Monday, August 29, 2005

How Invisible is Stealth?

During the First Gulf War:
Iraqi air-defense radar actually picked up F-117 stealth fighters but could not support attacks against them. [America's Inadvertent Empire, 69]
While the Iraqi regime fell without much of an organized defense, much less an integrated air defense, it is still relevant to ask just how stealthy our low-observable aircraft remain. Especially interesting (and relevant here) is the origin of the Iraqi air-defense radar mentioned above--China. If China can detect our B-2 Spirit or F-117 Nighthawk; how much does that impair the USAF's ability to conduct (or threaten) air strikes against China in the event of a crisis? It could also seriously affect our defense procurement plans, most notably the F-22 and F-35, in planning for wars over the horizon.

The desire to be able to detect and down America's stealth planes is certainly present within the People Liberation Army:
As a result of the Yugoslav War, and particularly as a result of the lessons derived from the PLA's study of the air war, a new program known as the 'three attacks and three defenses' (san da san fang) was initiated throughout the military beginning in late 1999. The 'three attacks' are attacking stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and armed helicopters. The 'three defenses' are defending against enemy reconnaissance and surveillance, precision strikes, and electronic interference. [Emphasis added. Modernizing China's Military, 87-88]

The PLA watches closely all actions taken by the American military, so it is no secret that America likes to blind its opponents in the early stages of a conflict.

Before getting into the finer points of detecting stealth aircraft, I feel a refresher course on how radar and stealth work is in order, but, of course, if you are familiar with the technology, you can skip ahead. From Wikipedia:
[Radar] is a system used to detect, range (determine the distance of), and map objects such as aircraft and rain. Strong radio waves are transmitted, and a receiver listens for any echoes. By analysing the reflected signal, the reflector can be located, and sometimes identified. Although the amount of signal returned is tiny, radio signals can easily be detected and amplified.

Stealth, as described in this Wikipedia article, uses vehicle shape, non-metallic materials, radar absorbing paint, and other technologies to reduce a plane's radar cross section (RCS).

Passive Radar
One possible method of detecting low-observable aircraft is "Passive Radar" (also known as "Passive Coherent Location," or PCL). One conspiracy theory attributes the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade to an attempt to prevent Chinese from using a PCL system to collect information on American aircraft.

Basically PCL processes the target reflections of already existant transmitters, such as cellular tower and television transmitters. The interpretation of the signals that are returned are more complex than with designated radar transmitters, but modern computing has reached a level where such interpretation is possible and has been demonstrated.

The best non-technical explanation of passive radar, complete with a graphic depicting it in action, is here, just scroll down. (For those interested in the technical details, a search for "passive radar" or Lockheed's "Silent Sentry" should provide you all the details you seek.) A more general explanation of the concept, as it applies to tracking more than just aircraft, can be found here.

Low Frequency Radar
Another possible method of detecting stealth aircraft is using low frequency radar. It works the same as traditional radar, but has a longer wavelength and its performance is not degraded by stealth technologies to the same degree as normal radar. As a reader explained it to me:
Conventional radar operating frequencies are in the range of 10 GHz, so a wavelength is on the order of 3 cm meaning that just about any surface on the aircraft represents many many wavelengths, and so there is no resonance and the absorptive properties of the material come into play.
Low frequency radar operates in the vicinity of 150 MHz, so a wavelength is about 2 meters - roughly the diameter of the fuselage for a typical aircraft, and so even though the aircraft uses non-metallic materials on the surface, there are probably internal structural pieces that represent multiples of a half-wavelength, and so there may be an enhanced return.


Stealth is no panacea. No aircraft ever designed, no matter how advanced its stealth design and technology, is completely invisible. The idea behind low-observable aircraft is to make their RCS small enough for them to blend in with the background noise on the opponent's radar and thus preventing the enemy from noticing them. When that fails, an aircraft is still safe as long as the information delivered by the radar is not accurate enough for anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) to down the plane. This was the case in 1991, when the Iraqis were able to see the American Nighthawks on their radar but were unable to shoot them down. A country with a more formidable air force (eg: China), however, could use such radar notification to scramble fighters to down the aircraft. (The location handed off to the interceptors would not be specific and the fighters' radar would have a harder time finding the low-observable aircraft than the ground-based system, but manned fighters would have a better chance hitting their target than simply launching AAA into the night sky in the stealth craft's general direction.)

