Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Of Missiles and Men

With President Ma Ying-jeou making (yet another) appeal to the Thugclan Demesnes across the Strait to reduce the missiles facing Taiwan, the local military released its National Security Report yesterday, the 19th. Taiwan Today reports via the pro-KMT UDN:
In terms of establishing effective communications, the report suggests creating a hot line between high-ranking officials. It advocates the implementation of a code of conduct for both sides to follow when fighter jets or submarines come into contact in the Taiwan Strait, and describes the need to limit the deployment of special troops and military activity, as well as for troop reductions.


The newly published NSR does not include extensive coverage of the military threats posed by the People’s Liberation Army. Instead, the paper emphasizes the importance of being prepared for danger in times of peace. It notes that the Chinese mainland has been wielding carrot-and-stick tactics after the United States’ announcement of a major arms sale to Taiwan in October 2008.

In addition to increasing their military threat to Taiwan, Chinese communist leaders have been covering up their political intent with the proposed signing of a peace accord, hoping to lower the island’s resistance and induce Taiwan to surrender without the use of force, the report says.
AP also reported on this, emphasizing the information in the final paragraph:
In its biennial defense report issued Tuesday, the defense ministry said the confidence-building measures have failed to materialize due to unabated Chinese hostility toward Taiwan.

"We have not been able to make progress in the confidence building measures because China has not given up ... the notion of using force against Taiwan," the ministry said.

The ministry identified possible confidence-building measures as the establishment of a hot line between Taipei and Beijing, and signing a pact to limit the deployment of military personnel and equipment against each other.

It said China has continued holding exercises aimed at preparing its troops to invade the island, and that it is working to prevent outside forces from coming to Taiwan's aid if attacked.

This is a clear reference to the U.S., which has left open the possibility of coming to Taiwan's aid in the event of a Chinese attack.

"China has increased the frequency of its military exercises to pressure us since October 2008 when the U.S. government announced the sale of an arms package to us," the report said. "At this stage, (China) has developed the strategic capabilities to stop foreign forces from intervening in cross-strait conflicts."

The U.S. is required by its own laws to provide Taiwan with weapons of a defensive character.

The ministry added that the number of Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan continues to grow. Taiwanese officials now puts the number at 1,500.

The ministry also referred to the possibility of a formal China peace accord, saying Beijing could use it to "soften (Taiwan's) will to defend itself."

China's Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to faxed questions about the Taiwanese statement.
There is no legal requirement in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) to supply Taiwan with weapons, though many commentators continue to believe there is. Chris Nelson, a former Dem staffer who was in on the drafting of the TRA, had this to say in 2007:
In fact, the US is not obligated to defend Taiwan by law, and in the post-9/11 world, senior Republican offcials and military brass have cast considerable doubt on the US moral obligation, if President Bush were to conclude that hostilities were the result of actions by Taiwan.

In fact, although the TRA includes language designed to discourage the use of force by the PRC against Taiwan, the TRA only obligates the US to consider arms sales under certain circumstances, period.

Take our word for it, as a junior staff-participant, even this language was extracted very reluctantly from the State Department at the cost of considerable blood on both sides.

The strongest language Congressional friends of Taiwan were able to add talks about a "grave threat" to US interests in the event of an upset in the peaceful status quo. That's it...not exactly a mutual defense treaty.

So you add it all up, and not even at the beginning did the TRA mandate that the US defend Taiwan under any circumstance, nor that arms must be sold, simply because of requests by Taiwan.

Every aspect of this is subject to US political will, judgement and discretion...the everlasting frustration of both China and Taiwan, duly noted.
It's high time this error that the TRA requires weapons sales was stamped out of the world. Recall that Beijing's Anti-Secession law which "obligates" China to attack Taiwan was invented to echo the erroneous perception that the Taiwan Relations Act obligates the US to sell weapons to Taiwan -- the way orcs were created in mockery of elves. Each time the media repeats that false claim about the TRA, it provides a frisson of equivalency for the Anti-Secession Law.

It is fascinating that the ROC military has issued a report that essentially undermines the basis for Ma's "reconciliation" with the CCP and also puts a spike in claims that China is treating Taiwan better. On the other hand, the report does provide support for the military's claim that it needs lots of bright shiny new toys to fight China with.

Will China take down the 1,500 missiles it has facing Taiwan? Ma has repeatedly asked, and US analysts have repeatedly hinted, that it should do so. One wonders why on earth Beijing would ever do that: the build-up has paid huge dividends. Those missiles are aimed not only at military targets in Taiwan, but also at the hearts of US military and political analysts.

