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US EXPERT WARNS OF CONFLICT IN TAIWAN STRAIT

Washington, March 12 (CNA) A major conflict is looming in the Taiwan Strait and the only way to avert a future Chinese attack on Taiwan is "to deter it right now," said a US expert in international studies on Sunday.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said China's White Paper on Taiwan signaled a new phase of impatience in Beijing, and it wasn't the only sign.

"(Mainland Chinese) President Jiang Zemin has declared in recent months that he intends to make reunification of the motherland his legacy" and "senior Chinese military officials now speak openly about a 'fixed timetable' for reunification," Kagan said in a column in Sunday's Washington Post.

Kagan said it is "unlikely" that the March 18 presidential election "will produce a government in Taiwan willing to accommodate Beijing's demands," adding that "the next Taiwanese president will probably maintain the status quo that Beijing considers unacceptable."

Unless the United States accelerates its moves to help Taiwan beef up its military capability and "to convince Chinese leaders that Washington will not just twiddle its thumbs when an attack begins," a war in the Taiwan Strait is going to break out, said Kagan.

"The Taiwanese are begging the Clinton administration to sell them four guided missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis radar system, which would give Taiwan early warning of an attack and significantly improve its ability to knock out incoming missiles," he said, adding that "so far the administration has opposed the sale on the grounds that it would offend Beijing."

Kagan said one of the Pentagon's top experts on the Chinese military feels that "Beijing has figured out a way to force Taiwan's capitulation without an invasion."

According to Mark A. Stokes, "a massive, coordinated air strike employing hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles could cripple Taiwan's air defenses and early warning systems, destroy its command, control and communications centers and demolish Taiwan's eight primary airfields, thereby neutralizing the Taiwanese air force as well as its naval ports," said Kagan.

"Beijing's own military analysts write that China could achieve air superiority over a paralyzed Taiwan within 45 minutes, suffering few casualties. It could then force the Taiwanese to sue for peace on Beijing's terms," he added.

"This strategic plan explains China's massive buildup of short-range ballistic missiles across the strait from Taiwan," Kagan said, continuing: "In 1995 China deployed only 40 of the M-9 missiles. By the end of last year, it had 200 and was increasing its stockpile at a rate of 50 missiles per year. The Pentagon estimates that China could have 800 missiles by 2005, all aimed at Taiwan. And thanks to China's acquisition of US technology -- both by theft and by purchase from American corporations -- those missiles will be highly accurate."

"Nor are the Chinese daunted by American military superiority," Kagan said. He added that Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon official, thinks "Chinese strategists are developing tactics of 'asymmetrical' warfare that allow an inferior power to prevail against a stronger enemy in a 'local war under high-tech conditions.' Surprise is a critical factor in Chinese strategic thinking," he continued.

"In the absence of diplomatic or political solutions," Kagan said, "the only way to avert a future Chinese attack on Taiwan is to deter it right now, and that may require some tough decisions."

Nevertheless, he said, currently, "the US military conducts no exercises with Taiwan, engages in no joint planning and cannot even communicate with the Taiwanese military in a crisis. This preposterous legacy of America's normalization of relations with China more than two decades ago has become a positive invitation to war. But the Clinton administration opposes remedying the problem, because that too would offend Beijing," he continued.

"In its classic form, the psychology of appeasement convinces peace-loving peoples that any effort to deter a future conflict is too provocative and therefore too dangerous," he said, concluding: "The appeasing nation comes to believe that defenselessness and lack of preparation for a conflict is not only safer but a sign of maturity. And then the war starts." (By Jay Chen and Deborah Kuo)




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