MeiZhongTai

Friday, July 29, 2005

Welcome to Taiwan, COL Wilner

Previously, in our back and forth on China's ability to invade Taiwan, Michael Turton (of The View From Taiwan) identified friction between allies as a possible weakpoint in the defense of Taiwan:
In short, the US-Japan-Taiwan alliance is like the WWII ABCD alliance, one that looks great on paper, but whose mutual fighting qualities are likely to disintegrate under the pressure of serious warfare from a determined opponent.
I replied here, but the conclusion can be summed up as:
Should the militaries of those countries be working with one another to address those concerns in advance of such a conflict? They should and they are.
I offer this background because in the very near future Colonel Al Wilner (US Army) will be joining the staff of the American Institute Taiwan (AIT), America's de facto embassy Taiwan. The reason COL Wilner's arrival is important is the absence of the letters RET after his rank. COL Wilner is an active duty army officer--the first active duty officer to serve in AIT since in over a quarter century.

China is not happy. The China Daily said of the replacement of civilian contractors with non-uniformed active duty servicemen:
It is a betrayal of the US pledges in the 1978 documents forging Sino-US diplomatic ties.
An AIT spokesman spoke of the change when it first came to light:
"Historically, AIT has hired retired American military officers as contractors to coordinate defence assistance to Taiwan," said AIT spokeswoman Dana Smith.

"Non-uniformed, active-duty military and Department of Defense civilian personnel will now replace these contractors. They are being detailed to the American Institute in Taiwan as part of the normal rotation of personnel."

But Smith was swift to add that "our policy towards Taiwan has not changed."

"This is simply an effort to promote administrative efficiency in personnel matters, nothing more." (source, scroll down)
The administrative argument is hardly convincing. The US military could simply ask COL Wilner to leave the active army officially and could reinstate him with appropriate compensation in rank and grade at the end of his three year term. This was done years ago for those Flying Tigers who wished to rejoin the military after their service to the ROC military. I suspect this is the same system that has been used by AIT in the past to acquire 'retired military officers as contractors.' Another possibility would be switching COL Wilner from active duty to reserve (either active or inactive) during his stay in Taiwan. I am not advocating that any of those actions occur, but simply pointing out that if the problem was administrative it could be easily addressed without the need to deploy active duty officers. Additionally, COL Wilner is not the only active duty officer who will arrive at AIT.

The real impetus for the change can be found in a Taipei Times article, which quotes Jane's Defense Weekly:
Jane's says the change results from a bill passed by the US Congress in 2002, allowing for the posting of US military personnel to Taiwan if it is deemed to be "in the national interest of the US."

In light of the rise of China's ability to threaten America's ally in freedom, the ROC, the US government has recognized that closer military ties with the Republic are "in the national interest of the US." Therefore, let me be the first to welcome COL Al Wilner to Taiwan and thank him for bringing the militaries of the United States and the Republic of China closer together.


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1992 Consensus

From the Taipei Times:
[China's Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan] reiterated Beijing's demand that talks with the Chen government had to be conducted on the basis of the 'one China' principle and the so-called '1992 consensus.'

However, in a seeming effort to downplay demands by senior Bush administration officials that government-to-government talks with Taiwan be held without preconditions, Tang denied that Beijing's insistence on the 'one China' principle and the '1992 consensus' were preconditions.

Responding to a question, Tang said "I don't think that this is a kind of precondition. This is obviously an objective fact, because there is only one China in the world and there is a 1992 consensus. This is not a precondition."
If these wordgames are the best that China's foreign ministry has to offer, they should ask the PR firm they just hired for their money back (Hat Tip: Image Thief).

Let me offer a brief quote that might help Minister Tang understand the current situation:
Being in power is like being a lady - if you have to tell people you are, you aren't!
-Margaret Thatcher
One could alternately word the concept as: If you have to tell someone (repeatedly) that you have a consensus, then you don't!

Minister Tang should consider using the past tense in future references to the 1992 consensus, as in: 'but... but... we had a consensus back in 1992.' He could even use one past tense and one present tense verb to allow him to save face on the matter: 'that there was a consensus 13 years ago is a fact.'

