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Analysis: China shows off new hardware

By ANDREI CHANG   |   Aug. 3, 2007 at 6:30 PM   |   Comments

HONG KONG, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- China is flexing its military muscle by exhibiting a model and photos of its new DF31A intercontinental ballistic missile and type 093 nuclear attack submarine, or SSN, at the People's Liberation Army's 80th Anniversary exhibition held in Beijing. Also on exhibit are the DF21 intermediate-range ballistic missile and DF11 short-range ballistic missile.

The DF31A ICBM photo has been released for the first time along with the new TEL truck. The range of the DF31A is said to be more than 10,000 kilometers, covering not only major U.S. and Canadian cities but also the capitals of the main NATO countries. Two Type 093 SSNs have also entered service and are on display publicly for the first time as well.

Beijing is using the Aug. 1 anniversary of the army's founding as an opportunity to send a strong warning to Taiwan against any new move toward independence. It is showing off its strategic nuclear missiles as a hint to the United States and Japan that it is serious about its threat to use force, and they would do well to keep out of the conflict should a crisis occur in the Taiwan Strait.

Since the beginning of this year, China has been sending signals to Taiwan by showing off the PLA's new weapons, including the J10A fighter that finally appeared in public this January.

Other weapons on display in Beijing are the J11B multifunction fighter, new generation 99G main battle tank (MBT), type 97 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), HQ9 long range surface-to-air missile (SAM), and new 155mm self-propelled gun (SPG), similar to the Russian 2S19 SPG.

The exhibition shows the results of China's heavy investment in its military, including not only nuclear weapons but space satellite positioning and EW technology. The simultaneous appearance of the new ICBM, SSBN and massive new conventional weapons suggest that the PLA's budget is in fact much higher than reported. In fact, it may be two to three times larger than Japan's budget and equivalent to the military budgets of Germany and France combined.

China stepped up its criticism of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian last week following his proposal that a referendum be held on applying for U.N. membership under the name "Taiwan." Chen has suggested that the referendum be held alongside the presidential election next March.

The United Nations rejected Taiwan's application for membership last month. The island has applied every year since 1993, but this was the first time the application was submitted under the name "Taiwan," rather than "Republic of China," the island's formal name. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rejected the application without even submitting it to the General Assembly for a vote.

Responding to Chen's call for a referendum, Beijing's Office of Taiwan Affairs issued a strong statement, calling Chen a "saboteur" of peace and stability and reminding the island that China will not compromise on any move toward independence. China used similar threatening terminology on the eve of its artillery attack on Taiwan's Jinmen Island's in 1958. The current storm clouds building up over the Taiwan Strait are unlikely to dissipate until Taiwan's presidential election is held next March.

Close to that time, the PLA is likely to publicize additional new weapons. If Chen goes ahead with the referendum on applying to the United Nations, a showdown in the Taiwan Strait cannot be avoided.

Meanwhile, the United States, Japan and Australia are taking steps to send their own warnings regarding any military moves in the region. The U.S. Air Force has sent F22 fighters to Okinawa, Japan, for the first time this summer. Japan's Aviation Self Defense Force participated in a joint air force maneuver in Alaska this week, sending F15J fighters outside of the country for the first time. Japan and Australia also signed a mutual military cooperation guideline this year.

The U.S.-Japan alliance is the strongest deterrent to military action and the best guarantor of peace and stability in the region, especially if the Taiwan Strait situation is further complicated. Canada could also be called into the alliance with Japan, the United States and Australia. Canada, a traditional refuge for Chinese, could face serious refugee problems if the situation intensifies in the Taiwan Strait. Also its national interests are involved, as Canada has massive investment in Taiwan and many Canadians work there.

An Asian version of NATO makes sense, as these four nations have mutual interests and can best protect them by operating together. The Cold War may be over in Europe, but not in East Asia.

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(The author is the editor in chief of Kanwa Asian Defense Monthly.)

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