MeiZhongTai

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Farley's China Series

Dr. Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns, and Money has started a six-part series on China-US relations. I'll add links (and comments) to them as they become available.
Part I: Foreign Policy Conflict
I think that oil scarcity will no more be a source of conflict between China and the US than it will between Japan or Europe and the US.
I agree completely. (See my post on CNOOC and Unocal).
The one issue on which China and the United States might end up fighting, Taiwan, has been a point of contention for the past fifty years, and has nothing whatsoever to do with China’s increasing power. A period of mutual hostility may be on the way, but it certainly hasn’t hit yet.
While I agree that this issue is not new, I don't find that limiting my belief that the area is worrying. Until now, China has been militarily incapable of invading the Republic of China's offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu, much less Taiwan... but alas that will soon no longer be the case.

One additional point, I didn't see mentioned in Dr. Farley's post that may be relevant to add: While the national government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are the same entity, the needs and goals of the nation and that of the party are not the same. It is not hard to conceive of a scenario where the CCP takes action detrimental to the nation in order to save itself from challenges to its leadership. To illustrate this point, let me quote from Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy:
Propaganda, state control of the media, personality cults, and so on will only go so far... Accordingly, fear regimes look to other methods to stay in power. One of the oldest and most effective is the creation of external enemies. (82)
(Fear regimes is his phrase for any non-free society, which would certainly include the People's Republic)
In times of war, even in free societies, people are prepared to accept both economic hardships and curtailment of their freedoms... The people who live in fear societies are no different. They too will make sacrifices if they are convinced that their safety demands it. That is why nondemocratic rulers find the threat of war a particularly attractive device for justifying the repression that is necessary to control their subjects and remain in power. (emphasis added, 83)

Part II: In Defense of Ambiguity
I think that any clarification of the policy of ambiguity will serve to either make Taiwan more likely to declare independence or to make the PRC more likely to attack.
In the above statement, Dr. Farley appears to be assuming that were America to give the go-ahead, Taiwan would declare independence. I don't believe that to be the case. Taiwan isn't unified in support of independence and just waiting for America and/or China's permission. While President Chen Shui-bian's administration has been widely seen as favoring independence, the electorate has other plans. You can find the latest poll data at the Mainland Affairs Council's site and evaluate the situation for yourself. I read that poll much the same way I read the 2004 referendum (keep in mind that the purpose of the referendum itself was more important than the actual questions asked): Don't do it President Chen!
The obvious rebuttal, which I have often heard and was kind of alluded to later in Dr. Farley's post is this:
...I would be quite surprised if Taiwan declared independence anytime soon. A US security guarantee, however, might change that. The electoral landscape might shift in response to PRC intimidation, or for some other cause.
Basically, were the threat of war removed or the American security guarantee clarified, those numbers would change and more people/everyone would support independence. I have tested that hypothesis through an unscientific but extensive (for a private, unfunded blogger) survey of the people of Taiwan on my own and found it lacking. Most of the people who answer 'status quo' are waiting to see how the People's Republic grows and/or reforms in the long term and many hope to one day reunite with China under friendly terms. Simply put, currently a majority of Taiwan's people are not ready to support a declaration of independence no matter what American and/or China do.
The material gains for Taiwan following a declaration of independence are minimal compared to the losses China could inflict.
Agreed. Especially since Taiwan already has de facto independence.
I don't believe that a failure to defend Taiwan would create a reputation for weakness or irresolution that might affect the behavior of other allies. [Farley expands on this idea in this post, which is certainly worth reading.]
I disagree on this one. Hopefully we will never know which of us is right, but I can see South Korea (just as an example) rethinking the value of America's security guarantee. Japan wouldn't be far behind, especially in light of this (note Taiwan is on the list).
[T]he freedom of the Taiwanese people is, to me, worth the lives of American soldiers and sailors.
I agree, as do nearly all of the men and women in uniform I know.
I also believe that any such [clear security] guarantee would remove Taiwanese incentive to spend in their own defense, which remains crucial to deterring a PRC attack.
Sad, but true. One might even argue that situation has already arrived (see here).
Also, make sure to read the comments section, especially David's explanation of why 'there is no realistic possibility of Taiwan declaring independence.'

Part III: China's Growing Military Power
Part IV: China and the Republican Party
Part V: A New Cold War?
Part VI: Chinese Democracy

UPDATED TO INCLUDE PART II OF THE SERIES