Beijing waiting for U.S.-Iraq war?

By Jon Dougherty

Military analysts say China could be waiting for the United States to commit much of its remaining military forces to an attack against Iraq before launching an invasion against Taiwan.

“Should the Iraqi war turn sour – if, for instance, Saddam pulls his most loyal troops into Iraq’s cities to force a drawn-out, street-to-street fight – the U.S. might be forced to pour additional troops into the battle,” said Bryan Preston, a writer and television producer, in the Aug. 20 issue of The National Review Online.

“For China, our difficulty would be a golden opportunity to take on Taiwan, provided it could be sure the Bush administration’s nuclear threat was a bluff,” he said. “What would China do?”

Tom Knowlton, a military analyst writing for Internet-based publication Defense Watch, which is published by Soldiers For The Truth – a group founded by decorated veteran, author and columnist David Hackworth – also says there is at least substantial anecdotal evidence China may be planning such a move – enough that it should give U.S. military planners and the Bush administration pause.

“There are strong indications that China is preparing to capitalize on the growing American military commitments in the Middle East by invading the island nation of Taiwan,” writes Knowlton in this week’s issue.

Chinese H-6 aircraft can be fitted with long-range cruise missiles.

For one, he says, southeast Asian experts Stephen Young and Arthur Weldon “have characterized China’s post-9-11 strategy as a ‘radical departure’ from their historical diplomatic pattern and indicative of a ‘policy of intervention and naval adventurism seeking the subservience of mainland Southeast Asia to Chinese national need.'”

And, says Knowlton, even the Pentagon’s analysts “have likewise expressed concern at the apparent refocusing of Chinese military doctrine to a strategy of ‘pre-emptive and surprise attacks.'”

Finally, Knowlton points out, China has been engaged in modernizing and upgrading its military for a number of years, including high-tech jet fighters, naval vessels and ballistic missiles.

Chinese J8-II fighters.

Such weapons would give Beijing a great deal of power, especially if combined into a massive surprise attack. That would fit into current strategy, and it could be accomplished before the U.S. has a chance to defeat Iraq’s forces, which shouldn’t take long, military analysts predict.

Preston believes the Bush administration is aware of China’s emerging threat and that Beijing could take advantage of its numerical superiority over Taiwan, should the U.S. military get bogged down in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“While officially recognizing the mainland as the ‘One China,’ we are sworn to defend Taiwan should China attack,” said Preston. “We also sell Taiwan its most advanced military hardware, and trade heavily with both Chinas. Additionally, this past spring the Bush administration leaked what it will do should China invade Taiwan: Our response will be swift and devastating, and likely nuclear.

“The Bush team was clearly thinking, even then, that China could seize the moment if favorable circumstances appeared, and sought to warn them off,” he said.

In March, the Los Angeles Times said it had obtained a classified Pentagon report that said the military had been asked to devise plans to use nuclear weapons against China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Russia and Syria.

The Defense Department envisioned three scenarios where it would consider nuclear responses: targets able to withstand non-nuclear attacks, in retaliation for an attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, and “in the event of surprising military developments.”

The paper said one of those “developments” was a conflict between China and Taiwan.

“What would such circumstances look like? A somewhat likely scenario involves an American military that’s simply overstretched,” said Preston.

Knowlton said China’s “Liberation 2” military exercise conducted in the fall of 2001 “simulated an invasion of the Taiwan mainland and concerted air, sea and missile attacks on U.S. aircraft carriers.”

“More recently, in July 2002, the pro-Communist Hong Kong newspaper, Wen Wei Po, reported that top Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) sources confirmed that China has placed the invasion of Taiwan as its paramount strategic focus in the region,” Knowlton wrote.

“Viewing the collapse of the Soviet empire, [China’s rulers] understand that they must expand or die – and they intend to expand at freedom’s expense,” wrote Chuck DeVore, a special assistant for foreign affairs in the Reagan Pentagon, in the Aug. 29 edition of the Taipei Times.

“China’s military options have never been stronger and should continue to tilt in its favor until the U.S. begins deploying effective missile defenses to shield itself and its allies in Asia,” said DeVore. “Unfortunately, there is a formidable axis of opinion among the policy elite that serves to pre-empt meaningful debate about China’s growing arsenal and intentions.”

