Military conflict between PRC-Taiwan “imminent”?

There is a somewhat disturbing article in the unlinkable Atlantic titled “Straits-Jacket,” and it could lead you to wonder whether war between China and Taiwan is all but written in the stars. (The article can’t be linked, but you can find a PDF of it here.)

Like most articles in the Atlantic, it’s dense and substantive and serious. That said, I’m not sure I buy the premise of its writer, Trevor Corson.

He starts by telling how China has benefitted in every way from America’s war on terror, especially in the sense that it’s diverted the neocons’ attention away from one of their pet obsessions — villifying China and actively seeking conflict with it. And he points out how at least in economic terms, relations between Taiwan and China are good — but there could be trouble in paradise.

To some, these developments suggest that time is on the side of a peaceful solution to the problem of Taiwan’s disputed status. But the reality may be quite the opposite. In fact, a number of analysts in both America and East Asia believe that military conflict between China and Taiwan is not only likely but imminent. Just how imminent depends partly on the Taiwanese legislative elections scheduled for December 11. If pro-independence parties gain a majority in the legislature, the stage will be set for a confrontation, producing a hellish prospect for U.S. foreign policy: on top of its ongoing military commitment in the Middle East, the United States may face a Chinese attack against Taiwan, a fragile democracy that America has promised to help protect.

On some level, of course, the idea that China would actually attack Taiwan—rather than merely threaten to do so, as it has for years—makes no sense. Attacking would invite a military response from the United States, and even without American intervention, it’s not clear that China’s military is up to the task of seizing the island. China would also risk losing the trade relationships that drive its economic growth.

Nevertheless, the threat of a Chinese attack has loomed over Taiwan since at least 1972, when China’s Premier Zhou Enlai, in negotiations with Richard Nixon, refused to renounce the use of force against the island.

He goes into the history of Taiwan-PRC relations, the military considerations and, of course, Chen Sui Bian’s posturing for independence. Still, I never feel he makes the case as to why analysts believe war is imminent.

The most interesting aspect is the reporter’s rather unorthodox but simple solution to the entire mess: let Taiwan fight it out.

The fact that Taiwan has matured into a prosperous democracy suggests a solution, albeit a radical one: let the island defend itself. In 1998 a Cato Institute analysis proposed that the United States withdraw its pledge to protect Taiwan; in exchange it would lift all restrictions on arms sales, allowing Taiwan to buy the weapons necessary to deter a Chinese attack. This course would require delicate diplomacy, because it would infuriate both Taiwan and China: Taiwan would lose its security guarantee, and China would face a new Taiwanese arms buildup.

Bereft of American protection, however, Taiwan would be forced to face the consequences of upsetting the status quo. The immediate result would be a dramatic reduction in China’s political fears, thus removing the incentive for a pre-emptive strike and buying both sides some time to move toward a peaceful solution. For Taiwan and its supporters in Washington, the idea may sound like a betrayal. But the best way to help Taiwan mature into a full-fledged democracy might simply be to ask its people to take responsibility for their actions.

Now that’s a radical thought.


Taiwan whale explosion — grossest story so far this year?

This story is almost too disgusting to visualize. But if you really try, you can almost feel yourself on the street getting splattered with rotting sperm whale innards, blood and slime:

A dead sperm whale being transported through Tainan City on its way to a research station suddenly exploded yesterday, splattering cars and shops with blood and guts.

Certified by authorities as the largest beached whale on record in Taiwan, the 17-meter 50-ton carcass was being transported by a flat-bed trailer-truck to a special research location after National Cheng Kung University officials and security guards refused to allow the whale on campus.


Local news reports showed a number of people who had gathered to take photographs of the whale before it exploded in Tainan City, as well as residents and shop owners following the explosion. Many were wearing gauze-masks and trying to clean up the spilled blood and the entrails with brushes and brooms.

“What a stinking mess! This blood and other stuff that blew out on the road is disgusting, and the smell is really awful,” said one resident.

The news also showed one section of the street along with several parked automobiles and pedestrian walkways covered in red with copious amounts of splattered whale blood.

Lying on the trailer-truck was the dead whale – underbelly exposed with a large elongated tear where the biological gaseous blowout took place. Besides the shocking red bloody mess, large piles of whale intestines and guts were strewn along the road, leaving an unpleasant and ghastly scene for startled residents.

God, that really is gross.

UPDATE: Photos available here. (Thanks to Mr. Brown for pointing me to the photo.)


Wen’s folly

With his usual diplomatic tact, signature gentility and elegant diction, Conrad sweetly calls Wen Jiabao to task for his claims that Taiwan is “abusing democracy.”

As always, Conrad’s writing is instilled with a tender subtlety, a soft-spoken sense of caring, infinite patience and a scholar’s grasp of the Westerner’s need to look at China today within the context of its glorious 5,000-year history.

Oh, and it’s the funniest fucking thing I ever read.

I don’t necessarily agree with all he says (it is kind of extreme) but he sure makes his point.


WaPo: Don’t give in to Wen Jiabao’s pleas on Taiwan

In an editorial today, the WaPo describes how much the “new” China is trying as hard as it can do divorce itself from the “old” China’s image as a prickly, paranoid, irrational and ideologically crazed nation.

And, the editorial says, it’s been doing a good job. Except when it comes to Taiwan, an issue that brings to life the old blustery, bellicose China we all know and love:

Beijing fears that constitutional changes could make Taiwan’s de facto separation from the mainland explicit, or that a referendum could be called on independence. Its apparent strategy is to frighten Mr. Chen into backing down — or more likely, push the United States into using its leverage on the Taiwanese president.

Such tactics demonstrate that China’s new leaders are not as pragmatic or enlightened as they seem. What Mr. Wen and Mr. Hu fail to perceive is that Mr. Chen is a typical democratic politician engaged in a tough reelection campaign. Though his party is pro-independence, he is unlikely to aggressively press that agenda even if he wins, if only because Taiwan’s economy is now deeply dependent on trade with the mainland and most Taiwanese people favor preserving the status quo.

Pointedly, the editorial cautions Bush not to give in to Wen’s demands that the US speak out against the referendum:

Mr. Bush should do no such thing. Instead, he should explain to Mr. Wen that his government’s approach to Taiwan needs some modernizing. Now that Taiwan is a democracy, threats of invasion will only strengthen its independence movement — just as the recent rhetoric only spurred the parliament into acting on the referendum law. The only way Beijing could achieve its goal of unification would be by winning over the Taiwanese public. That would take time and greater economic integration. It would also require China’s new leaders to deliver on Mr. Wen’s fluent rhetoric about democracy and rule of law.

Interesting. I read in a blog comment yesterday (don’t remember where) that Americans don’t realize that most Taiwanese want to reunify with the Mainland, but only after the Mainland has fixed up its act in regard to free elections, free trade, human rights, etc.

Would it be rude of me to suggest that this may prove a very, very long wait?