Taiwan update -- the inscrutable Chinese
Feb. 18, 2008 -- In my column of Feb. 1, (Crosshairs on Taiwan), I referred to the interplay
between the Peoples Republic of China and Taiwan as if the PRC were solely a military
monolith whose actions are inscrutable. Consequently Edward Van Court, an international
affairs researcher, reminded me that, based on foreign trade information from basic sources
such as the CIA Factbook, Taiwan is essential to both U.S. and foreign trade. Consequently,
the PRC’s military option might lie somewhere down the list of Chinese priorities.
Noting that China is less than a century out of feudalism, he pointed out indications that the
current situation is a hybrid of geographical and functional feudalism under the leadership of
the Central Party in Beijing. This suggests a feudal melange among several ministries and
agencies, with residual warlord tones. To carry Chinese inscrutability a step further, just
overlay the PRC’s Military Regions on an ethno-linguistic map of this disparately populated
land mass. Now compare the bios of the leaders of the Central Military Commission and it
becomes evident why the MRs are established “for centralized control and decentralized
Now let’s take another look at why an American aircraft carrier battle group and other U.S.
warships resorted to steaming through the Taiwan Straight -- scarcely 100 miles wide at its
narrowest--after China cancelled a planned holiday Navy warship visit to Hong Kong. Susan
Shirk, a China expert at the University of California in San Diego, and a former State
Department official dealing with East Asia, agrees that the cancellation probably signals
dissatisfaction with U.S. actions concerning Taiwan.
But look how it played out. According to the White House, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang
Jiechi first told President Bush the port-visit reversals were due to a "misunderstanding." Then
later, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said such reports were not true. So the
Foreign Ministry might simply have been out of the loop. That seemed to be the case in
January when -- without forewarning the United States -- the Chinese launched a missile that
destroyed an aging weather satellite. The Chinese Foreign Ministry seemed unaware of that
So is the Chinese government conducting uncoordinated foreign policy, or is it sending
signals, or is it just being inscrutable? A great deal depends upon the answer to these
questions, because wars too often are started by mistake.
For example, although the circumstances were entirely different in the early 20th century, just
look at how the treaty dominos were set up during the summer of 1914. The Austrian
Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian militant.
Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia came to Serbia’s aid and mobilized for war against
Austria. Germany, Austria’s ally, declared war on Russia. When France showed signs of
supporting Russia, Germany declared war on France. Shortly thereafter Britain declared war
on Germany. Now all of Europe was at war. In late 1914, Turkey joined Germany and Austria,
spreading the conflagration to the Middle East. Then the United States sent their boys “over
there.” After millions of casualties on all sides, a new world order emerged.
Now transfer to 2008. According to Van, if the PRC uses the military option to bring Taiwan
to heel, the infrastructure that makes it worth taking will be destroyed. Taiwan has become an
economic power by virtue of its transportation infrastructure (ports), its manufacturing sector,
and its information infrastructure. A rain of bombs, artillery shells, and missiles would
devastate what makes Taiwan so valuable. Compounding this, in the event of a war, the brain
drain out of Taiwan to the United States and other western democracies would reduce the
quality of human capital of the island drastically. It seems doubtful that the Chinese would
want to gain a “lost province” that offers no gain. So in the scheme of Chinese inscrutability,
let’s place trade before out-and-out military aggression.
Crosshairs on Taiwan
by Fred Edwards
Feb. 1, 2008 -- How did we get here? Where are we? Where are we going?
How did we get here?
When the civil war in China ended in 1949, two million refugees, predominately connected
with the nationalists, fled to the island of Taiwan (also called Formosa). In Oct. 1949, Mao
Zedong, leader of the Chinese Communist Party, founded the People's Republic of China
(PRC) on the mainland, and in Dec., Chiang Kai-shek established a Kuomintang capital in
Taipei, which became the Republic of China. At first, the U.S. government sent signals that a
communist takeover of Taiwan would not be of vital concern, and in 1950 the PRC prepared
an invasion fleet for that purpose. The invasion plans were abruptly cancelled after June 28,
1950, when the communist army from North Korea invaded South Korea, and the United
States placed Taiwan under a naval umbrella, punctuated by U.S. Navy warships patrolling the
PRC’s doorstep in the strategic Taiwan Straight.
Where are we?
Thus tension was spawned which won’t go away. The PRC (generally called “China” today)
sees Taiwan as ultimate Chinese territory and its citizens as subjects of the PRC. Taiwan, on
the other hand, has developed into a prosperous democracy during the last three generations,
and most of its citizens have little or no interest in unification. Commerce and trade with
mainland China might be important to them, but not so political change. The United States, for
its part, is stuck between supporting Taiwan and not alienating the PRC. It adopted Taiwan in
1950, and has found that, when you adopt a baby, it tends to grow up and behave in its own
Where are we going?
Accordingly, President Chen Shui-bian has taunted the PRC by continually asserting Taiwan’s
sovereignty. His latest effort will be a nation-wide referendum in March, during the
presidential election, on Taiwan’s membership in the United Nations. Even if the referendum
should pass -- which most analysts say is not likely -- it would have no practical impact
because the U.N. and the Security Council would be expected to reject the idea. Nevertheless,
observers view the referendum as provocative and downright dangerous.
The election results of Jan. 13 for Taiwan’s legislature might appear to have quashed Chen’s
plans. After all, the opposition party -- the KMT -- won a super majority of more than two-
thirds of the assembly’s seats, thus crushing Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party. But Chen
has collected enough signatures to put the matter to a vote, and, after the DPP’s losses in the
legislative elections, he needs to generate a large turnout for the presidential election.
