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House Policy Committee
Policy Perspective


Christopher Cox, Chairman

Communist China's Taiwan Invasion Threat

February 1, 1996

On January 3O, Communist China's Premier Li Peng emphasized that in trying to absorb Taiwan as "a region of China...in the final analysis, we cannot promise to give up the use of force."

This statement is the latest example of the PRC ratcheting up unsubtle threats against Taiwan. In recent weeks, Chinese Communist leaders told American visitors that the PRC was preparing a plan for a sustained attack on Taiwan should it pursue a policy that they deemed too "independent." These threats against Taiwan were coupled with threats of attack on the U.S. should we seek to protect Taiwan--a remarkable slap in the face to the President after three years of the Administration's "engagement" policy, and in a region the Administration has highlighted as its top foreign policy priority.

While a number of observers have been startled by Communist China's most recent provocations, its threats against Taiwan are part of a pattern aggressive behavior in territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, Communist China's economy and military structure have recently undergone enormous changes, including a sustained nine-percent economic growth rate and a dramatic--and ominous--transformation of the military's force structure and doctrine. This recent growth and modernization of the Communist Chinese military threatens vital U.S. national security interests in Asia.

A Growing People's Liberation Army

Trends in People's Liberation Army (PLA) expenditures for foreign military technology over the last decade reveal an emphasis on force projection through air and naval power, with a 2:3:5 ratio for the Communist Chinese Army, Navy, and Air Force respectively. In 1992, Admiral Liu Huaqing, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission and the PRC's highest ranking military officer, publicly affirmed that the PLA Air Force and Navy would remain primary recipients of funding for foreign military technology and weapon systems. Recent notable purchases include:

26 Su 27 Soviet fighters from Russia (with an additional 26 under negotiation) 24 Mil Mi 17 helicopters from Soviet Union 10 Il-76 heavy transport planes from Russia In-flight refueling technology 100 Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles and four mobile launchers Rocket engines and missile guidance technology from Russia Uranium enrichment technology and nuclear reactors from Russia Airborne Early Warning (AEW) technology from Israel Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the U.S. 100 Klimov/Sarkisov RD33 jet engines from Russia Avionics from US for F-8II fighters Artillery munitions production equipment from the U.S. Mark 46 MOD 2 anti-submarine torpedoes from U.S. 50 T-72 tanks from Russia. 2-4 Kilo-class conventional submarines from Russia

The PLA has recently given a greater degree of attention to development of combined arms, rapid deployment units, air mobility, and a blue-water naval capability. Doctrinal changes, weapon systems modernization, and imports of advanced foreign weapons systems indicate an interest in increasing the PRC's ability to project power beyond its borders. Similarly, Beijing has announced its plans to develop two 45,000-ton aircraft carriers within the next decade, and the PLA is already capable of conducting military actions in close proximity to China's borders.

The PLA's greater emphasis on force projection through the development of naval and air power resulted in substantial changes in budget allocations. The PRC's official defense budget has expanded every year since 1989, for an increase of 141 percent. The annual increases are as follows:

1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995

13% 15.5% 12% 13.8% 3.9% 20.3% 25%

Beijing argues that these six years of hikes were offset by 130 percent inflation. Yet the PRC's stated defense budget does not include research and development, military education, and extra-budgetary appropriations, such as the 1992 purchase of 26 Sukhoi-27 fighters from Russia. Modest salaries, free housing, and free medical services represent far lower outlays for pay and benefits for military personnel than in the West; hence, more of the PRC's defense budget goes to hardware.

Assessing the real value of Communist China's defense budget is extraordinarily difficult because of the aforementioned variables, unknown levels of civilian production from the PRC's military-industrial complex, and Beijing's reluctance to publish accurate statistics. As a result, comparative analyses of the PRC's defense budget range from $18 to $90 billion.

Chinese Communist Aggression in Disputes with Taiwan and Elsewhere

The recent PLA build-up in land, sea, and air forces and the overall increase in military spending in the last six years are fueling the fears of Communist China's neighbors--especially Taiwan. The build-up aggravates a number of longstanding territorial disputes in Asia involving the PRC. A series of overt Communist Chinese provocations have further heightened tensions in the region.

One of Asia's most volatile strategic issues is the relationship between the PRC and Taiwan. Beijing has repeatedly declared its intent to use military force against Taiwan should the latter move towards independence. The PLA regularly holds large-scale combined air and naval exercises in close proximity to Taiwan. The most recent exercises coincided with Taiwan's national legislative elections and were designed to browbeat the Taiwanese electorate and show that Beijing is serious about using force in the event the island chooses an independent course. The PRC fired six nuclear-capable missiles in July 1995 about 100 miles north of Taiwan, shortly after Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's visit to his alma mater, Cornell University.

The PRC's belligerence has recently been raised to a new plane. Chinese Communist political and military leaders told former Assistant Secretary of Defense Chas Freeman that the PRC had drafted plans to attack Taiwan with conventional missile strikes for 30 days if President Lee refuses to desist in his calls for international recognition. Beijing's threatening statements and actions towards Taiwan are profoundly troubling, at a time when Taiwan prepares to fully enter the world's family of democracies by holding its first free presidential election in March 1996.

Ownership of the Paracel and Spratly Islands is one of the most contentious territorial issues in Asia. The strategically-located Spratly Islands extend some seven hundred miles south of mainland China and hold oil and natural gas reserves of an estimated 45 billion tons, valued at $1.5 trillion. The island chains are claimed by seven nations (the PRC, Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines), with five (all but Brunei and Indonesia) deploying military forces in the area.

