Saturday, August 06, 2011

Ted Galen Carpenter ♥ Beijing and Wants to Solve Their Strategic Headaches for Them!

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.
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.


Lorenzo said...

Great article. Your analysis why Taiwan matters to the US is the best I have ever read - so clear and insightful. I like to add one more historical event. The japanese navy fleet that invaded Philipine in World War II sailed out from Kaoshiung. This event shaped McArthur's thought - viewing Taiwan as an unsinkable carrier and doing his best to defend Taiwan during Korean War.

Lorenzo said...

Warriers from various aboriginal tribes in Taiwan were recruited by Japanese Empire as special force. They became the most efficient jungle fighters to serve in Japan's southeset asia compaigns. Japanese generals got this idea from their experience in Wushe incident, which is the topic of the coming movie Seediq Baley. So if CCP takes over Taiwan, they will get not only hi-tech weapons but also first rate talents for a special force.

Anonymous said...

A Chinese invasion / occupation of Taiwan is unlikely to succeed anyway so I'm not sure why it matters.

For sake of argument, let's say that China were able to take political control (leave aside how / why for the moment). It still wouldn't do them any good. 80-90% of people in Taiwan are opposed to being under China. They are not just going to sit back and do nothing. Best case scenario, you'd have 10-15 million people engaged in sit-in protests, strikes and other non-violent acts of civil disobedience. What can China do in the face of that? One thing they most certainly can't do is use violence against the Taiwanese because as soon as the world sees that the vast majority of Taiwanese are opposed to China rule, and are being slaughtered over it, they will step in and kick China out. It's not the same as Tibet / Xinjiang because they've been part of China (rightly or wrongly) for at least a couple of generations and it's easy for the world to turn a blind eye to Chinese reaction to protest there. It wouldn't be possible in the case of Taiwan.

Ultimately, China have nothing to gain and everything to lose. And they know this. Unless the people of Taiwan freely choose to unify with China, they know it's lose-lose for them. They're not stupid. They can keep making threats for as long as they like but they aren't able to follow through on them unless there is a drastic change in the cross-strait situation which won't happen. Which is also why the current Taiwanese government's policy is nothing to worry about in terms of sovereignty. There may be issues with it from an economic perspective (eggs and baskets) but from a strictly political outlook, nothing will change. In the event of Tsai Ingwen winning in 2012, the China policy will be mostly the same.

Doomsayers and chicken little types may have some entertaining theories on paper but they have no practical basis. Taiwan will remain Taiwan until and unless the people of Taiwan freely choose to change that.

Dixteel said...

Very nice work.

Dixteel said...


Not everything in the world is as rational or ideal like that. Murder, rape and theft do happens, and sometimes it's just a good idea to lock the door properly.

D said...

@Anon 10:20 a.m.

I think these are good comments, but two things: First, like Dixteel says, China is not necessarily a rational actor. Actually I think the PRC wants to act rationally, because they're control-freaks, but one bad decision can force another and then.... You never know. Second, you've given the most extreme situation, Beijing taking control of Taiwan. Most people, I think, will agree that this is unlikely. But a lot of things could happen lower down on the scale and it wouldn't be as easy for people both in Taiwan and elsewhere in the world to object effectively. This seems to be the main worry about KMT China policy.

Who is this Ted Galen Carpenter? I would like to see him take up a little debate or exchange with Michael Turton. I read the piece in question and there are places for him to nuance what he's saying and produce an interesting exchange -- and maybe even some common ground?

Anonymous said...

@Anon: As soon as you got a peace treaty and some official settlement Taiwan will be the next SAR of China. In many ways it already is but in name...

I agree with you that it's highly unlikely that tbe CCP would use the Tibet/Xinjiang model when the HK model worked quite well for them and most certainly would be accepted by the majority of Taiwanese as well.

However, in the end, HK ultimately remains at the mercy of a bunch of old men in Beijing. Ignoring that fact is as idiotic as comparing the CCP with the Nazis.

Michael Turton said...

Carpenter comes out of Cato, the corporate tool think tank that is anti-science all the way down: von Mises in economics, denies human-driven global warming, etc. There isn't much common ground there between those of us who ground our thinking in reliable and useful methodologies and the corporate anti-science crowd.

But I note, he is willing to sell F-16s to Taiwan. He's gone completely silent on his old claim that Taiwan didn't want to defend itself -- no apologies either.

