This week Beijing called for an exchange of media offices with Taipei. This means that a bunch of reporters, many pro-Beijing, will go to Beijing from Taiwan, and a bunch of espionage agents, political warfare specialists, and propaganda experts will come to Taiwan from China. The always hilarious propagandists of Beijing piously observed:
Zhang Zhijun, the director of Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council, told a forum organized by Beijing's CCTV for Chinese and Taiwanese media that Beijing is more than willing to speed such exchanges, adding that he hopes Taipei would match Beijing's efforts.I've argued before that one of Taiwan's most important defenses against invasion from China is its democracy, which Beijing will either have to accept or crush. Not only is that a problem, but Beijing must also eradicate the Taiwan identity. One solution of the Zhongnanhai gang to both these problems is the constant assertion that Taiwan and China have the same culture (an assertion, which, not coincidentally, underpins one of its claims to annex the island). And yet...
He added that peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait needs to be consolidated, and unbiased news reports about the development of Taiwan and China, as well as reports promoting the idea of "we are a family" who are part of the same culture, will help Beijing and Taipei strengthen the bonds between them, while respecting each other's differences.
I got to thinking about this again because Zachary Keck, who has been writing at the The Diplomat on Taiwan lately, has a piece which argues that China won't invade Taiwan for all the reasons we've heard before:
The first and least important is the dramatic impact this would have on how countries in the region and around the world would view such a move. Globally, China seizing Taiwan would result in it being permanently viewed as a malicious nation.(1) The Chinese don't care how they are viewed and (2) countries will view China in the way that is convenient for them irrespective of what Beijing does and (3) China is already viewed that way in the region, as the current re-arming taking place around China's borders signals. This one is a non-starter.
But the more important deterrent for China would be the uncertainty of success.Haha. This deters leaders right up to the moment when they decide to move, then it doesn't. When they want to move, they move.
Thus, even if it quickly defeated Taiwan’s formal military forces, the PLA would continue to have to contend with the remnants of resistance for years to come.Ah... the resistance fantasy. I think it is fanciful to imagine that the Taiwanese will engage in armed resistance -- there are no weapons available, unless the ROC disperses them before it disappears from history. And I seriously doubt that will happen; sympathy for China is widespread in the armed forces, and thousands of ROC officers have retired there.
In any case, China is already contending with "remnants of resistance" in Tibet and Xinjiang. It's not a problem for Beijing, just an annoyance, since luckily for them, the Dalai Lama keeps Tibet pacified. The solution to resistance is at hand in the form of 1.3 billion settlers, hundreds of thousands of whom will be shoehorned onto the island to occupy and loot it. But will Beijing want to risk exposing that many people to Taiwan's independent identity and democratic ways?
Pieces like Keck's fail for two broad reasons. First, they assign too much rationality to the conduct of human affairs. Leaders and peoples are not rational and especially not so about war, else there would have been no Japan-American war, no criminal and stupid invasion of Iraq by the US, no invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, no impulsive expansion like Nazi Germany's across Europe, etc. When Beijing decides to move on Taiwan the problems of defeating the forces of Japan, Taiwan, and the US as well as occupying Taiwan will be treated as problems to be solved, not insuperable obstacles, just as Tokyo did when going to war against the US colossus in 1941 (how can we maximize our advantages and minimize theirs?). Or perhaps they will simply take the US approach to occupying Iraq, and fantasize that they are loved and everything will be peachy-keen. Surely if US leaders can fool themselves into defeat in Iraq, Beijing is capable of no less.
The second issue is that such analyses almost never take into account the domestic push for action (it is entirely missing from Keck's). And yet the domestic construction of The Problem (Taiwan, oil for Japan's war effort in China, the Polish Question, the Falklands, the question of slavery and identity) is generally the dominant factor in shaping how and when the nation goes to war. Japan had many possible responses to the problem of getting oil from its main supplier, the US, besides going to war with it, and to the larger problem of colonialism, yet in the end it settled on the least rational response. Hitler settled on war from the beginning, the diplomacy was merely a smokescreen to that end, and moved by some inner timetable of his own, not when it was conventionally wise to move. The Falklands became a war zone when the Argentine Junta decided to hit it for domestic reasons, not because the UK had made some major change in the status of the islands.
When Beijing moves, it will be driven by some domestic calculus that will not be immediately obvious to outsiders, most likely the kind of combination of medium-sized factors such as domestic unrest, economic uncertainty, and sudden billowing nationalism, the arrival of a hard-liner in a position of real power, the ascendancy of the PLA over domestic politics, and/or the appearance of a communicator who can argue internally and credibly that Taiwan is ripe for the plucking and the US won't move. Nations fool themselves into going to war -- the Junta had persuaded itself the UK would not defend the Falklands. That's why the prompt US response to the ADIZ, flying B-52s through it, was exactly the right move.
It's impossible to say that Beijing won't move against Taiwan. All previous history -- the seizure of islands from Vietnam, the invasions of Tibet, Xinjiang, and Vietnam, the war with India, and so forth, suggest that Beijing is interested in territorial expansion and sees violence as a key tool for achieving that goal. And that is why, ultimately, even our crazy democracy won't be enough to deter them, if they want to come over....
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