In the Washington-Tokyo-Taipei-Beijing quadrangle, one of Beijing's most important strategic goals is to transfer tension from the Washington-Beijing relationship to the Washington-Taipei relationship. Not only does that occur often, in each case to the detriment of Taiwan, but one also sees, sadly, that US experts frequently incorporate this idea "tension" into their analyses of the Washington-Taipei relationship. As in this piece the other day that Ben Goren ripped (link below). The writers of the report, Michael O'Hanlon and Jim Steinberg, note:
Beijing should make its stated intention of seeking a peaceful path to unification credible by putting some limits on its military modernization and stopping military exercises focused on intimidating Taiwan through missile barrages or blockades, they added.What a lame piece of analysis which incorporates a pair of ugly American analytical habits. First, they demand that the US put a crimp in arms sales. In exchange -- no, I kid you not -- they ask Beijing to stop military exercises that might intimidate Taiwan and stop some arms buildup. This is the classic US vs China negotiating stance, in which the US gives up some permanent interest in exchange for limited and temporary gains. No point in even commenting on how silly it is to ask Beijing to give up exercises in exchange for not selling weapons.
“For Washington, it means making sure that the arms it sells [to] Taipei are in fact defensive and demonstrating a willingness to scale back such arms sales in response to meaningful, observable, and hard-to-reverse reductions in China’s threatening stance toward Taiwan,” they added. “Fortunately, both sides are already pursuing key elements of such an agenda.”
Exercises might even be useful -- they remind the Taiwanese that things are not well. Useful, since other US experts want Taiwan to spend more on defense. Reducing exercises might well lead everyone to the false conclusion that things are better than they actually are... creating complacency among the Taiwan (and US) public.
The writers also identify two sets of tension. The first is Beijing's desire to annex Taiwan which causes Beijing to threaten it, leading to tension. The other is US arms sales to Taiwan, which causes tension.
In both cases the tension is caused by Beijing's desire to annex Taiwan. Beijing objects to arms because they complicate its desire to annex Taiwan. Arms sales do not "cause" tensions -- to make that claim is to deny that Beijing has agency, as if Beijing were a coin bank that makes a noise every time you toss a quarter into it. Beijing chooses to ratchet up "tensions". Beijing employs "tension" against arms sales as a way to shape the way policymakers think about the relationship with China -- "tension" is a policy, not a visceral reaction. A very successful one, in this case. The correct response to such artificial tensions is to ignore them, politely.
And definitely, not to incorporate them into your own analyses. That just legitimates the "tension" tactic of Beijing and encourages it to deploy "tensions" more often. Argh. Way to go, O'Hanlon and Steinberg.
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- Ben G: US policy: a headless pushme-pullyu. Beijing's ability to transfer tension from the Washington-Beijing relationship to the Washington-Taipei relationship is one of its great policy triumphs. O wait, already said that....
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- Ben G is interviewed by Ketagalen Media. Well done!
- MKL with a great post on scooter ownership and other driving stats.
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