ASIA: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Taiwan Strait's delicate military balance
, December 14, 2002
The balance of power across the Taiwan Strait is subtly shifting, says Larry Wortzel, China expert at the Heritage Foundation, and not to Taiwan's advantage, although he characterises the current situation as a Mexican standoff - a strategic impasse where no side could hope to win.
"The Chinese do not want a war against Taiwan and the Americans across the Taiwan Strait," says Wortzel. "For one thing, it would kill a lot of people; also, it would devastate the Chinese economy."
Taiwan is currently debating how - and if - it will accept a US offer of ships and submarines, amongst other weapons systems, which would greatly strengthen its military posture.Career
Wortzel has a distinguished career in the United States military and is now Vice President of the Heritage Foundation in Washington in charge of all international studies, after being for the last three years director of the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center.
As an analyst of Asian affairs and a policy maker for the US Government, Larry Wortzel has focused on security, defense, political and economic issues since 1970. He served in the US Army in Morocco, Korea, Thailand and Singapore. He was with the US embassy in Beijing for more than four years - first as Assistant Army Attache and later as Army Attache.
Wortzel also serves as commissioner of the US-China Security Review Commission, which operates on a mandate from the US Congress to oversee relations between mainland China and the United States.
He says that there is a great deal of naïvete about China in America. He says that the Heritage Foundation's view is that "people are policy" and says that President Bill Clinton China policy was captured be a group of China-leaning intellectuals who thrust the concept of a "strategic partnership" on the US president.
Wortzel says the Chinese are buying more Kilo-class submarines from the Russians and also SU-30 aircraft, which are a significant upgrade on the SU-27s they have in service at the moment. The great advantage of the SU-30 is that it can acquire and then swap targets with other weapons platforms, which gives it a greater ability of act effectively.
As for an invasion of Taiwan, Wortzel says that China has a limited amphibious capability, most of which is stationed in the south of China, and that even if they were to be used, the U.S. would get plenty of warning through its surveillance methods.
The defence acquisition debate in Taiwan has become highly politicised, with no approval yet for Taiwan to accept the US offer of four Kidd-class destroyers. The Kidds were originally order by the Shah of Iran before he was ousted and were commissioned into the US Navy. Many in Taiwan prefer Aegis class destroyers, which have an advanced electonic warfare capability.
"The Kidds are a great platform for Taiwan and a greater deal," says Wortzel."Taiwan could get four Kidds for the price of one Aegis, and anyway, the US is short of Aegis destroyers and Taiwan couldn't hope to get an Aegis delivery before 2010, whereas the refitting the Kidds would only take six months from the time the word was given, mainly for software upgrades, and Taiwan could start putting sailors on board to train."
Taiwan has also been promised eight conventionally powered submarines from the US, but again, this is politicised. The US hasn't built conventional power submarines for decades and would need technical assistance to build them.
As the shipyard in the US likely to get the order is in the district of Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, there is a very good chance they will be built in the US. Again, in Taiwan, there has been talk of the government-owned China Shipbuilding Corp building them.
A commonly held view is that no sensible person would get in a canoe built by China Shipbuilding, which has been propped up by massive government subsides. China Shipbuilding recently shed thousands of workers and cut pay by up to 35 percent and even turned a profit. The submarine bid has been part of China Shipbuilding's lobbying for years.
"China Shipbuilding could do the job with technical assistance, but then the first boat would need to be built in the US or elsewhere anyway," says Wortzel.
Where China has pulled away from Taiwan is in the area of inter-service co-operation. "The Chinese have studied the various military actions undertaken by the US and have taken the ideas of inter-service co-operation on board intellectually, whereas in Taiwan, the service still fighting each other for equipment," says Wortzel. "The army in Taiwan wants more tanks, whereas other equipment, say armoured anti-missile defences, would make more sense," he says.
Part of the naivete of some in the defence debate was Jiang Zemin's offer to pull back some of the 400 missiles targeted at Taiwan in exchange for other concessions. "These missiles are road mobile," says Wortzel.
"They could just start up the trucks and move them back again whenever they wanted," he says.