by Antoaneta Bezlova
(IPS) BEIJING -- As China forges ahead with passing an anti-secession law that would legitimize war with Taiwan, the United States has stepped up efforts to keep China's growing military might in check.
Beijing's controversial anti-secession law is to be officially submitted for approval by the National People's Congress, or China's Parliament, during its annual full session, which opens on Mar. 5.
Beijing says the legislation is aimed at curbing Taiwan's separatist activities and would serve as a powerful deterrent to Taipei formally declaring independence. After the law is enacted, China would have the legal means to launch a military invasion of the island if it believes that the legislation had been violated.
While the United States had refused to issue an official comment on the proposed law because it had not seen the legislation, the Bush administration has stepped up efforts to monitor China's overall military build-up and expansion in the region.
The campaign is waged on two fronts -- in Europe, where U.S. diplomats are lobbying to prevent the European Union from inadvertently aiding China's military build-up, and in the Asia-Pacific region, where U.S. and Japanese officials are drafting strategies to counter China's rising military power.
This week, President Bush is on a fence-mending tour of Europe where he warned that a plan by the European Union to end its embargo on arms sales to China could 'change the balance of relations between China and Taiwan' and that it causes 'deep concern' in the U.S.
The EU imposed the embargo after the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing but France whose defense companies stand to benefit from the move, has led a campaign to abolish the ban.
The White House and U.S. Congress have voiced concerns that such a move could tilt the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
China says Taiwan is an integral part of its territory and has vowed to use military means, if necessary, to reunite the island with the mainland. Both have been ruled separately since 1949 when the nationalist forces lost the civil war to Chinese communists and fled the Chinese mainland to establish their rule in neighboring Taiwan.
The United States recognizes the claim that Taiwan is part of China but has said it would defend the island from forced reunification and any Chinese incursion. U.S. officials -- and the Pentagon in particular -- are concerned that the EU will be helping China to advance towards rivalling the U.S. military.
'There's deep concern in our country that a transfer of weapons will be a transfer of technology, which would change the balance between China and Taiwan,' said Bush, making clear his trip was not solely to mend fences with old Europe.
The Bush administration has warned that the United States could limit sales of high- tech military equipment to EU members if the embargo is lifted. It is also under pressure from the U.S. Congress to oppose Beijing's anti-secession law, which U.S. lawmakers have described as a 'license for war.'
In recent days U.S. lawmakers have introduced two resolutions on what is seen as possible retaliation if Beijing passed the law. One resolution demands the resumption of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979 and maintains only unofficial contacts with Taipei.
The proposed U.S. bill has drawn a sharp response from China. 'This is a gross interference in China's internal affairs and sends a mistaken signal to Taiwan's independence forces,' said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan.
In another development aimed at keeping China's military expansion in check, the United States and Japan have renewed their joint security agreement, which for the first time identifies Taiwan as a shared security concern.
Redrafting the 1996 joint declaration on bilateral security last week, Washington and Tokyo cited 'the peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait through dialogue' as among the 12 objectives they share. They also pledged to encourage 'transparency in China's military affairs.'
The latter addresses growing concerns between the U.S. and Japan over the security threat posed by a more powerful China.
Porter Gross, the U.S. director of central intelligence, said last week that 'improved Chinese capability threatens U.S. forces in the region.' In a report delivered to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Gross warned about a possible clash between China and Taiwan that could embroil the Untied States.
A security report completed in December by the U.S.-based Rand Corporation at the request of the U.S. Army, forecasts a cross-strait war by 2012 when China's military power would have increased significantly.
China's double digit growth in its military budget in recent years is a source of deep concern to the United States and U.S. analysts are keeping a close eye on Beijing's build-up of its armed forces.
The military expenditure of the People's Liberation Army in 2005 is forecast to grow by at least 25 billion yuan (three billion U.S. dollars) to 230 billion yuan ($27 billion). Last year's budget of 218.3 billion yuan ($26.2 billion) represented an increase of 11.6 percent over the 2003 budget.
Many analysts believe the high-growth in defense spending means Beijing is actively preparing for a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait, particularly after the re-election of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian who has promized to change the island's constitution which links Taiwan with mainland China.
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait have continued to rise even as Beijing and Taipei exchanged first-ever direct charter flights in 55 years during the Lunar New Year holiday earlier this month. President Chen offered to discuss direct cargo charter flights with China but warned Beijing that its proposed anti-secession law would ruin hopes for better relations.
In defense of the anti-secession law, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan said its purpose was to prevent Taiwan becoming independent and it was aimed only at the leaders of Taiwan's independence movement. 'This law would be conducive to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,' he said.
The law is expected to be passed anonymously or with few abstentions by the rubber- stamp National People's Congress.
February 26, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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