China Presents Serious Threat to Taiwan, Analysts Say

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

( - The United States has "totally ignored the nature and magnitude of the threat coming from mainland China towards Taiwan," and unless the Clinton administration declares its support for the self-governing island, the situation could become dangerous, senior defense analysts told

"They say the mainland isn't going to attack and even if they wanted to, they couldn't do it. But in the last year, people have been forced to admit there is a threat to Taiwan's security that is new and potentially more dangerous," Stephen J. Yates, a senior policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, told

Yates commented on questions raised by a new, unpublished Pentagon report that said Taiwan is more vulnerable to attack from China than generally recognized because Taiwan's isolated military has fallen behind technologically.

The highly-classified report points out problems with the Taiwanese military's ability to defend against aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, The Washington Post reported, citing a Clinton administration official familiar with the report.

"There is no other military in the world that experiences the kind of isolation Taiwan's does," the official told the paper. "They don't train or have contacts with anyone. And as warfare has become more complex, it has become more difficult for them to handle all these new technologies."

The U.S. has presumed Taiwan was strong enough to defend itself and didn't need more advanced U.S. weapons, Yates said. "But in the last few months people have begun to realize that Taiwan's defense systems and equipment have atrophied after two decades of diplomatic isolation. Not only is there a greater threat from the mainland, but Taiwan is less capable of efficiently marshalling its own resources to defend itself," he said.

Taiwan is unnecessarily - and some say unlawfully - being penalized for lack of diplomatic recognition from the United States because of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. According to this act, the administration is instructed to consult with Congress and to provide Taiwan with defense articles and services based solely on Taiwan's defensive needs, "not based on the politics of U.S.-China relations and certainly not based on any expressed opposition by Beijing to arms sales to Taiwan," Yates said.

Last year Congress overwhelmingly passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which is opposed by the Clinton administration because of strong objections by Beijing.

Brian Kennedy, vice president of the Claremont Institute, told Taiwan doesn't have an effective air defense or an effective missile defense system.

"But the U.S. commitment appears to be somewhat unclear, and that's the real danger for Taiwan," Kennedy said.

"A very dangerous situation will occur if we are ambiguous about our willingness to defend Taiwan. We should be very willing to discuss with China and Taiwan future relations so that a democratic unification can occur. But we should make very clear that we're not willing to acquiesce to a reunification by force," he said.

U.S. ambiguity on whether it will come to Taiwan's defense in the event of an attack by the mainland is inviting a situation similar to that which existed in the Middle East immediately prior to the Gulf War. By not unequivocally stating its intention to stand by Kuwait, the U.S. led Saddam Hussein to believe he could attack the Gulf kingdom with impunity, Kennedy said.

The new Pentagon report was produced by officers of the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by officials in the policy formulation department of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Overall, it outlines "not a very pleasant picture" of Taiwan's defenses, the Clinton administration official said.

The U.S. government currently is wrestling with a decision over whether to sell four sophisticated Aegis cruisers and other advanced military equipment to Taiwan, including long-range radar that could look thousands of miles into China.

The administration is expected to make a decision on the sale by the end of the month, when a Taiwanese delegation is scheduled to arrive in Washington to discuss the arms request.