Rather than take the chance that an opponent's radar can detect America's aircraft and provide a target solution to triple-A, America often opts to take out the country's radar installations with cruise missiles before the air strikes begin. This technique would work against LF radar just as well as its traditional cousin, but PCL would not be so easily overcome. PCL does not have a limited number of transmitters for America to attack, but instead uses every television station, cellular phone tower, and radio station to paint the target. It is unlikely that America could, or would attempt to, wipe out a nation's airwaves one tower at a time. Therefore wiping out such a system would require finding the computers that analyze the signals or attack the military's C4ISR writ large.

Conclusion - Questions, Not Answers
The PLA is known to be researching PCL and other methods of stealth detection, but the extent of their research, effectiveness of their processing, and status of their deployment is unknown.

Douglas MacGregor notes in Transformation Under Fire that
Since 1941, no American soldier has set foot on foreign soil or entered an enemy capital without the USAF in control of the skies overhead. [119]
Do China's possible advances in the technology to counter stealth, when combined with the growing PLAAF, undermine the ability of the USAF to guarantee air superiority to the point that the US Army should begin planning for the possibility that it may have to enter combat without air superiority?

Read more!

Best of the Blogosphere Today

The blogosphere provides plenty of good reading today. This time we have war games, tar sands, and riots. Sounds like a good time, right?

So now readers, go forth and read. Make sure to read the whole Asiapundit roundup too, not just the two articles I linked to.

Read more!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Exploring the Spratlys

According to the Taipei Times, the Chinese oil firm China Oilfield Services has won the right to explore the disputed Spratly Islands for the presence of oil or natural gas deposits. China, the Philippines, and Vietnam agreed to jointly explore the island chain for hydrocarbons, but Taiwan and Malaysia also have claims to all or part of the island chain. (Both the Times and Wikipedia articles list Brunei as a claimant, but the CIA's World Factbook explains this is not the case.) This exploration has the potential to seriously affect the possibility of a conflict over the islands.

Significance of Spratly Islands
Based on the presence of oil and natural gas in the surrounding areas, some Chinese experts have estimated that the reserves beneath the islands rival that of the Persian Gulf. Non-Chinese experts offer lower, but still substantial estimates. Such a vast amount of oil is valuable to anyone, but to China, vast oil deposits in their own backyard take on a whole new meaning. China has, in recent years, shifted its petrodiplomacy into high gear, seeking to acquire oil resources anywhere it can find them and strengthening its ability to protect the flow of oil into China.

Fossil fuels are not the only thing making these islands vital to world trade and to especially every Asian nation. The Spratlys sit astride significant Asian sea lines of communication (SLOCs). More than half of the world's supertanker traffic and more than a quarter of the world's oil passes through the area, making it the world's second most travelled sea lane.

Previous spats between claimants have been minor. This can be partially attributed to limited naval power projection capability on the part of most of the involved nations, but also, I would contend, because the extent of oil or gas reserves have never been established. To date, exploration has not been conducted to confirm the presence of fossil fuels because of the ownership dispute.

China, of all the claimants of the islands, has the most forces stationed on the islands and has the greatest ability to take the islands by force. It also is the world's fastest growing consumer of fossil fuels and has been quite active lately in searching for more sources of oil to fuel its growth. (The latest Economist, has an article on this subject entitled The Oiloholics - subscription required.) Yet China still had not taken steps to acquire the islands by force. The importance of the shipping lanes to all Asian economies was one factor cooling any aggression being contemplated by the Chinese, but more importantly it was simply illogical to take an island chain by force and face the resulting international condemnation in order to attain unconfirmed oil deposits, even if prices increase significantly in the years ahead.

While it is good to see cooperation between half of the claimants (the PRC and ROC could obviously never cooperate on such an issue, so unanimity was out of the question from the beginning), confirming the existance of vast oil reserves under the island chain has the potential to seriously alter the strategic calculation of the countries involved and could spark a conflict over the islands. If the seismic exploration planned by China Oilfield Services shows the Chinese estimates to have been more accurate than their international counterparts, the importance of the islands to each of the claimants (especially China) rises, as does their willingness to commit serious resources toward defending (or strengthening) their claim. Of course, there is also the possibility that the lower international estimates are more accurate. Were the explorers to find less oil and gas than expected, it could potentially calm--but not end--the crisis.

