Indeed some consider that China is now upstaging the US on the world stage. Heather Wokusch describes how, at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty conference in Vienna, "China came off as a responsible, upstanding world citizen and the US came off as a detached oaf." (2) In Cancun, at the WTO Ministerial Meeting, China came out in solidarity with the developing world. (3)
Some might attribute this new China to a changing of the guard in China; Jiang Zemin has withdrawn behind he scenes while President Hu Jin Tao has come to the forefront. Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristoff relates his anecdotal impressions of the new Chinese leaders: "Most Chinese I talk to are very impressed by Mr. Hu and [Premier] Mr. Wen, who project a humility and compassion very different from the pomposity of the former emperor, Jiang Zemin." (4)
It was initially thought by some that under the stewardship of Mr. Hu a more conciliatory relationship would be established in bilateral relations with Taiwan. Writer Jonathan Powers was of such mind when he wrote "the future of Taiwan ... is now being handled remarkably amicably." (5) The belligerent bombast of Mr. Hu's predecessor saw Taiwanese voters elect a man who knowingly aspires to Taiwanese independence.
That man, Chen Shui-bian, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), stirred up the hornets' nest of the cross-strait relationship with a bid to put the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty on the referendum map. Members of Mr. Hu’s administration couldn't hold back. Taiwanese legislators were warned that China would "make a strong response" if referendum legislation disagreeable to it was passed. It appears to have worked; in the end the Taiwanese legislators passed a diluted form of the original bill. However, as quoted in Reuters, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua finds that: "Some articles of the bill still leave room for the pro-independence forces in Taiwan to conduct separatist activities and will be the hidden trouble hindering the reunification of the Chinese nation."
Mr. Chen has since take a different tact on the referendum question. The referendum is "defensive" said Mr. Chen and is meant to "avoid war and eliminate the people's fear" caused by the 490-plus missiles claimed to be targeted at Taiwan. High-ranking Chinese officers warn that the Taiwan government position has poised Taiwan on the "abyss of war." It is assumed that the Chinese Communist Party has carefully considered to what extent these missiles work against reconciliation as opposed to preserving the status quo.
Pro-reunification Kuomintang (KMT) leader Lien Chan faults the Chinese government for the souring of cross-strait relations: "There is not a single reason for the Chinese mainland to deploy so many missiles aiming at Taiwan who is not at all aggressive and offensive. Beijing leaders have to aware that it was against this backdrop, Taiwan people increasingly disliked the mainland, and the two sides of the strait are drifting apart despite closer economic and cultural exchanges over the past 15 years."
The early history following the exodus of two million mainland Chinese to Taiwan is dominated by the KMT. This epoch wasn't pretty. The gruesomeness of the KMT was adduced by the 228 Massacre, which saw 18,000 to 28,000 Taiwanese killed in 1947. Nonetheless this nefarious group of killers would receive US backing.
Two years later, following defeat in the Chinese civil war, the rest of the KMT, led by autocrat Jiang Jie Shi (known in the west as Chiang Kai-shek), fled across the Taiwan Strait with the loot from the national treasury in 1949. Intervention by the US Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Strait prevented the Communists from pursuing the KMT.
With US support the Republic of China, as Taiwan prefers to call itself, sat in the UN seat for China until the one-China policy saw the Communist government of the People's Republic of China assume the seat in 1971.
Democracy is developing in Taiwan but that must not obscure he tyrannical legacy of the KMT. Taiwan was to linger under the longest period of martial law rule in world history -- 38 years.
State repression of dissent was as severe as that on the mainland. The culmination was in the port city of Kaohsiung on 10 December 1979 when tear gas-wielding police violently cracked down on a large crowd demonstrating in support of human rights.
Unlike the upper hand the Beijing hardliners gained following the much bloodier Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Kaohsiung Incident foreordained the fall of dictatorship in Taipei. In 1987 martial law was finally lifted.
