Bloomberg today carried a piece headlined “China Security Improved in 2008 With Taiwan Ties,” a headline that on its own should have left anyone who knows anything about the situation in the Taiwan Strait feeling high on some hallucinogenic drug. The story opens with the following paragraph:
Security improved in 2008 as relations across the Taiwan Strait warmed, a [Chinese] Ministry of National Defense spokesman said, as the government released a report showing the slowest defense budget annual growth in three years … “Relations across the Taiwan Strait have seen unprecedented and tremendous changes,” Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Hu Changming [胡昌明] told reporters at a press conference in Beijing.
Now of course Bloomberg is doing what any good Confucian would do and uncritically regurgitated whatever the authorities said at the press conference. More responsible journalism, however, would have qualified the spokesman’s statement, which creates (sadly not for the first time) a false moral equivalent in the Taiwan Strait.
Let me clarify this. When it comes to China’s security in the 21st century, improved ties with Taiwan are not a variable, as unlike the period from 1949 until the 1980s Taiwan does not threaten China militarily, neither with its posture nor with the type of military hardware that it possesses. The US — Taiwan’s almost sole source of weapons — only sells Taiwan weapons that are defensive in nature and has exerted pressure on Taipei whenever it sought to acquire or develop offensive weapons. The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense’s announcement this weekend that it was considering troop cutbacks also has no incidence on the threat level for China, as those troops are also part of a defensive posture.
Furthermore, improved ties with Taiwan does not lessen the threat to China from Taiwan’s main ally, the US, as Washington has made it clear that it would only consider using force in the Taiwan Strait to help Taiwan defend itself from aggression. In other words, the US military posture in the Asia-Pacific region is a non-threatening one to China.
The conclusion that China was “safer” last year as a result of improved ties with Taiwan, therefore, is an altogether misleading one. Ironically, while the Chinese defense ministry (and Bloomberg) wax enthusiastically about a “safer” China, the threat to Taiwan remains undiminished — despite the warming relations between Taipei and Beijing. We have seen no troop reduction across the Strait, no removal of the 1,300-plus missiles the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) points at Taiwan (which to its credit Bloomberg mentions), and no change in Beijing’s plan to use force should Taiwan attempt to change the so-called “status quo” or allow its people to decide their own future. Anyone familiar with the brief “honeymoon” that followed the PLA’s “liberation” (read invasion) of Tibet knows that Beijing niceties and “peace” notwithstanding, the knife is ever drawn behind its back and ready to come slashing down.
By linking Chinese security with Taiwan, Beijing (and Bloomberg) are providing a false depiction of the dynamics in the Taiwan Strait and portraying Taiwan as an aggressor rather than a victim of aggression. There simply is no moral equivalence in the Taiwan Strait, period.