Update: Bernard Cole's The Great Wall at Sea would seems to support my conclusions:
At present, China, the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam are all harvesting energy resources from the South China Sea. Disagreements about maritime boundaries are being negotiated or ignored, except for the most contentious area--the Spratly Islands. This potentially dangerous situation is kept in check by the fact that meaningful oil or gas reserves have not been found... If commercially valuable petroleum deposits are found, Beijing will undoubtedly adopt an even less flexible position on sovereign rights to the area, with a modernizing PLAN to enforce its claims. [38]

Read more!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Rumsfeld on Taiwan Arms Deal

In a 23 August Defense Department Regular Briefing, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke about Taiwan's planned purchase of American arms. Based on the text of this recent press conference, one might expect him to have been wearing a TAIWANATION bracelet and a 908 Taiwan shirt.

While speaking of the ROC arms purchase that has been languishing in the Legislative Yuan due to Pan Blue stonewalling, Rumsfeld commented:
I've always believed that countries -- sovereign nations have to do what they decide to do. [emphasis added]

I think that comment speaks for itself, as anyone reading MeiZhongTai will undoubtedly understand the ramifications of calling Taiwan a country, and thus I will address his statements on the arms deal.

When asked if a failure to purchase the proposed arms would undermine America's commitment to Taiwan (something previously alluded to by one of Rumsfeld's deputies, Richard Lawless), Rumsfeld replied that arms purchases--or a lack thereof--do not alter America's obligation to aid Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. Here is Secretary Rumsfeld's entire quote in context:
I've always believed that countries -- sovereign nations have to do what they decide to do. It's up to them to do it. We make our positions known, and our position is known with the Taiwan Relations Act. And we have an obligation under that act to work with Taiwan on fulfilling security and arms sale provisions of that act. If they decide not to or if they decide to do so, that's up to them.

The reporter followed up by asking if Taiwan was a "free rider" or if the government of Taiwan was displaying "a lack of seriousness" toward national defense. Rumsfeld, opting not to criticize a friend in front of company, replied:
I think if I wanted to communicate something to the government of Taiwan, I would find a better place to do it than here.

This does really seem to call into question the idea that Taiwan should purchase these weapons as a form of protection money or even a bus fare. It also counters the idea that Washington is sending "increasingly stiff warning signals."

Read more!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Taiwan to Co-Produce Choppers?

Taiwan has been trying to find money to buy submarines, anti-submarine aircraft, and Patriot missiles for years, but, Janes Defence Weekly (quoted by e-Taiwan News) reports the country is talking with Bell Helicopter-Textron, Sikorsky, and Boeing about co-producing helicopters.

The ROC Army is seeking to replace or upgrade its aging Hueys (UH-1Y Hueys or UH-60 Black Hawks would replace the army's UH-1Hs) and Super Cobras (bumping the AH-1Ws up to AH-1Z King Cobras or replacing them with AH-64D Apache Longbows). The article did not offer a timeframe for the replacements or indicate what stage the talks are in.

Read more!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Rationality of China's Currency Policy

Survived SARS has a great post examining the rationality of China's currency policies.
This is only one post in what is largely an ongoing theme here on this blog, but I think the central debate over China's currency policy, and China's economic policies in general, is a debate over the extent of rational planning in China's economic bureaucracies. This is a critical debate, because if China's economic bureaucracy is essentially non-rational, I'm not sure how much confidence we can place in any of China's policy-making organs.

I agree with Logan that this is a critical issue for discussion and I think he has done a great job disentangling the issue for the rest of us.

Here is one more excerpt to motivate you to head over to his blog and read the rest:
After this, China actually announced the content of its currency basket, which seemed to make sense to me but created problems for other people, because specifying the currency basket effectively makes speculation more precise and more profitable.

Read more!

Halloran on Arms Package

Richard Halloran, a former correspondent for the New York Times and Washington Post who now is a Hawaii-based freelance journalist, has written to the Taipei Times on the arms package requested by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and supported by President Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The political leaders of Taiwan, both government and opposition, are in serious danger of misreading or ignoring the increasingly stiff warning signals coming from Washington.

In its bluntest form, the US message is: Taiwan needs to do more to prepare for its own defense against a potential attack from China rather than rely largely on the US for its security. If it doesn't, the US may be less obligated to come to Taiwan's rescue.

It seems to me that there are two similar, but not identical, arguments being made in support of the arms package.
  • The American version, represented above, is Taiwan must invest in its own defense. To not do so sends a dangerous message to America that Taiwan isn't serious about defending itself from attack, which could undermine America's commitment to the island.

