Friday, May 21, 2010

Prosecuting war by other means

On its own, the widening gap in military capabilities in the Taiwan Strait — in which the Chinese air force will enjoy a more than two-to-one advantage in combat aircraft by 2014-2015 — is a worrying development. Equally disturbing, however, are recent signals from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) that he does not accord the nation’s ability to defend itself against Chinese aggression the importance it deserves.

Not only did Ma claim last year that the country’s No. 1 enemy was mother nature, he has also cut the number of military exercises simulating a Chinese invasion. There is even evidence that Taiwanese officials in Washington have not really pushed for sale of the F-16C/D combat aircraft the nation so desperately needs to level the playing field. All of this, added to Ma’s remark that he would “never” call on the US to fight on Taiwan’s behalf — which he subsequently had to qualify, given the political storm it created — points to a president who does not take defense seriously.

While there are ample reasons to believe this is true, such a discussion distracts from the formidable, and at present far more real threat, to Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Before we explore that other threat, however, let us ask ourselves the following questions: If China really did intend to launch military strikes against Taiwan, would it invest billions of dollars in Taiwanese insurance companies, real estate and other sectors? Would it allow thousands of its own citizens to visit every day? Would it send delegations, led by top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials? And would it send its students, putting all of them in harm’s way?

This op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Anonymous said...

Well, imagine you encounter a armed robber, he doesn't want to kill you, but the gun certainly is a good reason to not fight back and just give him the money.

Thomas said...

I know you have read the work by Scott Kastner on this subject. His hypothesis that Beijing might prefer going to war before damaging economic links between Taiwan and China is interesting.

If Beijing could conquer Taiwan while keeping the economic infrastructure relatively intact, it would have a ready-made set of allies on the island already in the form of businessmen who profit from China trade.

Therefore, we might say that China's willingness to put Chinese in harm's way may just be indicative of the possibility that Beijing has no intention of bombing places where those Chinese would be working.

Anonymous said...

Taiwan could never win an arms race with China, so why bother even getting into one?

Peace is more important than anything. Economic links, trade agreements, diplomacy etc are the means to bring about peace. Weapons build ups are not. Creating/maintaining the conditions for cross-strait peace is what prevents war, not military exercises and calling on America to rescue Taiwan (and with all the US troubles in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus their increasing reliance on China, would they even be able to do anything anyway).

D said...

This is a very interesting editorial, but I have a question about the significance of the trade statistics you cite. Obviously, the relationship is one sided. This leads one to think that Taiwan should take steps to diversify, and that seems to be what you are suggesting, and part of what is at the heart of objection to ECFA (there are other issues as well, of course). But when I look at those statistics, I can't help but think that Taiwan, like it or not, is in a "special relationship" with the mainland. Trying to diversify a bit is good, but in the real world no amount of reorientation is going to magically pull Taiwan from the mainland orbit. Now, ECFA may be a bad idea, but at least it recognizes the link, apparently inseparable, between between the mainland and Taiwan. Too often I feel like objections to ECFA occur in some fantasy land, where the mainland is supposed to have absolutely no influence on Taiwan whatsoever. That seems naive to me. Think of it this way: Mexico is an independent country, but would we really say that its problems and opportunities aren't closely connected with what happens in the US? It's a tough spot, but that seems to be where Taiwan is, and will be, vis-a-vis China.

I wondered what you think about this, but perhaps it is too late to get a response -- I saw your editorial late because I was in China, where blogspot is blocked....

J. Michael said...


Thank you very much for the thoughtful comments, and no, they’re not too late.

I fully agree with the position that Taiwan is in, and has no choice in having, a “special relationship” with China. Refusing to acknowledge this would be suicidal, and given the new paradigm, a sure way to lose election for whichever party adopted such a position. That’s why Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen has not come out in opposing an ECFA, but rather calling on a trade pact to be signed under the umbrella of an international organization, such as the WTO.

Closer trade per se isn’t the problem. Issues of contention lie in the political impact of signing a deal under a mechanism that undermines Taiwan’s sovereignty, which is the direction I think the Ma administration is heading into. While it is true that on occasion the US has been able to “dictate,” or at minimum influence, Canadian policy as a result of trade dependency (eighty-seven percent of Canada’s exports go to the US, about twice the ratio in the Taiwan Strait), there is nevertheless one major difference: The US has no claims of sovereignty over Canada, which isn’t the case in the Taiwan-China diode. Furthermore, even when NAFTA was being negotiated, the US wasn’t saying that this would be a stepping stone toward unification.

One can’t deny that China has had — and will continue to have — political influence on Taiwan, but there should be ways to ensure that this influence isn’t undue or that signing an ECFA does not prevent it from continuing to operate as an independent political entity. Now that Beijing has come out saying it will not allow Taiwan to sign FTAs with other countries even after an ECFA (something that Ma has promised would happen), Taipei may find it even more difficult to argue that an ECFA is apolitical, or even a viable economic option.

D said...

What you say makes a lot of sense to me, but I'm curious to see what ECFA actually says. Given that Taiwan basically faces indignity after indignity on the international stage, will the ECFA language be anything worse than usual? I suppose it will have a "one-China" preamble, leaving undeclared what one-China means?