Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PLA Escorts Taiwan vessel Which Is Not Really Taiwan Vessel

Do you want evidence of Beijing’s “intentions”? Read what the regime publishes. In 1971, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai told the New York Times’s James Reston that China’s four strategic aims in Asia were Taiwan liberation, removal of the U.S. as a military power in Asia, removal of the massive Soviet troop presence on China’s borders and prevention of Japan’s rise as a military power. Last December, China’s “Defense White Paper” listed the same set of concerns with the understandable exception of the Soviet one. In short, an anschluss with Taiwan, predominance over Japan and the removal of the U.S. presence in the western Pacific is at the heart of Beijing’s “intentions.” The question is: What are we going to do about it? -- John Tkacik

Last week the news stated that China had offered to escort Taiwanese vessels through the pirate-infested waters off Somalia. Lawrence Chung reported for SCMP:

The Taiwanese government tried to distance itself yesterday from a claim that the People's Liberation Army had provided a naval escort for a Taiwanese vessel in pirate-infested Somali waters.

The mainland military's action has placed Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's administration in an embarrassing position, opening up an opportunity for the island's pro-independence camp to attack it.

Asked to comment, Mainland Affairs Council vice-chairman Chao Chien-min said the vessel was not flying Taiwan's flag.

"It should not be [considered] a Taiwan-registered vessel, but a vessel registered in Liberia and rented to a South Korean [company]," he said. "There is no question of our vessels seeking protection from mainland China."

The council is the island's top mainland policy-making body.

His comments came after Beijing said the PLA ship had recently escorted a Taiwanese vessel and three other vessels through the Gulf of Aden.

The China Post had a clearer version of the MAC's weaseling explanation to the effect that the Taiwanese-owned vessel was not really a Taiwanese-owned vessel:

A Mainland Affairs Council official said yesterday that the Chinese navy's escort of a Taiwanese ship in the Gulf of Aden to protect it from pirate attacks was not arranged by Taiwan and that the ship was not registered in Taiwan or being used by a local company.

Chao Chien-min, vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), made the statement in response to a report by China's Xinhua news agency that Chinese naval vessels escorted four merchant ships, including a tanker from Taiwan, in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia.

The council had previously said it would not request or accept assistance for Taiwanese ships from the Chinese naval fleet, but that pledge seemed to be ignored when one of the ships escorted Monday was an oil products tanker belonging to Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Group named Formosa Product Cosmos.

The MAC, however, denied any involvement in arranging the 553-nautical-mile escort and said the ship was registered in Liberia and rented out to a South Korean company.
The Post's position is that there really was a Taiwan tanker escorted by China, which MAC confirmed in its denial. The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) took the position that because Formosa Plastics had rented the ship to South Korea, then it wasn't a Taiwan ship. In a way that might be true for political purposes; after all, Formosa Plastics probably did not determine the route and schedule for that particular vessel. Still, China can play this for what it is worth.

The move seems to be one of a larger operation aimed at Taiwan. I heard through the grapevine that China has ordered its embassies to assist Taiwanese abroad as if they were Chinese.

Reuters reports on the sad news that China is going to globalize its media to expand its soft power. We'll be dealing with an even greater flow of crap in the international media, as well as even more westerners purchased with Chinese money. The USSR never really understood the lesson that everything in the West is for sale; the Chinese know it in their guts.

Hat tip to Joe M. for putting up this link to Obama's new Intel guy who happens to have some "China expertise" (translation: appears to be "pro-engagement" panda hugger):

Blair had been outspoken publicly about greater diplomacy with China. He had also privately criticized Taiwan for pushing too much for independence when it already has de facto independence.

Journalist Andrew Cockburn had this to say about Rumsfeld's views of Blair in his 2007 book Rumsfeld:
"Admiral Dennis Blair, commander of the Pacific Fleet, was deemed a rising star by his peers, a strong candidate for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But he did not share the new official orthodoxy that China was emerging as a threat, and said so in public. Blair's service career promptly withered and he retired soon after. Rumsfeld took an especial delight in disturbing the delicate minuet of service politics."
But lest anyone label Blair a panda-hugger, consider that he once reportedly told Chinese officials: "I'm not worried about you taking Taiwan because, even if you get across the straits, you can't maintain it, you can't protect it."

How on earth a statement saying the Chinese couldn't hold Taiwan makes Blair not a panda hugger is beyond me. For more of Blair's views on China, see this 2007 interview.

UPDATE: Brezinski is in Beijing this week, and left his thoughts in the FT. Japan Focus hosts a detailed piece on East Asian Regionalism in the post-US world -- which treats Taiwan (in passing, of course) as a headache that is caused by the intransigence of Washington. Lots of people still don't get it: in the post-US world, "East Asian Regionalism" is going to mean a Co-Prosperity Sphere centered on Beijing.


Anonymous said...

Whats next? Chinese troops escorting our army here?

Michael, Your blog is awesome!

Anonymous said...

"I heard through the grapevine that China has ordered its embassies to assist Taiwanese abroad as if they were Chinese."

From a Chinese perspective this would be viewed as a friendly action. Personally, I think is is friendlier than ignoring Taiwanese citizens who may need assistance, but your mileage may vary.

The same with assisting a Taiwanese "related" vessel past Somalia.

Hell, these things are very neighborly actions if you ask me. Its one thing to worry about missiles aimed at you, but someone offering to help?

BTW, I once read that ROC bases in the Spratleys actually helped the PRC navy when they were fighting with the Vietnamese over some islands. This may have been in 1988, I cannot remember. I think they supplied them with fresh water.


Anonymous said...

Why complain about Chinese ships in the Gulf of Aden? It is the first time the Chinese have shown some responsibility to their UN membership. And of course they will take an interest in helping Taiwanese ships.

The mention of Blair being pro-Chinese is interesting. The left wing media, Democracy Now has a current article about his Senate confirmation. They have serious concerns about him.

Tommy said...

In the defense of the government, it was the PRC that did all the talking about this ship, and, as such, it was a very calculated announcement on their part.

And the government may actually be right technically. Example: Evergreen is a Taiwanese company. But if the PLA escorts and Evergreen ship, this does not mean that the PLA is escorting a Taiwanese ship. The crew may not even be Taiwanese.

However, I do fault the government for one thing. IF the ship was not really Taiwanese, they should more forcefully countered the PLA's claim that it was. This is simply because the govt just announced that it would NOT ask for PLA aid. So the PLA's announcement put the government in a bad position.

The lukewarm response doesn't do anything to counter the international perception that it WAS a Taiwanese ship.

However, I hope that the government comes under fire for this from a lot of corners in Taiwan.

Come to think of it, has anyone else noticed that several events in just the last two weeks have really made the government look foolish? The legal skit, the PLA navy escort, Hu Jintao's speech that overlooked the 1992 Consensus, Freedom House's placement of Taiwan on a watch list, the continuing Diane Lee saga. Please tell me that locals are paying attention.

Anonymous said...

From a Chinese perspective this would be viewed as a friendly action. Personally, I think is is friendlier than ignoring Taiwanese citizens who may need assistance, but your mileage may vary.

With the Chinese, There Ain't No such Thing as a Free Lunch.

In principle, there's nothing wrong with a Good Samaritan. China, in this case, hardly qualifies as one. A gratuitous act can only be viewed as friendly and neighborly if the executor has the best interests of his subject in mind. This is far from the case with China, which has made no secret of annexing Taiwan, by any means necessary, including force and invasion.

Viewed in this light, the act of doling out military escorts or free embassy services is not a gesture of generosity or goodwill, but a thinly-veiled Trojan horse, and an example of what von Clausewitz called an extension of politics by other means.

Put it this way: Would you want your child to be accepting candy from strangers---or worse, known pedophiles?

Anonymous said...

During the first Gulf War, the PRC embasssy in Iraq secured the release of large numbers of Taiwanese technicians who were working in Kuwait and got captured by the Iraqi invasion. I'm sure the Taiwanese were more than happy to get PRC help to get out of Iraqi hands despite any wounded TI pride.

Dixteel said...

Perhaps it's not too big of a deal. The navies off Somalia coast are multinational. Taiwanese ships are also likely to get assistance from other nations' navies if they ask for them. The only problem is China seems to try to make a big deal out of this. It's like someone help a 40 years old man and then yelled, "see, I helped an elderly. Did you see that? I helped an elderly."

I am also interested in Taiwanese navy's response to this whole Somalia pirates thing. I imagine if it's still in President Chen's time, he will probably already tell the navy to send some ships to the area for escorts missions. It will give the navy good operational experience plus it's indeed government's resposibility to try to ensure its citizens safety etc.

Another thing I noticed is Taiwan's lack of supply ships (I think only one, and quite an old one), and these recent events show this problem. Perhaps Taiwanese navy being more like brawn water navy and the expected theatre of war being small, doesn't require a lot of supply ships...but sometimes you wonder in the event of war wouldn't this 1 old supply ship, 2 old operational submarines etc create some problems if they are sunk or disabled? Wouldn't a more moderate number of them being more "appropriate"?

Dixteel said...

"Taiwanese were more than happy to get PRC help to get out of Iraqi hands despite any wounded TI pride."

Pride? Certainly not. It just highlighted the need and increase the resolve for TI. With TI, there will be Taiwan embassies to assist Taiwanese, and no need for PRC or other country's intervention. It will mean more security and safety for Taiwanese abroad.

TicoExpat said...

How come then, these Taiwanese vessels, sheltered in convenience flags, can claim they are Taiwanese when they get caught finning or doing other illegal activities in international waters? Why do they receive such support when they break the law abroad, but now they are "not" Taiwanese vessels? Gimme a break...

And how come then ships with flags of convenience are not included in the direct links deals? the mind boggles...