  • The Taiwanese version, which I find dangerous (see here and here for a more in depth explanation of why), seems to be an over-simplified version of the American version. It argues that Taiwan must buy the over-priced American-made weaponry as a form of protection money because, in the words of former President Lee Teng-hui:
    You can't take a bus without paying for it.
While I recognize the legitimacy of the former argument, I feel it is counterproductive because its similarity to the former, which I abhor. When American experts express the former, the Taiwanese defense community, pundits, and politicians here the latter. I guess if the "this is needed for defense" argument isn't breaking the political deadlock, it makes sense to try other arguments, but I really find this one to be more trouble than it is worth. America doesn't ask for protection money and should avoid characterization as a country that does.

On a related note, the same edition of the Taipei Times offers a summary of the latest happenings with regard to the arms package and especially speculation as to whether or not new Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou will support the budget.

Read more!

Great Firewall of China News

A lot has been happening lately with regards to the Great Firewall of China (GFoC). Before I jump into the latest news, allow me to offer a backgrounder for those not familiar with the GFoC. Wikipedia has a good basic explanation (including a link of words blocked by search engines in Mainland China) which is quite good.

As the Wikipedia article notes, the GFoC is not impenetrable. In addition to the methods discussed there, many internet users from the Mainland use the free Anonymouse to get around the firewall (note: the service is down for maintenance until tomorrow).

Many bloggers try to make it hard for the great cybernannies to find them by using replacement characters. Some replacement words include M@o and F---- G---. Additionally, many bloggers will use just about anything to avoid using the T-word (whether it is 1 or 2). Humans can still easily decipher the meanings, but a search for the banned words won't find them. China has a lot of people but hiring people to read every webpage and blog doesn't seem to be all that practical, even to the Chinese government.

In the blogosphere, one of the most common comments on the subject is criticizing the Western companies that facilitate China's censorship. The most often criticized companies include Cisco, Microsoft, and Google. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer offers a cartoon depicting a fairly common perception of internet companies' operations in the mainland. It is captioned "Anything for a Buck."

Now on to highlights of the recent news:
  1. ESWN has the translation of an article in the Nanfang Weekly that offers us "a view from the people inside building and defending the Great Firewall of China."
    A couple excerpts from the article:
    The Ministry of Information Industry explained: "While the Internet brings benefits to people, it also brings problems such as pornography, violence, superstition and other harmful materials to poison people's minds. This is especially likely to damage the healthy development of youngsters."
    Some netizens agreed: "The 'real name' system is needed. The many problems on the Internet are largely due to the system of anonymity. Requiring 'real names' will cause the whole society to become more trustworthy and orderly."
  2. Blog-City is now blocked in the mainland. They are already working on how to work around this problem.

*My previous post on the GFoC can be found here.

Read more!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

What China Lacks

Two interesting topics have been making the rounds in the China-watching blogosphere lately. Both deal with something that the People's Republic is short of: Friends and gasoline.
  1. Friends - Howard French has written "Letter from Asia: 'China first' approach: A missed opportunity" for the International Herald Tribune and posted it on his website.
    Those who fret most about China's rise, though, seem to ignore some very basic, and as yet unanswered, questions. No matter how fast its economy grows, can a country make a successful transition to great-power status without real friendships, without associating itself meaningfully with any global ideal, or without bearing a more generous share of humanity's burdens?
    Personally, I feel that China's growing economy and its willingness to ignore little hangups like human rights guarantee that China's list of friends will continue to grow (in quantity if not quality).

  2. Gasoline - Countless bloggers have addressed this point (Simon has the round-up), but none has done so better than the Economist's View.
    Back to economic principles. If a price ceiling is imposed, what should happen? Shortages?
    Explanations don't get any simpler than that.

  • AsiaPundit's seventh China Economic Roundup has more on the oil shortages. Quoting the Financial Times, he relays:
    Global prices have risen by about 30 per cent this year but Chinese prices by about half that, leaving local refiners such as Sinopec suffering large losses on sales of imported fuel.
    A Sinopec official in Beijing, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday the company had been forced by the government to order its refiners to produce fuel for the local market, even though it was not profitable.
  • Simon World brings us an article from The Standard:
    There are strong reasons to believe the two [Sinopec and PetroChina] have deliberately halted supplies to create seeming chaos. By doing so, the duopoly could well be killing three birds with one stone.
    Click through to discover identity of the three birds.

