Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Very Positive View

It drives me nuts that we speak of China's charm offensive as if the Chinese have abandoned their goal of taking over Taiwan. Much as we and the Soviets had different views of detente, so too do China and Taiwan have different views of this charm offensive.

I wondered if our government was foolish enough to be blind to China's true aim. And our government is indeed similarly clueless:

"The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before, has a very positive view of the progress that has been made since last May in restoring dialogue and the many steps toward the improvement of the cross-Strait relationship," said Burghardt, who is effectively the top US envoy dealing with Taiwan.

How is it positive that the Chinese are saying nice things when their objective is no different? The very next sentence in the article would seem to undermine this happy talk:

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island a part of Chinese territory and is determined to get it back -- by force if necessary.

It is not "progress" when the Chinese objective is the same even as the Peking rulers smile and say nice things.

Even academics are confused:

However, relations between China and Taiwan have improved greatly following the election of Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan president in March 2008. Although the unification issue remains unresolved, Mr. Ma has rejected his predecessor’s policy of pursuing de facto independence from China.

This dramatic change has removed the specter of war from the Taiwan Strait. It has also removed the primary rationale behind China's decade-long rapid military buildup and the vast investment of funds that it required. However, no letup in this effort should be expected.

The spectre of war is removed? This is insane.

No let up in the build up anyway? Why is that? There are a number of reasons, including:

China’s new global standing combined with its Taiwan-driven military progress has convinced the Chinese that they can begin narrowing the gap between their economic standing as a great power and their military capabilities and to begin playing a military role on the international stage.

Ah, they want to be a major power. That requires power projection capabilities. And as I've mentioned, power projection requires nullifying the effects of having Taiwan acting as a stopper in the bottle. China needs to own Taiwan. Good thing from Peking's point of view that Taiwan-driven military progress can tackle two birds with one stone.

And what are the Chinese military capabilities relative to America?

This threat, stemming from China’s determination to block Taiwan’s moves toward separation, had been the catalyst for China’s efforts to build up its armed forces. Their focus was defensive: to acquire a capability needed to invade Taiwan and to deter the U.S. from intervening; failing that, to delay the advance of U.S. forces by protecting the maritime approaches to the Taiwan Straits and China.

Aside from objecting to the author's description of Chinese offensive capabilities to conquer Taiwan as defensive, this is quite right. China doesn't need to defeat us or even deter us--they just need to delay us long enough to beat Taiwan.

So stop arguing that we are far superior to China militarily when arguing China can't conquer Taiwan. The overall balance just isn't that relevant to China on the Taiwan question and shouldn't be that relevant to Taiwan or America.

And for Pete's sake, stop thinking that a nice smile means that China's objectives are the same as ours. The Chinese aren't shy about telling us they want Taiwan. Why don't we listen?