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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Repetition is getting kind of boring

Another day, another pro-China commentary on Taiwan in the Japanese English-language media. This time, it's Frank Ching again, in the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ with "Missiles crimp Taiwan's thoughts of peace", regarding the estimated 1500 missiles pointed towards this island:

"While Beijing has been willing to accommodate Taiwan in terms of economic cooperation, slightly more international space and a diplomatic truce, it has not done much to reduce military pressure. At the same time as it is increasing its military capabilities, China is also putting pressure on the United States to halt or at least reduce arms sales to Taiwan."

Ching begins by portraying China in a generally positive light except for that pesky ol' offensive missile problem. The entirety of the column is framed from a Chinese perspective, such as the following paragraph:

"This is not in Taiwan's interests and, ultimately, not in China's either. Beijing's top priority right now should be to enhance Ma Ying-jeou's 馬英九 standing among the voters so as to ensure his re-election in the next presidential election. If Ma is defeated in 2012, the return to power of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party 民主進步黨 would inevitably lead to heightened cross-strait tensions."

Notice how what Ching regards as being in Taiwan's "interests" dovetails nicely with what he thinks is best for China. In Ching's view, a DPP-led administration would conceivably seek to act like the a government of a sovereign state (the temerity of it all!), when what Taiwan really needs is a continuation of the current president's policies of accommodating Beijing.

"It is extremely shortsighted of Beijing to enhance military pressure on the Ma administration. China's military power is already so much greater than Taiwan's that it would be irresponsible of Ma, or any other leader, to ignore this growing imbalance. The natural result is that T'aipei 台北 will seek to purchase arms from the U.S. to try to reduce the military imbalance between the two sides. If Beijing wants Washington to reduce weapons sales to Taiwan, it should demonstrate that Taiwan faces little or no military threat from the mainland. By continuing to increase the number of short-range missiles threatening Taiwan, Beijing is ensuring that the U.S. government will have little choice other than to make sophisticated weapons available to Taiwan."

Two false assumptions are at play here. One is the assertion that Taiwan will be somehow forced to seek sophisticated weapons from the United States. The fact is that while the Ma administration has been making noises about arms purchases, it hasn't really demonstrated much enthusiasm for doing so. And it shouldn't be forgotten how the KMT 中國國民黨 repeatedly held up programs to buy American weapons in the legislature all throughout the Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁 years. The other fallacy is that China is forcing the US to sell Taiwan weapons, when numerous other factors - Taiwan's many (mostly conservative) friends in Congress, our old friend the military/industrial complex, the Taiwan Relations Act 台灣關係法 - all work to keep Taiwan armed despite the lack of formal relations with the U.S.

"As long as China acts in a threatening manner toward Taiwan, the government in T'aipei, regardless of which party is in power, will seek arms with which to defend its people and its territory. And as long as Taiwan seeks to buy weapons with which to defend itself, the U.S. cannot simply dismiss those requests out of hand. It will have to make an assessment of the threat facing Taiwan and its need for specific weapons. If China wants the U.S. to stop selling arms to Taiwan, the best thing it can do is scale down its military threat to Taiwan. Scrapping the 1,000-plus missiles aimed at Taiwan would be a good first step."

Ching is making a dangerous connection - that if China does, in fact, eliminate the missiles pointed at Taiwan, the U.S. will have no reason to sell arms to Taiwan. What Ching is (deliberately?) choosing to ignore is that, even without missiles, China will remain a threat to Taiwan, both militarily and (thanks to Ma and his team) increasingly economically. Ching may feel such a quid pro quo (no more missiles = no more arms sales) is reasonable, but hopefully more rational minds in Washington will think otherwise.

"China seems to have taken the position that the removal of its missiles can only come about as a result of negotiations with Taiwan. It wants Taiwan to pay a price for the removal of this threat. The mainland should realize that continuing to step up military pressure on Taiwan will simply provide ammunition to the opposition party, which is relentless in accusing Ma of kowtowing to China. Ma has said that as long as China still threatens Taiwan, he will not hold peace talks with the mainland."

No, instead Ma will continue to tie up Taiwan's economic future ever more closely with China's huge economy, to the point where missiles won't be needed to ensure a coming about of a Taiwan Special Administrative Region, presided over by a Chief Executive Ma Ying-jeou (or any one of a number of KMT fellow travelers who would jump at such an opportunity). The Frank Chings of the world will be pleased. I'm not sure the same will be able to be said of the 23 million or so people on the island of Taiwan.

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