President Bush prepares for his first meeting with
a senior Chinese official, his administration faces
two military decisions that could put the United
States on a collision course with China while the
Bush administration is barely under way.
issues are whether to design a national missile
defense capable of countering China's small nuclear
force and whether to sell destroyers equipped with
the Aegis radar system to Taiwan.
matters are of great concern to China, especially
the sale of the Aegis. It fears that the $1-billion-a-ship
system could eventually become a platform for a
regional missile shield for Taiwan and could usher
in a new level of American military cooperation
with the island, which China considers a renegade
both decisions are also dear to the hearts of conservative
Republicans, who are deeply suspicious of China
and represent an important constituency for the
new president. Mr. Bush played to this sentiment
in a major address on national defense in September
1999 by underscoring the need to counter the Chinese
has indicated that it is ready to begin a dialogue
on missile defenses when Deputy Prime Minister Qian
Qichen meets with Mr. Bush this week in Washington.
But the issue remains politically charged, the Chinese
are adamantly opposed to the Aegis sale and reaching
a long- term accommodation with Beijing may prove
Chinese may be open to the idea of a discussion
with us," an American expert said. "But
I don't think you will get this administration to
come out and say that it is the U.S. national interests
for China to have a stable deterrent — that is,
that it is in the American interest for China to
be able to incinerate an American city."
Russian and Chinese objections to an American missile
defense are often lumped together, the two nations'
circumstances are vastly different. Russia is a
power in decline and is viewed mainly as a menace
to itself. In Washington, however, China is increasingly
seen as a growing regional power that will compete
with the United States for dominance of the western
structure of Russian and Chinese missile forces
also differ radically. When it comes to long-range
nuclear arms, the Russians have more than enough
missiles to overwhelm a limited American defense.
In contrast, China has only 18 DF-5 long-range intercontinental
missiles that are capable of reaching the United
States, with aging liquid- fueled systems whose
warheads are kept separately.
has also taken the position that if new missile
defenses are to be developed, they should be "theater"
systems, capable of countering medium- and short-range
rockets, not those in Russia's strategic arsenal.
It has even offered to join the United States' European
allies in building such a system.
the deployment of theater defenses is a big worry
for the Chinese. They would potentially counter
the more than 100 medium-range missiles China has
within range of India, Japan and American forces
in the Pacific. While China's DF-21 medium-range
missiles can overwhelm current theater defenses,
future theater antimissile systems might be more
capable and linked to an American national missile
there is Taiwan, which has made the United States'
efforts to develop national and theater missile
defenses even more of a worry. To put pressure on
Taiwan to accept Beijing's sovereignty, the Chinese
have placed about 300 short-range missiles near
the island, American specialists say, and are expanding
that force at a rate of 50 missiles a year.
fears that deployment of theater missile defenses
for Taiwan could enable the island to resist that
pressure, lead to a new level of cooperation with
Washington and strengthen pro-independence sentiment
on Taiwan. The Chinese also fear that an American
missile shield could embolden Washington to intervene
militarily in crises around the world, especially
in the Taiwan Strait.
said that we are seeking absolute security and that
if we have a missile defense we will act without
any restraint," said a former ranking Clinton
administration official who has discussed the missile
defense issue with the Chinese. "They used
the example of Kosovo. But their real concern was
before the Bush administration took office, missile
defenses emerged as a major and intractable obstacle
to American-Chinese relations.
counter the potential missile threat from "rogue
states" like Iran and North Korea, the Clinton
administration developed a two-stage plan. The first
phase called for placing 100 interceptors and a
battle-management radar system in Alaska. In the
second stage, 250 interceptors would have been used,
along with additional battle-management radar systems.
United States sought to soothe Moscow's anxieties
by assuring the Kremlin that it would retain the
ability to launch a retaliatory strike against the
United States. But it was not easy for the Clinton
administration to make a similar case to the Chinese.
