Thursday, February 11, 2010

Strong Richard Bush Piece in LATimes

First, huge shift in the government today as NSC head Su Chi, who had become deeply unpopular both within the KMT and in Washington, has stepped down. J Michael at Far Eastern Sweet Potato has a long and useful analysis of it you should be reading.

Richard Bush, the longtime US government Taiwan expert, once again hits some high notes in describing the US-Taiwan-China triangle.... the title, which appears to assign blame for the problems to Taiwan, is probably not Bush's... but note that summary which correctly assigns the blame for the current spate of problems to China.
Taiwan comes between the U.S. and China again
Washington's decision to OK a $6-billion arms deal has upset Beijing. But Chinese policies are mostly to blame for the tension.
The meat, with my emphasis:
Before we panic over the high-pitched Chinese reaction, it is worth remembering the reasons for the Obama administration's decision. What drives the U.S. defense support of Taiwan, including arms sales, is how the island's civilian and military leaders assess their security needs. That assessment, in turn, is shaped by China's military buildup as it affects Taiwan. In fact, that buildup has continued even though the threat that China has perceived from Taiwan has receded since Ma Ying-jeou became the island's president in May 2008.

So the logic behind the sale is simple: China has increased the island's vulnerability even when it did not need to do so; at the request of Taiwan, the Obama administration seeks to reduce the island's insecurity.

Some context is in order. Since the mid-1990s, relations across the Taiwan Strait deteriorated as each side feared that the other was preparing to challenge its fundamental interests. China feared that Taiwan's former leaders would go for full, legal independence. Taipei feared that Beijing would use its growing power to subordinate Taiwan. Each sought to counter the perceived plans of the other, which only intensified the mutual suspicion. As this vicious circle widened, Washington worried about the danger of a clash.

Tensions have declined since Ma has chosen to address Taiwan's China challenge through engagement, and thereby improved China's strategic position. Oddly, the People's Liberation Army continues to procure and deploy equipment that puts Taiwan at risk. According to the annual Pentagon report on China's military power, Beijing each year probably adds 100 short- and medium-range missiles, which target Taiwan.

Why China has not adjusted to the new, positive reality is puzzling. Is it because of rigid procurement schedules? Is it because civilian leaders cannot impose a change even when it makes policy sense? Or is it because China wishes to create the capacity to coerce and intimidate Taiwan? The answer is not clear.
I think the paragraph on context rather misstates the "deteriorating relations" problem since the 1990s; there was never any question that Lee Teng-hui or Chen Shui-bian would go for full legal independence, as China well knew. China was merely using that "fear" (and what does Beijing have to fear from a non-territory becoming a formal state? Nothing at all) as a pretext to bluster and threaten.

The answer to the questions in that last paragraph, as I've stated before, are quite clear, actually. The military build up continues not only because China wants that capacity to bully Taiwan into submission, but also because of its effect on US policymakers -- as China's military build up grows, more and more US foreign policy thinkers move toward the position that Taiwan must be quietly sold out.

The build up also continues apace because as the recent comments from PLA hardliners suggests, China is preparing for a war in the region. From this writer's perspective, things are looking more and more like we will be facing another round of sprawling hegemonic wars. Although it is tempting to reach for the Nazi analogy when looking at the combination of victim consciousness, superiority complex, concentration camps, one-party rule, expansionism, land power strategic thinking, and so on, I believe a better historical analogy for China struggling to move from Empire to State is 17th century France.... and look how that ended in the guillotine and the Napoleonic Wars....

It should also be noted that the "weapons sale" is part of a package long predating the Obama Administration, and does not contain the much-needed F-16s. Perhaps Washington is retaining its decision on those depending on how China behaves after this sale of secondary items.

Consider the commentary on China being able to punish Taiwan, but instead foregoing that to punish the US-Taiwan relationship, as read.