Democracy of a type was ushered in under elected president Lee Teng-hui. Mr. Lee was also one of the proponents behind the push for Taiwan independence now embodied in Mr. Chen.
Although the aggressive diplomacy exerted by China has somewhat chilled the referendum aspirations of separatists this time, it probably stoked the coals of those Taiwanese who strive for the right to self-determination.
Mr. Chen sits in the president's chair and his DPP is now the biggest single party in the in the Taiwanese parliament, known as "Legislative Yuan," but the KMT, if united with the People First Party, has the wherewithal to stymie Mr. Chen's political ambitions. The threat of an impeachment vote that loomed early in Mr. Chen's time at the helm is not forgotten.
A Different Approach is needed
The bombast emanating from China has not driven Taiwan back into the Chinese fold. If anything it has provided impetus for the Taiwan independence movement. A change of course would seem in order. That Mr. Hu's administration resorts to the unsuccessful, dog-eared saber rattling of his predecessor Mr. Jiang is perplexing. It works seemingly counter to the goals of Beijing. Many China watchers attribute the vitriolic discourse from the so-called Communist Party as filliping separatist sentiment. This time the Legislative Yuan took a step back but it is likely a Pyrrhic victory for the communists. Mainland China does not need to cower the Taiwanese politicians but rather to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Taiwanese.
China should rather co-opt the referendum to attain its own goals and those of the people of Taiwan. It must be a win-win for both sides. China needs to prepare for this. The present Chinese offer of "one country, two systems" as in Hong Kong must adhere to Deng Xiaoping's promise that "so long as Taiwan returns to the embrace of the motherland, we will respect the realities and the existing system there." The Taiwanese are watching closely events in Hong Kong to gauge the Chinese government’s "respect" for "the realities and existing system there." The outpouring of half-a-million Hong Kongers onto the streets in June to protest impending anti-sedition legislation must have sent mixed signals to the Taiwanese.
Taiwan is much farther down the democratic road than was Hong Kong, which briefly experienced the hypocritical last-minute British-installed democracy. Taiwan must be guaranteed its democracy, freedoms, and right to self-determination. In these matters, despite its ignominious human rights record at home, the Communist Party must pursue the moral course.
Modern historical events have seen China and Taiwan evolve separately and it not unusual that many Taiwanese would feel trepidation over what outright independence or reunification will bring. In respect of these sentiments, it is advanced that China incorporate Mr. Chen's referendum and Mr. Deng's promise into a fair blueprint for the future. Taiwan will rejoin the motherland for a specified number of years after which China would respect the Taiwanese right to self-determination and permit a referendum. Prior to this interregnum an agreement over possible contentious issues during the trial reunification such as passports, defense, and foreign affairs will have to be addressed. Likely China will take over foreign affairs while Taiwanese can hold on their passports and maintain authority over the island's defense.
This balances the concerns of both mainland China and Taiwan in an impartial manner. It is a high stakes gamble but the odds are not bad in China’s favor. China gets a chance to allay Taiwanese fears of losing their democratic and civil rights while Taiwanese can anticipate the sharing of the rich cultural heritage of China and hosting of major upcoming international events such as the World Exposition in 2006 and the Summer Olympics in 2008. Business and investment should flow more readily between the two parts. Under this scenario it does seem a win-win for both sides and should predictably lead to the shelving of any referendum on independence, as the result would be a foregone conclusion after the Taiwanese experience life as an important cog in the seemingly inexorable progress of the Chinese economy.
Why doesn't China promulgate such a plan? Perhaps the Communist Party functionaries have anticipated an outcome inimical to their interests. It is certainly not about protecting socialism as that has already been dismantled. Rather, the absorption of Taiwan with its rights and freedoms into a one-China may indeed be a Trojan horse for spreading the seeds of democracy and human rights. These seeds would undermine the power base of the Communist Party members.
There are possible negative effects for Taiwan as well. China, which serves as a vortex for the world’s low-wage labor bottom, might suck up many jobs from Taiwan, leading to labor dissension there. China must be wary of this.
