Sunday, February 07, 2010

Trifecta of the Terrible

Let's start with the just plain silly: China continues to make noise about the US arms sales. Yesterday at the Munich Security Conference, Chinese FM Yang complains that US arms sales to Taiwan are against international law, and says that Chinese news is more reliable than western news. Yang clearly has a promising second career in comedy.... For bonus reliability of Chinese media hilarity, don't miss China Daily's propaganda piece on Taiwan's people protesting against the arms sales. What, you didn't see any demonstrations? That proves your mind has been controlled by the horribly biased western media.

Speaking of comedy emanating from Beijing, our first entry in the trifecta of terrible is The Berkshire Encyclopedia of China has an absolutely hilarious entry on Cross-Strait relations that was written in China, so you know it is hopelessly biased. Enjoy its false claims of economic suffering under Chen "the radical" and its apparent omission of Chinese threats, missile launches, military build up, etc. The problem with an entry this bad is that it makes one suspicious of the competence of the other entries. I'd give this highly political load of crap a wide berth. I've written them about it; you should too.

Bazillions of pixels have been slain in the furious commentating on the US decision to sell arms to Taiwan -- arms that are nearly a decade in coming and will have very little effect on the military situation. The cacophony of commentary is a tribute to Beijing's ability to play US commentators. For example:

Leslie Gelb, former official and longtime national security policy commentator, lobbed Obama's Dangerous Game with China into The Daily Beast. Gelb's major points are contained in this paragraph:
The cage rattling won't come close to blows, but it will unsettle and unnerve international affairs, and ignite a new and damaging testing of great power wills. Count on this tug of war to block mutual cooperation on stifling the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea and to further sour ongoing trade and investment disputes and charges of Chinese Internet censorship, and whatever else turns up. Most worrisome, it’s not at all clear that Chinese and American leaders have thought strategically about their next moves and how to keep the situation within bounds.
Dr. Gelb has catastrophically misunderstood the game. The point of China's "anger" -- a policy choice, not a visceral response -- is to strain relations between Taipei and Washington. Indeed, as I have noted, several commentators hastened to reassure that Beijing-Taipei relations would not be affected (example). As I have always noted, China could punish Taiwan, but never does, because that would not affect the one relationship it really wants to alter. Gelb falls for this completely. He also falls for the classic "now is not the time" fallacy: now is not the time to increase tension with Beijing because we are engaged in _____. Since we are always engaged in something sensitive with China, it follows that it is never the time to push back against Chinese bullying. I'd write more, but my friend Tom has an awesome response to Gelb there, that points out all this, and more, including Gelb's total misunderstanding of the US position on Taiwan.

The ominous thing about Gelb's piece is that it fits neatly into the flow of calls for abandoning Taiwan emanating from the Council on Foreign Relations and other US Establishment think tanks. This includes Gilley's awful piece in Foreign Affairs on Finlandizing Taiwan, which I looked at below, as well as this recent and very ugly piece by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace visiting scholar David Rothkopf: Can the US continue to afford supporting Taiwan?

I don't think there is any need to go into detail on the manifold problems of the Rothkopf piece, but the oddity of the strategic thinking expounded by the Dump Taiwan crowd is worth exploring. This crowd has on the whole evinced no great reluctance to waste billions on our criminally stupid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter being where good American boys are dying to make Central Asia safe for Chinese expansion. The CFR has issued several pieces in support of continued involvement in Afghanistan, but its house organ, Foreign Affairs, hosted Gilley's piece on Finlandizing Taiwan. In fairness Rothkopf says the real goal of US policy in Central Asia should be Pakistan, not Afghanistan, but that boggles the imagination: essentially the Dump Taiwan team consists of Serious Thinkers who want to dump Taiwan -- a key producer of technology products in the most important region in the world for the foreseeable future -- in order to keep Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Right. How's that again?

More on Arms Sales
Taipei Times: China Factor in Arms Sales
CNN cites Chinese scholar in Canada who has never visited Taiwan. Awful dreck.
AFP notes that the arms sale is aimed at reassuring countries around China.
AP echoes claims that arms sale will not hurt Beijing-Taipei relations.
VOA says effect of Chinese sanctions would be limited.
CSM on the effect on US-China military cooperation.
FT editorial says China overplays its hand.
China has also complained about EU chopper sales to Taiwan, but seems to be taking a softer line with the EU because Beijing hopes the arms embargo will be lifted. UPDATE: This is wrong, no protest from Beijing on this, says Eurocopter.
WSJ says arms sales help cross strait relations
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!