In July 1992, Vietnam signed a contract for Spratly Island oil exploration rights with the Mobil Oil Corporation. Exploration was blocked by PLA naval forces. And in February 1995, Communist China was discovered to have established an outpost on Mischief Reef, located in part of the Spratly Islands claimed by the Philippines. In March, the Philippine Navy responded by destroying small structures and concrete markers the PRC had erected on three reefs. Since then, PLA and Philippine warships have provoked each other, and both nations have detained the other's fishing ships in the area.

Communist China has additional territorial disputes with Japan over the Senkaku-Shoto Islands and with India concerning the Himalayan frontier, a dispute that led to armed conflict between India and China in 1962. Moreover, the Communist regime faces separatist movements in the northwestern provinces of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia and Tibet. The PLA build-up has ominous implications for how the PRC might employ expanded military capabilities both abroad and at home.

U.S. Interests and Clinton Administration Vacillation

The U.S. has an immense economic stake in stability in the Asia-Pacific region, which accounts for more than 36 percent of U.S. international trade. Seventy percent of Asia-Pacific oil transits the South China Sea and the Spratly Island chain. Communist China's bellicose approach to territorial disputes in that region could affect a significant part of American foreign commerce.

The United States has a substantial stake in supporting fledgling and established democracies in Asia, and a special stake in supporting Taiwan. Taiwan is America's sixth largest trading partner, with hard currency reserves of over $90 billion. Also, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 implies a commitment of U.S. assistance in the event of foreign aggression.

Recently, as a sign of its commitment to Taiwan, the Congress initiated legislation to permit the sale of F-16 aircraft to that nation and to support Li Teng-hui's visit to the U.S. Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration has made its commitment to supporting Taiwan anything but crystal clear. In the event of military attack by the PRC on Taiwan, a senior State Department official was quoted by U.S. News & World Report on October 30, 1995 as saying, Clinton Administration policy is "meant to be ambiguous....You don't really know what would happen until you get there....we would not be in a position to react with force. We would not elect to do that I'm sure." Such a posture seems quite unambiguous, and it's small wonder that the Chinese Communist leaders view the Administration's policy as a green light to bully Taiwan--or worse. One Chinese leader told Chas Freeman that the PRC does not fear retribution from the U.S. because American leaders "care more about Los Angeles than they do about Taiwan," which the former Clinton Administration official interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. should it defend Taiwan.

Clinton's Taiwan policy is not an isolated case of weakness encouraging the PRC's bellicosity. The Clinton Administration has squandered U.S. credibility through a dizzying series of policy flip-flops and retreats in the region. The most noticeable reversal to the PRC was on most-favored nation (MFN) trade status. Candidate Clinton excoriated President Bush for kowtowing to the PRC's leadership after the Tiananmen massacre of June 1989. In May 1993, Clinton issued an Executive Order formally linking the PRC's MFN status to progress on human rights in Communist China, which he had charged Bush with overlooking. Then, on May 26, 1994--almost exactly one year after the Executive Order--President Clinton tore up the Order, separating MFN trade status from human rights.

Another Asian policy cave-in that did not go unnoticed in the PRC followed the Administration's May 16, 1995 threat to slap 100 percent tariffs on luxury cars exported by Japan to the United States as a result of a Section 301 unfair trade practices case involving sale of autoparts in Japan. On June 28, 1995, the Administration cast aside its threat in a "compromise" in which Japan made no commitments to particular numbers of foreign autoparts it had to buy or of dealerships that would sell foreign cars. And yet again Clinton's vow not to allow the North Korean tyranny to retain nuclear weapons was promptly followed by the August 12, 1995 "framework agreement," in which the Administration rewarded Communist North Korea for its nuclear weapons program with aid and reactor technology. Whatever the merits of Clinton's ultimate position, the fact that he was so willing to alter his policies in the face of any resistance has not been lost on the Chinese Communists.

Conclusion

Asian nations are concerned because the Chinese Communist leadership has historically shown a willingness to use military force to settle disputes within what it regarded as its sphere of influence. The PLA has seen battle at least 11 times since the inception of the Chinese Communist dictatorship in 1949. China's build-up of naval forces is designed to expand this sphere by enhancing its ability to project force; this program has already spawned a naval arms race among Asian nations. These developments have created mounting regional instability.

Its vast size, population, economy, and air and naval force projection capabilities make Communist China a tremendous regional power. The PRC's growing force-projection capabilities are further destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region. The rising military profile of Communist China in that region--in terms of both capability and aggressive intent--necessitates policies to protect American economic interests and the democracies in the region. And the greatest danger is to the Taiwanese democracy--which the PRC is now threatening to attack or invade. Despite repeated claims that the Asia-Pacific region is its top priority, the Clinton Administration has unwittingly encouraged Communist Chinese imperialism, and has completely failed to promote robust policies to counter these ominous trends.

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The Policy Committee is the policy-making arm of the House Majority.  It is comprised of the House Leadership (the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the Majority Whip, the Conference Chairman, the Policy Chairman, the Conference Vice Chairman, the Conference Secretary, the NRCC Chairman, and the elected leaders of the Junior, Sophomore, and Freshman classes), the chairmen of key standing committees of the House, and Members elected by region and seniority.  The Committee meets weekly to consider legislation and issues of national importance.