Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Richard Bush asks what the continued military build up means

J Michael Cole over at Far Eastern Sweet Potato led me to this article by longtime Taiwan analyst Richard Bush III at Brookings. Coupled with the comments surrounding the possibility of selling F-16s to Taiwan that appear to identify China as the source of the "Taiwan problem," it seems that US analysts are at last waking up and getting a whiff of that expansionist cup'o'java that China has been serving us for the last twenty years..... Bush writes in an opening paragraph more notable for its misrepresentations than its illuminations...

In the relations between Taiwan and China, something intriguing happened between last spring and this spring. I refer not to the impressive progress that the two sides have made since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008. They have restored dialogue mechanisms; concluded agreements to enhance cooperation in the areas of trade, transportation, finance, and crime control; and made possible Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly. This significant progress occurred against the backdrop of fifteen previous years of deepening mutual mistrust, which led Beijing and Taipei each to craft policy based on fears of the other’s intentions rather than hopes for cooperation.
  • The KMT-Beijing united front against Taiwan independence and democracy is "impressive progress."
  • The Chen and Lee Administrations were eras of "deepening mistrust." No mention is made of all the "impressive progress" in "trade, transportation, finance, and crime control" made under those Administrations, particularly the Chen Administration. The past in which the DPP initiated and pursued contacts is now down the memory hole. The connection between the current KMT and past DPP policy is now down the memory hole as well. This line has been the one taken by US analysts since the Ma election campaign began two years ago.
  • There are "two sides" -- not two groups of Chinese nationalists searching for a way to annex Taiwan to China without appearing to ever cross the Rubicon of annexation.
  • "deepening mutual mistrust" Taiwan does not threaten China in any way; the threat is entirely one-sided. "Mistrust" from the Chinese side simply implies the belief that the DPP will not lie down for Beijing.
  • The military build up during the Lee-Chen era was OK since it was aimed at Taiwan independence and democracy types. Now that Ma is in power, suddenly the military build up has become a problem that China has created (Bush states this below). What a difference a year makes....
Bush goes on to wonder why on earth China didn't reduce its military build up since it has an ally in power in Taipei....

Still, it is startling that Beijing did not adjust the procurements and deployments that are most relevant to Taiwan in response to Ma’s taking office. After all, what drove China to its military buildup was its perception of threatening intentions of Ma’s predecessors. He on the other hand has pursued a policy of reassurance and reconciliation. We can imagine several possible reasons.

The first is bureaucratic: that the PLA procures equipment on a five-year cycle, and the adjustment to Ma will begin in the cycle that begins in 2011. The second concerns threat perception: PLA and other leaders do not believe that the threat of separatism has disappeared. Pro-independence forces could return to power and China must be prepared. The third possible reason is institutional. The PLA is increasingly a corporate entity that has its own view of how, within broad policy parameters, to protect China’s national security. It could be some combination of the three. We simply do not know.

China’s failure to adjust has important implications for the future of cross-Strait stability, because it affects the sustainability of Ma Ying-jeou’s policies. In his electoral campaign, he argued that that the best way to ensure Taiwan’s prosperity, security, and dignity in the face of a more powerful China to reassure and engage Beijing. His appeal, therefore, defines what he must achieve to secure re-election in 2012 for himself and his party. Moreover, Ma has made very clear that China’s existing military capabilities are an obstacle to creating a truly stable cross-Strait environment. As he told The New York Times last year, “We don't want to negotiate a peace agreement while our security is threatened by a possible missile attack.”

This paragraph is quite interesting. Bush of course knows that Ma is not in charge of the cross-strait negotiations, but nevertheless organizes the paragraphs around Ma's 2012 policy needs. Gone of course is the mention that the KMT fought the special arms purchase and, a couple of years back when Ma asked in a speech in London that the missiles be removed, repudiated that position -- the KMT thought it was perfectly acceptable for missiles to be pointed at its children. The idea that Ma thinks negotiation with missiles pointed at Taiwan is impossible is manure meant to fertilize re-election prospects -- the current government has no problem negotiating with China on all sorts of things with missiles pointed at it.

What Bush doesn't note is the speed at which things are occurring here, both domestically and in the cross-strait relationship. The military build up is there to spur that process along, and to create in locals a sense of resignation, of the inevitability of anschluss. I believe, as do others watching the process unfold, that the KMT and CCP want the anschluss to take place by 2011, the 100th anniversary of the ROC, especially since Hu Jintao steps down in 2012. Unlike many whom I know are beginning to privately wonder whether we'll have an election here in 2012, I am totally confident we will.

The second to last paragraph is absolutely wonderful and it echoes the logic in the post below: if the build up continues, it is obviously proper for the US to sell Taiwan weapons....
If by its actions Beijing demonstrates a continuing desire to increase Taiwan’s sense of insecurity, then it is proper for the United States to reduce it through arms sales and other forms of security cooperation. We should, of course, provide systems that strengthen Taiwan’s real deterrent, not those that are useful primarily as political symbols (China can easily tell the difference). True, continued arms sales will damage U.S.-China relations, but we are responding to a problem that China has itself created.
Note that in addition to the direct public link between arms sales and the Chinese military build up, we also have Bush's hint of "other forms of security cooperation." Jim Steinberg, who was important in crafting the Clinton expansion of contacts with Taiwan that the Bush Administration curtailed, is once again in high position. I am curious to see what meanings "other forms of security cooperation" takes on in the Obama Administration.

Further, Richard Bush here also directly states that the problem is of China's own making. Perhaps US analysts will take that next step and re-examine their rhetoric about Chen "provoking" China. After all, if China continues its build up when it has a Chinese nationalist ideologue in office in Taiwan, it is obvious that the previous military build up cannot have been in response to Taiwan independence, but must instead stem from some other motive -- the same one that has compelled it to annex Tibet and take aim at the territories of most of its neighbors.

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1 comment:

TBA Girl said...

Glad to see you return! I was doing the Formosa Foundation program recently, and we got the change to meet with Richard Bush at Brookings - he's got an interestingly convoluted perspective on Taiwan.

Always a pleasure to read your blog!