I imagine we could probably agree on which beer to serve at the debate. :)


Michael Turton said...

world sees that the vast majority of Taiwanese are opposed to China rule, and are being slaughtered over it, they will step in and kick China out.

Sure. Using their squadrons of flying pigs.

richard said...

few weeks back i had a dinner with a well known taiwanese actor, who spent the last decade in china.
he said there is no way china would attack taiwan due to all its problems and troubles home. he added that then tibetans and muslims would seize the opportunity and rebel as well.
i doubted it.

next to me was an apple daily reporter who frequently visits china and asked me - how come you don't know it? it is all common knowledge.

i still doubt it. as already mentioned here - politics is not that rational ...

Anonymous said...

@Anon 10.36 - To clarify on Tibet / Xinjiang I meant as the response to protests not as the model for unification.

SAR is not really a worry either for much the same reasons. That too could only happen if the people of Taiwan freely chose it. A peace treaty is a different kettle of fish and is more likely to strengthen Taiwan's sovereign position than weaken it.

@D - Yes, I've given the extreme example because a lot of the media and commentators in Taiwan and the blogosphere keep trying to create fear by saying Taiwan's at risk. Even in the most extreme example it's not really, and the extreme is highly unlikely. Less extreme examples and the risks of Taiwan being controlled / annexed / sold out to China are correspondingly much less too.

SY said...

>>As soon as you got a peace treaty and some official settlement Taiwan will be the next SAR of China.

Nope. This is a huge, possibly fatal, misconception that many (if not all) Taiwanese tragically carry.

China has never ever promised a SAR to Taiwan. China has always said that Taiwan is a "province" of China. This has already been encoded in the ISO standard. Never once, has China even hinted at a possible SAR arrangement for Taiwan.

In fact, one Chinese leader (if memory serves, it was a vice president of PRC in the 1980's) once said that, after the annexation, one Vic Prez position would be reserved for the Taiwanese but a Taiwanese cannot become the President of PRC. The Hong Kong Chinese are not such second-class citizens (i.e. citizens with no right to become the nation's president.)

"One Country, Two Systems" as nominal formula, yes; but it is not equivalent to making Taiwan a SAR.

You see, a "province" can be easily verbal-painted as having a "different system" of "Chinese characteristics".

For instance, Shanghai and Xinjiang can be conveniently claimed to be of two different systems if the Chinese see an advantage in verbal-doctoring and underscoring it.

In fact, once such a capitulation "peace treaty" (no, "treaty" is signed between nations; so, as Ma Ying-Jeou very carefully differentiated it when referring to ECFA, it should be "agreement", which falls under Chinese domestic jurisdiction. Any "breach of contract" would be settled at a guess-who-calls-the-shot Chinese court, if at all) is in place, the SAR status of Hong Kong and Macau will be phased out as the SAR dressing will have lost its enticing value and will be thrown away.

BTW, ECFA so far remains a Chinese domestic agreement. Both Ma Ying-Jeou and China have no intention of submitting it to WTO for registration.

Tsai Ing-Wen has said that, if elected, she would submit ECFA to WTO and let it be governed (i.e. policed) by the rules of WTO.

John McNeil Scott said...


80-90% of people in Taiwan are opposed to being under China. They are not just going to sit back and do nothing.

Right on the first point. Wrong on the second, most of them would sit back and do nothing.

I agree there would be a tiny minority who would take to the mountains and engage in a campaign of guerilla sabotage, and a somewhat larger band of potential sympathisers. So China's direct administration would not be completely unproblematic

But (i) the number of those who whould ACTIVELY oppose is not as large as you suppose / hope, and (ii) Taiwan would be ruled through local quislings, not directly, so the public facade of self-rule could be maintained.

I wish I shared your optimism...

les said...

@John. Yes. KMT would be quite happy to rule Taiwan as a puppet govt. ad infinitum.
They would like nothing more than continuing this arrangement where state coffers = party coffers and all private assets are open for raiding... especially when CCP will help them with suppression of dissent and the very real threat of violence.
I also believe that unless Taiwan's standard of living falls too shockingly, most people will hold onto what they have rather than risk it. Think 2-28 could have occurred without the preceding years of economic hardship imposed by KMT? When Taiwanese for the large part value economic benefits over social ones, no one will revolt against Chinese rule by proxy until the rice bowl is almost empty.

Anonymous said...

