The Washington Times published a piece from longtime Taiwan expert Richard Bush on the growing threat facing Taiwan. After noting that the military threat to Taiwan is becoming more serious, he writes:
But these trends are still puzzling. Cross-strait relations have improved significantly since 2008. President Ma Ying-jeou has sought to reassure China and expand cooperation with it. The long-term chances that any Taiwanese leader would push for full independence or that the public would support such a measure is probably low. These trends do not mean unification will happen anytime soon, but they do mean Beijing can act on the basis of its hopes rather than its fears.Bush recommends that Taiwan continue to beef up its defense and that the US should continue to sell arms to Taiwan. He also says that China isn't going to win any hearts and minds in Taiwan by continuing to threaten its people.
Yet the military buildup continues. Why it does is something of a mystery. The PLA likely believes it does not yet have the capacity to deal with the worst-case scenario, which it has made the basis of its planning.
There is one area in which China may be showing restraint: the deployment of short-range ballistic missiles. The Defense Department report estimate for this year is the same as the one for last year: between 1,050 and 1,150 missiles. Yet this pause - if that is what it is - is less significant than it seems.
First, the number of PLA cruise missiles is growing - perhaps by 100 in the past year. (The Defense Department's estimate of existing missiles is between 200 and 500.) Second, China's ability to frustrate U.S. intervention to defend Taiwan increases apace. Third, the ballistic missiles themselves are becoming more accurate and have more effective munitions. Even if the number of missiles has remained constant, the damage they can do to Taiwan's command and control, airfields, ports and other infrastructure is increasing. The scale of the potential damage is what is important to Taiwan's security, not the precise number of missiles.
All good enough.
This summer headlines were made when China announced that the South China Sea was a "core interest" like Tibet and Taiwan (a couple of my posts here and here; long one at DKOS) on top of other events, like producing a map showing Beijing owned pretty much whole area.
Back in 2002 Beijing had pledged, along with other nations with claims to the area, to show self-restraint in dealing with these issues. Vietnam had been pushing to make that gentlemen's agreement a binding one, but clearly Beijing has torn up that non-binding agreement and adopted a harder line. That has led to an arms race in the area, among other things, and some armed clashes which have gone pretty much unreported in the media.
The interesting thing is that in Dec of 2009 Beijing passed a new "island protection law" that "legally" announced its claims to thousands of disputed islands and over 3 million square miles of territory. That's December.
On Jan 1 -- barely a month later -- the ASEAN-China free trade agreement came into effect.
Sure looks a lot like what we're seeing here in Taiwan -- on one hand economic engagement, on the other, a seemingly diametrically opposed military move.
Virtually alone among commentators on Taiwan, Bush has been publicly wondering why China hasn't reduced its military forces aimed at Taiwan now that it has Ma Ying-jeou in office. Kudos to him; the rest of the chattering classes, after assuring Taiwan that Beijing would come around, have maintained a studied silence. No doubt they will revive if Beijing actually does give Ma a break ahead of the 2012 elections.
One part of the answer to Bush's mystery is that China's leaders have correctly read the tides of history and realize, as Chamberlain did not with Germany, that the combination of appeasement and Beijing's incorporation into the world economic order can only end with China raised to a position of strength and power. They currently have zero incentive to reign in military spending, since no one has punished them for engaging in it. Indeed, the more money they spend on weapons, the more deference the world shows them.
Oh yeah, and let's not forget, those missiles aren't just pointed at Taipei. They're pointing at US analysts too. One thing is clear: they seem to have been more persuasive in Washington, than in Taiwan.....
- ECFA booster CSIS report on ECFA.
- A giant has left us: Lin Tsung-yi dead at 89.
- India and Japan together eye China
- The Diplomat on China's blockbuster propaganda: the movie monopoly
- ECFA will make us more competitive, which is why now that it is signed, Taiwan has dropped a spot in the World Competitiveness rankings. Wait a second....
- Parody: National Burn a Koran Day.
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