Returning to the Fold
Taiwan is an established actor in the world economy. It is a creditor nation that has amassed the third largest foreign exchange reserves after Japan and China.
China is a rapidly advancing economic actor. In gross terms China is the world's second largest economy. Taiwanese businesses have invested much money into the mainland exploiting the abundant low-wage labor. But China also serves as a major destination for Taiwanese goods; in fact, China has replaced the US as the number one source for Taiwanese exports.
Taiwanese business would be unhappy at any severing of ties with China. Massive investments have left the two entities economically intertwined. With the bottom line at risk, the Taiwanese business sector is set to reject separation. China's preservation of the status quo in the Taiwanese economic and social spheres is crucial to reunification aspirations.
Reunification should see the impeded travel links between the two parts disappear. This would ease the flow of business investment and increase productivity. China would extend its burgeoning sphere of influence in Asia -- something corporate USA fears. Most of all, reunification should catapult China quicker to a more eminent power status. This threatens the unipolar US hyper-power
US President Bush recently greeted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and gave voice to the words that Beijing sought. Mr. Bush sternly warned Taiwan not to stir the troubled strait further with referendum talk. Said Mr. Bush, "The comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose."
One observer remarked that Chinese money flowing into the Bush family coffers might explain Mr. Bush’s rhetorical about-face on Taiwan. (6)
Despite the recent diplomatic niceties between the planet's two biggest economies, the neoconservative Project for a New American Century document "Rebuilding America's Defenses" clearly indicates that to protect Pax Americana the US would have to guard against the China threat. Yet the same document admits that the Pentagon is unprepared to deal with a Chinese attack on Taiwan.
The US is arguably less in a position to contemplate opposing such an invasion now. The continuing resistance to US occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite the neoconservatives' claim to be able to fight wars simultaneously in two or more theatres, reveals that two military featherweights have pinned US forces down despite drawing on the use of collaborationist troops from other countries. Meanwhile other US-designated rogue states pursue defensive agendas to thwart the hyperimperion from appearing on their doorstep. If China should decide now was the time to retake Taiwan the US would be ill poised to respond effectively.
Smith College professor James Miller warns that for the US to attack North Korea at this juncture would risk Taiwan swooping in on Taiwan. (7)
The reunification of Taiwan with China is a major plank in the Chinese Communist Party strategy. The economic rehabilitation of China is equally a major plank in that strategy. The truth is that while formidable in its own hemisphere the Chinese military is no match for the US.
In fact, Taiwan would be a tough cookie for China to swallow. The US has benefited heavily from Taiwanese purchases of its military hardware. Well-armed Taiwan would inflict serious damage on China, which many analysts contend does not have the wherewithal to transport enough troops for a successful invasion of Taiwan.
The US Department of Defense’s strategic Office of Net Assessment's report stated, "While it professes a preference for resolving the Taiwan issue peacefully, Beijing is also seeking credible military options. Should China use force against Taiwan, its primary goal would be to compel a quick, negotiated solution on terms favorable to Beijing."
The Mythological Chinese Threat
China is not a credible military threat in any way to the US. China is hard pressed to maintain the current gap between the two powers militarily rather than falling further behind. Knowingly, China has focused on halting the arms race, especially, the race to weaponize space. The "Son of Star Wars” program, however, is a major neoconservative plank for entrenching Pax Americana well into the future.
Confoundingly enough, while the US is busy unilaterally pushing to set up space-based weapons, they at the same time screech that China is attempting to find ways around such a system, dubious as it is. Lt. Gen. Anderson realizes "that one of the ways [the Chinese] can certainly diminish our capabilities will be to attack the space systems." (8)
Yet it appears that all the political posturing is for naught. Son of Star Wars won't work anymore that its precursor. Physicist Theodore Postol has been unwavering in his criticism of the effectiveness of a missile defense. (9)
The Chinese threat is simply Washington agitprop. If there is a threat it the one posed by the US to China. Nine-11 provided the perfect pretext for setting up military bases west of China. The US has surrounded China with military bases. Stretching from the northeast, US forces are in South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. It even co-operates militarily with Taiwan. The US presence leaps into Thailand and across South Asia into central Asia; Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan host the US forces and Mongolian fighters hold joint field exercises with US troops.