@John - Hopefully it would only be a tiny minority that would use violence, revolt and guerilla sabotage. Most Taiwanese are mature enough to know that policies like that have no place in the modern, civilized world. Non-violent protests and demonstrations, going out live to the world via TV, Intenet etc is an entirely different prospect and would be largely attended.

@les - 228 happened in Feb 1947. Taiwan was only handed over to ROC in October 1945. That's 16 months - hardly years of imposed economic hardship.

Michael Turton said...

Sorry, but violence does have a place in our modern civilized world. Non-violence can only work when there is a clear alternative of violence against the authorities; what made Gandhi possible was three centuries of anti-British violence, culminating in the terrifying prospect of Bose at the head of an army of 250,000 Indians. Violence against people who kill you and steal your home is warranted and probably necessary.


Raj said...

what made Gandhi possible was three centuries of anti-British violence

Britain did not control India for 300 years. But more importantly the reason Ghandi "happened" was British democratic values. We simply weren't ruthless to the point where we would "disappear" him and his fellow leaders.

The problem with China is that they would snuff all opposition in the bud by arresting and exiling anyone who caused trouble. Eventually people would learn to pipe down.

Michael Turton said...

We simply weren't ruthless to the point where we would "disappear" him and his fellow leaders.

That's the other side of the equation. I don't think non-violence would work with the current Chinese leadership.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but violence does have a place in our modern civilized world......Violence against people who kill you and steal your home is warranted and probably necessary.

In your hawkish world maybe. Self-defense may be warranted at times but the best self-defense is avoiding the situation in the first place. Whether that's by diplomacy, negotiation or fleeing to safety, there are a multitude of opportunities to avoid violence. Violence is the cowards way. And violence over property is never justified.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

@ anon.

You wrote:

'@les - 228 happened in Feb 1947. Taiwan was only handed over to ROC in October 1945. That's 16 months - hardly years of imposed economic hardship."

Perhaps not years but you are misreading your history if you think the time period was not sufficient to produce 228. It was 16 months of looting, stealing, pillaging, KMT officials arrogating themselves into positions of power, and so on. In the month before 228 Chen Yi and his men were preparing for the fall of Shanghai and had ramped up the looting to an absurd level. Because of economic mismanagement and Chinese being placed in positions over better qualified Formosans unemployment was widespread, schools had lost their budgets, and food production had dropped to levels not seen since 1895. Taiwan used to produce over a million tons of sugar under the Japanese, for example, but during 1946 it dropped to 30,000 tons. That's a sign of catastrophic mismanagement and certainly enough to cause panic and rioting. A year without food and work is long enough.

Michael Turton said...

Self-defense may be warranted at times but the best self-defense is avoiding the situation in the first place.

Yes, that's right, when I said violence is sometimes necessary, I meant that we should never try to avoid the situation and always immediately choose violence as our first option.

Does posting here anonymously reduce IQ and reading comprehension? A case could be made.....

Lorenzo said...

As a formosan, I would like to consider all possible ways of defending my own freedom. A lesson I learned from Seediq Bale is the same one I learned from Spartacus.

Lorenzo said...

When Formosans were fed up with oppressors, history showed that they had not lacked the courage to launch strings of uprizings. Unfortunately, it was the lacking of visionary leadership and organizational ability that brought those uprisings to fail. However due to higher education, coorporate working and involuntary millitary service experiences, millitary service experiences among post war generations, next uprisings will be more efficient.

Anonymous said...

@SY (7:05 AM):
The Chinese said lots of things, they went as far as saying Taiwan can keep its army... question is how trustworthy you think that is. ;)

Lorenzo said...

@ anon. You wrote "....the best self-defense is avoiding the situation in the first place"

Yes, sometimes. But historical hard evidences also show that the best defense against an unavoidable threat is preemptively striking at it.

FOARP said...

A sell-out of Taiwan by the United States would be both shameful and stupid. As a starter, this needs to be said.

Let us look at what the desirable end-goal of the on-going dispute is:

1) Disarmament across the strait.

2) A final settlement backed by the majority of Taiwanese.

3) Maintenaince of guaranteed democratic institutions in Taiwan.

The proposed sell-out would acheive the first of these goals - with Taiwan forced to make a deal with the PRC, there would be no point in maintaining a force to defend Taiwan against invasion.

The second might be forced by such a sell-out. Given the choice between the threat of invasion unsupported by the US, and acquiescing to PRC demands with a guarantee (however meaningful or meaningless) of continued human rights, people might opt for the easier path. Such a forced choice would be no choice at all.