Read more!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples

For the last 13 years, the ROC has been applying to regain the United Nations seat it lost 34 years ago. Reuters, in the understatement of the week, called Taiwan's chances of gaining membership "slim." I think China was more accurate in calling the attempt "doomed."

The ROC also frequently applies for membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) and has used the SARS crisis to illustrate why it should be allowed to join the health agency, as demonstrated in this movie. That application also has little chance of success.

One guaranteed way to get attention, and possibly sympathy, for its causes (and irk China to no end) is aligning with other unrepresented peoples. Along this line of thought, Taiwan and Tibet appear to be planning closer relations.

It is a logical enough strategy. Human rights violators join together to support nonintervention in the affairs of other states. The four countries seeking seats on the UN Security Council have joined together to amass votes for their efforts. Why shouldn't Taiwan take a similar path and try to establish good relations with other territories seeking independence, or recognition there of?

The only question is: After Tibet, where should Taiwan look next? I don't know that too many of the unrepresented nations and peoples listed here could help Taiwan's cause. Friendships with Chechnya, Kurdistan, or Aceh would be more likely to get Taiwan pegged as a state sponsor of terrorism than gain it a spot on the UN or WHO. I guess East Turkestan is a possibility, but such an friendship would certainly seem to validate China's notion that letting Taiwan have de jure independence would destroy China (the 'if Taiwan goes, Tibet or the Uighurs will follow' theory). That is certainly not in Taiwan's interest. I guess it is just going to be Taiwan and Tibet, at least for now.

Read more!


Historical revisionism is a perennial topic for the Asia-watching community, normally due to Japan's approval of a textbook that offends China and Korea. Willy Lam recently pointed out that Japan wasn't alone in its revisionism in an article entitled China's Own Historical Revisionism. (Hat Tip: Peking Duck)

It seems Asian countries aren't the only ones that don't let the truth get in the way of a good story:
[A]n exhibition at UN headquarters on its 60th anniversary includes a poster with names of the 51 countries that signed the UN Charter on June 26, 1945. The People's Republic of China was named one of them.

The Taipei Times covers the error and the ROC's attempts to have the poster corrected. Obviously, there is no way the poster can be corrected because the People's Republic would never allow mention of the words "Republic of China" without the prefix "People's".

Read more!

Cruise Missile Controversy

Taiwan has developed and deployed indigenously developed land attack cruise missiles (LACM). Or not.

Two days ago, it was widely reported in the news that Taiwan had secretly deployed the cruise missiles, which were designed by the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) and designated Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind). The missiles were reported to have a range of 1000 km. Citing the China Times, the papers claimed that President Chen
inspected the missile command and witnessed a mock launch of the cruise missiles.

The paper also spoke of tests that an anonymous source said had been conducted:
The missile - fired from the Jiupeng Missile Base in southern Taiwan - cruised about 300 miles before hitting a dummy target at sea off outlying Green Island, the China Times quoted an unidentified military source as saying.

Yesterday, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) described the story as "sheer fabrication." It is unclear which part of the report he was debunking: the missiles' existance, their deployment, President Chen's attendance, or some other part. The MND spokesmen declined further comment because
the ministry does not comment on fabricated reports.

Part of the misunderstanding appears to be whether the Hsiung Feng-IIE is a LACM or a anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). In 2001, CSIST said the HF-IIE was not a cruise missile, but rather an anti-ship missile (ASM). As late as July of this year, newspapers were still reporting that the HF-IIE was a LACM, including the Taipei Times, which claimed that the HF-IIEs could hit Shanghai if they were deployed on the ROC's outlying islands. eTaiwan News, in its article on the ministry's denial, stated matter-of-factly:
The Hsiungfeng 2E cruise missile, a modified version of the locally-built Hsiungfeng II anti-ship missile, is a mid-range land-based mobile strategic missile.
To illustrate the level of confusion, Wikipedia describes the HF-IIE as an ASM in the introduction and a LACM in the body of the same page.

The significance of all of this clearly lies in the classification of the HF-IIE as an offensive or defensive weapon. An ASCM could easily be classified as a defensive weapon, especially when China regularly trains for an invasion of Taiwan and talks of a blockade of the island. A LACM, especially one that puts Shanghai within range, on the other hand, would be an offensive weapon by definition. This would seem to signify a new national security plan. Were Taiwan to have the capability to hit a major Chinese city, that would serve as a significant deterrent to attack. Former Premier Yu Shyi-kun caused quite a stir a year ago with a call for such a deterrent:
The best scenario will see a 'balance of terror' being maintained across the Taiwan Strait so that the national security is safeguarded.