Update: Don't miss Wandering to Tamshui's post "And Now Fisk Steps into the Batter's Box," where he completely debunk's some of the PRC's other attempts to convince the world (and themselves) of their ownership of Taiwan. (HT: View From Taiwan) Excerpt:
Observe the PRC's tactics of insinuating something, passing it off as the truth until it encounters resistance, when it predictably falls back on military threats ("No matter, we have a stronger military and aren't afraid to use it.") and resolutely slamming fists on tables and recycling the old propaganda ("It's futile, I say! Futile!!!").


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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Great Wall Street

The new issue of The Economist is out. The cover reads "How China Runs the World Economy" and has an American-looking street sign that reads "Great Wall ST." The cover story is available to subscribers only, but I will offer a few highlights for those not fortunate enough to be a subscriber to the best news magazine in the world. This edition's special report is also on China. It is entitled "From T-shirts to T-bonds" and is available to non-subscribers. Without further ado, here are some highlights:

China's Growing Influence in the World Economy
Beijing's new influence was clear from the shockwaves in global currency, bond and commodity markets last week after it announced that the yuan will no longer be pegged to the dollar. Until a couple of years ago nobody cared much that the Chinese yuan was pegged to the dollar. Recently, though, this link has become one of the hottest issues in international politics, widely blamed in America for its huge trade deficit. [...] The popular focus on the yuan, America's trade deficit and jobs as China's main impact on the rest of the world misses the point. China's growing influence stretches much deeper than its exports of cheap goods: it is revolutionising the relative prices of labour, capital, goods and assets in a way that has never happened so quickly before. [Cover]
America's Trade Deficit
America's trade deficit is due mainly to excessive spending and inadequate saving, not to unfair Chinese competition. If China has contributed to America's deficit it is not through its undervalued exchange rate, but by holding down bond yields and so fuelling excessive household borrowing and spending. From this point of view, global monetary policy is now made in Beijing, not Washington.[Cover]
Oil Prices
China has accounted for one-third of the increase in global oil demand since 2000 and so must bear some of the blame for higher oil prices. Likewise, if China's economy stumbles, then so will oil prices. However, with China's oil consumption per person still only one-fifteenth of that in America, it is inevitable that China's energy demands will grow over the years in step with its income. [Special]
China's Effect on Trade Unions and Wages
The entry of China's vast army of cheap workers into the international system of production and trade has reduced the bargaining power of workers in developed economies. Although the absolute number of jobs outsourced from developed countries to China remains small, the threat that firms could produce offshore helps to keep a lid on wages.[Special]
Real Estate Bubble
By helping to hold down interest rates in rich economies, China may have indirectly created a global liquidity bubble. Total global liquidity last year rose at its fastest pace in three decades after adjusting for inflation. This excess liquidity has not pushed up conventional inflation (thanks to cheap Chinese clothes and computers), but instead it has inflated a series of asset-price bubbles around the world. Thus, pushing this argument to its limit, it could be said that the global housing boom is indirectly “made in China”. Not only has China played a role in holding down short-term interest rates, but the People's Bank of China has also supported America's mortgage market by buying vast amounts of mortgage-backed securities.[Special]


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Translator Shortage

The FBI has just announced the extent of it's translator shortage:
[T]he F.B.I. "has no assurance" that some 8,300 hours of untranslated material does not include information that could be critical to terrorism investigations.[NY Times, Hat Tip: ESWN]
The FBI has counted translation among it's highest priorities because of the precedent provided by 9-11:
[T]he F.B.I. has struggled to develop quicker translation capabilities. That task is considered a top priority for counterterrorism agencies across the federal government, particularly in light of messages from Al Qaeda associates that were intercepted by the National Security Agency on Sept. 10, 2001, but translated only days later.
The messages said, "Tomorrow is zero hour," and, "The match is about to begin."
If the FBI is having such a hard time with Arabic and other top-priority languages used by terrorists and terror suspects, imagine how well the CIA is doing with Chinese. In 2000, Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA) commented:
It is not unfair to say, if you are in the Ministry of State Security seeking to encrypt your conservation, speak Mandarin.
The need for translations often comes in waves. At the time of Cox's quote, a walk-in had just brought the CIA 16,000 pages of Chinese secrets.
The translators now slogging through the walk-in documents for the CIA have mostly been hired on contract, since neither the agency nor the broader intelligence community have enough Chinese translators to translate the documents and perform daily ongoing tasks, such as monitoring Chinese military communications.
The problem, however, is endemic. I have long said that the Chinese government could post plans to invade Taiwan (or California for that matter) in every major Chinese newspaper (in Chinese) two days in advance and unless the Taiwanese told us about it, we wouldn't know until long after the fact. Scary thought, isn't it?


