Monday, August 24, 2009
You don't say?
It isn't hard to find badly-written analyses of developments in Taiwan by ill-informed Westerners (not that I know what I'm talking about, either), but one of the most clueless has to be Tom Plate. In his latest commentary to be carried in the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ, "Scrutinizing the Chinese threat to Taiwan", Plate surprising gets it right...almost. The first half of his analysis starts off well, summarizing a RAND Corporation report entitled "A Question of Balance: Political Context and Military Aspects of the China-Taiwan Dispute":
"Their report, concludes that 'while the relationship between Beijing 北京 and T'aipei台北 is more stable in 2009 than it has been in years, it is not clear that this honeymoon will last forever. China has not renounced its "right" to use force to forestall Taiwan's "independence," nor discussed amending its anti-secession law 反分裂国家法, nor withdrawn any missiles from the hundreds it points at Taiwan.' At the same time, the report also concludes, the cross-strait military balance is shifting in ways that are problematic for Taiwan's defense: The growing size and quality of China's missile arsenal, along with other advances in Chinese military capabilities, call into question America's and Taiwan's ability to defend the island against a large-scale Chinese attack. This is RAND's nice way of putting it. The un-nice way: If China decided that the only way to annex Taiwan as a kind of Hong Kong 香港 is through invasion, what or who's to stop it? Over the years, the economically surging mainland has built up its short- range missile arsenal to the point where it could, in one terrific blinding strike, wipe out every Taiwan runway. And its air force now has the strength to neutralize Taiwan's...The report is alarming but not alarmist. Prudently worded, it points out that attacking Taiwan would be a lot easier for China than sustaining a land invasion to occupy it...The RAND team points out that the Chinese military buildup is a big threat to U.S. bases in Japan. 'The danger...is sufficiently grave that a credible case can be made that the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the ("good guy") air forces have even fired a shot.'"
Where Plate fumbles the ball, as he always does, is when he lets his admiration for Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九, whom he has variously described in the past as being "handsome", "suave" and "debonair", cloud his interpretation of the threat facing Taiwan:
"(The report) rightly points to the good work of Taiwan's current president, Ma Ying-jeou, elected just last year, to calm Beijing's fears about formal, assertive Taiwan separatism. But skillful as he so far seems, Ma is walking a fine line. Few people in Taiwan would be joyous about formal integration into China, whether politely negotiated Hong Kong-style or through a smash-mouth military takeover. But Ma has been making progress; his effort aims to provide for Taiwan's economic gain without giving away the sovereignty store. Whether the mainland government can remain full of saintly patience while Ma does his gradual thing is a big question."
The truth is that RAND's analysts probably shouldn't waste too much ink writing about China's military threat as the Ma administration has been laying the groundwork for Taiwan to become gradually absorbed into Greater China without the need for shots being fired. This is being accomplished through conscious efforts by government officials to downgrade Taiwan's sovereignty (and at the same time put some distance between Taiwan and Japan), combined with the progress being made to tie Taiwan ever closer economically to China. The thing with Plate is that he doesn't seem to mind. Notice how he doesn't condemn Ma for moving Taiwan closer to the Chinese, but instead describes it as being the correct thing to do. While decrying China's military intimidation, he appears to welcome "reunification". Unfortunately, Plate overlooks what this would mean to the people of Taiwan in the long run - an end to free speech and democracy, and a return to an authoritarian governing system and a police state. He also seems oblivious to what the effect would be on the rest of Asia should Taiwan be "returned to the bosom of the motherland". For a country that promotes aggressive nationalism among its people at home, and has territorial claims to the Senkaku 尖閣諸島, Paracel and Spratly Islands (not to mention historical assertions about the Goguryeo kingdom 고구려 - see the Northeast Project 东北工程 and Goguryeo controversies), Taiwan has the potential to be an unsinkable aircraft carrier, a fact that should keep policymakers from Seoul to Hanoi (not to mention Washington, D.C.) awake at nights.
As for Tom Plate, he really should accept the fact that Ma is already married, get over the crush he has on the man, and limit his geopolitical analyses to the area of Westwood around the UCLA campus.