Friday, April 22, 2011

Ted Galen Carpenter Strikes Again: Sell out Taiwan for Peace

So there I was, sitting around, thinking about what to blog on, when someone flipped me a link to another glurge on the joys of selling out Taiwan to China, this one by Ted Galen Carpenter. It's so great because (1) I have something to blog on and (2) a piece by Carpenter is guaranteed to be awful enough that no thought will be required to completely debunk him.

You all remember Carpenter, right? He used to turn out misinformed pieces on Taiwan's "failure" to take care of its own defense. Since time has revealed that much of the problem of Taiwan's "failure" to purchase weapons lay in Washington's refusal to sell it what it needs, Carpenter has gone strangely silent on that issue.

These commentaries arguing that the US should sell out Taiwan, cropping up lately like brightly-colored fungus on the rotting log of failure and shortsightedness, all present the same slanted and highly decontextualized picture of Taiwan. Carpenter's is a by-the-numbers example of this genre. It is entirely predictable in the fraudulent logic of its discourse: democratic leaders are "provocative", the problem is Taiwan -- not China, no China, never China -- and Japan, India, and other cases of current Chinese expansionism, which might shed light on the issue, are ignored. Like Bruce Gilley's inane piece on Finlandizing Taiwan that appeared to spawn this latest wave of Taiwan Sell Out Zombies, it succeeds only because it refers the reader to a world that doesn't exist.

As I am fond of pointing out, the "Taiwan issue" isn't a Taiwan issue at all; it's a China issue. The issue with Taiwan, as it is with India's Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet, Xinjiang, the South China Sea, the Senkakus and several other places, is Chinese territorial expansionism, all of it postwar. If annexing Taiwan to China would solve that problem, then it might be a permissable solution. But of course, selling out Taiwan to China doesn't address the issue of Chinese territorial expansion.

Recall that Taiwan is linked in Chinese minds to two at least other claims, to the Japanese Senkaku Islands, and beyond that, to the island of Okinawa. President Ma of Taiwan, an ardent Chinese nationalist ideologue, more or less said that several times in his AP interview last year and he is hardly the only one. Indeed, anyone who has discussed this topic with a Chinese right-winger has heard the lecture on how China owns Okinawa. From time to time it crops out in the Chinese media. But sooner or later as China feels its power growing, it will begin to be an issue between Japan and China. Can't wait until the first visa for Okinawa residents to China is denied, on the grounds that Okinawa is part of China and its citizens don't need visas. You laugh? China is already doing that with Arunachal Pradesh of India....

Thus, selling out Taiwan to China will not even address, let alone solve, the problem. Instead, it will merely move the problem forward to the next rung on the ladder, the territorial claims on Japanese (and other) territory. Right now the Okinawan problem is dormant: how long, with Taiwan annexed, before Beijing breathes new life into it?

Which brings us to a second major missing component of Carpenter's presentation: Japan. Anyone who wants to argue that Taiwan should be sold out must remove Japan from their discussion (note that it is not present in Carpenter's) precisely because Taiwan is bound up with territorial claims and Japanese security issues.

First, even if we won't intervene in an invasion, offensive operations against Taiwan are very likely to take place in Japanese air and sea space, meaning that Japan will be dragged in. Recall that Japan has a defense treaty with the US. Further, the longer resistance goes on, the more likely it is that violations of other US allied nation air and sea space will take place (how far is the Philippines?). The fact that the US does not immediately intervene does not mean that at some point it won't have to.

Of course, even if China annexes Taiwan without bringing in Japan, it is obvious that the next step is the Senkakus, which are covered under the US-Japan security treaty. The two nations have even conducted military exercises in the islands for just that purpose. Beyond that is Okinawa, and the gods alone know what other claims China might invent once Chinese officials stand in Hualien and look out to sea.

In other words, the proper context -- entirely missing in Carpenter's short piece -- is the entanglement of Taiwan and Japan with overlapping Chinese territorial claims. Once that context is restored, it is easy to see that selling out Taiwan won't solve the problem of US involvement in East Asian security issues. Indeed, it will merely increase our headaches, leading to intensified pressure on Japan and to even greater claims on the South China Sea, with the bonus of ceding to Beijing control of the airfield and other facilities on Dongsha Island in the Spratlys. I'm sure Malaysia and the Philippines will be delighted by that.

Carpenter follows that standard Beltway line that Ma has "reduced tensions" with Beijing. Naturally, Ma's party is allied to Beijing and he himself is ardently pro-China. But as I have noted before, because his party is quietly selling out the island to China, Beijing is now free to ramp up tensions elsewhere along its border. Less "tension" over Taiwan -- and remember that increasing "tension" is a policy choice of Beijing designed to gain it leverage over the minds of observers like Carpenter -- means that tensions have merely been redistributed to other areas of the Chinese borders, not lessened. In other words: Ma's policies are actually enabling Chinese territorial expansion.

This points to a hidden psychological strategic value of Taiwan: it rivets Chinese strategic attention (consider the vast expenditure of resources required merely to maintain the threat level against an island Beijing does not need and did not begin to consider part of China until WWII was underway). An adroit foreign policy would make use of that. A maladroit one would, well, hand that advantage back to China. D'oh.

Another issue in any piece on selling out is the possible consequences for the peace. Would Beijing refrain from further territorial expansion if it annexed Taiwan?