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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Han Kuang Exercise

Today was the culmination of Taiwan's annual Han Glory (Han Kuang) Exercise. Over 2100 servicemen participated in the demonstration of Taiwan's military might. This is the largest annual exercise for the ROC armed forces and this year's (the 21st) was the largest Han Kuang Exercise yet.

Some have argued that the event should be called the Han Kuang Demonstration because much of the exercise is scripted or at least partially planned in advance. The ROC military, however, would counter that the event is not scripted but rather based on the 'most probable course of action' by Communist forces. What that means is that other smaller exercises are less scripted, such as the Joint (San-Jun) Exercise, but these larger joint exercises are designed to represent one specific technique that the PLA might use. The 'most probable course of action' is based on all-source analysis conducted by the military. Chinese doctrinal publications and public statements, as well as information conducted by Taiwanese intelligence are all taken into consideration. Previous exercises focused on an amphibious assault, but this year the exercises focused on a high altitude drop with OPFOR played by the ROC's Special Task Force (Te Chin Dui) and the 862nd Airborne Brigade. There was also work in countering hacker attacks and blockades.

President Chen Shui-bian was in attendance and complimented the ROC military on the capabilities demonstrated. He also mentioned the recent American report on PLA capabilities (discussed here) and said that Taiwan had produced its own report. Taiwan's report on the PLA included much more detailed information on the possible scenarios under consideration. Presumably, this was intended to reinforce the idea that today's exercise was planned to deal with the real threats faced by Taiwan.

I plan to update this post with all of the sources of information I found on the exercise now that it is completed. If you find coverage of Han Kuang (blog or media) not mentioned here, please add a link in the comments.
Previews:AARs
Update: 'Han Glory' seems to be the preferred translation of Han Kuang and I agree that it is more accurate than my original translation of 'Chinese Glory.' The post has been changed accordingly.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

China-Zimbabwe Relations

This is just sickening:
China 'trusts Zimbabwe's government and people have the ability to deal properly with their own matters', a foreign ministry statement said. [BBC]
For those of you who may not be familiar with Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, let me offer a highlight reel courtesy of The Economist:
Mr Mugabe and his party have ruled Zimbabwe [since 1980], but the once-respected resistance leader now uses thuggery to hang on to power. This has involved the stifling of free speech and the judiciary and the repression of the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Starting in March 2000, Mr Mugabe's supporters began seizing land from white landowners. This helped ruin Zimbabwe's economy and created worsening food shortages. The EU passed “smart sanctions” aimed at Mr Mugabe and his cronies in February 2002, but this did not stop them from claiming victory in a crooked presidential election. In March 2002 the Commonwealth responded by suspending Zimbabwe's membership.

Mr Mugabe, who boasts of ruling until he's “a century old”, again rigged the polls to steal the general election of March 2005. Not surprisingly, the country's population is declining as Zimbabweans flee to neighbouring Zambia and South Africa.
Does this sound to you like a leader who should be trusted? Of course the purpose of this aid pact is for China to demonstrate that it firmly believes in the Westphalian system and that under no circumstances should one country ever interfere in the internal affairs of another. The result in Zimbabwe however is propping up (and giving international legitimacy to, to the extent that China has any to give) an evil dictator. Once again from the BBC:
Mr Mugabe has adopted a 'Look East' policy, after being ostracised in the West over alleged human rights abuses.
Way to go, China, you have effectively demonstrated that you lack any semblance of compunction.