One chink in the US military encirclement of China is Myanmar, where China maintains close links with the ruling junta. The fear of loosing this ally was apparent from a recent unverified report that indicated Chinese forces were mobilizing on the Chinese side of the border based on a rumor that US paratroopers had clandestinely set up a base inside Myanmar. (10)
Leading US military officials, Robert Scales and Larry Wortzel, contend, “The people of Asia are concerned about China and its future potential strength.”
Are we to assume that this same concern does not apply to the US?
Apparently not. According to the authors, “Most Asian governments welcome a U.S. presence in the region to help. They know that the American presence does not mean an occupying force since, if asked, the United States leaves.” (11)
Well, the US military did leave the Philippines but it has been beating on the door ever since to get back in. Japan and South Korea, however, have been under de facto occupation for many decades now.
The Politics of Mr. Chen
A presidential election in Taiwan is scheduled for March 2004. This better explains the political posturing of Mr. Chen at this point in time. Hong Kong-based political science professor Anthony Cheung notes:
[P]revious experiences had shown that if there were strong reactions from China, it helps to bring more votes to the Democratic Progressive Party. So, I think Chen would not mind engaging in deep argument with China, he knows the limit. The referendum is regarded as a very important tool to respond to China's threat, by saying that Taiwan would not resort to declaring a separate Taiwan republic. But if there is a perception of threat, Taiwan would go into a referendum for independence. (12)
The KMT's Mr. Chan is equally aware of this. Says he, "Beijing leaders have to aware that it was against this backdrop, Taiwan people increasingly disliked the mainland, and the two sides of the strait are drifting apart despite closer economic and cultural exchanges over the past 15 years."
Applying the Dissolution of the USSR Strategy to China
International affairs professor David Shambaugh, an expert on the Chinese military opined, "It remains too soon to pronounce that Asia has become 'China-centric.'"
"But," he said, "the trend lines are clearly moving in that direction. To some extent this means that the United States is being replaced as the main power in Asia, but that perspective is really too simplified. The reality is that the United States and China together are dominating the region."
The US fears another contender to its preeminent power status. It also fears loosing influence in the rapidly developing economies of Asia. Hence the US does not want a reunification of the two Chinas. Washington claims that it backs the "one-China" policy and does not support Taiwan independence. The policy established by former President Nixon is that Taiwan is a “part of China” and the US supports a peaceful settling of the differences between the two parties. (13) Earlier in his presidency Mr. Bush took a more pugnacious stance when he averred that the US would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself." (14)
How should the US deal with the rising Chinese power? A recent historical paradigm is China’s northern neighbor.
At one time the USSR was considered a unidimensional superpower. It was militarily powerful but economically it could not match the wherewithal of the US; the arms race during the Cold War contributed to the downfall and eventual dismemberment of the USSR. The introduction of neoliberalism saw a further economic obliteration of Russia, removing it as a potential competitor in the near future.
Since this massive defense-spending strategy was successful on the USSR front then it might well be applicable to China as well. China did snatch the Paracel Islands militarily, and it did fight briefly with India, and skirmish with the Philippines over some small cays; but it has since confined any imperial ambitions close to home. Border disputes with Russia, India, and Vietnam are being settled through dialogue. A Chinese claim to the entire archipelago of the South China Sea is being dealt with diplomatically with ASEAN. Recent times have seen China refrain from military measures to back up its territorial ambitions.
A potential danger is the Chinese membership in the WTO. Beijing economics professor Han Deqiang has been warning of the dangers creeping neoliberalism membership poses to China through the WTO. The Chinese alignment in Cancun suggests that the government is paying heed to Mr. Han’s red flag.