Consider Tibet. In the 1950s China annexed Tibet. Using Sellout Logic, this should have resulted in a quiet Himalayan frontier with no further territorial expansion by China. But of course the exact opposite has happened: the world has acquiesced in the annexation of Tibet, yet China has moved on to claim the entire Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh, on the grounds that it contains lots of ethnic Tibetans who are now "Chinese" (consider how it might view islands containing Taiwan-descended indigenes once Taiwanese aborigines become "Chinese"). It is using the same battery of techniques against Arunachal Pradesh that it has used against Taiwan, redefining visas and attempting to suppress international attention to the state -- it tried to kill an Asian Development Bank loan to the state, for example. Beijing has also ramped up its military presence in the Himal. Those of us who are wont to see Taiwan as an East Asian Czechoslovakia are one nation behind -- we are the East Asian version of Poland in that progression.

There's not much more to say. Suffice to say that with The Blight now resident in Beijing, war looks to be inevitable. What pieces like Carpenter's really teach is that our choice is increasingly looking like not war or no war, but instead: what war shall we have?

Sorry, wanted to end on a snarky note, but couldn't think of anything to say. Have a good weekend. The Bike Gods are sending rain tomorrow, says the CWB. Maybe I could sacrifice Taiwan to them instead. I'm sure that will be just as effective as sacrificing the island to Beijing.....
Daily Links:
  • Hsichih trio found guilty again. As a friend pointed out, apparently these men will be on trial for the rest of their lives, since the system will not admit it made a mistake. 
  • Pics like this are why I love the Taiwan bird photos of John and Fish so much. 
  • Frozen Garlic on KMT primary telephone rules
  • The Kuokuang Petrochemical Plant -- stupid, expensive, unnecessary, unpopular -- but it ain't dead dead dead yet. Even though President Ma said it won't be built in Changhua, it could well be built somewhere else. What a patronage network plum that will be! And in an election year too!
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! Delenda est, baby.


Ben Goren said...

Great post Mike. Hope to see you tomorrow in Taipei.

Michael Turton said...

Dude, tomorrow is Saturday. Got a hot date with the mistress and a hill climb.

Anonymous said...

well, to put it friendly, Taiwan isn't exactly Israel... isn't it? The last administration that had both the will AND the resources to stem the tide was Lee Teng-hui, since then it has been downhill all long.

Anonymous said...

Suffice to say that with The Blight now resident in Beijing, war looks to be inevitable

LMAO. War looks to be inevitable? What do they put in the water in Taichung?

War between who? I'm sure the US might find themselves in another war in the ME but the chances of a war in East Asia or South Asia (unless it's India - Pak) are about as likely as George W. Bush being arrested for war crimes tomorrow.

Michael Turton said...

I hope you're right.

Herman said...

Help me out with English here.

Did you mean to say "got a hot date with the missus..." or do you really mean "...with the mistress...", cause I looked at a few old "culturally significant" photos of yours and was just green with envy

Michael Turton said...

If you look closely at my avatar picture where I am posing in my yellow Giant shirt, you can see a picture of my former blue and silver mistress. I've upgraded to a much hotting mistress now....

Herman said...

Ah, got ya, a hill ride. Look forward to more photos.

M said...

Michael - shouldn't you give Ma some credit for stopping the project, which remember was first proposed under the DPP and heavily promoted by Su Tseng-chang during his time in office.

I also think it is highly unlikely any other site will be found, especially given how toxic this issue has been politically (public opinion seems firmly against it) and give the fact that the Taiwanese petrochemicals industry seems to have lost its international competitiveness.

Michael Turton said...

Ma hasn't stopped it yet. No project in Taiwan has ever been killed over the environment. I'll be happy to give him some credit when it actually dies and isn't built somewhere else in Taiwan. The twists and turns of this one will make for quite a tale, I expect!

As for the plastics industry, it depended on subsidized water, electricity, and neglect of environmental oversight. It was probably never "competitive" and with oil prices rising....

M said...

No project in Taiwan has ever been killed over the environment.

I find that hard to believe. There must be some statistics somewhere on (large and small scale) projects that have been blocked after not passing an environmental impact assessment.

I'll be happy to give him some credit when it actually dies and isn't built somewhere else in Taiwan. The twists and turns of this one will make for quite a tale, I expect!

Yes but he has rejected the proposed project as it stands. Of course Kuokuang can come up with another proposal, but they will have to find a new site and convince people to support it. That is going to be very difficult, Taiwan simply doesn't have much land. Remember Changhua was already the second proposed site.

It is more likely to end up in China.

Michael Turton said...

M, for the EIA process and why it has never blocked a project, see this post on the EIA system.


M said...

Here are a couple of cases that have been killed by the EPA.

Michael Turton said...

M, the coal plant in the first one is still on, the Taipower website still lists it as slated for completion in 2017-18. Perhaps that will change.

I am endeavoring to discover how the situation is at Alishan.


Anonymous said...

Wide perspective and informed post Mike. I wonder whether Mr Carpenter is working under a word count limit or similar and the brevity of his article precludes such insight...
The latest Economist newspaper lists China's foreign reserves now at 3 Trillion USD most of which are held in US Govt Securities. For perspective, that's enough to buy the entire US military equipment valued at $414bn USD.
With the US Military alredy stretched around the globe and the current US debt levels, I feel China is biding its time until it flexes its muscles and gives those pesky Taiwan democratic troublemakers a long-due spanking... TaikeMark.