In 1938, at Munich, the British and French agreed to Hitler's demands on Czechoslovakia. Hitler's pretext for grabbing his neighbor's land was that ethnic Germans were being mistreated. The Franco-British capitulation on the Sudetenland stripped Czechoslovakia of its modern border defenses and left the nation defenseless. Later Hitler would swallow the rest.
Germany's acquisition of Czechoslovakia solved a number of headaches for Hitler. His generals had considered an invasion of Czechoslovakia a dubious proposition; Czech border defenses were first rate and its army modern and strong. Since Czechoslovakia had not been fought for, the occupation was uneventful and Hitler was quickly able to gain control, saving the Germans from the nastiness of a lingering post-invasion guerrilla conflict. Moreover, the bloodless invasion not only gave Hitler the massive Skoda arms works, one of Europe's largest and most modern arms makers, completely intact, but enough equipment and vehicles to outfit over three dozen divisions. During the 1939-42 period the Panzer 35 and 38 tanks were produced at Skoda (over 1400 supplied to the German war effort), and its sturdy chassis formed the basis for the notable Hetzer tank destroyer and other vehicles. Some authorities argue that Hitler probably could not have gone to war without this vast addition to his arsenal -- it also equipped Germany's Balkan allies, encouraging them to go to war as well.
Why am I telling this story? Because Ted Galen Carpenter has published another piece, another variation on his endless theme of Why The US Should Sell Out Taiwan. This variation is the claim that Taiwan is not an asset for the US. I've dealt with his misunderstanding of the problem of Taiwan before, the way he decontextualizes it (most recently) -- it is a problem of Chinese expansion that isn't going to go away if Taiwan is annexed to China -- but I just wanted to focus on another issue often ignored in discussions of Taiwan.
Taiwan isn't just a problem for the US; it is also a problem for China. Everyone focuses on how easy it would be for China to take Taiwan. Perhaps that may be true, but taking Taiwan is only half the problem -- it must be occupied and administrated as well. From that perspective Taiwan presents a vexing problem for Chinese authorities which will be neatly solved -- just as Czechoslovakia was solved for Hitler -- if China is permitted to annex Taiwan. Indeed, that is why the CCP looks to Ma Ying-jeou with such hope. The raving nationalists in China may call for the extermination of democracy supporters in Taiwan, but the people who crunch numbers and handle logistics know that is easier said than done. Yet the Sellout Crowd would solve this problem for the CCP.
Another thing that will drop into China's lap, intact, is Taiwan's massive arms manufacturing industry. The shameful embargo on arms sales by the democracies has forced Taiwan to manufacture all sorts of items it might otherwise have imported, from fighter jets to missiles to rifles. Think Beijing won't enjoy having access to all that, as well as Taiwan's computer capabilities in software, hardware, and hacking, along with the island's other hi-tech manufacturing facilities. And its weapons, tanks, aircraft, artillery, attack craft, missiles.... the list is endless.
And then there are the ports and airfields, including the base in the South China Sea. All handed over to Beijing. At no cost.
Of course, like Hitler, once the CCP is ensconced in Taiwan, it's on to the next set of projects, the Senkakus, the South China Sea, and Okinawa. Annexing Taiwan to China won't resolve those conflicts; instead Carpenter's "solution" would have the US committed to eventual conflict without the logistical, military, and moral support of an advanced economy with its own armed forces, right on China's doorstep.
Taiwan is not a security liability as Carpenter asserts. It is an asset that, properly exploited, can be helpful in the coming conflicts that Chinese expansionism is bound to provoke. At present, by offering a thorny strategic problem for Chinese analysts to solve, Taiwan serves the important role of tying up Chinese resources and attention that would be freed up to cause problems elsewhere, as well as offering a democratic alternative in the Chinese cultural sphere that is an implicit critique of CCP rule and an inspiration to its enemies.
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