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Beijing skeptics push ahead with arms buildup

By ANDREI CHANG

HONG KONG, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Mainland Chinese officials regard the more moderate position adopted by Taiwan's new president, Ma Ying-jeou, with some skepticism.

Ma, leader of Taiwan's Kuomintang Party, holds the position that Taiwan -- which calls itself the Republic of China -- is an independent country. To some mainland scholars that formulation is not much different from former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's more outspoken and confrontational "Taiwan independence" position.

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Given the unstable nature of the political relationship, the Chinese armed forces are not willing to risk a relaxation of their preparations for military conflict with Taiwan.

There are also other factors that would make it difficult for the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China to stand down in the Taiwan Strait, even if it did trust the Taiwanese regime on the island.

Since 1994, when cross-strait relations began to deteriorate, China has concentrated its military focus on coping with a contingency on the southeast coast.

As a result, priority attention has been given to developing the People's Liberation Army's navy, air force, second artillery force, army special operations troops and airborne corps. For 15 years core military equipment procurement, as well as research and development of the PLA in mainland China, have been geared toward a military conflict with Taiwan.

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This military expansion of mainland China has developed its own momentum. A substantial number of weapon systems developed during this period of time are now entering the stage of batch production.

China has established an immense military industrial complex over the past 15 years, accompanied by the emergence of complicated business interest groups. The "Taiwan threat" has provided a pretext for expanding the resources of the defense industry. In recent years arms deals with Russia -- China's mainstay supplier -- have not proceeded smoothly. But China has been developing its own weapon systems, and its own military industrial complex carries much more weight, prestige and power.

Finally, from China's perspective, international relations have become more unpredictable in the past two decades or so. At the same time, China is determined to become a major power in the world.

A number of its military equipment development programs are intended to turn China into a global military power. These include work on developing an aircraft carrier as well as SSBN and SSN submarines. China is expected to speed up the pace of development of these programs in the next four years.

The Chinese armed forces have long operated on the assumption that the resolution of the Taiwan issue will involve military conflict and that intervention by U.S. and Japanese forces is inevitable.

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Therefore, the People's Liberation Army of mainland China continues to develop and deploy sophisticated weapons systems -- most recently deploying its next-generation DF-21C medium-range ballistic missiles, for example. The purpose is none other than to deal with U.S. and Japanese forces in the event of a conflict over Taiwan, a fight that China could never imagine losing.

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(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

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