At least some of China’s military upgrades have been courtesy of the United States. As WorldNetDaily reported March 16, 2001, Beijing managed to upgrade its military rapidly because of technology transfers from the U.S. and, to a lesser degree, Israel.

Some of those upgrades include missile technology. In September 2001, just days before the devastating terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., WorldNetDaily reported that China was practicing the sinking of U.S. aircraft carriers using new anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Washington Times reported this week that U.S. military analysts were caught off-guard when China test-fired a new sea-launched cruise missile that struck a target 155 miles away – more than twice the distance the Pentagon had predicted.

JL-1 sub-launched missile could reach Taiwan in minutes.

China, Knowlton points out, is projected to boost its military spending for the second year in a row, and much of it will be “spent on pursuing offensive missile weaponry such as advanced nuclear tipped DF-5, DF-31, DF-41, JL-2 and CSS-5 rockets.”

The DF-5 is the current mainstay of China’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. Though the program was cancelled in 1981, Beijing built and deployed around 20 DF-5s, which are rapidly becoming obsolete.

Beijing, however, is also developing the DF-31 and DF-41, which can travel 8,000 kilometers (4,900 miles) and 12,000 kilometers (7,400 miles), respectively.

The DF-31 “will narrow the gap between current Chinese, U.S. and Russian ballistic missile designs,” says an assessment by the Federation of American Scientists. “The DF-31 limited-range ICBM will give China a major strike capability that will be difficult to counterattack at any stage of its operation, from pre-flight mobile operations through terminal flight phases.”

The DF-41, meanwhile, is a three-stage solid-fuel ICBM and “will have a mobile launch capability providing greatly improved survivability compared with previous Chinese intercontinental missiles,” FAS said.

“China’s long-term goal is to become one of the world’s great powers,” says a defense secretary assessment of China in the Fiscal Year 1997 Defense Authorization Act. “Its leaders envision that, at some point during the first half of the 21st century, China will be securely established as the leading economic and political power in the East.”

Using Iraq as a distraction might be part of that goal, analysts said.

“This is what I see as the scenario of maximum danger: China will attempt to invade Taiwan at a moment that capitalizes on the United States’ growing role in the Middle East and at a juncture when, in the words of Maj. Gen. Huang Bin of China’s National Defense University, the replenishing of [U.S.] expenditures of smart weapons in other theaters of combat becomes ‘too expensive’ to engage in another ‘protracted war,'” Knowlton wrote.

“The Bush administration must endeavor to judiciously utilize the U.S. military to further foreign policy goals without creating windows of opportunity for nations such as communist China to engage in military adventurism,” he said.

Nevertheless, U.S. military officials say any new war with Iraq would be as swift as the first.

According to an estimate published immediately after the Gulf War by U.S. Central Command, the Iraqi military lost 3,700 of 4,280 tanks, 2,400 of their 2,880 armored personnel carriers, and 2,600 of their 3,100 artillery pieces. Between 60,000 and 70,000 Iraqi prisoners were taken, and 42 Iraqi divisions were rendered combat ineffective. The ground phase of the war lasted 100 hours.

By September 2002, however, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that Iraq had assembled a force of 2,000 tanks, 3,500 armored personnel carriers and some 2,000 artillery pieces.

Also, U.S. military officials say Iraq – ironically, with Chinese assistance – has managed to rebuild much of its air defense system, using modern fiber-optic networks to transmit targeting data to surface-to-air missile sites.

Still, military analysts say Iraq’s forces are no match for superior U.S. firepower and technology. That means, they say, U.S. forces should be able to quickly dispatch any Iraqi opposition.

Even so, the U.S. would still have to devote much of its active-duty and reserve forces to the effort, giving Beijing a possible window of opportunity. And, DeVore hinted, that makes Beijing’s preoccupation with Taiwan of paramount importance to Washington.

“The struggle for Taiwan is the core U.S. foreign-policy issue of the new century,” he wrote. “If Taiwan remains free and democratic, the U.S. has little to fear from China. If Taiwan is absorbed by a totalitarian China, then the 21st century will see the eclipse of American influence and the ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights – nothing less is at stake.”

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