In response to the disputed presidential
election in Taiwan, China's army went over to combat alert on
Saturday (Reuters). If Taiwan is unable to resolve the dispute
in an orderly fashion, Beijing officials have hinted at
military intervention. The South China Morning Post is
reporting, as of Wednesday, that Taiwan's election recount deal
has collapsed. Violence has been reported between opposition
protestors and Taiwan's police. This crisis offers the
communists a possible rationale for exercising Beijing's
declared sovereignty over Taiwan.
The disordered state of Taiwan's democracy stems from
Saturday's presidential poll in which incumbent President Chen
Shui-bian won by a narrow margin of 30,000 votes. The election
took place the day after an apparent assassination attempt on
President Chen that has been decried as a "stunt" by opposition
Intervention by China is yet unlikely, despite the combat
readiness of the People's Liberation Army.
Taiwan's troubles would have to spiral further out of control
for intervention to appear fully justified (within China).
Furthermore, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could not hope to
succeed without an extended period of naval blockade, the
establishment of local Chinese air superiority, air and missile
strikes against Taiwan's defenses, and the acquiescence of
President George W. Bush. Back in 2001 President Bush stated
that he would defend Taiwan against communist aggression, and
President Bush has generally backed up his words with military
Would China dare to challenge U. S. military power over the
There is the possibility that a Chinese move against Taiwan
could be used to draw the U. S. into yet another conflict in
which America is depicted as an "out of control" aggressor.
Going against Europe's preference for a sellout of Taiwan to
the mainland communists, President Bush could not expect
support from NATO in a confrontation with China. Adding to the
confusion of America's stand, President Bush has yet to
formalize his opposition to China's stated position by
recognizing Taiwan as an independent, sovereign state. Because
of this, any U. S. move to defend Taiwan would be inconsistent
with longstanding U. S. policies, including the "One China"
policy (The "One China" policy is the principle that the
People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, a. k. a
Taiwan, are one country).
It should be remembered that in December 1978 President Jimmy
Carter terminated the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the
U. S. and the Republic of China (Taiwan). If America attempted
to break a future Chinese blockade against Taiwan, America
would technically be committing an act of unprovoked aggression
against China. (In reality, America would be defending an
independent democracy threatened by communist aggression;
though world opinion, of late, prefers a legalistic standard
for judging such things.)
Why is American policy regarding Taiwan so tangled?
I should like to quote from an essay written by George H. W.
Bush in 1979, published in a volume titled About Face: The
China Decision and Its Consequences: "Because of the importance
of the Russian threat ... the questions of full normalization
and of Taiwan were never a major barrier to progress on
commercial and strategic issues." In other words, we
compromised Taiwan's position during the Cold War to make nice
with the communist Chinese in order to unite with them against
Russia. It seems that Russia's hyper-expansionism of the 1970s
drove America into China's waiting arms (with a little nudge
from Dr. Kissinger). Now consider the strategic implications of
today's reversal of the old combination. Twenty-five years
later Russia and China are "strategic partners" and Taiwan has
no official status, no recognized sovereignty. The United
States is virtually alone when it comes to the defense of
Taiwan, a commitment that could lead directly to a hot war with
China. Furthermore, the Sino-Russian Friendship Treaty opens
the door to Russian military support for China in the event of
outside interference in the internal affairs of China. It would
seem that any American moves to defend of Taiwan might bring
American directly into conflict with two nuclear powers. If
this outcome were intended by China, then Beijing's diplomatic
moves since 1978 might be regarded as worthy of Bismarck or
Since war is always inevitable, grand strategy should, ideally,
have the following character: You play your diplomatic,
commercial and economic cards in such a way that when war
clouds threaten, the war is already won in advance. The
combination of Chinese economic entanglement with the U. S.,
along with China's penetration of Latin America, Beijing's hold
on the Panama Canal, its subversion of Canada, the sheer size
of the People's Liberation Army, China's strategic partnership
with Russia, the combined transport capacity of the Chinese and
Russian merchant marine, and America's simultaneous military
involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea, complicate
America's position versus China. Also, the War on Terror must
be considered as a possible dimension of conflict the Chinese
could plug themselves into -- if they have not clandestinely
done so already. Should the present crisis over Taiwan develop
into a hot war, al Qaeda's leaders might redouble their efforts
against the American mainland, bolstered by the prospect of
open Chinese encouragement and support.
There is, of course, America's supposed military invincibility.
But is America actually invincible? We might put this question
to the British troops overrun by Zulu warriors at Isandlwana,
or to Custer as he went down at the Little Big Horn.
Professional or technical superiority is no guarantee of
success in war.
Of course, military experts expect that the United States would
sweep China's third-rate navy from the seas in the event of a
conflict. However, China's vast coastal buildup of ballistic
missile weapons suggests a possible danger to U. S. naval
forces. The Chinese have, in their possession, EMP warheads.
These can disable warship electronics at a distance. Blanketing
an area of sea with EMP warheads might cripple a U. S. carrier
battle group, leaving it vulnerable to submarine or surface
attack by advanced Chinese anti-ship missiles (acquired from
We must also remember Russia's mysterious "plasma stealth"
technology, which enabled Russian strike craft to over-fly the
Kitty Hawk battle group twice in the fall of 2000. Had this
over-fly occurred under combat conditions the carrier would
have been sunk. In a conflict with Russia or China we cannot
rule out the possibility of technological surprise. Despite the
obvious weakness of these countries, they nonetheless possess
thousands of nuclear weapons, hundreds of missile launchers,
advanced torpedoes, cruise missiles and highly advanced
anti-air and anti-ship missiles. The armed forces of China,
Russia and North Korea are not to be compared to
ill-disciplined, poorly led and demoralized Iraqi troops. China
and Russia also possess technological depth.
China has not directly challenged the U. S. militarily since
the Korean War, and it is unlikely to do so until its leaders
believe they have a definite military-diplomatic advantage.
Since the time of confrontation over Taiwan will be at
Beijing's choosing, a blockade of Taiwan or an invasion would
signal a moment of grave danger for the United States.