U.S. official warns of China, Taiwan conflict
By Foster Klug, AP
February 14, 2009, 9:19 am TWN
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's top intelligence official suggested Thursday that China's massive military spending will spur continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan in order to maintain a military balance in the potentially dangerous Taiwan Strait.
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told lawmakers that China's double-digit annual percentage military spending increases — last year's budget jumped 17.6 percent to about $61 billion — "pose a reater threat to Taiwan."
"Unless Taiwan does something about it, then we're really the only other country helping them do it," Blair said. "That means we're going to have to help them some more in order to maintain a balance."
Much of China's military is focused on rival Taiwan, which relies on U.S. weapons and technology to counter the hundreds of missiles China aims at the self-governing island Beijing claims as its own territory.
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are a persistent source of U.S.-China tension — Beijing was infuriated by the Bush administration's announcement last year of a US$6.5 billion arms package for Taiwan. The United States is required to provide the island with weapons to defend itself and has hinted it would come to Taiwan's aid if mainland forces invaded. But Washington is also wary of angering China, a major trading partner and fellow U.N. Security Council member.
Blair, a retired admiral who heads 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, told a Senate panel that the United States must continue to "make sure that military adventures are unattractive" to both sides. He indicated that the U.S. feels responsible for striking a balance in the Strait.
"Taiwan should not be so defenseless that it feels it has to do everything that China says. On the other hand, China cannot be so overwhelming that it can bully Taiwan," Blair said, answering congressional questions about the U.S. intelligence agencies' latest assessment of threats to the United States.
He also cautioned that "Taiwan has to realize that its long-term security lies in some sort of an arrangement with China. It does not lie in military defenses."
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing threatens to attack should Taiwan formalize its de facto independence. The United States and China came close to conflict over Taiwan in 1996, when President Bill Clinton deployed warships in response to China lobbing missiles into waters near Taiwan.
Blair called recent warming ties between China and Taiwan "positive" and "very encouraging." New Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has worked to defuse tensions and expand trade with China.
But Blair also said in testimony that Chinese "preparations for a possible Taiwan conflict continue to drive the modernization goals of the People's Liberation Army and the Chinese defense-industrial complex."
Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., Thursday, Feb. 12, before the Senate Intelligence Committee. (AP)