The Bush administration's ambiguous China policy got a kick in the pants recently when the Pentagon and the bipartisan, congressionally chartered U.S.-China Security Review Commission issued separate reports describing Beijing's looming military threat to U.S. national interests. Both reports--mandated by Congress at the end of the Clinton era to evaluate China's growing military power--ratified the long-stated views of U.S. national-security analysts that Beijing has been using cash from American consumers and investors to bankroll an ambitious military buildup that ultimately may be used to attack the United States.
Both reports begin by warning that the United States has a poor understanding of the Chinese military and Beijing's intentions because intelligence and analysis on China is sketchy. And that alone is sending shock waves through the foreign-policy, defense and intelligence establishments.
"The Pentagon report specifically, but the China Commission report as well, question a key tenet upon which America's peaceful relations with China have been based since the early 1970s" says Richard D. Fisher, a China military expert with the Jamestown Foundation. "The fundamental tenet being that America expects China to peacefully settle its differences with Taiwan. This expectation is included in two of the major communiques between the United States and China, and is enshrined as policy in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. The Pentagon has very likely started a major debate within the U.S. government by questioning for the first time China's willingness peacefully to resolve its differences with Taiwan."
That's a big development. Neither report says it explicitly, but both issue observations and conclusions that bury the argument of the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations that the "People's Republic [of China] is our partner" Political shenanigans on the China Commission, and fears in some quarters of the present presidential administration that the Pentagon report would offend Beijing, made supporters of the missions of these reports fear that neither would be objectively written or, if they were, that they ever would see the light of day.
The Communist Chinese government has complained loudly. In his first Washington news conference, Chinese Embassy spokesman Xie Feng actually accused the Pentagon and the congressional commission of lying, warning that the reports could endanger bilateral relations and world peace. Claimed Xie, "The threat to Sino-U.S. relations, the threat to world peace, doesn't lie in China but rather in these people who have fabricated this China threat."
The Pentagon report meanwhile is the product of intense wrangling between two strains within the Department of Defense (DOD). These are the go-along-to-get-along attitude of some of the "Clintonized" flag officers and research institutes (see "Clinton Undead Still Haunt Pentagon," June 17), and the more real-world policy shop led by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith. Administration sources say the National Security Council held up its publication for half a year.
The DoD report smashed the conventional wisdom that China would be far from able to conquer Taiwan. "Previously, the whole debate over the threat to Taiwan had been cast through the lens of whether the PLA [People's Liberation Army] could invade or not invade" Fisher says. "This was always a straw-man argument because nobody would ever take seriously the prospect of an all-out, D-Day-style invasion, so the liberal side of the argument would always discount the threat to Taiwan. The Pentagon report does a great service by introducing the notion of the PLA's development of a range of coercive strategies and military options to use against Taiwan. There are operations, short of an all-out invasion, that are designed to produce a political outcome, such as a surrender by Taiwan's leaders after a rapid, two- to three-day blitzkrieg assault. …