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David Miller: Why Asia is the US’s Real Problem

David Miller Online

Why Asia is the US’s Real Problem

At a time when the US is concerned with forcing a change of leadership in Iraq and trying to find a solution to the Middle East conflict, its volatile relationship with China has once again come under the spotlight. Already this week, tension has been raised between Beijing and Taiwan and China has been critical of the US over what it calls the “China-Threat” theory that it believes Washington is harbouring. Tensions between the US and China are not a recent development. However, they do serve as reminder that the Middle East is not the only area in the world that can cause concern and that the US will not have everything its own way when it comes to forging and maintaining its own new world order.

The renewed talk of a Taiwan crisis is concentrated in the Chinese media although its leadership has sworn that it will attack Taiwan if it goes ahead with a declaration of independence. Although it is doubtful that China’s military could sustain an effective assault on the island, the consequences of a war in East Asia would be devastating. Not only would this be in loss of life but also the damage to the regional economy and repercussions this would have around the world.

Whether China would risk a war with Taiwan over any independence declaration is debatable but what is certain, is that the Chinese voice in world affairs is being heard loud and clear. Once again Beijing is telling the world and in particular the US that it is still a major player on the international stage and that its intentions and goals should not be taken lightly. Since 1979, China has embarked on an ambitious plan to modernise its armed forces as the emphasis has shifted from the Maoist theory that Chinese forces would have to fight against an invading army to one where a modern amphibious force is required to fight outside of the country’s eastern seaboard and reclaim disputed territory such as Taiwan and the Spratly Islands.

Not only is China once again sabre rattling over Taiwan, it is shrewdly playing its Russian card. This month marks the first anniversary of the Sino-Russian Good-Neighbourly Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Defense Minister Chi Haotian has stressed the imperative of close bilateral links between the two countries and said that the agreements should "develop a stable, long-term strategic partnership of operation." In other words, China needs Russian arms if it is to fulfil any global ambitions.

If the PLA is successful in purchasing weapons such as Su-30 jet fighters, AA-12 air-to-air missiles and Kilo-class submarines then eventually the balance of power in the region will shift in China’s direction. Taiwan and other countries will be forced to keep on upgrading their own arsenals to try and stay ahead, however in Taiwan’s case the problem in not money but finding countries willing to supply it with weapons and military equipment. There are reports that a deal with the US to buy submarines may have been scuttled due to Chinese pressure and if this is the case, then Taiwan is seriously disadvantaged.

Once again, the US is playing a game where it is unsure of the rules. On the one hand, the Pentagon is concerned about the Chinese military build up and questions China’s intentions. A recent report presented to the Congress by the U.S.-China Security Review Commission said China's economic and military growth would pose a national-security threat to the United States, and it recommended a rolling back of bilateral cooperation particularly in the areas of trade and high technology. China has accused the US of having evil motives that are driving such reports and for adopting a Cold War mentality. On the other hand, the US does not seem able to fully commit to supporting Taiwan and by not supplying it with the hardware it requires seems to try and play both ends towards the middle.

The situation in the Taiwan Straits and in North East Asia has dominated strategic thinking for decades now and since the end of the Cold Ear with the Soviet Union, there has always been the suggestion that a new one will develop between the US and China. This is happening and will continue to happen as long as there is the issue of Taiwan and suspicion in Washington over Chinese intentions outside its borders. This is a Cold War that has developed almost by stealth and one which has not generated much concern except for incidents such as the PLA missile tests in 1996. The reality at the moment is that so much of the rivalry is based on rhetoric and the threat rather than the action. The problem lies in the real possibility that things may not always stay this way.

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