by Antoaneta Bezlova
(IPS) BEIJING --
expressing its "deep shock" at Washington's contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against China in emergency situations, Beijing has responded by calling on the army to be ready for military struggles.
President Jiang Zemin, who is also chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, urged China's armed forces to make "solid preparations" for combat and "follow closely the latest developments of military strength in the world."
Jiang met with delegates of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), attending the annual session of the China's parliament two days after U.S. media reports revealed the Pentagon's contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against China and six other countries.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, one Pentagon scenario that envisioned a U.S. nuclear strike against Beijing was the case of war between China and Taiwan. The other countries in the Pentagon's other scenarios included Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Russia and Syria.
China regards Taiwan as a rebel province and has threatened to attack it if the island declares independence or delays reunification talks indefinitely. The United States is Taiwan's biggest arms supplier and has pledged to protect its democratically elected government if China was to unleash war.
"The report of the U.S. Defense Department is a demonstration of United States unilateralism," Guo Xiangang, professor of the American affairs research department at the International Relations Research Institute here. "It shows that even when the United States needs help from other big countries in its fight against terrorism, it is still not afraid of harming relations with them."
"I think the nuclear planning revealed in the report is a foolish step taken by the U.S. Defense Department, but what worries me is that the White House did not deny it," he added.
Speaking to the army delegates in Beijing, Jiang Zemin exhorted the military on the importance of reunification with Taiwan and called the troops the "loyal guardian of national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity."
"To solve the issue of Taiwan and realize the complete reunification of the motherland is one of the three major tasks for the Communist Party and the nation in the new century," Jiang was quoted by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
While Jiang's speech might have been prepared before news of U.S. contingency nuclear plans broke on the weekend, the message it drives home underscores Beijing's sober realization that only a powerful military can guarantee reunification with Taiwan and project China's growing regional power.
Last week, Beijing announced a 17.6 percent increase in its military budget, a move seen as a direct response to the huge arms package offered by Washington to Taiwan last year and to the $48 billion hike in U.S. defense spending.
Part of the money is to be used to upgrade the technologically backward People's Liberation Army and to counter the fallout in strategic balance following the Bush administration's decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Beijing opposes Washington's plans to continue work on a missile defense system, saying it will undermine its own missile program. While it remains unclear how the increase in funds will be spent, most of it is expected to cover weapons modernization, boost China's nuclear forces and personnel expenses.
China's defence budget rose by 17.7 percent last year; the increase this year will bring its publicly acknowledged defence budget to $20 billion.
U.S. analysts believe Beijing's real budget is much higher, ranging between $35 to $55 billion, because the official one does not include arms purchases and money for research and development.
By comparison, the Bush administration has proposed a $379 billion military budget for the next fiscal year.
Despite assurances by the Secretary of State Colin Powell that the Pentagon nuclear report was simply "sound, military, conceptual planning" and not a precursor to any imminent U.S. actions, Beijing demanded an "official" and "more clear-cut" explanation from the United States.
"Like many other countries, China is deeply shocked by this report," Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said on Mar. 11. "The U.S. side bears the responsibility to make an explanation on this matter."
Sun reminded Washington that former President Bill Clinton had reached an agreement with Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his visit to Beijing in 1998 not to target each other's s country with nuclear arms.
"China has always held that nuclear weapons should be comprehensively prohibited and thoroughly destroyed," he said. "Countries with nuclear weapons should undertake unconditionally not to be the first to use them, and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states or nuclear-weapon-free regions," he added.
The Pentagon's nuclear contingency plans raise fears that China might stop cooperating with the United Nations on monitoring the international nuclear test ban treaty.
News reports earlier this month said China had stopped providing complete data to the Vienna-based UN monitoring group, because of disappointment with U.S. policies so far.
The United States, the leading nuclear power, dealt a devastating blow to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) when the Senate refused to ratify it in 2000.
Since then, President George W. Bush has reiterated his firm opposition to the treaty, although his administration has pledged to continue paying most of the U.S. annual share of the CTBT organization costs.
The pact, which bans all nuclear blasts in the atmosphere, in space and underground, has been signed by 165 states. Of those, 89 have ratified it.
Yet the embattled treaty has not taken effect because it must be ratified by 44 states specifically deemed nuclear arms-capable, including the Untied States, China, Iran, India and Pakistan.
March 17, 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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