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For What It's Worth

China has fallen into the classic problem of fixed-but-adjustable exchange rate regimes.
If you aren't sure why this is a problem, you obviously aren't reading Survived SARS' coverage of the Chinese economy. Shame on you.
In a recent post entitled "See Any Appreciation Yet?", Logan analyzes the weakness of a fixed-but-adjustable rate (FBAR). The cliff notes version is that they are losing credibility and increasing politicization of the exchange rate, but for the whole explanation you have to head over to Survived SARS.


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Monday, July 25, 2005

Protection Money?

In an update to a previous blogpost, I replied to comments by a KMT politician by saying:
I have frequently heard it said that Taiwan doesn't need the expensive weapons in the special appropriations bill or any expensive weapons and the only reason Taiwan is considering buying them is because of pressure from America. This is very dangerous thinking.
Over at The View From Taiwan, Michael Turton seems to be falling victim to the same idea mentioned above. In a recent post of his, he says that the recent Pentagon report:
appears at least in part to promote the sale of militarily useless but politically necessary weapons to Taiwan
After a comment from me, he further elaborated on the point in a well-researched post entitled "The Arms Package for Taiwan: Protection Money?".
In this post, I intend to show that these weapons are not "militarily useless" and thus undermine the argument that purchasing these weapons serves the interests of American arms manufacturers, not that of the people of Taiwan.

What Does 18b USD Buy You?

As Turton's post points out, the arms offered to Taiwan included more than what is currently included in Taiwan's special appropriation bill. The appropriations being kept from a vote by the Pan Blues includes eight diesel submarines, six PAC-3 Patriot missile systems, and twelve P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. For the sake of brevity, I will confine my comments on this arms package to the elements currently under consideration.
Are the submarines expensive? Yes. But when no country that currently produces submarines will sell to you, what do you expect? America is bending over backward to find these submarines and will likely have to recreate the capability to produce diesel subs just for these eight submarines. Starting from scratch doesn't come cheap.

Does the ROC Need Submarines and ASW Aircraft?
In short, the answer is yes. Turton incorrectly characterizes submarines as
anti-shipping weapons that are unnecessary for the defense of Taiwan.
This is simply not the case. During both world wars, submarines were primarily used to attack surface ships (especially merchant vessels), but a lot has changed in the last fifty years. The best weapon ever found for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is the submarine. Granted airplanes, destroyers, and submarines each have vital roles to play in ASW, ideally the roles are well-coordinated between the different platforms. As one essay on ASW points out:
ASW is a multi-platform mission area performed by multi-mission platforms.
Having said that, the submarine is a vital component of that mission. The article points out, there is a
fairly natural division of labor based on the strengths and weaknesses of each ASW platform. Thus, submarines went forward into contested waters where other ASW platforms could not operate, maritime patrol aircraft used their speed to prosecute long range contacts generated by underwater surveillance systems, and surface combatants utilized their endurance to provide a local screen for battle groups and convoys. [emphasis added]
I certainly feel that in a war between China and Taiwan the strait would be 'contested waters.' Considering Taiwan's submarine force (to use the term loosely) is antiquated, these submarines are needed if Taiwan is to have any hope of combating China's growing fleet of submarines or to hope to control the strait in general. In addition to ASW, submarines are valuable in sinking enemy surface ships including troop transports or landing craft (in case China were to try an invasion). Basically submarines would be vital to defending Taiwan against a blockade or an invasion by the mainland--the two biggest military threats Taiwan faces.

Does the ROC Need More Patriot Anti-Missile Systems?
Once again the answer is affirmative. According to last week's Pentagon report on China's military:
China's SRBM force totals some 650-730 missiles, increasing at a rate of 75 to 120 missiles per year. (29)
Turton acknowledges the threat but characterizes the PAC-3 systems as insufficient in quantity. I agree that Taiwan needs more and that is exactly the purpose of this arms sale, to increase the number of Patriot systems available to defend the island. If Taiwan were to buy 16 Patriot systems instead of 6, I would also support that sale. Taiwan's current anti-missile systems would be easily overwhelmed by the number of missiles that China has to throw at the island. Taiwan needs more. I can't understand how saying that six isn't enough is an argument against buying those six. If the argument is to drop one (or more) submarine from the package and add one more PAC-3 system, then okay, but I feel that Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense is the best qualified to decide those needs (with the advice and consent of the United States*).