However, of all these goals the third is by far the most important. At the moment this is acheived through the US guarantee of assistance in event of an invasion. Withdrawing this guarantee would also withdraw any assurance that the PRC would maintain its side of the bargain.

I guess one thing I should say, though, is that the comparison to Czechoslovakia is slightly inappropriate. The Munich agreement only allowed the occupation of the majority-German Sudetenland, where the population was pro-unification, with the dubious assurance that Czechoslovakia would continue to exist. In this way, at least the agreement was defendable on grounds of the principle of national self-determination and rough democracy, as well as the maintenance of the peace.

In the case of Taiwan, at the present time there is no majority in favour of unification, and a guarantee of autonomy would be on even more shaky ground. Furthermore, the PRC is not, at the moment, openly threatening war as an imminent consequence of continued separation.

Anonymous said...

@anon soon as the world sees that the vast majority of Taiwanese are opposed to China rule, and are being slaughtered over it, they will step in and kick China out.

->Thanks for the good laugh. You are dreaming if you think anyone is coming to Taiwan's rescue. Pay attention to what is going on in the rest of the world. Times have changed.

Readin said...

@MT "But I note, he is willing to sell F-16s to Taiwan. He's gone completely silent on his old claim that Taiwan didn't want to defend itself -- no apologies either. "

What is there to apologize for? It was the Taiwanese who elected Ma, who has made it clear he doesn't care about protecting Taiwan. It was the Taiwanese who elected and re-elected a legislative majority that blocked arms purchases for years. It was Taiwan that scaled back the draft from two years to one.

What evidence do you have for claiming that less than 99% of Taiwanese would do anything other than ask China to be gentale while they lie back and try to enjoy it?

Anonymous said...

Foarp, the people living here are the one's selling out Taiwan, It is not the USA.

The people here keep voting for the pro-China KMT. It is their choice.

Anonymous said...

There can be a lot of purposals but at the end of the days the reality of US's strategic deployment is pretty darn clear, over the last decade it has if anything... tighten the net around China then the other way around.

Just take a look at this map.

notice how the US military presence is basically ALL around China? that in the last 2 decade not only have all of their eastern connections stayed in tact, they have made a massive influx into countries that just happen to be west of China. (which just happens to be the only direction China can expand out of without involving the Pacific Ocean or the Himalayas)

People can talk all they want, but the US miltiary's global strategic mind set is CLEARLY oriented to containing China (and Russia to a lesser extend). NO sane US government will disband decades of work by unravelling their own net.

For Taiwan, the odds of the US blowing up economically and thus forcing a major military retraction have a much higher chance of becomming a reality then the US somehow deciding that it's a great idea to poke a hole in their own net for no particular reason.

Michael Turton said...

What evidence do you have for claiming that less than 99% of Taiwanese would do anything other than ask China to be gentale while they lie back and try to enjoy it?

Irnically Carpenter never instanced that kind of thing; instead he focused on the arms purchase debate in the legislature. So after 2007 when it became obvious that the US did not want to sell certain weapons to Taiwan, not that Taiwan did not want to buy them, Carpenter, who had been blaming Taiwan, went silent.

Carpenter's relative silence on this aspect of Taiwanese behavior simply shows that he knows dick all about what goes on out here.


FOARP said...

@Anonymous - Voting for the KMT is not "selling out Taiwan". In fact, mindlessly voting for a pro-independence party which is incapable of acheiving independence, regardless of whether that party is qualified for governance, would be the true "sell-out".

And yes, the US removing an assurance of security against invasion from a democratic society, thus leaving that society open to attack, would absolutely be a "sell-out". Taiwan's future must be decided by the people that live there, and such a decision can only be arrived at so long as Taiwan remains free from the duress of invasion.

les said...

@ FOARP: Mindlessly voting for a pro-annexation party is somehow helping Taiwan cement it's democracy or political freedoms?

I'm forced again to remind you all that neither the TRA or any other treaty requires the USA to come to Taiwan's defense if attacked or invaded. Japan has such a treaty because at the time it was considered risky to leave that idea open to the Russians. The USA either never thought they would have to threaten all-out war against a communist China over Taiwan, or perhaps even way back then decided it wouldn't be worth it.
Therefore, Taiwan does not have such 'blank check' promises.

Anonymous said...

@Les: The TRA and especially the latter Shanghai communiqu├ęs would amount to a sell-out if consequently implemented.