U.S. walks tightrope over Tai­wan; China’s buildup, clout cited

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Peter Enav

ILAN, Tai­wan — In this re­gion, U.S. weaponry pre­dom­i­nates — F16s bom­bard a sim­u­lated Chi­nese flotilla, Co­bra he­li­copters prac­tice tar­get­ing in­vad­ing ground troops, Pa­triot mis­siles streak across Asia’s blue sky.

The an­nual war games are Tai­wan’s way of ex­press­ing readi­ness to re­pel an at­tack by neigh­bor­ing China, and they serve as a re­minder that the is­land’s backup mus­cle comes from Wash­ing­ton, its main sup­porter.

The ex­er­cise high­lights a ri­valry be­tween demo­cratic Tai­wan, known for­mally as the Repub­lic of China, and its gi­ant com­mu­nist neigh­bor. The dis­pute could draw the United States into a con­flict with China, which is fast emerg­ing as a global heavy­weight.

Talk is tough on both sides of the 100-mile-wide Tai­wan Strait sep­a­rat­ing the is­land and the main­land. But as with Korea, Asia’s other un­fin­ished civil war, this one re­flects a com­plex set of pri­or­i­ties that range from do­mes­tic pol­i­tics to in­ter­na­tional eco­nomics and re­gional ri­val­ries to global strate­gic in­ter­ests.

China and Tai­wan split in 1949, and since then Bei­jing has never aban­doned its po­si­tion that the is­land is part of its ter­ri­tory — to be re­cov­ered by force if nec­es­sary.

The stakes in­volved in the Tai­wan-China stand­off are in­cal­cu­la­ble. Both sides are work­shops of the con­sumer world. The seas around them are heav­ily trav­eled by ships car­ry­ing a vast out­put of con­sumer goods to the West.

Chi­nese pur­chases of Amer­i­can debt, which sus­tain the value of the U.S. dol­lar, al­most cer­tainly would evap­o­rate if Wash­ing­ton sided with Tai­wan in a con­fronta­tion with China. A war also would rat­tle Ja­pan, which har­bors its own sus­pi­cions of China’s ris­ing might.

Bei­jing has an es­ti­mated 800 mis­siles pointed at Tai­wan and has warned re­peat­edly that it will go to war if the Mary­land-sized is­land de­clares in­de­pen­dence.

“We will do our ut­most with all sin­cer­ity to strive for the prospect of peace­ful re­uni­fi­ca­tion,” said Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao at a White House ap­pear­ance with Pres­i­dent Bush in April. “This be­ing said, we will by no means al­low Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence.” Years of self-rule

An out­sider would be hard­pressed to de­fine what’s not “in­de­pen­dent” about Tai­wan. It may look like China, but it elects its own pres­i­dent, makes its own laws, is­sues its own pass­ports and cur­rency, and trea­sures its vi­brant democ­racy.

But, in fact, both sides have shared one pil­lar of ide­ol­ogy since the split of 1949 — that there is one China and that it should some­day be re­united.

As long as gov­ern­ments in Taipei stuck to that mantra, Bei­jing could live with the di­vi­sion. But with the pas­sage of 57 years, the es­ti­mated 23 mil­lion peo­ple on Tai­wan have grown apart from the main­land, and their democ­racy has given them a pres­i­dent who op­poses uni­fi­ca­tion and is do­ing ev­ery­thing he can to pre­vent it.

Wash­ing­ton ad­heres to the oneChina doc­trine and has rec­og­nized Bei­jing as its gov­ern­ment since 1979. But it al­ways has main­tained an in­ti­mate con­nec­tion to Tai­wan, pro­vid­ing it with the means to de­fend it­self and warn­ing Bei­jing against an at­tack.

Back­ing up the warn­ing are 50,000 U.S. troops in Ja­pan, con­cen­trated in Ok­i­nawa, 400 miles from Ilan. In 1996, when China was drop­ping mis­siles off the Tai­wan coast to show dis­plea­sure at a per­ceived drift to­ward in­de­pen­dence, Pres­i­dent Clin­ton sent in the 7th Fleet to de­ter Bei­jing.

In 2002 Mr. Bush pledged to “help Tai­wan de­fend it­self if pro­voked.” But U.S. sup­port for Tai­wan is hardly open-ended.

This year, Wash­ing­ton com­plained when Tai­wanese leader Chen Shui-bian scrapped the gov­ern­ment body charged with over­see­ing even­tual union with the main­land. The United States feared Bei­jing would read it as a down­grad­ing of the em­pha­sis on the one-China doc­trine and take it as an ex­cuse to at­tack.

Now in his sev­enth year in power, Mr. Chen pushes the en­ve­lope on in­de­pen­dence with mea­sures de­signed to fos­ter sep­a­ra­tion, such as mak­ing schools teach Tai­wanese his­tory be­fore teach­ing Chi­nese his­tory.

Wash­ing­ton’s crit­i­cisms of Mr. Chen’s ac­tions show the fine line it must tread be­tween sup­port­ing sep­a­rate­ness with­out let­ting it be­come per­ma­nent.