Counter-Arguments
If Taiwan needs submarines, ASW aircraft, and Patriot missiles, then why do half of the people of Taiwan not favor their purchase by means of a special appropriation? This question has always intrigued me. I would argue that the reason is three-fold:
  1. Economics - Taiwan is running a deficit and many do not favor increased military spending on that ground.
  2. A misperception of the threat Taiwan faces. Many Taiwanese are blinded by their political ideology to the point where they don't appreciate that a country of a billion people is constantly threatening to kill them.
  3. A media that is heavily bifurcated to provide readers/viewers with exactly what the political parties want them to hear. Those watching KMT TV will certainly never hear anything good about an arms deal the KMT doesn't support, for example. (Yes, I know that the parties were forced to divest themselves of all media ownership a couple years back, but I would argue nothing changed.)
This is certainly an issue worthy of further study and if I knew how to convince the people of Taiwan that they should support this arms purchase I would do so.

Conclusion
I am currently reading Kenneth Pollack's Persian Puzzle. One would not expect much from such a text to be applicable to modern Taiwanese-American relations, but one paragraph struck me as relevant:
This raises another factor in this ferocious anti-Americanism, namely the displacement of anger at the shah onto the United States as his ally or colonial 'master.' Many Iranians were deeply unhappy that the shah was squandering money on military equipment and foreign policy adventures that they assumed were being dictated by Washington. They accepted without question the notion that the shah could not be making such decisions for himself and that the United States wanted him to buy vast quantities of its weapons [p.125]
I will be the first one to point out that Chen Shui-bian is not the shah and an Islamist revolution is low on the list of threats to Taiwanese stability, but the comparison does have one salient point: misperceptions about the motivating factors in arms purchases from the United States can contribute to the rise of anti-Americanism in the purchasing country.
I think it is very important that the people of Taiwan know that those in America who want them to purchase these weapons have no power over Chen Shui-bian or the Pan Greens to force them to do anything against their will and encourage Taiwan to purchase these weapons based on the threat presented them, not the interests of American arms manufacturers.
As Turton pointed out, an influential branch of the defense-industrial complex is against the sale of submarines to Taiwan because it doesn't want America to return to producing diesel submarines. This just goes to reinforce the idea that it is this sale is about deaths not dollars. A more potent ROC military is the best deterrence to the use of force by the PRC, it is that simple.

*Note that I use 'consent' to mean that America, as Taiwan's primary arms supplier, must be willing to sell whatever platform Taiwan seeks in order for them to buy it. I do not seek to imply, as some seem to think, that America can order Taiwan to purchase whatever weapon system America decides Taiwan needs.

Update: At the time of original posting, I couldn't find supporting evidence for my claim that
The best weapon ever found for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is the submarine.
A faithful reader, however, sent me supporting evidence from the New London (CT) Day, which quotes Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) as saying:
The best anti-submarine weapon is another submarine.
I can't find the original article online to cite, but it was published 28 July, entitled "Hunter Says China Bolsters Case To Keep Sub Base Open," and written by Anthony Cronin.
Additionally, quoting from an article by Lyle Goldstein and William Murray in International Security (Spring 2004) named "Undersea Dragons: China's Maturing Submarine Force" (8USD download):
Many regard submarines as the best ASW platform.


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Sunday, July 24, 2005

New Mystery Illness

Many economists and politicians around the world are fretting over growing exports of China and its resulting rise in economic (and military) power. It is beginning to seem, however, that China is mass-producing more than commercial goods.
From the country that brought you SARS and avian influenza, comes a new disease.
Whatever it is, it sure appears to be deadly.
From the BBC:
Health officials in western China are urgently investigating an unidentified illness which has killed nine farmers and put 11 more in hospital... Chinese media said the farmers suffered flu-like symptoms during the early stages of the disease but later developed bleeding under the skin and went into shock. Only one patient has so far recovered, while six of the 10 still in hospital are in a critical condition. None are thought to have had contact with each other.

Am I the only one noticing a pattern?
No official announcement has yet been made.
Well there certainly is a pattern there!
All of us in the region (and considering modern air travel, 'the region' means pretty much everyone) hope this turns out to be nothing, but hoping is not enough of a defense. I hope the Centers for Disease Control the world over are all over this.