MikeinTaipei said...

Michael: There's not sign at the moment that Beijing has protested sales of Eurocopters to Taiwan. The opening paragraph in the story you link is contradicted further down. Also, I've heard back from Eusocopter HQ, which confirmed the sale but did not mention any complaint from Beijing.

Anonymous said...

The argument that the US needs to keep Taiwan "in line" (whatever that means) in order to get help from China with North Korea is likewise as ridiculous. China hears this line of reasoning and decides that it wants to keep North Korea around and dangerous--because if they actually helped and North Korea became a sane country, then the US would stop helping them on Taiwan.

If the US wants help with North Korea, it should draw a line in the sand, help Taiwan (completely ripped-off for second-hand and disabled US arms) the way it helps Israel ($2 billion in aid a year for a country of 7 million!) and let China truly contemplate what a nuclear armed and out of control North Korea means for China. That's the only way out of the trap. Once China gives up on Taiwan, it will come around on North Korea and stop playing reckless.

Anonymous said...

This is a pretty informative piece from a Deep Blue legislator on problems with Taiwanese defense and the ridiculous curve balls the US throws at Taiwan.

Sample, on F16 C/D:

"A. I want to emphasize that over 60 years, Taiwan's key defense element has been air superiority. The Taiwan Strait is the main block between Taiwan and mainland China. Every military person understands this. Over the past 60 years, we have maintained air superiority over China. Only then can we defend ourselves.

Our F-16A/B, Mirage 2000-5s and Indigenous Defense Fighters [IDF] are 10 to 15 years old. They are facing midlife upgrades. So at this time, we really need something to begin replacing these fighters. The current situation is the Mirages, IDFs and F-16s purchased in the 1990s do not have the air-superiority edge against China's newer fighters, such as the J-10s and Su-27s.

The F-16C/D release by the U.S. is critical. Taiwan's national defense strategy is to try to interdict the invasion force in the middle of the Strait before reaching Taiwan. Taiwan's territory is very narrow and limited. Our strategy should be to stop the invasion fleet in the Strait. The main battle should be in the Strait, not on the land.

The F-16C/D has more countermeasure capabilities to interdict an invasion at sea compared to the F-16A/B. That is why the F-16C/D sale is so sensitive with China."

Anonymous said...

I'm not an arms sale expert, and I'm wondering what was the difference between this arms purchase and the one that failed during the Chen administration? Obviously, the earlier one was being brokered by the DPP while this one by the KMT. I still remember all the fuckwad red shirts screaming about how Taiwan does not have any money for weapons (and that was before the economic crisis), does not want to get into an arms race with China, and was being pawned by the US. So, why the 180 degree turn on arms sales now?

Thomas said...

Wow, thank you for the praise. As you correctly note, the Gelb piece is awful.

Here is one more related article people may find interesting.

George Gilder, founder of the Discovery Institute, says that "Sending them $6 billion of new weapons is a needless provocation against China that does nothing valuable for the defense of the U.S. or Taiwan."

He concludes by saying, "It is self-destructive folly to sacrifice this core synergy at the heart of global capitalism in order to gain concessions on global warming, dollar weakening, or Internet politics."

Note that, according to his bio on the Discovery Institute website, he is an expert in technology and helped formulate the debate around supply-side economics. He also studied under Kissinger at Harvard.

Max Boot of Commentary Magazine has already published a rebuttal:

As for the realist position that the US is benefiting little by maintaining its relationship with Taiwan, I find it shocking that none of the realists ever consider the effect that throwing Taiwan under the bus would have on relations with other countries in the region. The security commitment of the US would be seriously undermined by allowing Beijing to waltz into Taipei, and Beijing would find it much easier to deny the US Navy access to large tranches of Asia's waters.

Realists could easily find arguments to defend Taiwan. They just choose not to.

Michael Turton said...

Anon at 11:35,

It's basically the same package that was offered in 2001.