Read more!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Fisher on China's Economy

Richard W. Fisher of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas* has given a wonderful speech on China's economy. (Hat Tip: Simon World, who calls it "today's must read")
One can paint two starkly different pictures of China right now, the Big China view and the Little China view.
The two views are best illustrated by a pair of statistics comparing the sizes of the Chinese and American economies:
On a purchasing-power-parity adjusted basis, economists put China's gross domestic product at $7 trillion, compared with our $12 trillion-making it already 60 percent of our size. [...]

On a straight U.S. dollar basis (not adjusted for purchasing power parity), their economy is roughly the size of California's!

I don't want to offer too many quotes for fear that you won't follow the hyperlink, but here is one last excerpt:
Manufacturing is a means to an end. It's not the top rung on the income ladder. No economy can reach the pinnacle of wealth without its labor force becoming highly educated, and highly educated people tend to work in services. Doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, engineers, scientists, professors, computer programmers, systems architects, consultants, financial advisors, pharmacists, actuaries--these are all service-sector jobs, and high-paying ones at that. They all have one thing in common--education. To keep climbing the income ladder, China will have to make a huge investment in education.

*Note: This is not the Richard Fisher of the Jamestown Foundation, from whom we are used to hearing about China.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Four Must Reads

I have stumbled across four must reads - three blog posts and an article from the MSM. First are the blog posts, all of which focus on politics appearing in unusual, but not so unexpected places.
  1. Jujuflop posts about China's offer of pandas:
    It is still unclear whether the pandas will ever make it into Taiwan - back in May the official line was that they would only be accepted if all the permits from the 'Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species' were in place (a problem, as the donors don't believe it is an international trade).
  2. Simon discusses the currencies China chose to peg the yuan to:
    Did you spot the obvious ommissions? No New Taiwan dollars, and no Hong Kong dollars.
  3. Survived SARS analyzes a Washington Post article on Chinese energy efficiency:
    China's growth in energy consumption has not been matched by improved efficiency, even while political factors compel massive wastes of energy in China's cities.
The fourth must read is an article in the Washington Post entitled "How to Learn Chinese in 2,200 Not-So-Easy Lessons." (Hat Tip: The View from Taiwan) I enjoyed the article, if for no other reason than to feel better about the difficulties I have faced in my study of the Chinese language.

Read more!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Lee Teng-hui on Free Riding

Today's Taipei Times has an article entitled "Lee says China dare not attack." From the article:
Former President Lee Teng-hui said yesterday that China would not dare to attack Taiwan, because the US has deployed eight nuclear submarines in the Pacific Ocean carrying about 2,000 nuclear warheads targeted at China, preventing Beijing from taking military action against its democratic neighbor.

A senior DOD official was kind enough to clarify the former president's remarks for him:
However, a senior US military official told the Taipei Times that it had been standing policy for the US to maintain a "nuclear deterrent," most of which is kept aboard a number of nuclear missile subs that are constantly on patrol worldwide.
The patrols were not specifically directed at China, and the missiles would only be given specific targeting instructions on the order of the US president, the source said.

In case that wasn't enough to gain Lee a spot on the next morning's front page, he continued:
Implying that Taiwan is under the protection of the US, Lee said it was necessary to procure arms from the US.
"You can't take a bus without paying for it," he said.

I'm not sure what I find more revolting: the fact that he gives a speech about defending Taiwan from China and doesn't once mention the ROC Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines (as near as I can tell... although I haven't read the whole speech, just the blurbs) or that he makes it seem as though the only reason to purchase these weapons systems from the United States is to pay a fee for America's protection.

Am I the only person who doesn't think that purchasing these weapons are a form of Protection Money? Maybe I should invent a catchy phrase like "these millions are for defense, not one penny is for tribute" to rally people to my interpretation of this arms bill (apologies to Thomas Jefferson).

Read more!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Blockading Taiwan's Ports

According to Forbes, the ROC military has been practicing defending against a Chinese blockade of its southern ports. This is a worthy focus for the military, but exercises alone won't solve this problem.

Susceptibility to Blockade
Taiwan's two key ports (Kaohsiung and Keelung) are located on the west and north coasts, making them easy targets for a Chinese blockade. If it wasn't clear enough, China pointed it out in 1996 by launching one missile each into the waters at the entrance to both ports.