Chinese have long planned to upgrade their nuclear
force by fielding the DF-31, a solid-fueled mobile
missile with the range to strike Alaska and the
northwestern United States, as well as a long-range
successor. But the Clinton administration's experts
concluded that the first phase of the Clinton system
might blunt China's current missile force, while
the second phase might have some capacity against
the updated Chinese deterrent.
intelligence analysts also concluded that an American
shield would goad the Chinese to expand their planned
buildup so that China could be sure that it could
overwhelm an American defense. That, intelligence
analysts said, could set off a chain reaction in
South Asia as India responded by building up its
arsenal and Pakistan responded to an Indian buildup.
to head off an arms race in South Asia, the Clinton
administration sought to engage the Chinese in a
dialogue about missile defense. But the issue proved
to be difficult.
Clinton administration, for instance, considered
offering China assurances that it had a right to
a nuclear deterrent. But, fearful that this would
cause a furor with conservative Republican lawmakers,
the administration settled for a vaguer declaration
that its missile defense plan was not directed at
formulation side-stepped the issues of whether China
was entitled to have a retaliatory capacity against
the United States and whether an American defense
might be able to shoot down Chinese missiles even
though that was not its main purpose.
technical difficulty of setting up an arms control
regime with the Chinese was another factor. Administration
experts concluded that it would be very difficult
to coordinate the construction of an American defense
with the modernization of the Chinese nuclear arsenal
so that the Chinese could be assured of retaining
a retaliatory nuclear force. The programs would
move at different paces.
the relationship between the American and Chinese
military is not nearly as developed as that between
the Americans and the Russians, the Clinton administration
was not ready to offer other arrangements, like
inviting Chinese officials to visit American factories
that make antimissile interceptors or sharing missile-launch
data with the Chinese.
terms of theater missile defenses, the Clinton administration
kept its options open. It deferred, but did not
reject, Taiwan's request for the Arleigh Burke-class
destroyers equipped with the Aegis system.
arrival of the Bush administration raised the stakes
for the Chinese. During his early campaign Mr. Bush
got Beijing's attention when he went to the Citadel
in Charleston, S.C., in September 1999 to deliver
an address on national defense.
United States not only needed to counter missile
threats from "rogue states" like Iraq
and North Korea, but also, Mr. Bush warned, should
worry about missile threats from China.
1996, after some tension over Taiwan, a Chinese
general reminded America that China possesses the
means to incinerate Los Angeles with nuclear missiles,"
Mr. Bush noted ominously.
taking office, the Bush administration has yet to
outline what sort of antimissile system it plans
to build, but it has signaled that it wants to go
beyond the sort of limited missile defense proposed
by President Clinton.
of State Colin L. Powell said during his Senate
confirmation hearing that such a missile defense
would not be directed against China, repeating the
Clinton administration's formulation. But some administration
officials believe that it would be useful if a future
antimissile system had the ability to counter Chinese
missiles even thought this might not be its stated
the groundwork for this week's meetings, China sought
to demonstrate some modest flexibility. It signaled
that it was prepared at least to discuss the American
plans for a missile defense of the United States.
And it indicated that it was prepared to accept
the development of theater defense to protect American
troops in Japan.
it has focused its energy on trying to block the
sale of the Aegis-equipped destroyer system to Taiwan.
The purpose of the sale would be to defend Taiwan's
Navy, and the destroyers themselves would not be
delivered and integrated into Taiwan's fleet for
eight years or so. But they represent a potential
platform for a theater missile defense should Washington
eventually decide to provide one to Taiwan.
far, the Bush administration's response has been
to put the onus on the Chinese. It has cautioned
China that the best way to preclude the sale of
the Aegis is to reduce the Chinese missile threat
to Taiwan. Nor has the administration signaled how
it plans to reassure Beijing about the broader goals
of its missile defense program.
a television interview last month, Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld dismissed China's objections
about an American antimissile shield and appeared
to leave the door wide open for a theater missile
defense for Taiwan.
is not a concern," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It's
not a party to the ABM treaty. It is a country that
is increasing its defense budgets in double digits
year after year."
don't believe that anyone can make a case that missile
defense is a particular problem to China,"
he continued. "On the other hand, if some country
decided it wanted to be aggressive to its neighbors
and acquire additional territory by force, then
having a missile defense system is not a bad idea,
it seems to me."