Pacific Chief: China Could Damage Taiwan, but not Hold It
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 29, 2001 The security balance across the Taiwan Strait is stable, but China's military buildup threatens to tip the scale, according to the top U.S. military officer in the Pacific.
"China is capable of causing damage to Taiwan," Adm. Dennis Blair told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee March 27. "It is not capable of taking and holding Taiwan.
"The 7th Fleet, in conjunction with the other forces that I can bring to bear, can ensure that China would not be successful in aggression against Taiwan should the decision be made to commit our forces," the Pacific Command chief said. However, he added, certain issues must be addressed to keep the region stable.
"There has to be an enhancement of Taiwan's capability through a combination of what they buy from us, what they manufacture themselves and what they buy from others," Blair said.
Taiwan aims to improve its defenses, and to that end the United States is considering selling it Aegis-equipped destroyers and other military hardware. Blair said his recommendation to the administration is based on what his command deems necessary to maintain "sufficient defense."
Each year, the Chinese arsenal that can target Taiwan grows by about 50 ballistic missiles. Last week, Blair told Chinese officials that the "most destabilizing" parts of their buildup are their intermediate- and short-range missiles -- the types China fired into the waters north and south of Taiwan in 1996.
At present, Blair noted, the buildup of CSS-6 and CSS-7 missiles is not "militarily significant." But they will become so as their numbers increase and accuracy improves, he said.
This eventually will force a U.S. response, to maintain a sufficient defense, he said. The United States supports a "One China" policy rather than Taiwanese independence, but it also is committed to the island's self defense under the Taiwan Relations Act.
China's view is that the island is a renegade province, but it has agreed not to use military force to resolve its claims. Yet tensions between Taiwan and China persist in light of China's military buildup.
China recently announced a 17.7 percent hike in its defense budget. Blair said Chinese field commanders and other officials have told him the increase would largely go for personnel and maintenance. A certain amount would go to acquisition, but he does not translate that directly into weapons.
The admiral pointed out that the Chinese are having only mixed success creating an effective combat capability using weapons they purchased from Russia. Integrating training and logistical support with the mother systems is "difficult business," he said.
Blair said he has emphasized to Chinese leaders that the force is not the best way to achieve "one China."
"The military side of this equation should be kept in the background," he said. "The things that will draw China and Taiwan together are nonmilitary ties -- commercial, financial, information, travel -- those sorts of activities.
"The Chinese agree," he said. "They want a peaceful resolution as well, but ... they maintain the right to use force and we maintain that resolution must be peaceful. And that's where we are."
Taiwan should not define the entire U.S.-Chinese relationship, Blair added. "I don't think that a military confrontation between the United States and China is inevitable," he said. "I believe that we should pursue policies which make it less likely rather than more likely."