KONGTwo Washington studies demonstrate greatly heightened U.S.
awareness of China's power, and in particular its ability to threaten Taiwan.
They are mostly correct in their observations, but dealing with the situation is
Although the United States is by far the
most powerful nation on earth, it is not omnipotent, so the studies may suggest
a need for it to think much harder about its priorities. The post-Sept. 11 focus
on Al Qaeda, the Middle East and homeland defense has made it harder to deal
effectively with the longer-term issues raised by China. A Pentagon review of
China's goals and military capability notes the very rapid buildup of offensive
capability toward Taiwan, with purchases of advanced Russian submarines,
destroyers and aircraft adding to a sustained increase in the homegrown missile
arsenal. It may leave China well short of being able to launch an invasion, but
it clearly increases the threat of blockade, and the damage that China could do
to U.S. naval forces if they intervened.
Beijing is attaching increasing
importance to Taiwan, an issue of minimal concern to Mao and secondary for Deng
Xiaoping. This can seem unnecessary except in terms of mainland domestic
politics. Both sides are seeking to build even closer economic ties, and the
threat of a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan is now remote. The
buildup implies that there is a bigger goal than pressuring the island.
For China, the reunification issue is no
longer just a matter of national pride or a tool in domestic power struggles. It
is a statement to the United States and Japan (and by implication to Southeast
Asia) of China's goal of expanding its defense perimeter to lands and seas which
it claims but which are currently controlled by others. Further U.S. arms sales
to Taiwan and pressing ahead with theater missile defense would help maintain
the current balance, although Taiwan's willingness to pay ever greater sums for
high-tech weapons may be questioned. But what else can the United States do to
counter what a report by the congressional U.S.-China Security Review Commission
sees as "an increasing threat to U.S. security interests"? Leaning on the
Russians to reduce arms sales to China (and Iran) is unlikely to help. The
Russians need the business and consider that they have been accommodating enough
to the West over NATO expansion and Central Asia. With its own long-term worries
about China, Russia may feel that a degree of Chinese dependence on Russian
military technology is advantageous.
The commission suggests increased use of
sanctions against countries responsible for proliferation of strategic weapons.
But that would amount to a veto over China and Russia's relations with several
important countries. Is that really viable? The commission also suggests closing
U.S. capital markets to offending countries and companies. But that threat also
sounds hollow, given America's need for capital and the ease with which China
can raise money offshore, in Asia as well as Europe. Despite U.S. sanctions,
even "evil" Iran has recently found that its bonds have a ready market in
Europe, at yields a fraction of those on Brazilian equivalents.
The United States is currently prone to
overstate its power in the world. But equally it may be in danger of overstating
China's power. The commission worries about China's shift to advanced technology
exports. But almost all of these are from foreign-invested factories using
foreign technology - much of it from Taiwan and Japan.
For sure, China is trying to build its
own technological base to enhance military as well as economic power. Foreign
companies, including American ones, may often be careless of their intellectual
But the bottom line of China's
integration into the world economy has always been the increase of its power and
influence. The issue for America now is not to try to reverse the trend but to
refine its definitions of its own interests.
It should avoid sacrificing long-term
interests in the western Pacific for transient ones in the Middle East and
Central Asia, and maximize the strategic impact of its military technology
rather than exhaust itself with too many goals across all continents.