Implications of the Growing Military Power of China
AEI Newsletter

On September 15, Resident Fellow Thomas Donnelly co-chaired a hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission that concerned the Taiwan Strait and China’s military modernization. Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) appointed Donnelly in February 2005 to the twelve-member commission, which is charged with assessing the national security implications of the United States’s bilateral trade and economic agreements with China and which provides recommendations to Congress for legislative and administrative action in its annual report. AEI visiting fellow and former senator Fred Thompson is a member of the commission as well. The following is Donnelly’s opening statement.

With this hearing, the commission returns to one of its core concerns: assessing the growing military power of the People’s Republic of China, its impact on American interests, and in particular, the increasingly unstable balance across the Taiwan Strait. In its past reports--and I expect again this year--the commission has well chronicled the rapid, substantial, and intensely focused development of the People’s Liberation Army. While experts and intelligence analysts differ on the details, the undeniable truth is that this trend reflects a long-term commitment by Beijing, pursued through changes in leadership and despite the fact that, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has observed, China has no enemies.

Indeed, the Pentagon now regards surging Chinese military strength as one of the emerging strategic realities for the twenty-first century. The current Quadrennial Defense Review speaks of a variety of challenges, the most profound of which it has dubbed as “disruptive,” implying an ability to alter the post-Soviet international order. Only a rising China possesses the present and potential power to challenge the American peace, either as a leader of a rival “bloc” or, in time, by itself.

This is not simply a challenge to American security and political interests. It is, inevitably, a challenge to American principles of liberty and individual rights. It is also a challenge to our friends and allies who share these universal principles.

That these principles are not ours alone is nowhere better illustrated than in East Asia, and in particular, in Taiwan. Not so long ago, it was widely argued that democracy was a uniquely Western form of government, unsuited to Asian and, especially, to Chinese culture. The vibrant, even hectic, freedom of Taipei today puts the lie to this claim.

But democracies, as is their peaceful practice, prefer the pursuit of happiness to preparations for war. And the precarious balance of political power in Taiwan has handicapped the island’s efforts to stiffen its defenses in the face of the escalating Chinese threat. The opposition party in Taipei sometimes seems to place its own desire to rule above the nation’s desire to remain free. Meanwhile, the shabby support offered by a succession of American administrations--support that, amazingly, has shrunk even as Taiwanese democracy has grown--has done much to create the current impasse. But because the United States merits such respect in Taiwan, we can do much to end this impasse by making it clear that we support President Chen and his requested “special budget.”

This is not just the principled policy, but the prudent policy. The United States has long held that the differences between Beijing and Taipei must not be settled by force, nor by the threat of force, nor by intimidation. That is an expression of our deepest security interests and those of our allies. Maintaining stability at this most dangerous flashpoint will remain a cornerstone of American strategy.

The United States Needs to Ensure That Taiwan's Military Modernizes
Resident Fellow Dan Blumenthal testified at the hearing about Taiwan’s defense needs and risks to the United States. He explained that Taiwan’s “Pan Blue” opposition parties--the KMT and the People’s First Party--which are motivated by a dislike of President Chen Shui-bian, are largely responsible for stalling the country’s military modernization. Blumenthal recommended to the commission that it focus its attention on these parties, letting their leaders know that influential Americans are aware that they are putting partisan politics ahead of Taiwan’s security. If the Pan-Blues continue along this course of obstructionism, they certainly embolden those in America looking for a way out of the commitment. In Blumenthal’s view, we need to use all the tools that our defense establishment has to push Taiwan faster and harder to buy the systems and make the changes needed to make the country too costly for China to attack.

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