The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.60/No.12           March 25, 1996 
U.S. Warships Sail Toward China  


Warships from the U.S. Seventh Fleet, including two aircraft carrier battle groups, sailed near the coast of Taiwan March 11 as tensions sharpened between the governments of China and Taiwan.

Beijing is carrying out large-scale military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, including test firings of unarmed missiles and naval and air force exercises with live ammunition in a 6,600 square-mile area off the mainland coast.

China's military maneuvers are meant as a warning to the government of Taiwan, which has been on a campaign to win international recognition as an independent state. Taiwan was declared a separate entity from mainland China in 1949 by the fleeing forces of the defeated Nationalist Party following the victory of the Chinese revolution. It is regarded by Beijing as a renegade province.

Taiwan's president Lee Teng-hui is running for re-election in the March 23 elections and has made winning international recognition the focus of his campaign.

One of largest armadas since Vietnam
Calling China "reckless," U.S. secretary of state Warren Christopher announced the dispatch of a battle group of the U.S. Seventh Fleet led by the USS Independence, which moved to waters 100 miles off Taiwan on March 11. The destroyer Hewitt and the guided missile frigate McClusky joined the Independence north of Taiwan the same day. The guided missile cruiser Bunker Hill took up position south of the island.

"We're concerned to make sure those forces...are in a position to be helpful if need be," Christopher told the television talk show "Meet the Press" March 10.

U.S. officials said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, an attack submarine, and six accompanying ships will arrive from the Persian Gulf a few days before Taiwan's March 23 presidential elections.

A Los Angeles-class attack submarine, the USS Portsmouth, is in the Nimitz group along with a guided missile cruiser, two destroyers, and a frigate. The Independence and Nimitz each carry about 55 combat aircraft: F-14 Tomcat fighters, F-A-18 Hornet strike fighters, and A-6 Intruder attack planes.

According to the Washington Post, this is one of the largest naval armadas sent to the region since the end of the Vietnam war.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen warned Washington to stay out of the dispute. "Taiwan is a part of China and not a protectorate of the United States," he said. "If foreign forces invade Taiwan we will not sit idly by."

U.S. secretary of defense William Perry called the armada "a signal to our partners that we are there for the long haul, and not a transitory presence in the region."

Washington's buildup drew bipartisan support. Sen. Robert Dole, front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, said he supported the Clinton administration's decision to send a "strong signal to China."

Washington dubs its doctrine toward China as "strategic ambiguity," under which the U.S. government refuses to say precisely how it will react if a military confrontation develops between Beijing and Taipei.

The Post reported that U.S. officials have no plans to send the U.S. warships though the Taiwan Strait at present. The Nimitz and four escort vessels sailed through the strait in December in a maneuver described as sending a message to Beijing.

Chinese military maneuvers
In pre-announced missile testing, three unarmed Chinese M-9 ballistic missiles landed within two sea target areas on March 8. One was 20 nautical miles off Taiwan's northeast coast, near the port of Keelung, the other was 30 nautical miles off the southwest coast, near Kaohsiung.

These two ports handle much of Taiwan's trade. Kaohsiung is the third busiest port in the world. This was the closest Chinese missiles, armed or unarmed, have come to the island since 1949.

On March 12 Beijing began live-fire military exercises off its southeast coast, across from Taiwan. Chinese combat planes and warships practiced bombing runs, formation drills, air cover and surveillance in a 6,600 square mile rectangle that stretches to the mid-point of the Taiwan Straits. The war games overlap with a series of missile tests off Keelung and Kaohsiung. The exercises involve China's air force, navy, and army. Some 150,000 Chinese troops are amassed in Fujian Province, facing Taiwan.

A Taiwanese military official said its 400,000-member armed forces were on heightened alert. "If they trespass into our territorial water, of course we will fight back," Taiwan's war minister Chiang Chung-lin said after an emergency cabinet meeting.

At the beginning of the military exercises "stock markets in the region have plunged, investors are scrambling for dollars and gold, and newspaper headlines warn ominously of closed sea lanes, rice hoarding and instability in a region built on open trade routes and political calm," the Wall Street Journal reported. In Hong Kong the Hang Seng stock index plummeted 7.3 percent.

Tensions between China and Taiwan have deepened since Taiwan's president Lee visited Cornell University in the United States last June. This was the first such visit by a Taiwanese leader since 1972, when Washington reaffirmed a "one China" policy and started working toward normalization of ties with Beijing.

The government of China is pushing Lee to end his campaign to win international recognition and admission to the United Nations and World Trade Organization and to lift the ban on direct shipping and air traffic between Taiwan and the mainland.

Taiwan's trade through Hong Kong
The political and military uncertainty has also taken a toll on Taiwan's economy - the world's 14th largest in terms of trade. Taiwan is also the 7th largest US trading partner, just behind China. The stock market has plunged 17 percent since Lee's visit to the United States last June.

Capitalists from Taiwan have invested about $25 billion in the mainland and last year's trade with China totaled nearly $21 billion. But almost all this trade went through Hong Kong since Taiwan bans direct trade with the mainland. This arrangement, however, will end June 30, 1997, when Hong Kong reverts to Chinese sovereignty from British colonial status. According to the Wall Street Journal, this will put Taipei in "a much weaker position than it enjoys now."

The military drills occur at a time when "Sino-US relations were already frayed," stated the Journal. Washington has charged Beijing with "pirating" U.S. compact discs and is threatening $2 billion in trade sanctions.

In late February the Clinton administration told the Export- Import Bank to delay up to $10 billion in loan guarantees for American business investments in China based on accusations that Beijing sold Pakistan specialized ring magnets to use in uranium plants. The Chinese government says it will retaliate against any U.S. government sanctions.

The looming confrontation between U.S. imperialism and the Chinese workers state comes at a time of sharper competition between capitalist powers in the Pacific. Many commentators in the big-business media point out that Washington cannot count on its main "ally" in the region - Tokyo - for going along with sanctions against China.

Washington has 47,000 soldiers and a carrier fleet at Okinawa. This is the most important base in the Far East since the U.S. navy was expelled from the Philippines in the early 1990s. But Japan's rulers are not keen to let Washington gain dominance in Taiwan - a former Japanese colony from 1895 to the end of World War II.

Headlined "US Probably Shouldn't Count on Help From Japan in Resolving Taiwan Flap," an article in the March 11 Journal said that chief among the obstacles to Washington flexing its muscles on Taiwan's behalf are "questions about the reliability of America's No. 1 ally in the region, Japan."

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