BEIJING — Any strike on China's mammoth Three Gorges Dam by Taiwan's armed forces would lead to war, and the threat of such an attack would not be a credible deterrent to Beijing's use of force, a Chinese general said Wednesday.
Such a move "will not be able to stop war.... It will have the exact opposite of the desired effect," Lt. Gen. Liu Yuan said in the state-run China Youth Daily. It will provoke retaliation, he added, that will "blot out the sky and cover up the earth."
Liu was responding to a recent Pentagon report theorizing that hawks in Taipei might view deterrents -- such as a possible attack on China's population centers or on such high-value targets as the Yangtze River's Three Gorges Dam -- as a way to blunt Chinese military threats.
Liu's commentary was designed to dispel any such thinking in Taiwan or Washington, which Beijing views as Taipei's handmaiden. Liu characterized Washington as "a prostitute pretending to be a gentleman."
On the other side of the strait, Taiwan announced this week that it had launched two Patriot antimissile weapons as part of a routine drill to highlight its air-defense capability.
Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have been a constant since Chiang Kai-shek fled with his Nationalist forces to the island after losing to China's Communists in a civil war that ended in 1949. China considers Taiwan a renegade province. The strong Chinese reaction Wednesday to what is in effect little more than a hypothetical scenario underscores Beijing's sensitivity and its political dilemma.
For domestic and ideological reasons, China's leadership must appear absolutely uncompromising in its opposition to Taiwanese independence. At the same time, as the Asian giant becomes more materially comfortable and better integrated globally, it has more to lose in any military confrontation.
Afraid that Taiwan might exploit this situation, Beijing has pledged to wager everything -- including its economic prosperity, global reputation and role as host of the 2008 Olympic Games -- by using force if Taiwan declares independence.
"It's wrong for either side to target civilian targets," said Wang Yong, associate professor of international relations at Beijing University. "Taiwan would be irrational to do such a thing and would be condemned by the entire world. But the Chinese military should prepare itself anyway."
Many believe that Taiwan would never dare take such a step without implicit or explicit support from the U.S.; President Bush has pledged to defend Taiwan in the event it is attacked.
Beijing had condemned the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on China's military power, released last week, as "Cold War mentality harboring evil intentions."
For good measure, Beijing further argued Wednesday that the Three Gorges Dam was invulnerable to conventional missiles anyway.
"The Three Gorges Dam will not collapse and cannot be destroyed," Liu said.
Seismologists have said the dam, made of concrete up to 325 feet thick, would withstand a magnitude 10 earthquake. Begun in 1993, the project is scheduled for completion in 2009 at a cost of almost $25 billion. The world's largest hydroelectric project has been criticized for its effect on the environment and its displacement of millions of people from their ancestral lands.
Yin Lijin in The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.