Posted: March 18th, 2023
Rise of China
THE POWER OF NUMBERS – AND OF ARMS
China, a Growing Threat in Southeast Asia?
The appearance or reality of peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region in the 1990s may be drawn from the popular compliance of the countries to the provisions of an agreement (Shuja 1999). This was the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, signed in 1968 and becoming effective in 1970, by the countries or States. Their number increased to 176. They agreed to give up the use of nuclear power for military purposes. Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Romania and Algeria were examples of such countries. But this image of peace and unity in the region was shattered and vanished when India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in May 1998. India and Pakistan had a long-time feud and the tests sent the message to the rest in the region that the protagonists could be preparing for a nuclear collision. A Nuclear Weapons Convention could be the appropriate and timely measure to stop the disaster, but it seemed that the UN Security Council did not seem inclined to dismantle the nuclear weapons. There soon surfaced a need to re-examine the issue of nuclear proliferation in South Asia within the context of international security (Shuja).
Although almost all States in the world signed the NPT, the world remained insecure and at the brink of nuclear proliferation and disaster (Shuja 1999). Observers and critics believe that preventing this would require States with nuclear capabilities to reconsider their stand on a higher moral standpoint and discard their nuclear modernization programs. Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea, for example, needed to terminate their respective programs and agendas, using nuclear weapons. The West or industrialized North could adopt a new strategy, which would control arms spending and arms control to countries breaching the NPT. On the whole, the nuclear balance of terror needed to be confined to a low level in the region by convincing these States that weapons could produce peace or assure national security. Many believe that all States and peoples should share the common vision of a world eventually free of weapons of mass destruction (Shujah).
Washington admitted its worries over China’s growing military power and its “dictatorial” pose in Asian affairs, both of which were perceived as threats to U.S. interests (Bremmer 2005). Central Intelligence Agency Director Porter Goss cautioned that China’s increasing military might would not only disturb the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait but also U.S. forces everywhere else in East Asia. Hand-in-hand with this unsettling observation is the greater and ironic reality of a symbiotic relationship between the economies of the U.S. And China. American prosperity depended on the mammoth demand of China’s 1.3 billion people. And China must sustain its growth in American markets. Records said that the Chinese government owned roughly $180 billion in U.S. treasuries, so that a quick sale of U.S. securities could raise U.S. interest rates. This would undermine America’s productivity, as a result. U.S. current account deficit was dictated by trade with China, so that poor ratings in Wall Street would affect China alike. Inclining U.S. lawmakers to visualize and treat China as a potential and strategic partner in the world economy would be unlikely. China’s troubles with its neighboring countries compromised U.S. diplomatic and security efforts and intents in countries, like Iran and Venezuela. Both Washington and Beijing must consider making difficult tradeoffs to fend off greater conflicts. Even then, there would be no guarantee that the political will in either country would sustain the tradeoffs. One could obtain only brief domestic political advantage in refuting and denouncing the actions of the other. The rivalry could hardly be viewed as potentially resulting in a viable and sustainable political and economic partnership (Bremmer), which would, in fact, enhance the survival, growth and global leadership of both.
China has undeniably recovered its larger economic, political and military stature in East Asia to its way as a major power in the world (Bernier and Gold 2003). This renewed gigantic vigor likewise meant the return of Taiwan to its fold, which most mainlanders viewed was necessary to fulfill China’s destiny. Many observers believed that Taiwan belonged to China and that with China’s continued increase in size and strength in Asia-Pacific, Taiwan’s only option was to return to the fold. They considered the constant steady military build-up of the People’s Republic of China as capable of driving or pressuring Taipei back to the mainland in a decade or two from the present time. That would be the time when China’s military and economic might would have exceeded all of its neighboring countries in the region, possibly including Japan (Bernier and Gold).
