Senator Feinstein’s whispers

For Asia Times Online

During a recent Congressional testimony by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a US Senator stated that China had offered to redeploy its missiles targeting Taiwan.

According to the Senator, attached to the withdrawal of 1,500 missiles is a weighty condition. China demands the scrapping of plans for a US$6.4 billion US arms sale to the island which it regards as a renegade province.

Although the US denies the existence of such a proposal, a closer look at the Senator in question makes her claim plausible that she functions as Beijing’s high-ranking leaders’ conduit to Washington.

However, what sounds worth considering to politicians doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of military experts. After the deal is done, China’s missiles could easily be positioned back in place within a day, they say.

US Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, is a remarkable person. Throughout her career, the 77-year old California Democrat has many times been the ‘first’: the first female President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, San Francisco’s first female mayor, the first woman to serve in the Senate from California, first woman to chair the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee and the first woman who has presided over a US presidential inauguration. Furthermore, Senator Feinstein has also been the first foreigner to see Mao Tse-tung’s bedroom and his swimming pool.

Currently, among all these honors it’s the latter which is of particular relevance. No US politician is believed to enjoy ties to China’s previous and present-day leaderships as close as Senator Feinstein does. During 30 years of frequent visits to Beijing, Feinstein developed friendships to Chinese officials as high-ranking as former President Jiang Zemin, former Premier Zhu Rongji and Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai.

Controversially, on most of her trips to China, Senator Feinstein has been accompanied by her investment banker husband Richard Blum to whom Feinstein is married since 1980. Blum has been reported by US media as having extensive business with China. Cries of foul play due to an alleged conflict of interest are often heard. It’s widely believed that the couple uses Senator Feinstein’s political position and her good standing with Chinese leaders to gain advantages for Mr. Blum’s business activities in China.

Husband and wife are said to be worth in excess of US$100 million, and Senator Feinstein is often described as one of the most powerful women in US politics.

Earlier this month, Senator Feinstein visited China and Taiwan and held talks with both countries’ top leaders. On the first look, Senator Feinstein has done what one might expect of a high-ranking US Democrat visiting the region: she called on Beijing to ‘step up’ on North Korea, to adjust the yuan and to sign onto a cyber-security pact. Apart from this, the strong proponent of closer US-China ties held a speech on the 21st anniversary of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square. About the latter, Senator Feinstein commented in a way that strongly implied that she plays the role of being Beijing’s mouthpiece.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the Senator brought the events where hundreds of reportedly unarmed demonstrators were massacred by the People’s Liberation Army into relations that put China’s Communist Party’s leaders of that era into a favorable light. She said: “It just so happens I was here after that and talked to Jiang Zemin and learned that at the time China had no local police. It was just the PLA. And no local police that had crowd control. So, hence the tanks.”

This wasn’t the first time Senator Feinstein had outraged China’s dissidents and international human rights activists. In the past, the California Democrat demanded the creation of a commission that would study the evolution of human rights in both the US and China. The panel “would point out the success and failures [of] both Tiananmen Square and Kent State,” she said. The ‘Kent State insistence’ describes an event where four students were killed by Ohio National Guard gunfire in a 1970 antiwar demonstration.

It seems plausible that Beijing has long been recognizing Senator Feinstein’s pro-China commitment and therefore chooses her rather than any other US politician to function as a conduit to Washington. Apparently, Senator Feinstein’s task is the passing on of subtle signals on matters considered too sensitive to be openly dealt with through official channels.

The most sensitive issues that have been upsetting US-China relations for decades are US-arms sales to Taiwan and China’s missiles targeting Taiwan.

Earlier this year, US President Obama announced an arms sale worth more than US$6 billion to Taipei, a move that in Beijing’s eyes emboldens Taiwanese pro-independence advocates. Although Taiwan’s current KMT government is bringing Taiwan rapidly onto the path of cross-straits reconciliation, it is far from certain that the incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou will be reelected in the 2012 presidential polls.

