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China raises specter of nuclear fury
BY MICHAEL DORGAN
Mercury News Beijing Bureau
BEIJING -- While top Chinese and Taiwanese leaders lowered their voices Monday, a Chinese military newspaper laid out in chilling new detail how China could conquer Taiwan by force. Beijing's tactics, the publication said, might include a neutron bomb attack on Taiwan and a nuclear showdown with the United States.
``The United States will not sacrifice 200 million Americans for 20 million Taiwanese,'' predicted one of the articles in a 16-page special issue of Haowangjiao Weekly, which is sponsored by the People's Liberation Army. ``They will finally acknowledge the difficulty and withdraw.''
Haowangjiao, an arm of the State Commission of Science Technology and National Defense, an agency of the People's Liberation Army, did not set a deadline for reunification. But it reported that China ``will announce a timetable for reunification at the proper time this year.''
Although China's military tends to be the most bellicose of Beijing's official voices, no Chinese government publication appears without high-level approval and coordination. The escalating threat could be nothing more than a trial balloon from a hard-line faction, some U.S. experts speculated, but it would have to be an influential one.
It is unclear whether China's loudest saber rattling to date is an attempt to soften up Taiwan's newly elected President Chen Shui-bian for negotiations over the island's future, a test of the Clinton administration's mettle, a melodramatic attempt to underscore China's seriousness about retaking Taiwan, or a bit of all three.
The threats also could be rhetorical nonsense, several U.S. analysts said, reckoning that the United States would quickly win any military conflict with China. Although the Chinese military is large, it is technologically backward, short of modern planes and ships and no match for the United States in conventional or nuclear warfare.
``They really can't do very much,'' said Charles Hill, diplomat-in-residence at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a senior State Department official and Asia expert in the Reagan administration.
An escalating series of military threats would nonetheless test Taiwanese, and perhaps U.S., resolve in ways advantageous to China, whose leaders insist that Taiwan is a renegade province that must be reunified with the Chinese mainland.
To cool the situation, Stanley Roth, the State Department's top official for Asia, is in Beijing, along with Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The administration Monday tapped retired Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, to fly to Taipei to encourage restraint there.
In Taipei, Chen's aides begged Beijing not to cause panic by threatening Taiwan, but instead to let the newly elected government ``stabilize the status quo.''
``We want China to exercise moderation, flexibility and good will during this very volatile period of transition,'' Hsiao Bi-khim, the head of the department of international affairs of Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, told reporters.
President Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel ``Sandy'' Berger, traveling with Clinton in Bangladesh, took a glass-half-full attitude, telling reporters that Chen and Chinese President Jiang Zemin had both voiced a willingness to resume talks. Berger said Chen had sounded ``conciliatory,'' and he characterized China's official statements as ``measured.''
While both leaders have expressed a willingness to talk, both also have set conditions unacceptable to the other. Jiang demands that Taiwan concede its subordination to Beijing before talks start; Chen insists that Taiwan and China must meet as equals.
Against this backdrop, the Chinese army publication's 16-page Taiwan special edition sold briskly at newsstands throughout Beijing on Monday. A front-page article, headlined ``Taiwan Independence Forces Are Empowered; It's an Explosive Challenge,'' repeated the government's pre-election threats and said Taiwanese voters were ``misled'' and Chen's victory will result ``in a more serious crisis.''
The article quoted Xu Shi Quan, the director of the Taiwan Institute of the government's influential Chinese Academy of Social Science, as saying that the outcome was ``not the one we wanted to see.''
``In the end, it will be the people of Taiwan who will suffer losses and be harmed,'' Xu said.
The publication then described in detail how that might happen, claiming China has developed new, multiple-warhead long-range missiles, outlining a strategy for gradually increasing the pressure on Taiwan and the United States to capitulate and threatening to attack U.S. satellites and military bases in the Pacific.
If that was insufficient, the article said, China would fire a nuclear warning shot in the Taiwan Strait and threaten the United States with a nuclear attack if it did not withdraw.
``The PLA is determined to liberate Taiwan,'' the article said. ``If they meet hard resistance, then they can choose to use weapons of mass destruction, like neutron bombs,'' which kill with radiation but leave buildings standing. Republicans on Capitol Hill responded sharply to the new Chinese threat. ``China needs to know that it is making a serious miscalculation if it thinks it can bully and threaten the United States and keep it from defending Taiwan,'' said Marc Thiessen, spokesman for the Republican majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, a member of the Senate leadership, said the threats were more bad news for China's pending hope to win permanent normal trade relations with the United States and membership in the World Trade Organization.
The newspaper's special edition was not the only indication that China may be preparing to use force against Taiwan.
Other media echo threats
In Fuzhou City, the capital of a province that borders the Taiwan Strait, the Jianguan Evening News reported Sunday that air-defense drills are planned ``to let citizens understand and get familiar with the air alarms.''
And a local newspaper reported that the city plans to invest an additional $7.3 million to complete a huge downtown air-raid shelter so that ``70 to 80 percent of Fuzhou citizens will find safe places to hide during the war.''
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 21, 2000
[so that ``70 to 80 percent of Fuzhou citizens will find safe
places to hide during the war.'' ]
Oops, they let it slip...
-- Possible Impact (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 21, 2000.