This was an ominous development of supreme concern and interest to the United States. The U.S. would need to strengthen and intensify its Pacific presence, short of intervening in the Beijing-Taiwan crisis (Bernier and Gold 2003). But enhancing Taiwanese security might not entirely be in the form of deploying more regional air bases and naval forces, expanding relationships with neighboring countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. It might be in non-military forms like tighter dual-use export controls or prohibiting or restraining military sales to Beijing from Russia, Israel, Germany and France. Both military and non-military initiatives may discourage Beijing from applying force in pursuing its perceived vision and destiny. Advisers, critics and other observers could insist that peace in Taiwan was not inevitable. They could emphasize that it was high time U.S. civilian and military leaders reject the wrong assumption that time stood on the side of China in surmounting the Strait. They should instead consider that PRC could attack Taiwan in this decade and not in the next. If they did, Washington and Taiwan could act according to a shorter-term but realistic timeline of action (Bernier and Gold).
China expressed apprehension towards Japan’s agreement to link up with the United States on a theater missile defense or TMD system and to launch spy satellites (Kyodo News 1999). China felt that the Japan’s decision would disturb or injure regional and global security and lead to a new arms race. China’s Foreign Minister Sun Yuzi urged Japan to instead develop a “defensive defense policy” and assume a peaceful development role. The TMD system was designed to detect incoming ballistic missiles within a 3,000-kilometer radius with satellites and programmed to shoot them down with missiles or some other means. The Japanese government also launched four information-gathering satellites intended to improve and increase the country’s reconnaissance capability. It also said that the plan was in response to North Korea’s firing of a rocket in August 1999, part of which crossed over Japan and into the Pacific. Foreign Minister Sun also emphasized that Taiwan’s participation in the TMD would constitute a violation of international law and a breach to China-U.S. relations. Taiwan was reported to study the feasibility of joining the TMD system. The Foreign Minister appealed to the U.S. not to transfer TMD or similar equipment to Taiwan as the action would be detrimental to the interests of Taiwan if not the collective interests of the Asia-Pacific region (Kyodo News).
North Korea’s nuclear test drew severe reactions from Beijing. Chinese banks stopped financial transfers under government orders as part of sanctions (Gearan 2006). China was North Korea’s main trading partner and aid donor. It was reluctant to impose economic pressure on North Korea for a long time so as to prevent the collapse of the government of Kim Jong Il. But as a consequence of the nuclear test, Chinas began inspecting North Korean trucks along the nation’s border. It also warned North Korea against conducting another test and urged it to return to the arms talks. For its part, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Pyongyang, the first time in its 30-year nuclear history. North Korea’s Kim was quoted by a newspaper as saying that the North would resume arms talks if Washington dropped financial sanctions. He said the North would make concessions in the same degree of the concessions made by the U.S., whether in bilateral or six-party talks (Gearan).
The Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed by 188 States, yet the world continued to teeter on the brink of nuclear proliferation and devastation (Shuja 2002). Nuclear tests undertaken by India and Pakistan pointed to the persistent presence and the desirability of nuclear weapons. India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974 and then observed nuclear restraint since then. Nonetheless, it was engaged in open debate on whether to build nuclear weapons or not. India believed that either the world should opt for complete nuclear disarmament or each State should arm itself and improve its nuclear capability. The lack of global disarmament then gave India the right to security measures enjoyed by States, which already possessed nuclear arsenals and those in nuclear alliances. India was not a signatory to the NPT on account of inherent discrimination and a lack of success in alleviating the current nuclear risk. In India’s view, the treaty seemed to deny the nuclear rights of other countries more than disarmament. After the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and China’s nuclear detonation in 1964, India’s leaders had to reconsider the position first made by its First Prime Minister, Mawaharlal Nehru. Nehru said that India would never use nuclear weapons for “evil purposes.” Lal Bahadur Shastri first said that the Indian government was willing to make necessary revisions in the national interest. On January 21, 1965, however, he repeated the position of Nehru that India would not develop nuclear weapons under his administration. Indira Gandhi’s government linked India’s nuclear policy with security requirements. The 1974 detonation of a nuclear device demonstrated India’s decision and the strengthening of its nuclear option. It decided to take that option and direction in consideration of the growing nuclear and strategic capability of its neighboring countries. Many believe that India enjoys military superiority to Pakistan in both the conventional and nuclear fields, while presenting minimum nuclear deterrence against China (Shuja).
Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian strongly pressed for the passage of a massive arm procurement plan to boost Taiwan’s self-defense and in response to China’s increasing military intimidation (Kyodo News 2005). He pointed to China’s deployment of missiles targeting Taiwan and threatening the democracy of the global community itself. The long-stalled procurement plan would buy military hardware for the vital defense of political and economic order in Asia-Pacific. He stressed that Taiwan could only rely on itself in building up self-defense. This pronouncement coincided with the United States re-evaluated its relationship with China. The United States has been Taiwan’s closes ally and supplier of arms. The hardware budget, which Chen pushed for, was rejected by Parliament for 31 times. The opposition decided Taiwan’s financial position as a poor one and that the legislation would incite an arms race with China. But if passed, the bill would allot NT$340 billion, or approximately $10.2 billion, for the purchase submarines and antisubmarine aircraft. (Kyodo News).
Taiwan deplored China’s over-reaction to the island’s request to buy four Aegis guided-missile destroyers from the United States (Kyodo 2001). Taiwan felt that the purchase would be a legitimate measure in its legitimate defense in the face of China’s build-up of missile deployment. The Taiwanese government was steadfast in its stand, considering Beijing’s targeting the island and refusal to rule out the option of military force in order to retrieve Taiwan. Reports said that Washington would continue to honor its obligations to defend Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. Taiwan interpreted the commitment as a sign that Washington would not allow Chinese protests to affect its decision on whether to sell the arms to Taiwan or not. China has been constantly opposed to Washington’s supplying sophisticated weaponry to Taiwan. Other U.S. government leaders commented that China’s continued military build-up in the last years constituted a threat to Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific itself. The condition warranted or compelled the island to improve its defenses. They also expressed the hope that Washington should interact with China in fair and objective ways not detrimental or at the expense of Taiwan, which would be contrary to American interests (Kyodo News).
Taiwan President Chen took serious note of rising Chinese defense spending and deployment of 400 missiles as threatening the peace and stability of the entire Asia-Pacific region (Kyodo News 2002). Chinese Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng reported to the Chinese legislature a 166 billion yuan or about $20 billion defense budget or a 17.6% increase from the budget of the previous year. The double-digit military budget reached its 14th straight year (Kyodo News).
President Chen said that Taiwan had no intentions of joining an arms race with China but stressed that a military balance must be established in order to defend itself in the event of a Chinese assault (Kyodo News 2002). On the other hand, China asserted that Taiwan was a renegade province, which must be reclaimed and reunified with the mainland with or without the use of force. He added that his Defense Minister Tang Yiau-ming would exchange views with U.S. participants at an approaching defense conference in the United States. He, however, assured that the conference would not include possible weapons purchases from the U.S. Tang would be with U.S. officials, such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and leading arms manufacturers, who sponsored the conference. He would be the first Taiwan defense minister to visit Washington since the shifting of recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 (Kyodo News).
Bernier, J. And Gold, S (2003). China’s Closing Window of Opportunity. 20 pages. Naval War College Review: U.S. Naval War College
Bremmer, I. (2005). The Dragon Awakens. 7 pages. The National Interest: The National Interest, Inc.
Gearan, A (2006). China Asks for Calm Amid Signs It Is Cracking Down on North Korea. 2 pages. Deseret News (Salt Lake City): Deseret News Publishing Company
Kyodo News. (2005). Taiwan’s Chen Presses for arms Purchase in National Day Speech. 2 pages. Asian Political News: Kyodo News International, Inc.
2001). Taiwan Accuses China of Politicizing Aegis Issue. 2 pages
1999). China Concerned Over Japan’s Missile, Satellite Program. 2 pages
2002). Taiwan’s Chen Alarmed Over Rise in Chinese Defense Spending. 2 pages
Shuja, S.M. (1999). Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia. 5 pages. Contemporary Review: Contemporary Review Company, Ltd.
2002). India’s Nuclear Decision. 11 pages
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