Apart from Taiwanese independence, China also fears that in future conflicts with the US a well-armed Taiwan could function as the very ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ WW2 US general Douglas MacArthur has called the island for its strategic location. Although the US has been defending any past arms sale to Taiwan with the reference to its obligation deriving from the Taiwan Relations Act which states that the US must ‘provide Taiwan with arms of defensive character’, Washington’s genuine strategic interest in Taiwan, however, has to do with the realization that the power that holds control over Taiwan can relatively easily block China’s ‘sea lines of communication’. These sea lines are crucial to China’s growth since 90% of China’s foreign trade including its crude oil supply relies on the intactness of the routes. The calculation is simple: if China’s sea lines are blocked, growth rates will decline, if growth rates decline, the CCP’s one-party rule will be endangered.

Thus, it didn’t come as a surprise when a furious China snubbed US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on his recent Asia trip in retaliation over the announcement of US President Obama’s Taiwan arms deal.

Unexpectedly, the decades-old tit for tat story took an unprecedented twist earlier this month when after Senator Feinstein’s return from China she claimed that during her private talks with China’s leaders it has been signaled that Beijing considers a proposal: If the US scraps its plans to sell Taiwan Patriot and Harpoon missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, mine-hunting ships and communications equipment for Taiwan’s F-16 fleet, China will in turn redeploy its missiles aimed at Taiwan.

Questioned during a Congressional testimony by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Senator Feinstein said: “Perhaps some of this I should discuss with you privately, but in my meeting with some of the leadership it was mentioned that China had offered to redeploy back.”

What sounds worth considering to politicians doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of military experts

The main features of Taiwan’s coastal Road 61 are 7-Eleven convenience stores and stalls where bikini-clad women sell Taiwan’s hallmark betel nuts to transiting truck drivers. Across the windy Taiwan Straits are the shores of the People’s Republic of China. Somewhere there, an estimated 1,500 CSS-6 and CSS-7 short range missiles are deployed targeting Taiwan.

As a flight speed of Mach 5.6 isn’t easy to imagine, one has to resort to simple mathematical estimates to illustrate the proportions: it takes China’s missiles a mere minute to strike the hustle and buzzle of Road 61 and two to reach the Taiwanese capital Taipei.

Although China’s short-range, road mobile, solid propellant ballistic CSS-6 and CSS-7 missiles possess over insufficient range to be a strategic asset, the island’s naval units, airbases, defense facilities as well as missile launchers can be stricken in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The main advantage of the CSS-6 and CSS-7 is that wind corrections aren’t required before launch. Therefore, the Chinese missiles are capable of rapid targeting and can be launched from trucks or trains even while the carrying vehicle moves.

To military experts, these features mean that if China offers to redeploy its missiles aimed at Taiwan, the move would merely have political rather than military significance.

“China can make a deal with the US, move the missiles to central China [to satisfy observers] and can put them back into the original position within a day”, says Wang Jyh-Perng, Reserve Captain of the Taiwan Navy and associate research fellow at the Association for Managing Defense and Strategies in an interview with Asia Times Online. “And here we are talking about China’s short range missiles only since long range missiles can keep on targeting Taiwan anyway.”

Therefore, claims that Beijing considers a redeployment of its missiles stationed along the Taiwan Straits can safely be regarded as empty politicians’ talk, so Wang.

Wang acknowledges that concerning Beijing’s cross-straits military strategies subtle changes are taking place. To him, this notion has been further confirmed by Senator Feinstein’s comments.

Nonetheless, Wang predicts that any formal announcement of a Chinese offer related to the CSS-6 and CSS-7 stationed across the Taiwan Straits is not to come any time soon. According to Wang, Beijing is likely to wait for an occasion of highest strategic importance. He says: “Possibly next year around the first anniversary of the signing of ECFA [an economic cooperation framework agreement to be signed later this month or in early July], but more likely would be in 2012 as an attempt to help Ma Ying-jeou with his reelection bid.”

 

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