Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Conflict over Taiwan: Two Views

Sometimes when you read what the experts say you don't know whether to laugh or cry. From the Australian comes expert Jonathon Pollack to reassure us that China is "unlikely to go to war" over Taiwan. The Australian reports:
He recently visited Taiwan, whose Government, elected this year, comprised realists who knew they had to try to find a means of dealing with China.

You know how the previous government didn't try to find any means of dealing with China. *sigh*. The current government isn't "dealing with China" but struggling to find a way to sell Taiwan out to it. And the previous government knew quite well how to deal with China -- set clear boundaries and concrete goals, and negotiate towards them. The current government, which desperate needs China's cooperation to achieve its unrealistic economic goals, has neither boundaries nor clear goals.

Pollack's next remarks are even weirder:

"They have to find a way to give China clear incentives to collaborate with them, hopefully in a transition to some longer-term accommodation, the terms of which they don't know yet," Professor Pollack said.
Let's see -- the longer-term accommodation desired by the KMT is annexing the island to China. They've been quite clear about it and know perfectly well what it means. The previous administration also gave China clear incentives -- trade, exchanges, etc. The "clear incentive" offered by the current administration is, of course, Taiwan's sovereignty.

Pollack then repeats the Beijing propaganda line that Taiwan provokes Beijing:
"As long as you have a Government in Taipei that is going to work hard to not provoke the Chinese, I would see the probability (of China using military force against Taiwan) diminishing, not increasing, even as China becomes much more capable militarily."
The idea that Taiwan provokes Beijing is a bit of pro-China propaganda, as we've discussed many times before on this blog. What Pollack really means is that as long as we don't struggle to maintain our democracy, independence, and sovereignty, everything will be ok with Beijing. Note Pollack's hilarious reassurance that the accumulation of more and more weapons is not a problem because the chance of them being used will fall even as their numbers increase. Because history teaches that stockpiled weapons and upgraded militaries never get used in contexts where an expansionist power seeks to annex territory it has never owned....

Very different in its level of realism and its understanding of Taiwan, China, and the international situation is J. Michael Cole's piece in Today's Taipei Times. I observed as soon as the conflict over South Ossetia blossomed that China would be watching it to see how the Powers responded, and today Cole worked up a whole piece on it. The money quote:

The ramifications of the current situation in the Caucasus could be severe for Taiwan, as Moscow’s increasingly close ally, Beijing, looks on and carefully analyzes the reaction from the international community.

Just like Moscow, Beijing has sought to break free of what it perceives as attempts by the US to encircle it within its region, and just as with Georgia, Beijing has come to see Taiwan not as a problem between China and Taipei, or between two sovereign states, but rather as part of a battle against US encroachment in its own sphere of influence.

Also worrying for Taiwan is that Russia has historically considered South Ossetia to be part of its territory and therefore a “domestic” problem, just as Beijing has long argued that Taiwan is part of China.

If Russia was able to launch its assault against Georgia under the pretext of defending ethnic Russians and Russian territory from a Georgia that is perceived as a pawn in the US empire, then there is nothing to prevent Beijing from reaching the same conclusion when it comes to Taiwan.

The next days and weeks will therefore be of the utmost importance as the international community formulates its response to the crisis in the Caucasus. While bearing their share of the blame for boxing Russia in, the US, NATO countries and the international community must state in no uncertain terms that violation of a sovereign state’s integrity will not stand and that there would be severe consequences for Russia if it continued its aggression.
Excellent work from an insightful commentator who lives and works here.....


Anonymous said...

cole wrote: Added to the mix are US plans to deploy a missile defense system in Russia’s backyard, as well as the Caucasus’ strategic location as an oil pipeline network linking the Caspian Sea shelf and the Mediterranean Sea basin.

V writes: i'm trying to educate myself on this issue. are we in the US safer with a missile defense system in russia's backyard? is oil from that region vital to the US? my mother came to the US at 16, but was born in Moscow. she is still strongly pro-russia and says russia is justified in its actions because the americans are trying to contain and weaken russia just as they want to do to china. it seems US security would benefit from refraining from doing anything that would give credence to that kind of view unless those kind of actions were clearly justified for defending america. is our foreign policy based on security for all Americans or is it based on protecting and promoting American business interests?

Tommy said...

I agree on the Georgian front. The more I am learning about that conflict the more it is looking as though it is a case of annexation masquerading as a case of self-determination, although I don't doubt that the S. Ossetians would prefer being a part of Russia. I would have a lot more respect for the Russian position if they were not within undisputed parts of Georgia.

I just saw the NATO press conference on TV. It looks as though the alliance is unified in backing Georgia for the time being. We will have to see what their current promise of "no business as usual" with the Russians while they are still occupying Georgia really means. We will also have to see what the new NATO-Georgia commission really does.