Observe also that because Ma has hitched his future economic policy to closer PRC links, and that he has carried out this policy irrespective of the increasing PRC threat. Hence, China has no incentive to reduce the missile build up -- what can they get out of the KMT that they haven't got already? Recall too that senior KMT officials made Ma retract his demand that the missiles be reduced several years ago -- those selfsame officials now effectively running cross-strait negotiations. They could care less how many missiles face Taiwan.

Further: the missiles are useful in the economic and political negotiations -- they help convince both locals and foreigners of the "inevitability" of annexation as well as the uselessness of resistance ("You will be assimilated," says Borgjing). The idea of "inevitability" is one of the chief lubricants for public acceptance of ECFA and other agreements that subordinate Taiwan to China. Not only that, but by making any war over Taiwan uglier for whoever faces China, they deter military support for Taiwan -- and give aid and comfort to those in the West who would sell it out.

Useful missiles indeed. Take them down? What does Beijing stand to gain?
Daily Links:
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

America can no longer be trusted nowadays.

If a great country like the USA
starts to turn its back against freedom, democracy and the people of Taiwan then no one will be surprised at what is happening to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It seems that massive devastation
and human sufferings follow wherever American troops go.

America today is no longer the America where the Statue of Liberty was sent as a gift of the freedom loving French people.

No wonder some American bloggers here also are no longer advocating the freedom of speech to guarantee a level and fair playing field.

Hopefully Prof. Michael Turton will keep that old American torch of freedom burning here.

Sean Reilly said...

Borgjing - tee-hee - priceless.

jerome said...

Your last paragraph reminds me of a report in the Taiwanese English language press two years ago. The missiles build-up question had been tossed at a KMT heavy-weight just returned from China. All wink-winks, he brushed off the question with Zhongnanhai’s assurances the missiles were not aimed at Taiwan proper but at the surrounding waters.

His rejoinder on behalf of China enjoined the Formosans to play the Pax Sinica card under the aegis of the CCP/KMT united front. The more Taiwan wriggled the tighter the noose fitted. The Formosans took good notice and voted in a KMT majority and Ma-the-fawner.

And in so many words, it sent anyone entertaining the notion that defending Taiwan independence was in the best of their national interests a message to wise up to the fact that China holds a colliding vision of what peace in the Western Pacific is about, i.e., leave the Taiwanese to China’s tender mercies for peace sake.

I remember wincing at the untold assumption that those missiles were the manifestation of the Empire’s firm embrace of Taiwan.

Dale Albanese said...

While I completely agree about the efficacy of the missiles as a negotiation tool, I want to propose one scenario in which it might be an effective approach (from the CCP/KMT platform perspective) to dismantle a select number.

The only scenario of Beijing gain that I can imagine would be if they truly are concerned about Ma's domestic support and need to to throw him an immediately tangible and non-controversial bone. Beijing is clearly concerned about Ma's approval ratings for fear of a DPP comeback.

ECFA may be the KMT morphine-drip to economic ills, and in its continued opacity, garner more than its share of domestic support, but it, like all trade-related agreements, comes with plenty of domestic trade-offs. There will be continue to be vocal opposition.

However, a drop in the number of missiles aimed at Taiwan, especially immediately following direct calls from Ma to dismantle them, would seem like a solid victory for Ma and the KMT, as well as provide enough soundbytes about how the concessions Taiwan has made to Beijing have not been unilateral nor gone unanswered to carry through the 2012 elections. How could anyone spin missile reduction against Ma?

After all, if you have 1400 as the U.S. says, why wouldn't the CCP drop a couple to keep Taiwanese supportive of their endorsed KMT candidate?

Anonymous said...

Some call it ROC. Roger Lin adds "in-exile" , LTH say
it's Taiwan! Trung Chai said no it's Formosa!

But the view from the other side is
"Of Falklands and Malvinas."


Michael Turton said...

Ma is going to win anyway -- in fact, from the PRC perspective, the people of Taiwan voted for Ma in droves irrespective of obvious PRC behavior and Ma's obvious plans to annex the island to China. So why shouldn't they continue the build up?

Another good reason to stand down is to make it politically more difficult for the US to sell weapons to Taiwan. That might motivate them to reduce their missiles....

Dale Albanese said...

@ Michael: The Times reported this morning on Director Stanton's recent press conference and arms sales were mentioned. It made me think of just that.