Saturday, March 12, 2005

Truly, Their Intellect is Stunning: Part Two

I get annoyed when people talk about how China looks to the long view and thus will run circles around us with our insufficient vision. Usually this seems like an excuse to see a deep thought behind inaction and is also an excuse not to do anything to thwart China based on the idea that they won't do anything for another fifty years or so anyway in their long view. Even when they seem in an awful damned hurry, this does not seem to dent the idea that they have special insights based on their ancient civilization.

So in this light, I enjoyed this piece immensely. Rober Kagan starts:

For the past few months I've been hearing from a bevy of China experts about how subtle and brilliant Beijing's diplomacy has become in recent years. Sophisticated and confident, Chinese diplomats have been running rings around the United States, winning friends and influencing people throughout East Asia and the world. So I can only marvel at China's latest diplomatic gambits, whose brilliance and sophistication must be so subtle as not to be susceptible to normal modes of analysis.

Chinese saber rattling over Taiwan is getting the attention of its neighbors. And it isn't terribly subtle:

The threat also comes as some of China's neighbors, notably Japan and, more quietly, Australia, are evincing some nervousness about China's growing power and muscle-flexing. Japan has recently sought to broaden the scope of its security ties with the United States and for the first time has explicitly discussed joint U.S.-Japanese cooperation in the event of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. What better way for China to soothe Japanese nervousness than to appear even more belligerent?

But Chinese subtlety doesn't end there. According to a report this week in The Australian, Chinese officials have recently demanded that the Australian government "review" its 50-year-old treaty with the United States. Australia "needs to be careful," Beijing Foreign Ministry official He Yafei reportedly warned, lest it wind up in a confrontation with China as part of its treaty obligations to the United States. Now, anyone who knows the Australian character knows that this kind of blunt "warning" and demand for a loosening of security ties with the United States is precisely the wrong tack to take if you really hope to influence Australian policy. So the Chinese must be operating on an entirely different plane of diplomatic sophistication.

One could almost get the idea that taking Taiwan is warping every Chinese thought process as they fixate on this one big goal:

It is possible that China hopes to get what it wants by bullying alone and that the Chinese leadership has no real intention of making good on its threats. It is also possible, however, that the Chinese are laying the groundwork for an eventual military assault on Taiwan. Who knows? Either way it would be foolish and dangerous to ignore Chinese threats. The best way to avoid war in the Taiwan Strait is to make clear that the United States will abide by its defense commitments, together with its Australian and Japanese allies. Let's not be too subtle.

He's absolutely right. We can't afford to be subtle with the Chinese so focused on Taiwan. They won't notice anything short of a 2 x 4 slapped across their backside. Build up our fleet and air power in the Pacific. Build alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, and India. And anybody else who wants in.

And we may have to consider recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation. As long as we pretend not to notice that Taiwan is a free and democratic nation, why should the Chinese recognize reality. While our current arrangement may have been necessary in the Cold War when our power was at its nadir compared to the Soviets and when we needed Chinese help; I fear we made a mistake not recognizing Taiwan in 1991 when the Soviets were gone and the Chinese still too weak to think about invading Taiwan.

I'm not prepared to say we should recognize Taiwan, But we should think about the implications of doing so--and of failing to do so.

And remember, the ability of China to remember and hold grudges over events centuries past is not the same as deep thinking. The former is just damn annoying.