so, it is undergoing a military modernisation and is developing capabilities that have the attention and interest of many in the region.”

Over the weekend, the US and Japan agreed on a new joint security arrangement, which calls on China to increase transparency in reporting its military expenditure and expansion. For the first time, Japan identified Taiwan as a shared security concern with the US.

”A lot of the China stuff has been simmering just under the surface, very much obscured by our need for co-operation with them on various fronts, whether it is Iraq or North Korea,” said a congressional aide. “You’re seeing some re-assertion here of the China sentiment that existed when Bush came into office and we shouldn’t be stunned by it.”

Mr Bush came to office in 2001 vowing to treat China as a “strategic competitor”. But after the downing of a US spy aircraft over Chinese territory and as the White House became consumed by the unfolding war in Iraq, the Bush administration muted its criticisms of China during its first term.

Mr Bush was reported to have told his aides that he did not want to have to deal with a “China in-box” - problems with Beijing - as he sought to build an international coalition that would oust Saddam Hussein.

His administration has sought to forge a co-operative working relationship with China, recognising that it needs Beijing’s help in the war on terrorism and in helping to resolve tensions on the Korean peninsula.

But in publicly expressing strong concerns about the modernisation of China’s military, the president’s national security team has adopted a more confrontational tone.

Responding to questions from lawmakers last week, Mr Rumsfeld expressed concern both about the size of the Chinese navy in addition to the double-digit growth in its defence budgets. Susan Collins, a Republican lawmaker on the Senate armed services committee, told Mr Rumsfeld the US should be alarmed about intelligence estimates that the Chinese navy could surpass the US fleet within 10 years.

It remains unclear whether the remarks by senior administration officials represent a change in tone or policy. But they threaten to inflame relations with China at a time when the US is depending on Beijing to help convince North Korea to return to multilateral talks aimed at resolving tensions on the Korean peninsula. The hermit kingdom recently declared that it possessed nuclear weapons.

Some analysts dismissed suggestions that the recent administration official remarks represented a significant change in policy but simply reflected the increasing reality of China emerging as a pure military competitor to the US.

“Chinese military modernisation has clearly been accelerating in scope and space in the last few years,” said Evan Medeiros, China analyst at the Rand Corporation. “This is a legitimate concern for US national security planners, though there hasn’t been any quantum shift in US views.”

Beijing on Sunday denounced Japan’s declaration on Taiwan with the US, complaining that it encroached on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Beijing's reaction reflects deep concern over Japan's increasingly assertive approach to security issues, and could worsen its already testy ties with Tokyo.

China, which has backed its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan with threats of war, has long sought to prevent Japan from supporting Taiwan's democratic government.

Washington and Tokyo have never before explicitly listed Taiwan as a bilateral strategic issue, and Japanese officials have generally avoided public discussion of cross-Strait issues while privately calling for a peaceful resolution.

Washington is committed by law to supplying Taiwan with arms for defence, and has long made clear that the US might intervene in the event of a Chinese invasion.

In their statement, the US and Japan tried to mollify China by listing development of a “co-operative relationship” with Beijing as another strategic goal.