China Missile Firing Meant to Intimidate Neighbors, U.S.

July 7, 2008 - 8:07 PM

(CNS) - Beijing's successful test firing of an inter-continental ballistic missile earlier this week is meant to intimidate the United States' allies in Southeast Asia, particularly Taiwan, and send a message to Washington that the Communists are not backing down in their ambitions to become a regional superpower, leading national security analysts told CNSNews.com.

"A great deal of what China considers to be national pride is generated by the fact that it can scare people," said Stephen Yates, a China policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, in an interview with CNSNews.com.

China successfully tested the Dong-feng 31, a mobile-launched intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 miles, using technology it allegedly stole from the United States. The timing of the test was seen as an effort to intimidate self-governing Taiwan, which is not backing down in its determination to deal with Beijing on a state-to-state basis rather than as a breakaway province.

"It's a not-so-subtle warning to Taipei that the Communists have the power to inflict damage. And it's a warning to Japan that they'd better back off in their defense cooperation with the United States or it won't be just North Korea that's floating strange objects over their territory," Yates said.

Taiwan's stock market plunged after news of the missile testing and regained ground only after the government intervened by buying equities. The test prompted an announcement by the United States that it would sell $550 worth of military equipment to Taiwan, including early warning aircraft.

Tension between Beijing and Taipei, coupled with North Korea's preparation to test a new long-range missile later this month, is bringing former enemies in Asia closer together for mutual protection.

Japan now is considering stretching the constitutional limits on its military, while South Korea is beginning to overcome deep suspicions of Japan and consider ways to cooperate in the face of a common threat, the New York Times reports.

"This is a major escalation in the People's Republic of China's missile capability. In the light of what we learned from the Cox Report, we realize how significant this is. It shows their ability to acquire a strategic capability on a par with that of the United States," Dr. Kenneth de Graffenreid, a professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., told CNSNews.com.

Instead of working with U.S. allies to build a missile defense, as recommended by Congress, the Clinton administration is overly sensitive to what it can do to satisfy Beijing, analysts said.

"All we should focus on is what we can do to protect our interests at this uncertain time, but the Clinton administration seems to focus first on what it can do to get our friends in Beijing to calm down - and that's a losing battle," Yates said.

For its part, the Clinton administration played down the test, saying it was not an extraordinary military development.

"China already has long-range missiles, and therefore the fact that they've tested a new missile is not a dramatic new development that requires massive effort and diplomacy to deter," State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters Monday.

The missile will be only the second truck-launch ICBM in the world when it is deployed in the next several years, analysts report. Russia is still the only country in the world that operates road-mobile ICBMs, which are difficult to track.

The new missile will give China a major strike capability that will be difficult to counterattack, posing a significant threat not only to U.S. forces deployed in the Pacific theater, but to portions of the continental United States, Dr. Larry Arnn, president of the California-based Claremont Institute, told CNSNews.com.

"The Chinese are very keen to develop the capacity to be able to hit us with missiles. They are also developing shorter-range missiles that will be able to hit our allies in the area - Taiwan, Japan and South Korea - and deploying naval vessels with the capacity to attack. That will alter the strategic situation."

"If they can impede our ability to come to our allies' defense in east Asia, then we are no longer a superpower," Arnn said.

The Chinese missile test demonstrates the necessity of an adequate missile defense, security analysts believe. Discouraging Asian nations from developing missile defense systems remains one of China's top foreign policy priorities.

"The firing of this missile further entrenches the belief in the minds of our friends in Asia that they have to build missile defense," Yates said.

"The Republicans haven't been strong enough to force the Clinton administration to provide a missile defense. The only hope is that this test will force the Congress to take action, or to come up with a gesture of solidarity with Taiwan or something that will give this administration pause," de Graffenreid said.