China warns against missile help for Taiwan

By Benjamin Kang Lim
Thu Sep 1, 2005 2:51 AM ET

BEIJING (Reuters) - China issued a veiled warning to the United States on Thursday not to protect rival Taiwan through a missile defense system just days before President Hu Jintao meets President Bush in Washington.

In a 17,000-word policy paper released on Thursday, the cabinet reiterated China's commitment to a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons and pledged not to engage in a nuclear arms race.

"As the Taiwan question involves its core interests, China opposes the attempt by any country to provide help or protection to the Taiwan region of China in the field of missile defense by any means," said the document on China's policies and positions on arms control, disarmament and proliferation.

China has claimed Taiwan as its own since their split at the end of the civil war in 1949 and threatened to attack the self-ruled democratic island if it formally declares statehood.

Asked if China's no-first-use policy applied to Taiwan, Zhang Yan, China's point man on arms control, said: "(We) have solemnly promised that we will not use nuclear weapons first or threaten non-nuclear countries and regions with nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances."

"This promise has never changed and will not change in the future," Zhang, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's department of arms control, told a news conference.

People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Zhu Chenghu said in July that China would have no option but to go nuclear in the event of an attack over Taiwan, according to Western media reports.

Hu's September 5-7 visit to the United States comes against a backdrop of heightened Sino-U.S. trade tensions, alarm over China Inc.'s courting of U.S. firms and a simmering concern over the rise of China on the global diplomatic stage.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 under a "one China" policy, but is nevertheless Taiwan's main arms supplier and has pledged to do whatever it takes to help the island defend itself.

The policy paper did not name the United States, which offered in 2001 to sell Taiwan six batteries of Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) hit-to-kill missiles, 12 submarine-hunting aircraft and eight diesel-electric submarines in what would be the biggest arms package to the island in more than a decade.

Taiwan's parliament has yet to approve the package.

Zhang sidestepped a reporter's question on whether the white paper was criticizing the United States.

"On relevant countries' development of missile defense system, China's stance is: We think it will affect global stability, international strategic stability, relations between nations and regional security," Zhang said.

"It will also trigger the proliferation of missile technologies. So we hope relevant countries could take a prudent attitude in this regard," he said.

Taiwan says China has deployed more than 700 missiles facing it. But Taiwan is armed to the teeth with U.S. and French jet fighters and frigates and analysts say the island can give China a bloody nose in any conventional conflict.

The policy paper said China's development of nuclear weapons had always been for self-defense, adding that a nuclear weapons research and development base in the northwestern province of Qinghai was closed down in the 1990s.

The document said the People's Liberation Army would be cut to 2.3 million this year from 4.238 million in 1985 and that defense spending as a proportion of total spending had fallen 10 percentage points between 1979 and 2004.

Zhang sought to allay fears that China's military rise posed a threat to the United States.

"Any impartial and objective people will conclude that China is a positive and constructive force of safeguarding peace and promoting development ... China's development is not a threat but an opportunity," Zhang said.

(Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng)