Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Importance of Taiwan

More beautiful clouds over the peaks of central Taiwan yesterday.

Julian Baum rocks the Christian Science Monitor with a great opinion piece on the importance of Taiwan and the Obama Administration's counterproductive, prestige-reducing policy in Asia:
Yang’s working assumption that Taiwan still has a role in US security policy in East Asia is correct, though it is sometimes disputed. And it points to why the denial of an effective air defense could ultimately be costly for the US. With shrinking resources across the vast US Pacific Command and geographically limited locations for its bases, the US military requires the full complement of Taiwan’s air patrols, intelligence gathering, and air combat capabilities.

This lethal combination of strategic confusion and accommodationist politics gives the appearance of Washington turning away from a fellow democracy as it drifts into the orbit of a hostile authoritarian state. That is not a reassuring message to our Asian allies and friends, old or new.

Regardless of how prosperous and newly influential China may be, the long history of US relations with Taiwan celebrates values that Beijing cannot deny. They include democratic institutions and a free society based on universal human rights and the rule of law. These place the island-nation among the most valuable members of the international community.

To throw away these values in favor of business-as-usual with Beijing is neither good policy nor smart diplomacy. And it is no way for the US to re-engage as a Pacific nation and win respect.
It's not just Taiwan; our Taiwan policy reflects on our Asia policy as a whole. It should also be noted that while attention is focused on the supply of arms to Taiwan for use against China in an invasion, that is NOT the only reason Taiwan may come into conflict with China. China is also trying to annex the entire South China Sea, an area in which Taiwan is intimately involved, and is also trying to steal the Senkakus from Japan. Taiwan could well find itself pulled into a conflict over those areas.

The contradictions that lie at the heart of America's Taiwan policy may be illustrated with a simple map:

See the problem? On all sides of Taiwan we are confronting Chinese expansion. Essentially, at this point, US policy appears to be to sell Taiwan to China and then go to war with China over uninhabited rocks in the South China Sea and the Senkakus. Washington needs to rethink its policy....because if Beijing's complaints worked to prevent F-16 sales, how do you think Beijing is going to treat, say, joint military exercises between Hanoi and Washington?
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30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awesome map and analysis!

Lorenzo said...

If US by-passes Formosa and retreats to Philippine as their major southeast pacific base, the US will eventually be pulled into a Korean type of war, in which a decision to nuke or not to nuke China will have to be made. MacArthur's mistake about Formosa should not be made twice.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

Yeah, that's a pretty powerful visual summary. Nice one.

Michael Turton said...

The US AirSea Battle strategy postulates deep strikes into China. Over the freakin' South China Sea!

Michael Turton said...

That may lead to a nuclear exchange.

Geoff said...

Australia has courted/fawned to the USA and an easy agreement to have US bases on Australian soil has been reached. Already there is a training ground at Townsville and all defences now are in the North. Is this preparedness or just a friendly arrangement?

Anonymous said...

Bullshit, you can't compare Taiwan's situation with any other country in the region. Why do you think (outer) Mongolia still exists and has no big problems with China?!

Michael Turton said...

Taiwan is linked to all these disputes, anon. It has an island in the South China Sea, and it is linked in Chinese minds to the Senkakus and beyond to Okinawa.

Anonymous said...

Damned if you do, damned if you don't for the US.

Say China invades / attacks Taiwan. The US has 2 choices - help defend Taiwan or not help defend Taiwan.

If they get involved and militarily help defend Taiwan, it risks turning into a major war between US and China which potentially could pull all the surrounding countries in.

If they don't get involved, then it makes the US look bad in the eyes of the world. Letting the small democratic island get swallowed up by the larger communist neighbor.

It's a lose-lose situation for the US.

As much as I hate to say it, the best option for the world is probably to let Taiwan go. A global war between nuclear powers is not in anyone's interests. There'll be egg on the face for the US and they'll lose a lot of respect, the people of Taiwan will lose some freedom but it is a lot better than the alternative.

Better yet is to make sure it never comes to that. China is China and there's not much that can be done about what her leaders say. The US and Taiwan however can both make sure they keep electing leaders that won't rock the boat and provoke China into an attack.

Fortunately relations between Taiwan and China are the best they've ever been, and between US and China are also very strong. Let's hope that if there's a change in leadership in either country next year, the policies basically continue along the lines of what's in place now. Then all the worry will be for nothing. A tea party presidency or a strong TI stance by Tsai (and by all reports her policy is mostly the same as Ma's at least on the big issues so that's not much of a risk) would be bad for the region.

And after all that, the word verification is "plato" which is kind of apt.

Anonymous said...

Michael, why would the U.S. want to position military assets on or near an island that is well within the reach of no-risk mainland Chinese missiles and air strikes? Add Taiwan's pro-Beijing government and the dubious loyalty of at least 50 percent of the population into the mix and the answer becomes even clearer.

Anonymous said...

"Regardless of how prosperous and newly influential China may be, the long history of US relations with Taiwan celebrates values that Beijing cannot deny. They include democratic institutions and a free society based on universal human rights and the rule of law."

Ahem, that was certainly not true when they did actually support Taiwan with commitment, and amusingly enough their support of the island seem to fall right along with the Islands actual accend into democracy.

(this is not just in Taiwan, Korea and Phillipines had were both brutal dictatorships at the same time thousands of US soldiers were stationed there.)

Not to meantion as pointed out before, the US since the fall of the USSR made a signifcant expansion of their foot print in central Asia, they now have bases and/or troops in every state that border China on the west. Think they don't really have a clear strategic goal in containing China? or that China isn't aware of this?

I obviously can't read into the minds of the American policy makers, but I've long felt that the US's long term strategic planning is not really influenced taht much by who's in office. and that their general plan seem to be giving some ground on Taiwan while upping the ante on China in other places (such as Afganistan and Uzbekstan) .

The reality ends up being that China is even more surronded today than it was 20 years ago, regardless of how much they give ground on Taiwan. until (and even if) they somehow managed to take the islands that remains true.

Anonymous said...

"That may lead to a nuclear exchange." you say.
Now that claim needs some serious, and I mean very serious back-up. What viable sources do you have to justify upsetting the people who believe you, not me by a long long shot, with news of possible nuclear war.

You tout the importance of blogs over standard media news, well, would you have the courage to send all of your facts to Reuters, CNN and other media sources regarding your theories of nuclear war in the Taiwan region? Please do, and make a posting regarding this venture.

If you love the people of Taiwan, make them aware of this issue. 'Nuclear war might be coming, let's do something." Honestly, with all due respect, I can't see you doing that. Please use your capacity for research to do something more positive and useful for Taiwan.

Michael Turton said...

Anon, please read the comments. I am referring to the The Diplomat's piece on the AirSea Battle doctrine, which calls for deep strikes on Chinese territory. That is referenced in the post one or two spots below this one.

Please come down off your high horse, now.

Readin said...

"Better yet is to make sure it never comes to that. China is China and there's not much that can be done about what her leaders say. The US and Taiwan however can both make sure they keep electing leaders that won't rock the boat and provoke China into an attack."

Ma and company have rocked the boat plenty - starting inter-party relations between the KMT and the CCP to form a united front against Taiwan was just the beginning. And lets not forget the KMT ending the decades long policy of buying defensive weapons from the United States. While the government of Taiwan used to be clear about keeping the status quo of keeping Taiwan separate, Ma has confused the issue leading to questions about how much the US and other allies can trust Taiwan, and leading whetting China's appetite for annexation of Taiwan.

The best way to avoid the problem of whether to defend Taiwan is to keep Taiwan capable of defending itself. Taiwan has to play the major role, preparing to defend the country as much as it can itself. But the US also needs to help by selling weapons.

Diplomatically, keeping Taiwan's profile high has plusses and minuses. On one hand, the higher we keep Taiwan's diplomatic status, the more difficult it becomes to refuse to defend Taiwan. On one hand this will make the Chinese less likely to invade but on the other hand it will restrict US freedom of action in the event of such an invasion. This one reason Ma's approach to relations with China is so dangerous to Taiwan's sovereignty. Perception often becomes reality and Ma is making people believe Taiwan is part of China.

Anonymous said...

Michael, steer clear of blogging on U.S.-Taiwan-mainland China military issues as you have no idea what is going on. Stick to your hardcore anti-KMT line and will be good in da hood.

Michael Turton said...

Michael, steer clear of blogging on U.S.-Taiwan-mainland China military issues as you have no idea what is going on. Stick to your hardcore anti-KMT line and will be good in da hood.

Then educate me, so the truth can get around.

Anonymous said...

Awesome map, what a great idea. Hope it gets syndicated!

Anonymous said...

@Readin - Sorry, but that view on Ma rocking the boat only exists in the minds of the Liberty Times / Taipei Times crowd and doesn't bear any resemblance to reality. Show me one major international media or government source other than partisan Taiwan newspapers and parties that says the same thing (occasional op-ed's don't count).

Ti said...

Wow, the brownshirts are out for you now with your honest comments on U.S.-Taiwan-mainland China military issues..Golly which group of thugs do they represent?

Anonymous said...

Michael, also oil/natural gas fights, maybe fishing ground fights would be good to add. Something for HuffPost?

Michael Turton said...

Show me one major international media or government source other than partisan Taiwan newspapers and parties that says the same thing (occasional op-ed's don't count).

Yes of course, it can only be correct if the establishment papers say it is.

Anonymous said...

Michael, here is the deal on U.S.-Taiwan-mainland China military issues:

1. The ROC government will not acquire any further U.S. weapons.

2. U.S. weapons already pledged will never be delivered as the ROC government has no intention of paying for them.

3. The ROC government is controlled by Beijing and there is zero risk of armed conflict between the two "sides."

4. Taiwan's ceased being of any value as a U.S. crusader state following the ceasefire between North and South Korea.

5. If the U.S. does fight mainland China, it will not be over Taiwan Province.

And please stop publishing nonsense articles on U.S.-Taiwan-mainland China military relations penned by bought-out "analysts" or wannabe analysts so far out of the loop it is not funny.

In all seriousness, get with the programme and accept it has been game over for Taiwan ever since former ROC Vice President Lien Chan visited mainland China in 2005 and did the deal you see unfolding before you on a daily basis.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks for the enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

Yes of course, it can only be correct if the establishment papers say it is.

No, that's not it at all. But when media sources covering all different biases from liberal to conservative, left to right, Daily Kos to Fox all say the same thing, isn't that telling? When the Taipei Times, which has a history of errors and poor standards, is one of the only media sources to put out that particular line, aren't you the least bit suspicious? When all the governments of the world, no matter whether they represent progressive or conservative values are in basic agreement, isn't that a suggestion that the issue isn't even an issue? Could all of these people really be wrong? Somehow, I doubt it.

Readin said...

It's scary how correct Anon(August 21, 2011 11:41 PM)'s analysis sounds. The only part that is clearly incorrect is "Taiwan's ceased being of any value as a U.S. crusader state following the ceasefire between North and South Korea."

First, Taiwan is valuable regardless of the state of relations between North and South Korea. Second, following the cease-fire the US continued to formally support Taiwan for 20 years and then unofficially support Taiwan for some more years.

I think the real problem is that lack of resolve Taiwan has shown. It is difficult for the US to support Taiwan in the face of pressure from a growing China. But more importantly, it is stupid to support Taiwan if Taiwan isn't willing to support itself.

The KMT is working hard to make Taiwan culturally and economically part of China. The KMT is working hard to make the rest of the world believe that Taiwan is part of China. The KMT blocked arms sales from the US to Taiwan. The KMT is obviously using the judicial yuan to protect their own and jail their opponents. And yet the KMT gets elected and re-elected to the legislature, and they get their president elected.

And other than a short lived "wild strawberry" movement, the Taiwanese for the most part do nothing.

Despite a looming military threat the Taiwanese public demand their government limit the draft to only a single year, and the government spends a smaller proportion of GDP on the military than any other country facing a similar threat and far less than other countries facing little to no threat.

How do you prevent the murder of someone determined to commit suicide?

I'm almost beginning to look forward to this next presidential election. If Ma wins, and it seems pretty clear he will, I can stop explaining to other Americans that Taiwan isn't part of China because the Taiwanese will have voted to be China's province, and as an American it's not my job to decide for the Taiwanese what Taiwan's fate is.

Michael Turton said...

Readin, that was pretty much my reaction. I really hate it when people tell me I don't know anything and then regurgitate things I knew when they were still trying to figure out how to get their g/f's bra off in the back of their daddy's car. Then I know they aren't reading the blog, just being assholes. Sucks, waste of time for everyone.

Michael Turton said...

I'm almost beginning to look forward to this next presidential election. If Ma wins, and it seems pretty clear he will, I can stop explaining to other Americans that Taiwan isn't part of China because the Taiwanese will have voted to be China's province, and as an American it's not my job to decide for the Taiwanese what Taiwan's fate is.

Sometimes I have the same feeling. I wrote several years ago tht Taiwan's fate was basically sealed when George Bush invaded Iraq.

Michael

Robert Scott Kelly said...

Reading wrote:

"I'm almost beginning to look forward to this next presidential election. If Ma wins, and it seems pretty clear he will, I can stop explaining to other Americans that Taiwan isn't part of China because the Taiwanese will have voted to be China's province, and as an American it's not my job to decide for the Taiwanese what Taiwan's fate is."

Why don't you just go ask blue voters if they are in fact voting to be part of China rather than speculating? Not sure where you live but there must be a few around.;)

Living in Taipei I have lots of blue friends and not a single one voted for China last time (most thought the idea preposterous) and those that will still vote for Ma are sure to hold the same thoughts. Whether you or I think they are wrong is another issue. They don't accept the analyses.

Taiwanese voters are no different from voters around the world. Was a vote for the inflexible Netanyahu a vote for more suicide bombers to attack Israel? Was a vote for Bush in 2004 a vote for a financial crisis? Clearly not though the signs were there. And tell me which country's voters and citizens are united behind a solid effort to deal with the looming climate change crisis? Is the aircon I just bought a vote for riding sea levels?

People are dumb. To say that the average Taiwanese is voting to be a province of China is as sensible as saying they are voting for a looming fiscal crisis over government debt (which is coming if the ma admin doesn't reign in spending and increases taxes).

The main problem in Taiwan is that the DPP are not and never can be a true alternate party because one, the Guomindang believe this place belongs to them and so won't accept being the loyal opposition, and two, because no matter how they curb the language of their cross-strait policies, China will not accept it.

RJ said...

Michael, I wanted you to know that I forwarded your post to Senator Al Franken with my concerns over US policy in Asia. Sen. Franken was at Quality Bicycle Products this morning and after touring the facility and speaking briefly, he took a spin on a Surly with a BionX electric drive system. Very cool~

Readin said...

@Robert Scott Kelly

The problem with your defense of Taiwanese voters is that when national extinction is an issue, any vote that ignotes that issue shows the very lack of resolve I was describing. Ma has made it very clear that he wants to make Taiwan united with China sometime in the future. Voting for him anyway because he makes you richer indicates you're not willing to sacrifice much for the survival of your country. How then can you ask soldiers, sailors and airmen of another country to make the ultimate sacrifice for something you care so little about?

As a US voter, I see the Constitution as a key to national survival. If we abandon the Constition to a dictatorship of 9 then we abandon our character and our form of government that define our nation more than anything else. Since the Senate confirms the Supreme Court picks, I always vote for the Republican senator. I might vote for a Democrat or Libertarian for representative when I feel the Republicans are spending too much despite their promises, but I always vote Republican for Senator so that we get more justices who follow the Constitution rather than supplanting it with their policy preferences.

Priorities are important.

If you're voting in Taiwan and you aren't focussed on national survival and/or saving democratic government, then why are you worth protecting from an oppressive country and how can you be counted on as an ally?