The ROC Navy's key bases also fall victim to unfortunate locations. Kaohsiung (including Tsoying, which is just north of Kaohsiung port) and Keelung are the ROCN's largest bases. A blockade of Kaohsiung and Keelung would also be a blockade of both Taiwan's largest bases. I am not familiar enough with the breaking of blockades to know whether having the ROCN inside the port being blockaded would be an advanatage or disadvantage. Is it either to break in or break out? My guess is that it would be better for the ROCN to be at sea when the PLAN takes its position. That would allow the ROCN more freedom of movement, whereas being trapped inside the port would make them sitting ducks to be disposed of at a time of the PLAN/PLANAF's chosing.

Could Taiwan Survive a Blockade?
Whether or not the people of Taiwan would capitulate in the face of a blockade depends on countless factors (and thus I will only highlight a couple of the numerous variables). Assuming the blockade was unprovoked by Taiwan and that China was just imposing a blockade (not attempting an invasion or launching missiles at the island), I feel the key factors would be the overall economy and the availability of both fuel and food.

The stock market in Taiwan responded to the 1996 Strait Crisis by dropping 21% that day alone (source: David Shambaugh's Modernizing China's Military, 320). If two missiles carrying a message caused that drastic of a drop, one can expect that a real war (after all, blockades are an act of war) would bring a much greater reaction. (Unlike 1996, a war between China and Taiwan would likely cause a similar financial exodus from the mainland, but unlike Taiwan, China tends not to concern itself the well-being of its people, thus the economic drop should be relied on to provide much in the way of deterrence.) It has been argued that Taiwan's people are more concerned about economic performance than the location of their capital and some people could be convinced to surrender simply by threatening the economy of the island. Such ideas remain unverifiable in peace time and hopefully we will never know the truth, but I doubt this generalization applies to a significant section of the population.

Taiwan's strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) is estimated by the American Department of Energy (DOE) to stand at about 60 days (at the current level of consumption). Although David Shambaugh cites a 1999 article in the International Herald Tribune as saying that Taiwan's SPR had dropped to 18 days (MCM, 321), I'm going to side with the DOE data as it is likely more recent and/or authoritative. With rationing, the reserve could obviously be stretched much longer than 60 days.

I am unsure about Taiwan's ability to sustain itself on domestically produced food, but I suspect that Taiwan would experience hardship but not starvation were it deprived of food imports. Taiwan's food imports top $7 million a year (2002 data). Taiwan imports a large share of its meat and wheat, but the people of Taiwan could shift their diet temporarily to foods that are more readily available domestically.

Breaking the Blockade
Taiwan could survive a lengthy blockade, but I suspect the greatest factor in determining the willingness/ability of the people to stand strong such an embargo would be the amount of hope that there would be a favorable outcome. The people of Taiwan would likely look to the ROCN and (to a greater extent) the US Navy (USN) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) to end their crisis.

ROC - The ROCN and ROCAF together could wreak havoc on a small Chinese naval force off Taiwan's coast, but to do so would risk elevating the crisis. Taiwan would likely do whatever it could to avoid firing the first shots of the conflict. One would expect the ROC military would begin mobilizing its reserves to defend the island against a possible invasion and look to the US and Japan for intelligence and support.

America - I have no doubt about the USN's ability to break a Chinese blockade if it decided to do so. It would not be easy for the USN to get around to Taiwan's west coast and escort ships in and out of Kaohsiung port if there was a standing blockade. America would be reluctant to bring its carriers too close for fear of China's anti-carrier rhetoric/capabilities. America's nuclear submarines don't perform quite as well in shallow water (like the Taiwan Strait) as in the deep ocean and thus China's diesel submarine force, the largest submarine fleet in the world, would have the home field advantage in more ways than one. It is likely that the US would seek to amass overwhelming concentration of force before it would cruise into that shallow water, and that takes time.

Japan - The JMSDF recently acquired a new mission (implicity if not explicitly), when the government of Japan signed on as a defender of Taiwan. The JMSDF is a more potent blue water navy than it is given credit for. Japanese forces likely would not be used unilaterally, only in support of an American mission. Japan role would be to help America get as much power to the strait as quickly as possible as a show of support for Republic of China.

The Belmont Club offers another idea on how to break a blockade, which could be implemented by the ROC or America: a counter-blockade.

