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China's navy floats a warning to Taiwan
By Iris Tsang

HONG KONG - A Chinese submarine intentionally surfaced in the vicinity of Japanese waters recently after a stealthy drill, staging a show of the Chinese navy's ability to dodge Japan's reconnaissance and sending a warning to the United States, Japan and even Taiwan.

Around 8am on November 12, a Japanese Marine Self-Defense Force P-3C spotted a Chinese attack submarine heading west on the surface of international waters 25 miles east of Satamisaki, a port town of Kagoshima prefecture on Kyushu Island. The sub sailed through the Osumi Strait between Kyushu and Tanegashima, a tiny southern Japanese island.

The information was confirmed by Chinese authorities the next day, when Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the submarine's appearance in waters near Japan was "routine maritime training".

But the submarine was discovered sailing westward, meaning that it was already on a return voyage from a secret mission before it deliberately floated up to the surface for detection, according to an analysis by military strategists.

Taiwan, long coveted by mainland China, has been implicitly covered by a US-Japan security pact since September 1997, when the Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation signed by the two sides extended Japan's military leverage into "situations in areas surrounding Japan". The concept "situations in areas surrounding Japan" is not defined as "geographic" but "situational". Under the guidelines, the two governments "will make every effort, including diplomatic efforts, to prevent further deterioration of the situation".

Yet the 2,113-ton diesel-powered Ming-class vessel, which popped up at a record-close distance from the Japanese shore, demonstrates the Chinese navy's power to breach Japan's and the United States' joint defense of Taiwan.

And as some media have put it, the submarine was not even detected by Japan's US-made P-3C Orion aircraft, allegedly the most advanced anti-submarine scouts in the world, until China's national flag was hoisted after its surfacing. The news has been interpreted as a deliberate move by China to humiliate Japan, a major informant for the United States in any cross-Strait tension. If China did undertake any military deployment near the Taiwan Strait, it would be predictable from this incident how swiftly Japan could react.

The move by the Chinese navy and the prompt response from the Foreign Ministry are no coincidence. Rather, they are an example of how responses have been arranged purposefully to deal with escalating tension in the Taiwan Strait.

Recently, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has been pushing his notion of a referendum for a new constitution, an intrigue for legalizing the separation of the island. Accordingly, Beijing has highlighted its anti-separatism stance. Many People's Liberation Army (PLA) senior generals have reiterated seriously that Taiwan's declaration of separation would also be the mainland's declaration of war against the island, as Luo Yuan, director of the research center the Chinese Academy of Military Science, said in a Beijing seminar last Tuesday on cross-Strait relations.

According to Taiwan's International Defense Review, the submarine, belonging to the East Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy, might have commenced its voyage from Zhoushan base at the mouth of Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang province. Moreover, the fleet's major mission is all Taiwan-related: it is qualified to wage attacks on Taiwan, if necessary; on the other hand, it is capable of blockading the East China Sea and hence pricking the island's bubble of US aid.

Military experts have always closely watched the development of the Chinese navy. A report in the Washington Observer Weekly in May pointed out that Chinese submarine forces were facing problems with aging and that at present it was difficult for China to develop new submarines. Nonetheless, US military experts dare not play down the functionality of Chinese submarines.

In fact, this is not the only example of the Chinese navy's underwater capabilities. According to a Washington Times report on June 2, 2001, which quoted informed sources in the US military, a Chinese Ming-class attack submarine once departed from Qingdao port in eastern China's Shangdong province and kept sailing underwater for one month. To top it all off, US intelligence completely failed to detect such a move. Some intelligence believes this shows that China has been significantly improving its combat capacities underwater.

A report from Hong Kong's The Sun daily covering the story suggested that the submarine's movement was obviously designed to show China's teeth.

Apparently as a response to Chinese military action, the US military has offered a helping hand to Taiwan by announcing that the Taiwanese military has successfully test-launched an AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) in the United States.

AMRAAM is a new-generation air-to-air missile with all-weather and beyond-visual-range capability. The Taiwan Air Force has been longing for it for several years in order to secure its air supremacy over China. According to the China Times Express in Taiwan, the US agreed in 2000 to sell the AMRAAM to the island, but the US$150 million AMRAAM sale comes with an offset agreement that delivery of the missiles would not take place until mainland China had acquired missiles with parallel capabilities.

Ahead of Taiwan, the mainland has already acquired the R-77 missile ("AMRAAMSKI"), researched and manufactured by the Russian Vympel State Machinery Design Bureau in 2002. This Russian missile resembles, and in some respects matches, AMRAAM. This is why the US is accelerating its delivery pace for Taiwan.

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Nov 25, 2003

Taiwan's submarine saga continues
(Nov 21, '03)

Two bulls, one China shop
(Nov 21, '03)

Beijing rattles war sabers at Taiwan again (Nov 20, '03)

The price of Taiwan's defense
(Oct 2, '02)


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