This idea infuriates the PRC, which is seeking hegemony in a large hunk of ocean that contains
a chafe next to its eastern underbelly. According to U.S. Defense Department analysts, China
has deployed 900 miss[les across from Taiwan, and is adding about 100 a year.
Taiwan, which historically has counted on defense weaponry for use against its goliath
neighbor, is also upping the ante with offensive weapons. It already has successfully tested a
Hsiungfeng 2E cruise missile that could carry a nearly 900-pound warhead more than 600
miles. Such a range would include Shanghai, the financial center of the country, as a target.
As a signal of American displeasure with Chen’s actions, the United States held up the sale of
66 multirole F-16C/D Block 52 fighters to Taipei. Notwithstanding, it agreed in September to
sell 12 surplus P-3C maritime patrol aircraft with T-56 turboprop engines, data terminals and a
mobile operation command center. And it announced in mid-November that it would upgrade
anti-missile batteries around Taiwan’s capital of Taipei.
To continue this dangerous chess game, Beijing cancelled port calls in Hong Kong for the
aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, its five escort ships, two minesweepers and a scheduled Christmas
port visit of a frigate. In a presumed retaliatory move, the United States sent the ships steaming
through the Taiwan Straight. So here we are again -- or still -- just like in 1950.
Guam in the Crosshairs
by Fred Edwards
June 9, 2006 -- In the short run, the 212-square mile island of Guam in the Western Pacific
could be a key launch pad for conventional air strikes against Iran – some speculate this year.
In the long run, look for Guam to become a gigantic U.S. base bristling with military might.
For the short run, Paul Rogers, global security consultant to the Oxford Research Group, has
been quoted as saying that a U.S. attack against Iran would be non-nuclear, conducted mainly
by aircraft and stand-off missiles rather than ground troops to enhance surprise and minimize
U.S. casualties. A weapon of choice would be long-range, B-2 stealth-bombers flying from
Guam, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. A fourth
location, the Royal Air Force's Fairford base in Gloucester, England, might be sidelined
because of the United Kingdom’s opposition to military action against Iran.
The Air Force has deployed more than 250 personnel and several B-2s from the 509th Bomb
Wing based at Whiteman to Guam's Andersen Air Force Base. According to the Air Force, the
move is merely part of a continual adjustment of force posture to enhance regional security by
the U.S. Pacific Command. But it certainly advances the Air Force's capability to launch a
strategic strike against Iran. And Guam is a territory of the United States, which will obviate
any restriction against a B-2 launch.
Such short-run possibilities are perhaps far-fetched, but they highlight the beginning of the
long run -- a surge to transform Guam into a strategic launching platform. B-1 bombers and the
venerable B-52s are rotating through the island. A wing of 48 F-15 fighters and their
replacements, F-22 Raptors, is poised to go to Guam on similar rotations. Expected also are
Global Hawk unmanned surveillance and intelligence aircraft that can loiter on station for 24
hours at a range of 1,200 miles.
Reconstruction of runways at Anderson has begun. A new hangar has been completed and
more are on the horizon, to be typhoon-proofed so that aircraft won't have to be evacuated
when the island is buffeted by storms.
Along with the weaponry and runways will come housing and other support facilities, to the
tune of more than $2 billion, according to Gen. Paul Hester, U.S. Pacific Air Forces
Meanwhile, the Navy has based three nuclear-powered attack submarines at Guam's Apra
Harbor. And the Marines are coming.
The United States will move 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam
by 2012, say Defense officials. This will include the III Marine Expeditionary Force
headquarters and a brigade of combat troops. The move will boost the island's population by
some 10 percent.
The relocation is part of an Alliance Transformation Realignment agreement between the
United States and Japan that was completed April 23 by Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld and Japanese Minister of State for Defense Fukushiro Nukaga. Under the agreement,
Japan is expected to pay nearly 60 percent of the $10.3 billion cost of moving.
It seems to me that the United States essentially told Japan, "The population of Okinawa
complains more and more about the presence of U.S. troops there, so we'll move out. But we
want you to help pay the costs. We'll still be ready to help defend your homeland, but we'll be
1,500 miles away. So you'd better start looking after some of your own defense." Good idea.
The move will create a public works bonanza on Guam, where the unemployment rate is above
7 percent and per capita income reaches only $22,600. U.S. planners expect to use Guam's
workers and contractors wherever possible, but the small labor force of 170,000 will only
stretch so far, so they will have to be reinforced by outside laborers.
In addition to constructing housing for 8,000 plus troops, officials expect to refurbish Guam's
electrical grid, its roads, and water and sewage systems, and expand its schools.
Defense officials characterized the realignment of the Marines and other U.S. forces in the
Pacific as a strategic move, similar to domestic Base Realignment and Closure moves.
Guam is about 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii and some 1,500 miles southeast of Tokyo,
making it a closer, less expensive vacation destination for Japanese tourists than Hawaii.
Accordingly, Japanese tourism provides the largest input to the Guamanian economy. Number
two is U.S. military spending, which will skyrocket, to the benefit of the island.
It's well to remember that the U.S. once had to pull its military bases out of the Philippines,
and it's important to remember that South Korea has said it would restrict U.S. forces from
deploying from there. With Guam as a launch platform, we'll be ruling our own roost without
foreign interference. Of course the usual complaints will flitter from the U.N. about America
not giving Guam some sort of self-rule, but let 'em complain. Guam's ours.