I hope that the Russians have really given the EU and the US a jolt. All this crap about the era of great wars being over is just that... crap. There is more out there to worry about than terrorists.

Anonymous said...

There's no such thing as in the interests of all Americans because America is just too diverse. Just like the Iraq war is in the interests of some Americans but not others, the new cold war with Russia is in the interests of some Americans but not others. Whether the US goes to war against a certain entity is largely dependent on the effectiveness of the groups lobbying for the war. The groups that lobbied for war with Iraq both before and after 911 were very successful in their efforts. That these same groups are the most fervent American adversaries of China should give comfort to Taiwan Independence fellow travelers.

Anonymous said...

There is a big point of difference in the Taiwan/China vs. Georgia/Russia comparison: the US-Taiwan relationship is 60+ years old, and backed up with a Defense Treaty. Were China to abruptly invade Taiwan (highly unlikely to be a surprise) China would meet a much tougher opponent who could (and would) strike a retaliatory effort. China would not enjoy immediate air superiority over Taiwan, IMHO, I believe Taiwan would hold on to their air sovereignty, and maybe have the upper edge over the Taiwan straight. All this before the 7th Fleet even arrives…

China may watch the events in Georgia with great interest, but be emboldened to make a move on Taiwan? Nope, not unless they want to ‘retire’ a whole lot of 2nd rate military junk, lose trade with most of the Western world, lose oil access (most comes through the Strait), and most of all, lose face because they couldn’t swallow Taiwan in a day or two.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Russians behave as an aggressor, trying to destroy Georgias infrastructure. What I still don't quite understand, is why Saakashvili started attacking and invading South Ossetia in the first place, and why the West didn't prevent it, and why the west is still backing this manic guy, who led his own people into disaster?! It was inevitable that Russia would use this opportunity.
Any answers?

I also think it's dangerous for Taiwan, that the entire world including China watches the USA (and the rest of the West) acting rather helplessly, while the Russians continue their destructive work within "mainland" Georgia, far outside the borders of S. Ossetia.

Anonymous said...

first of all, South Osetia is not georgian soil. See History of Osetia..

--It looks as though the alliance is unified in backing Georgia for the time being.--

Wich point exsactly?
NATO isnt hapy with both Russians and Georgians.

--We will have to see what their current promise of "no business as usual" with the Russians while they are still occupying Georgia really means.--

WHAT?! Realy, do you not see that NATO is going to split on that case? And US-forign politics are not realy usefull to keep it together..

--We will also have to see what the new NATO-Georgia commission really does.--

Anonymous said...

Michael or anyone:

Where do Wang Jyn-ping and his remaining cronies stand on all that has happened since the presidential election? Is Wang still a force to be reckoned with? Is he any kind of check on KMT dealings with China? What, if anything, serves his interests these days? Who courts his support? And what are his aims in the near and medium-term future?

Any information or conjecture will be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

So you think J. Michale Cole is more realistic than Dr. Pollack? The US Navy in general and the US Navy War College in particular are among the few islands of sanity in the US govt. during the Bush Admin (compare with the evangelical zealots running the USAF). Remember a few years ago when the officers at the Navy War College fearlessly confronted then WH counsel Gonzales over executive power when the rest of the US government was busy selling out the American people's rights to the Bush Admin?

The US Navy's assessment of the Taiwan-China situation is far more credible than anything from the geniuses at the Heritage Foundation, AEI, Taipei Times, etc.

Michael Turton said...

I don't see how you got from "Dr Pollack's remarks are not really very on-target or learned" to "the US navy's view of China-Taiwan is bad." I'm already on record as praising the Navy as an island of sanity. But Pollack's area of expertise is China, not Taiwan, and it shows.


Anonymous said...

anonymous said (and there are quite a few anons-may i suggest using a little creativity and coming up with a phony name like i do?):

There's no such thing as in the interests of all Americans because America is just too diverse. Just like the Iraq war is in the interests of some Americans but not others, the new cold war with Russia is in the interests of some Americans but not others.

v says: when you say too diverse, do you mean there are certain racial groups that are more for war in iraq and the 'new cold war'? we usually speak of 'diverse' as in racially diverse. if you mean 'diverse' economically, what % of people in the UDS do you think are for war in iraq and for a new cold war? 5 %? 2%? that's not diversity. that's people wanting to make money off of war. hence my original question if our foreign policy was based on protecting and promoting business interests. delineate what groups are for the new cold war, anonymous,if you can speak more specifically than using a vague phrase like 'diverse'.

Tommy said...