Bush's concluding paragraph is, for a man given to reserve and subtlety in his public comments, a stinging critique:
Chinese critics of U.S. arms sales tend to assume that Washington is using arms to block China's unification with Taiwan. Nothing could be further from the truth. U.S. support for Taiwan's defense is and should be a function of the island's sense of insecurity, which in turn is the result of China's policies. Chinese critics should examine how their government's own actions have fostered the very outcome they oppose.
Bingo. As China's military builds, so does support for Taiwan independence in Taiwan. What's great about this piece is that it forthrightly identifies the problem as China, something that US commentators seldom do when discussing Taiwan, though they are happy to blame China for its expansionist nonsense elsewhere in Asia.

My friend Tom Patterson and I were discussing the piece (linked below) on Beijing's possible cancellation of the Nimitz visit to Hong Kong. After I suggested that allowing the visit might well be a signal to the regime's critics in the PLA who advocate tough anti-US policies, Tom wrote:

"About whether the anger is pro-forma or not, it did cross my mind that the words may sound a little more harsh, but that those at the top may have no intention of acting seriously unless Washington makes a much stronger commitment. The pieces are all there for those who care to look for them.

Consider a Reuters piece from today or yesterday that noted that voices from the military (three top generals) once again trying to pressure the CCP leadership for a stronger response. They hope that China's military expenditures will increase this year, want new troop deployments to areas near Taiwan, and think that China should respond through a mega-stupid move of selling US treasuries.

The expenditures might rise anyways, but the leadership wouldn't dare touch the treasuries now, and they would know that redeployment of troops to the Taiwan area would shock Taiwanese right in the middle of the ECFA negotiations.

So I am increasingly feeling that media outlets, and many journalists, indeed DONT understand China, but not for the reasons that the 50-cent crowd claims. The Chinese anger is not only a policy choice. The leadership may think it is necessary to save their own heads and be simultaneously unable to admit this.

The media fails to consider the balancing act that arms sales and Dalai Lama visits force the leadership to undertake. While Hu and Wen are solidly entrenched at the head of the party right now, things like ethnic riots, slowing exports, arms sales to Taiwan, etc, all invite internal criticism of their efforts. If China doesn't react with "anger", Hu, Wen and their allies lose credibility. Because the system doesn't have an in-built peaceful method of factional change, those on the top have to constantly show that they are pushing the hardest to defend China's interests. And since the nationalist population increasingly believes that China doesn't have to be flexible in its dealings with other countries, the leadership has to push harder. Can this possibly end well? :-(

Hu and Wen might not have to worry about being thrown out of power. But Xi and Li might. My former Chinese teacher, who is a follower of Chinese politics, told me once that he was concerned about the prospects of the next generation. Hu had the advantage of being hand-picked by Deng to succeed Jiang. Wen was already widely known as a good official at the time of his appointment. Yet my teacher noted that Xi was not chosen by one of the revolutionary luminaries. And neither Xi nor Li have records that have made them really stand out across the country in the past. Xi also appears to be gaffe prone. He is the one who said in Mexico, "China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty, nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?" and whose staff forgot about protocol when meeting the Japanese emperor and had to request that the Japanese PM step in to arrange a rush visit. So if the current leadership is perceived as being too soft on any issue, opponents might choose to take it out on less experienced successors down the road.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if a media outlet said, just once: 'The Obama administration has notified Congress of a major arms sale to Taiwan, invoking an angry reaction from China's leadership, which often uses its outbursts to placate the increasingly nationalistic views of the party apparatus and the public. Such weapons sales are unpopular in China, where the US' commitments for maintaining Taiwan's self-defense capability under the Taiwan Relations Act are perceived as helping to maintain the de-facto independence that the island has enjoyed for decades.'"

As Tom asked: Can this possibly end well?

I'm off to play Europa Universalis III.....
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1 comment:

haokaiyang said...

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the syllabus on Taiwanese politics that Foreign Affairs just released ( Overall, I'd say not bad, although I would definitely not have chosen Jay Taylor over, say, Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, whom Professor Lynch fails to even mention.