Some in­flu­en­tial Amer­i­cans fault the U.S. po­si­tion. They see demo­cratic Tai­wan as a bul­wark against com­mu­nistChina fully de­serv­ing of in­de­pen­dent sta­tus. But the of­fi­cial view is much more cir­cum­spect.

“We want to be sup­port­ive of Tai­wan, while we’re not en­cour­ag­ing those that try to move to­ward in­de­pen­dence,” Deputy Sec­re­tary of State Robert B. Zoellick told a con­gres­sional hear­ing. “Be­cause let me be very clear: In­de­pen­dence means war.”

Un­der­ly­ing Mr. Zoellick’s cau­tion is con­cern about China’s mod­ern­iz­ing mil­i­tary and the dif­fi­cul­ties the U.S. pre­sum­ably would have fight­ing two wars si­mul­ta­ne­ously — one in Iraq, the other in the Pa­cific.

In the past 10 years, Bei­jing has en­hanced its abil­ity to stand up to the U.S. mil­i­tary, im­proved its in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles and armed it­self with so­phis­ti­cated Rus­sian equip­ment. Its 2.5 mil­lion-strong mil­i­tary out­num­bers Tai­wan’s by more than 8-to-1.

“There is a grow­ing re­luc­tance among Amer­i­can mil­i­tary plan­ners to en­gage China in a con­flict be­cause of the im­prove­ment in its armed forces and its abil­ity to strike U.S. tar­gets with nu­clear weapons,” said Wen­dell Min­nick of Wash­ing­ton-based De­fense News. Ja­pan wades in

Bei­jing’s rapid buildup also is an is­sue in Ja­pan, Wash­ing­ton’s most im­por­tant Pa­cific ally.

Much to the Taipei gov­ern­ment’s de­light, Tokyo is tak­ing an in­creas­ingly vo­cal stand against China’s grow­ing power. Some Ja­panese politi­cians haveeven sug­gested that Ja­pan strengthen its se­cu­rity al­liance with the United States to bol­ster Tai­wan’s ca­pac­ity to with­stand a Chi­nese at­tack.

But Ja­pan’s 20th-cen­tury mil­i­tarism is still asore point in Asia, es­pe­cially in China, which was in­vaded by Ja­pan in the 1930s, and in the Koreas, which were a Ja­panese colony from 1910 to 1945. That makes a de­ploy­ment of Ja­panese troops in the Tai­wan Strait un­likely.

“For Ja­pan to en­gage in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions over Tai­wan would break with con­sti­tu­tional pro­hi­bi­tions against Ja­panese bel­ligerency,” said Robert Du­jar­ric of the Ja­pan In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs in Tokyo. “Help­ing the United States lo­gis­ti­cally in a Tai­wan con­flict is one thing, but get­ting in­volved in the fight­ing is an­other.”

Bei­jing’s re­ac­tion to Tokyo’s per­ceived pro-Taipei po­si­tion is hos­tile.

But re­cently Bei­jing has be­gun show­ing a will­ing­ness to let oth­ers help its cause. David Zweig, di­rec­tor of the Hong Kong-based Cen­ter on China’s Transna­tional Re­la­tions, thinks this re­flects China’s con­cern that it too has much to lose in a war.

“They do not want con­fronta­tion be­cause of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” he said. “It’s of crit­i­cal im­por­tance to them.”

An­other fac­tor, Mr. Zweig said, is China’s be­lief that pol­i­tics in Tai­wan works in Bei­jing’s fa­vor be­cause the fa­vorite in Tai­wan’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Ma Ying-jeou, is pre­sumed to sup­port uni­fi­ca­tion.

“With Ma wait­ing in the wings, they feel they are win­ning the Tai­wan bat­tle on the ground,” Mr. Zweig said. “They think he will be much more flexible to deal with than Chen Shui-bian.” But like some pre­vi­ous Tai­wan pres­i­dents, Mr. Ma holds that uni­fi­ca­tion can be con­sid­ered only when China sheds com­mu­nism and be­comes demo­cratic. That seems a dis­tant prospect.

At Ilan beach, the war-games arena 40 miles south­east of Taipei, a quar­tet of F-16s roars over the sand and two Knox-class frigates train their guns on a sim­u­lated flotilla of Chi­nese in­vaders among the rolling waves.

Ac­cord­ing to U.S.-Tai­wan de­fense doc­trine, the is­land’s forces would have to fight an in­va­sion alone for at least four days un­til U.S. Navy forces ar­rive. But China could use a de­cap­i­ta­tion strat­egy: co­or­di­nated com­mando at­tacks and pin­point bomb­ing of Tai­wanese lead­ers and key in­sti­tu­tions to take the is­land be­fore the Amer­i­cans ar­rive.

“An in­va­sion is al­ways pos­si­ble,” said Tai­wanese army Col. Yu Chung-ji, shield­ing his eyes from the sun as a Co­bra he­li­copter whirred by. “But per­son­ally, I think it is more likely they will choose the de­cap­i­ta­tion op­tion.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

An F-16 fighter jet launched flares dur­ing Tai­wan’s an­nual war games, held last month in the Tai­wan Strait.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.