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Taiwan, China gear up for arms race

By China Analyst Willy Lam for CNN

Beijing (China)

(CNN) -- China's generals have stepped up efforts to seek approval from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership for more funds and "faster war preparation" in response to moves by Taipei to secure sophisticated weapons from the United States.

A threatening pseudo arms race beckons as Beijing grows increasingly worried the Bush administration will provide more military and diplomatic help to the "renegade province" of Taiwan, despite Washington's repeated avowal of America's "one China" policy.

Sources close to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) said the generals had recently sent a series of petitions to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to speed up the reunification process with Taiwan -- including by the possible use of military force.

The petitions said Taiwan's pro-independence government led by President Chen Shui-bian -- who began a new four-year term last month -- was mapping out plans not only to defend the island against a PLA attack but to launch a "ferocious counter-attack."

Reference was made to Taiwan's so-called "Scorpion Strategy" under which Taipei would lob missiles at not only big cities such as Shanghai but also major infrastructure such as the newly built Three Gorges Dam.

The generals also sought the earliest possible passage of the National Reunification Law now being drafted by China's National People's Congress.

The law would facilitate nation-wide mobilization of manpower and materials for war -- as well as lay the foundation for the PLA securing more funds and other resources for the purpose of accomplishing national reunification.

Dam strike

It is significant that while PLA officers largely remained quiet ahead of the re-election of President Chen in March, they have lately given a lot of angry interviews to the official media.

For example, General Liu Yuan, the son of the late state chairman Liu Shaoqi, responded to Taipei's alleged plans to hit the Three Gorges Dam by telling the China Youth Daily that an air strike by Taiwan "will provoke a retaliation that will 'blot out the sky and cover up the earth'."

Other military hardliners have asked the leadership to abandon the omnibus pledge made by Beijing that during military conflicts, China will never be the country that uses nuclear weapons first.

These hawks are saying China is justified in using its nuclear arsenal against Taiwan if there is evidence to substantiate rumors Taipei is secretly developing nuclear devices.

Diplomatic analysts in Beijing said the party and army leadership was most worried about so-called "collusion" between Taiwan and Washington.

Military shopping

A senior delegation led by the head of the Taiwan Parliament, Wang Jin-pyng, is in the United States to look at possible procurement of anti-missile Patriot batteries, submarine-hunting jet fighters, as well as submarines.

Earlier this month, the Taiwan cabinet approved a special budget of NT$610 billion (about $18.2 billion) for the purchase of top-of-the-line American weaponry.

Additionally, a senior Pentagon general, John Allen, is due in Taipei next month to help get the Taiwan defense forces up to speed.

Washington has insisted that under the Taiwan Relations Act -- which Beijing has repeatedly attacked for violating the "one China" principle -- the U.S. has the right to help Taiwan defend itself.

Adding to U.S. concern was a just-released Pentagon assessment of Chinese military strength which said the PLA was stockpiling record numbers of missiles along the coast to intimidate Taiwan.

China wary

However, Beijing has insisted, in the words of a Xinhua commentary last week, that Washington has "exaggerated China's military capacity so as to provide [itself] with a pretext for selling weapons to Taiwan."

Party cadres and academics have pointed to other signs of Washington's improved ties with Taipei -- and of the Bush administration using Taiwan and other U.S. allies in Asia to "contain and encircle" China.

The official media has condemned as "provocative" a recent series of naval and air force war games jointly held by the U.S., Japan and other American allies not far from the Taiwan Strait.

On the diplomatic front, U.S. President George W. Bush last week won Taipei's praise by signing a bill authorizing Secretary of State Colin Powell to help Taiwan earn observer status in the World Health Assembly.

While the CCP leadership is still discussing with the generals the next stage of military preparation, the party's Leading Group on Taiwan Affairs -- China's highest decision-making organ on Taiwan -- has decided on tougher economic and diplomatic measures against the Chen administration.

On the commercial front, more pressure will be put on so-called "green businessmen," or supporters of the pro-independence movement in Taiwan, to either change their political stance or leave the mainland's lucrative market.

Beijing is also mounting a series of aggressive steps to court the 26 countries that still recognize Taipei.

For example, Vice Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong is visiting a number of Taiwan allies in the Caribbean, including Panama, with a view to boosting economic ties with these countries.

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