China is leery of being drawn into the USSR trap and stays focused on reaching developed nation status. Taiwan would be a real spur in its drive to this goal. Preserving at least the status quo vis-à-vis Taiwan is a must, however.
Chris Harman, in his comprehensive essay examining imperialism, addresses also the central role Taiwan plays in the battle for influence between the US and China.
For the Chinese rulers to concede to the attitude of the US would, as far as they are concerned, be to concede that they are going to give up part of the historic Chinese Empire. And if Taiwan in the east, why not the extensive non-Han provinces in the north and west? Would it not be a sign to the US right that China could be stripped of its empire and be reduced to a minor power, just as happened to Russia? (15)
The lessons of the vanquished Soviet empire are vivid. The dismantling of China is not about to be tolerated by the mandarins in Beijing.
Kim Petersen lives in Nova Scotia and is a regular contributor to Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: email@example.com
(1) Linda Perlez, "Asian Leaders Find China A More Cordial Neighbor," New York Times, 18 October 2003: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50B10FA395A0C7B8DDDA90994DB404482
(2) Heather Wokusch, "China Upstages US at Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference," Dissident Voice, 15 September 2003: http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Articles8/Wokusch_China-CTBT.htm
(3) China to speak for developing nations at Cancun, China Daily, 10 September 2003: http://www1.chinadaily.com.cn/en/doc/2003-09/10/content_262859.htm
(4) Nicholas D. Kristoff, Coffee, Tea, or Freedom? New York Times, 13 December 2003: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/13/opinion/13KRIS.html?th
(5) Jonathan Powers, "London's anti-war protestors should realize that the "Big Six" are discovering peace," The Transnational Foundation, 19 November 2003, http://www.transnational.org/forum/power/2003/11.02_BigSixpeace.html
(6) Margie Burns, “Chinese Mega-Bucks For Bush Brothers,” Information Clearing House, 16 December 2003: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5399.htm
(7) James D. Miller, "China's Chance to Conquer Taiwan, Tech Central Station, 5 December 2003, http://www.techcentralstation.com/120503B.html
(8) Quoted in Bill Berkowitz, "Space Wars: Apocalypse Soon? Bogged Down on Earth, the US Looks to Space as Battleground of the Future," Dissident Voice, 9 December 2003: http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Articles9/Berkowitz_Space-Battleground.htm
(9) Theodore A. Postol, Why Missile Defense Won't Work," Technology Review, April 2002. Available on the Halifax Peace Coalition website: http://hfxpeace.chebucto.org/Reference/BMD/TechnologyReviewNMDFraud-March2002.pdf
(10) Xu Er, "China Moves on Myanmar, Part 1: PLA masses on the border," Asia Times, 22 November 2003. Available on Axis of Logic website: http://www.axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/printer_3488.shtml
(11) Robert H. Scales, Jr. and Larry M. Wortzel, “The Future U.S. Military Presence in Asia: Landpower and the Geostrategy of American Commitment,” Strategic Studies Institute, 6 April 1999: http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ssi/pubs/1999/usmilasa/usmilasa.pdf
(12) Melanie Yip, "China exerts military pressure on Taiwan," Mediacorp Radio, 5 December 2003: http://rsi.com.sg/english/newsline/view/20031205171734/1/.html
(13) William Burr, “Nixon's Trip to China: Records now Completely Declassified, Including Kissinger Intelligence Briefing and Assurances on Taiwan,” The National Security Archive, 11 December 2003: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB106/index.htm
(14) John King and Mike Chinoy, “Bush vows 'whatever it takes' to defend Taiwan,” CNN, 25 April 2001: http://edition.cnn.com/2001/ALLPOLITICS/04/24/bush.taiwan.abc/
(15) Chris Harman, “Analyzing Imperialism,” International Socialism, 99, Summer 2003, p. 63-64