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China Considers US-Taiwanese Talks 'Nuclear Blackmail' - 2002-03-19


The Chinese government is using strong language in accusing the United States of breaking promises in meeting with top-level Taiwanese defense officials and perpetrating "nuclear blackmail" by reportedly including Chinese targets in Washington's nuclear strategy. The sharp words may soon change to diplomatic slaps at the United States.

Chinese officials simmered with anger when news leaks said the Pentagon was in the process of revising contingency plans that might see nuclear weapons used against China if war broke out with Taiwan. Beijing said this broke a promise by the United States and China not to target each other with weapons of mass destruction, and China demanded an explanation.

China's anger boiled over when the defense minister from Taiwan was allowed to meet with top U.S. military officials in Florida at a gathering of U.S. weapons makers last week.

Hamilton College China scholar Cheng Li says China sees the growing relationship between Taiwan and Washington as a real threat. "It is a big step for U.S.-Taiwan relations," he said, "so that is why they [the Chinese] want to make a lot of noise."

The Florida meeting represented the highest level contact between Taiwan and the United States in two decades and it follows several Bush administration actions that strengthened ties between Washington and Taiwan. Mr. Bush authorized the largest weapons sale to the island in years and said the United States would do "whatever it took" to defend Taiwan against an unprovoked attack.

Taiwan broke away from China during the 1949 civil war, and has been governed separately ever since. Getting Taiwan back as part of China is Beijing's top priority and the Communist government says it will use force if necessary. Beijing works to isolate the island diplomatically and reacts furiously to any contact with foreign nations that would reinforce the idea that Taiwan is an independent country.

Saturday, Chinese officials summoned the U.S. Ambassador to the Foreign Ministry where they delivered their complaints in strong terms.

Rand Corporation China scholar James Mulvenon says the real message is that China's cooperation in the war on terrorism should not lead Americans to take China for granted.

Professor Mulvenon says some U.S. officials mistakenly thought China would be intimidated by the U.S. power shown in the Afghan war and back down in confrontations over key issues like Taiwan. He said, "It is just a warning shot to remind those [U.S. political] forces that in fact we still have some very serious issues of disagreement with the Chines and we need to take their national security interest into account if we want to maintain positive relations."

China researcher Chris McNally of the East-West Center in Hawaii says China has prepared a series of escalating actions it can use to try to persuade Washington not to embrace Taiwan so closely and treat Beijing with greater respect.

Professor McNally says China might cancel planned visits to the United States by Chinese warships, which would frustrate American attempts to forge better relations between the military forces of the two nations.

Washington is also eager to get better Chinese cooperation on efforts to stop the spread of advanced weapons technology, build stronger ties in law enforcement and deal with the heavily-armed and unpredictable government in North Korea.

Professor McNally says these efforts could be at risk unless the strained relationship is repaired.