Tuesday, April 10, 2018

In News Lens with Tensions, WaPo with tensions, and Submarines!

A land of tension

So here I am in the News  Lens today writing on how media workers and commentators exploit China-driven cross-strait tensions to drive clicks...
The media does this because tension-inflating prose sells, while tension-deflating facts do not. Tensions between China and Taiwan present themselves as easily grasped binaries that invite readers to imagine they understand things and are participating vicariously in the great events of the age. Facts, alas, demonstrate to the reader that events are complex and not readily accessible, might even be a bit dull, and that the reader is an ignorant outsider. Who wants that?
...when WaPo publishes Simon Denyer writing from Beijing on increasing tensions. Normally watching someone based in Beijing writing on Taiwan would be cause for laughter, but Denyer, whom I've had a couple of interactions with, is a pro and turned in an excellent piece made of stuff longtime readers frequently see on this blog:
The backdrop is a rise in tensions between Taipei and Beijing since the 2016 election of Tsai. Her party sees Taiwan as a de facto sovereign nation, and although she has ruled out any declaration of independence from China, she has declined to endorse the idea that there is “one China.”

China has responded by restricting the flow of mainland tourists to the island. It has poached two of Taiwan’s few diplomatic allies, put pressure on global corporations to list Taiwan as a province of China on their websites, and managed to exclude it from international bodies coordinating global health policy and civil aviation.

It has also stepped up sorties by fighter jets and bombers around the island, and sent its sole aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, most recently last month. Xi, meanwhile, has dialed up the nationalist rhetoric, warning in a speech to the National People’s Congress last month that any attempt to split China would be met by “the punishment of history.”
The bomber sorties are interesting because they have a wider context, given in a piece by Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Grossman, and Ma: the PLA  Air Force is practicing long range flights, and the push around Taiwan is part of that larger expansion. To see them as part of China's pressure on Taiwan is to see only a fraction of what is going on:
The PLAAF has responded by conducting longer-ranging and increasingly complex over-water air combat operations. Before it started circumnavigating Taiwan, the PLAAF concentrated on achieving the major milestone of breaking through the First Island Chain into the Western Pacific. It did this several times, through both the Miyako Strait (between Okinawa and Taiwan) and the Bashi Channel (between Taiwan and the Philippines). Building on this momentum, the PLAAF conducted several bomber flights in 2016 — labeled “combat air patrols” — over disputed features in the South China Sea, including Fiery Cross Reef, Scarborough Shoal, Mischief Reef, and Woody Island. Other bomber flights have been touted in Chinese defense circles as enhancing PLAAF coordination with the PLA Navy — another major milestone underscoring an increasingly joint Chinese military.

Recent bomber flights around Taiwan represent the most concerted training regimen yet aimed at improving Chinese airpower. Indeed, the operational tempo of these summer flights near Taiwan is unprecedented, with at least seven flights since July 13 alone (see table below). Moreover, the flights in November and December 2016 appear to have incorporated at least six different types of supporting aircraft, including intelligence/reconnaissance, early warning, fighter, and electronic warfare aircraft. These bomber flights provide important operational training for PLAAF crews on a range of skills that can only be cultivated in this combat-realistic situation, such as pilot endurance for distance flights (at 10 hours, flights to the South China Sea likely push the H-6K’s limits), varying weather conditions over water, navigational challenges, interaction with foreign aircraft (Japanese and Taiwan fighter jets intercept flights near their airspace), and signals intelligence collection.
Asia  Times reported on the PLA's practice attacks on Taiwan

This week the US gave approval for submarine tech sales to Taiwan (also Defense News), which will help Taiwan construct its own submarines. The Guardian reported that China said conflict was now "more probable" but it was actually only the Global Times, which always threatens to rain hell and damnation on Taiwan and Washington.

China came out with the usual objections. Ian Easton nailed it:

Reuters has its usual Xinhua verbiage, including the claim that "China fears" Tsai supports independence. Nobody ever reports on how much Taiwan fears China in those boilerplate statements.

Finally the US is groping toward figuring out that it has to figure out how to use an actual pro-US administration in Taipei that sincerely wants Taiwan defended. Although there has been much media speculation that Bolton might "play the Taiwan card" and dump the US one-China policy or even station troops here, that is highly unlikely. He is more likely to work with ideas that bubble up from below, and other voices will be pushing back against deep changes in US Taiwan policy.

Someone needs to point out that recognizing Taiwan as the Republic of China will make it more difficult to resist the package of KMT claims that the ROC represents China and Taiwan is part of that China. It will also give a boost to the KMT -- does the US really want a pro-China gov't in Taipei as it moves increasingly into confrontation with China? I've asked that rhetorical question before. The answer should be no way, but sadly policy inside the Beltway appears to be made by centipedes, given how many times they have shot themselves in the foot.

There is a way that has no material cost to the US that could easily shift the conversation in a pro-Taiwan direction: make public and clear the US position that Taiwan is not part of China. Stop having State Dept officials and US policymakers deliver a word salad that none but the cognoscenti can make sense of whenever Taiwan's status is spoken of. Imagine if the boilerplate were:
REPORTER: So what is the US position on Taiwan's status, Madam Spokesperson?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the US position is that the status of Taiwan remains undetermined. This position is based on the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the Treaty of Taipei, and the UN Declarations on Decolonized Territories, and is firmly rooted  in international law. 
Hitting this hard would help create the impression that Taiwan is not "breaking away" from China but rather seeking to ratify a status it already possesses in the face of Chinese threats. It would shift the legal and moral onus firmly onto Beijing. And it wouldn't cost a cent.

Once again Ian Easton framed it perfectly in an email he sent to one of the discussion groups:
This angst in spite of the Taiwan Travel Act, Alex Wong visit, Bolton to NSC, etc. Does it stem from Chinese influence, Trump trepidation, ingrained pessimism, or something else? Whatever the case, it's amazing how many folks are scared of change in state of U.S.-Taiwan relations. We should be far more worried about what happens if everything stays the same. China is working hard to change the status quo. And we all know what Beijing's objective is and what an ugly future that would be.
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Tim Maddog said...

Simon Denyers: ❝independence from China❞

Wut?! Un-possible! Taiwan isn't part of China to begin with.

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

You write "The Guardian reported" but the link points to The Telegraph.

Anonymous said...

I like the proposed boilerplate answer.

Anonymous said...

Why is the DPP so INCOMPETENT......running Su this time and Yu in 2014 - seriously, as the party of the young vote, do they not understand the importance of fresh blood and new faces?