With the impending arrival of a second aircraft carrier battle group, the United States will have more than enough military power in the troubled waters off Taiwan to thwart any possible Chinese attack on the island, military experts say.
The Clinton administration, responding to Beijing’s angry words and live-fire war games in international waters near Taiwan, is seeking to avert any possible Chinese “misjudgment” by deploying perhaps the largest show of U.S. naval force in the Far East since the Vietnam War.
With dozens of carrier-launched jet fighters, precision weapons such as the Tomahawk cruise missile and Harpoon anti-ship missiles and submarines, the powerful U.S. armada is intended both to deter Chinese aggression and to reassure anxious Pacific allies.
The Clinton administration is maintaining its declared policy of “strategic ambiguity” about how the United States would respond to Chinese aggression, particularly whether it would use American military force to defend Taiwan.
Taiwan has strong support in Congress, especially among Republicans, and many lawmakers said the United States couldn’t remain on the sidelines. The White House seems to have come to the same conclusion.
William Taylor, a military analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that for now, the standoff between Beijing and Taiwan is an exercise in crisis management for the Clinton administration, and there is little likelihood of military engagement.
But, he added, the United States will have the forces in place to handle any contingency.
“We have the capability to do real serious damage to Chinese aircraft, Chinese ships and submarines that might violate international law or be so foolhardy - either by calculation, miscalculation or accident - to attack Taiwan,” he said.
The Japanese Defense Agency on Wednesday estimated China has mobilized 150,000 troops, 10 navy ships, 4 submarines and some 300 warplanes in the coastal province of Fujian facing the Taiwan Strait.
The Chinese on Wednesday fired a fourth unarmed M-9 missile into the waters west of Taiwan’s main southern port of Kaohsiung. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it had detected more than 30 groups of Chinese warplanes and 10 warships participating in exercises in the Taiwan Strait separating the island from the mainland.
Top administration officials see the Chinese military exercises as an attempt to intimidate Taiwan as it prepares to vote for president on March 23, not a prelude to war.
But they worry that a mistake - such as a misfired missile hitting Taiwanese ships or territory - could inadvertently precipitate a confrontation.