I feel that the outcome of a Chinese blockade of Kaohsiung (and/or Keelung) would have more to do with America's willingness to intervene than the willingness of the people of Taiwan to accept the resulting hardships. As long as the people of Taiwan have hope of being rescued by the navies of the ROC, Japan, and America, they could stand the privation. If America and Japan show no willingness to intervene, one day would likely be too long to wait for a conclusion to the crisis, in the eyes of Taiwan's people.

Food For Thought
Would it be in Taiwan's best interest to expand one of its ports on the east coast (Hualien or Taidong) and/or expand its primary naval base on the east coast (Suao)? Both ports are quite small and I suspect neither are able to accept a very large crude carrier (VLCC) or ultra-large crude carrier (ULCC). Expanding one or both of those ports would seriously reduce China's ability to embargo the island. Expanding its only sizable naval base on the east coast would allow the ROCN a greater reach and give it more choices in the event of a crisis in the strait. Both propositions would undoubtedly be expensive. The stretch of land on which these facilities could be built is quite narrow because the central mountain range is so close to the coast. Reclaimed land might be the only way. Is the added strategic flexibility and defense against a blockade worth it?

Read more!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

One Post, Two Articles

Two blogposts caught my eye this morning. One is from Peking Duck and one is from SimonWorld. Both are interesting and worthy of a read.
  1. At Peking Duck, there is a post that might be called "Pot, Meet Kettle" (which seems to be a popular title by the way). The name it was given at birth, however, is more descriptive: "Japan 'doctors' its school textbooks! (Like everyone else)." Question for discussion - Who is guilty of more sins of omission in their textbooks: China or Japan?
  2. HK Dave at SimonWorld offers a post about China's (lack of a) national flower. Any article that includes the phrases like "one country, four flowers" is worth reading. Personally I expect that China will declare the Plum Flower as their national flower and then convince the other nations of the world to deny the ROC's right to have a flower and claim that both places being represented by the same flower shows that there is but one China.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Soft Landing or General Decline

Survived SARS has a great post on how to distinguish a 'soft landing' from a general decline of the Chinese economy. Combine the difficulty distinguishing between the two (and planning accordingly) with the fact that no one anywhere in the world knows how fast the Chinese economy is really growing and it is enough to make me worried.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

CNOOC Drops Unocal Bid

From the Washington Post:
China's CNOOC Ltd. said Tuesday it has withdrawn its $18.5 billion cash offer for Unocal Corp., stating it considered raising its bid, and "would have done so but for the political environment in the U.S."
CNOOC's withdrawal frees the way for Chevron Corp. to clinch its $17.4 billion bid for El Segundo, Calif.-based Unocal.
The NY Times adds:
The monthlong battle for Unocal's assets came to symbolize the growing trade and political tensions between China, the rising power in the East, and the United States, the premier power in the West, but a nation whose economic and political standings are now being challenged.
I would disagree that China is currently in a position to challenge America's standing (although it repeated so often that one might be tempted to believe it) and would point out that America is the premier power in the world, not just the West, but he is correct about the true meaning of the deal-unease about a rising China. It is amazing how easily a country that has the potential to one day rival American power in either the economic or political realm becomes a 'clear and present danger' in the mind of the press, public, and punditry.
It is now quite clear that all of the worry was for naught, but as I blogged more than one month ago there was no reason to worry even if the plan succeeded.

Update: The Economist joins the debate:
The most worrying aspect of the CNOOC episode, however, is what it says about America. The anti-China hysteria in Washington, DC, the cowardly silence of the pro-China business lobby and the blatant disregard for fair play and open markets is deeply disturbing. A second-rank oil firm such as Unocal is not worth such a sacrifice of principles. Blocking CNOOC has not meaningfully increased America's energy security. But it may have damaged American business interests, in China and elsewhere. How could America now credibly complain about, say, French attempts to prevent PepsiCo taking over Danone? Beijing will no doubt use this incident to deflect American pressure to pursue reform in other areas. American politicians, so fond of seizing the moral high ground, have ceded it to, of all people, the Chinese.[...]

But one danger is that, feeling shunned by America and nervous of a similar reaction elsewhere, the Chinese may decide to vigorously pursue less savoury options for getting oil and gas. Unlike America and Europe, China does not preach about human rights and democracy to thuggish dictators. On the contrary, China has happily struck deals with countries, such as Myanmar and Sudan, which face American sanctions or international disapproval. It is also rumoured that China has offered arms and other sensitive defence technology in return for oil and gas rights in certain countries, a trade that may seem even more attractive now that America has blocked open-market purchases.

Read more!