"WHAT?! Realy, do you not see that NATO is going to split on that case? And US-forign politics are not realy usefull to keep it together.. "

I was commenting based on the NATO press conference that I watched last night and which you obviously didn't. What I reported was what I heard. What actually happens is another thing.

Anonymous said...

This is not my opinion, but it is a different POV on the Georgia/Russia move:(my follow-up at the end)

Although it is the second largest oil producer in OPEC, Iran is forced to import gasoline, because its refineries are insufficient for its domestic needs. Fuel is already being rationed, and a blockade of its imports would have a devastating impact on the Iranian economy.

Russia’s movement of assets in to South Odessa was in preparation for our blockade of Iran. But Russia wouldn’t want to make that move until after we setup the blockade. The plan would have been to move into Georgia while we were occupied with Iran’s response and then coerce a deal with Azerbaijan to give the Russians “Humanitarian” access to Iran.

Unfortunately somebody screwed up the plan. The night attack on Tskhinvali wasn’t about killing civilians, The Georgians took out a nest of Russian troops. And the Russians are now all about extracting revenge. Unfortunately their position is now exposed. And it will take an all out war to provide a back door to Iran.

If a joint task force blockade prevents Iran from shipping oil through the Gulf it will effectively crash the Iranian economy. The only other route to shipped oil is north through the pipelines in Azerbaijan and Georgia. The other reason that route is important is because it gives the Russians a way to shipped assets to Iran in case the confrontation goes hot.

What all this means is that Russia and Iran appear to have a deal and Russia has agreed to provide equipment and resources needed to protect Iran. It just needs to get on open path to the Iranian border.

This is a move that has a long tail in its effects because the Russians are heavily invested in ($Billions) in Iran’s nuclear Program and have received exclusive distribution rights for Iranian oil. These are not assets that the Russians can afford to loose control of. Expect the threat of a blockade to have a negative effect on Russian ETFs and ADRs.

GazProm is on record claiming that they want to be the world’s first $Trillion company. It’s going to be hard to do that if they lose control of Iran. However current events have changed the value of the positions. The Russian’s move into Georgia gave the US the opportunity to move NATO assets into Poland. And the Russians have lost the leverage to win world opinion against the move. They now have to mange operations on two fronts.

If the Russians can’t provide a backdoor to border then Iran’s options become very limited and they may be forced to freeze all uranium enrichment activities, all without firing a shot.

My guess is that the next step is expulsion from the G8. Beyond that I suspect the NEXT step is to marginalize their energy infrastructure and impact in Europe, and there's actually quite a bit that can be done there, none of which the Russians can do DICK about.


In regards to Taiwan, it seems that Taiwan doesn't hold any strategic position anymore except to keep the shipping lanes open for oil tankers to SK and JP and perhaps some claim to the oil in the Spratleys (plus strategic industries such as semi-fab).

China doesn't have to make a military move on Taiwan to get things started, all they have to do is throw a monkey wrench into the US financial system for all hell to break lose. At the same time then can use cyber warfare to unplug Taiwan from the matrix (as the Russians did in Georgia)and Viola! The KMT can deliver the 23rd province to the CCP.

It's going to happen sooner than later I am afraid.

Chaon said...


Anonymous said...

I'd like to add to Reeb's links to the laterally-thought-out perspective on Russia, Georgia and everyone else.

I read recently that the reason the US invaded Iraq was to take over China's and Russia's oil claims originally made with Saddam Hussein. Now, according to today's NYT, China MIGHT get to renegotiate their oil contract with the Iraqi gov't, but Russia is out! And I'll bet the US is pulling the strings on all of that.

There also needs to be another line drawn to the melting Arctic and motherlode of oil under all that ice. Five nations (US, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and Russia) have been staking their claims to that vast area, and it remains to be seen who gets what... Stay tuned. (China lurks in the background)

But another significant event up there is the ice melt has effectively opened the northern passage thus creating a more convenient sea lane to Asia than the one under SE Asia and through Taiwan Strait (and to parallel Reeb's findings, perhaps we could guess what that might mean for Taiwan if this happens).

However, that northern passage goes mostly over Russia, who may not be in a very accomodating mood in the future...

The last part is based on my own speculation. But check out Harper's-- September 2007, "The Global Warming Jackpot" and make your own conclusions.

無名 - wu ming said...

the difference (assuming for the sake of argument that the GMD doesn't sell taiwan out) is that taiwan is an island, and thus has some major defensive advantages. china might want it, but i suspect that china's not willing to waste the amount of people, money, ships and potential for the disruption of trade and investment necessary to undertake an amphibious landing against a hardened coastline.

it'll stay in the vicinity of harsh language and beijing-traffic-accident red-faced posturing and wild gesticulation until one side or the other decides of its own accord to yield. that's my hunch, anyway.