The Chinese Threat
The approaching anniversary of the September 11 attacks gives us an occasion to consider threats facing our country. While terrorism has dominated the headlines since those attacks, two recent reports to Congress highlight the long-overlooked Communist Chinese threat, which poses a long-term problem similar - indeed related - to the one posed by the “axis of evil” and other sponsors of terrorism.
These reports, one authorized by the Defense Department and the other by the congressionally-mandated U.S.-China Security Review Commission, identify a broad-based Chinese effort to modernize and expand its military, mainly in preparation for conflict with our long-standing, democratic ally Taiwan. China’s two-pronged strategy centers on a surprise attack, emphasizing rapid strikes by a force capable of exploiting potential U.S. weakness, including our dependence on technology.
In fact, the Defense Department warns that China’s “military training exercises increasingly focus on the United States as an adversary.” Its military modernization concentrates on weapons that could neutralize our military advantage, including anti-ship missiles to counter our naval fleet and cyber-warfare to disrupt our infrastructure. Additionally, China has 20 long-range, nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles capable of targeting the U.S., and is projected to add up to 40 longer-range, road-mobile missiles by 2010. Taiwan faces a similar threat from the 350 short-range ballistic missiles China has aimed at it.
There are a number of steps that the U.S. should take to deter Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait, to prepare Taiwan to defend itself in the event of a Chinese attack, and to defend the U.S. homeland. First, we should continue to supply Taiwan with whatever military equipment it needs to counter China’s growing offensive air and naval capabilities. Otherwise, Russian assistance to China - including transfers to air-to-air missiles, submarines, advanced aircraft, and warships - is likely to tilt the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait toward China. Additionally, the U.S. should ramp up its training of Taiwan’s military - including conducting joint operational training - to facilitate an allied U.S.-Taiwan response to an attack by China.
As President Bush is committed to doing, we should also protect our own shores by developing and deploying a missile defense system at the earliest possible date. U.S. vulnerability to a missile attack is intolerable, particularly when technology to avoid it is available.
China’s proliferation of technology used to develop ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction to state sponsors of terrorism - despite its numerous promises not to do so - is extremely troubling. The Commission concluded that, “current U.S. sanctions policies to deter and reform Chinese proliferation practices have failed and need immediate review and overhaul.” In that regard, the report recommended that we consider expanding the use of economic sanctions to apply against entire countries, rather than just individual entities. I support this recommendation for two reasons.
First, such sanctions could substantively punish countries for proliferating dangerous technology to dangerous regimes. Our past sanctions have been weak when imposed, and in fact, have often been waived by the president.
Second, and perhaps of greater importance, invoking sanction against a foreign government, rather than an individual entity, could potentially reduce the flow of dual-use technology to countries that proliferate WMD technology. Paired with more stringent export controls, these sanctions would impede Beijing’s access to U.S. advanced commercial technology which, as the Commission concludes, China is using to advance its missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.
These reports shed realistic light on the impact of China’s integration in the world economy, which many hoped would help liberalize and democratize that country through free trade and access to Western markets and media. Sadly, this is not the case. The State Department reports that human rights abuse remain widespread in China, and the government continues to exercise a stranglehold over the media, including the Internet. In addition, an $85 billion trade deficit with China calls into question whether we indeed have “free” trade with the country.
Our long-term relationship with China is interwoven with our long-term national security interests. China’s objectives of countering U.S. “hegemony” and seeking reunification with Taiwan and unlikely to diminish. Indeed, China sees both as central to its national identity. Meanwhile, we see defending our shores and democracies like Taiwan as missions central to ours. As long as these objectives clash, we must be vigilant against the Chinese menace.