Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chen Bingde wasn’t lying, entirely

Chinese officials aren’t being vague out of carelessness or some ideological proclivity for imprecision. They know exactly what they are doing

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde (陳炳德, pictured left), who visited Washington last week, caused a bit of a stir when he claimed that China only had a garrison deployment across from Taiwan and did not have operational deployments, much less missiles, stationed there.

While those comments were immediately ridiculed by Taiwanese authorities and the US Department of Defense, the fact of the matter is that Chen wasn’t lying outright — the veracity of his claim depends on how one defines “across from Taiwan.”

One thing that history should have taught us about negotiating with China is that it’s all about the context. If what Chen meant by “across from Taiwan” was China’s Fujian Province, then technically he was telling the truth, as the Second Artillery — the unit responsible for the bulk of China’s missile arsenal — has maintained a garrison in Fujian for more than a decade and it is not altogether impossible that missiles are not permanently deployed there.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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