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US identifies Beijing as its enemy number one

By James Langton in New York

The prospect of a new arms race and a deterioration in relations between Washington and Beijing rose sharply at the weekend after reports of a switch in United States defence strategy, with China supplanting Russia as the US's primary foe.

The Defence Secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, has told President George Bush that he plans sweeping changes in military policy to redirect the thrust of US strategic planning towards China.

Despite the growing chill towards Russia, prompted by last week's tit-for-tat spy expulsions, and signs of a return to Cold War politics, the Bush Administration is convinced that China's growing military and economic strength makes it the real threat to world peace.

Mr Bush was presented with the outline of the defence review at a meeting with Mr Rumsfeld on Friday. It is believed to have avoided decisions on specific weapons programs, such as the new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The White House is instead concentrating on strategy, with officials preparing the ground for policy changes that will direct planning away from the possibility of a war with Russia.

A White House official said: "The secretary made clear that China and Asia - and the distances involved there - are looming ever larger on our radar."

Defence planners have argued that the $US60 billion ($120 billion) JSF would be useless in the Far East arena because it lacks range.

Other changes could include more long-range bombers such as the B-2 and a trend towards smaller aircraft carriers, which are less vulnerable to missile attack. The review is also likely to recommend further cuts in troops stationed in Europe.

Mr Bush has presented an interim military budget for next year of $US310billion, which does not represent a significant rise over this year, but has said he will delay any decision on increasing defence spending until after the review.

Mr Rumsfeld signalled new White House thinking in a recent interview, saying: "The threat of an invasion of Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks coming across the German plain is past."

The defence review was disclosed as President Jiang Zemin of China warned the US against selling advanced weapons systems to Taiwan, which has requested four destroyers equipped with long-range Aegis radar to guard against Chinese missiles.

In an interview in The Washington Post on Saturday, Mr Jiang urged Washington to "think strategically", saying that if the US were to sell Tiawan advanced weapons it "would be very detrimental to China-US relations".

He said he feared a new arms race in the region, and rejected US suggestions that China should pull back its missiles from the Taiwan Strait.

"The more weapons you sell, the more we will prepare ourselves in terms of our national defence. This is logical."

Tensions between the two governments have been heightened by the news that a senior Chinese army officer, said to be an expert on disarmament, defected recently to the US.

The Telegraph, London

-- Martin Thompson (, March 25, 2001

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