Update: The death toll is rising. Over at Peking Duck, Conrad is wondering how high the real death toll is. To paraphrase him: If 17 are acknowledged; how many are unacknowledged? Based on previous experience, that is certainly a legitimate concern.


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"The Taiwan That You May Not Know About"

EastSouthWestNorth brings us the translation of an article titled "The Taiwan That You May Not Know About" by Lung Ying-tai. It is the single best article I have ever read about the weltanschauung of Taiwan's people. Excerpt:
There are some people who loved Chinese tradition and culture. They learn calligraphy, they read poetry, they study the philosophers but they refuse to identify with the governments of China.

There are some people who do not like the Chinese government, so they want to eliminate Chinese culture altogether. They refuse to speak putonghua and they refuse to travel to China.

There are some people who have a strong sense of national identity and they want China to be strong. They don't care how China can get strong, nor about the price to be paid. In their vision of Great China, Taiwan is a mere historical footnote.

There are others who do not regard either the people or the nation as a meaningful concept. All the talk about nation or people are mere myths used by the rulers to fool the people. The only thing that they care about is that the government -- no matter if it is a colonial administration, or a trusteeship, or an occupation and no matter if the rulers are black, white or Japanese -- will be accepted as long as they receive the maximum personal freedom and civil rights; and vice versa.

After the explanation of the political thoughts, the article discusses the freedom enjoyed by all of Taiwan's people, which concludes:
On both sides of the Taiwan strait, how can this be an opposition between independence and unification? How can this be a clash between socialism and capitalism? How can this be a conflict between nationalism and separatism? As far as most of the people of Taiwan are concerned, this is really a lifestyle choice; it is very concrete and not abstract at all.

Thus, the lifestyle choice is the critical core question for the problem. If you talk to him about "Blood is thicker than water," "The overriding principle of nationhood," "The nation-building project" and other grand narratives, aren't you straying away off topic?

One of the most fascinating things about the article is that it was published in a newspaper on the mainland (with the last part removed). The whole article is certainly worth reading.


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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Yuan Revalued

From the Economist:
China has revalued its currency, the yuan, and linked it to a basket of currencies-though it is not yet clear how far it will be allowed to rise.
The eleven-year peg is dead, but don't celebrate just yet. For more on the subject, see:
  • The reevaluation's effect on the dollar here.
  • The reevaluation's effect on other currencies here.
  • A running commentary on the subject at Survived SARS (just scroll).


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Debt Held By Foreigners

The Skeptical Optimist asks "What's so scary about 'Debt held by foreigners'?"
Anyone who is kept awake nights by the fact that China owns a large amount of America's debt (readers of Paul Krugman for example) would be well-served to read it. Excerpt:
I'm sorry, I don't buy the scary, emotional rhetoric. Why? Because I am one of an apparent minority who is not just happy-but delighted-that foreign investors with dollars to spare think the USA is the one of the safest, most stable places in the world to invest their money.
On the other hand, Econbrowser offers a rebuttal here. Excerpt:
[W]e're basically further impoverishing the Americans of the future with each years' asset sell-offs or debt accumulation. If you don't find that scary, at least it seems to me a little sad.


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Fire Projection

The Jamestown Foundation's latest China Brief contains an article entitled "The Dragon Breathes Fire: Chinese Power Projection". This addresses some of the issues discussed by Michael Turton and I in our back and forth on China's ability to invade Taiwan.
Some highlights from the article...
On the topic of air superiority:
The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) cannot guarantee air supremacy over the Taiwanese coast, and the PLAN cannot provide even temporary air superiority. So what of a pre-emptive ballistic and cruise missile attack? A pre-emptive strike could conceivably damage many of Taiwan's fixed assets, but would be incapable of destroying enough land assets to stop an amphibious or airborne assault.
On defending against an invasion:
Moreover, the Taiwanese military is aware of the beaches that are suitable for landing craft and have measures and plans in place, including fortified coastal defenses comprising 155mm and 203mm artillery, mobile anti-shipping missiles, and armored forces. Nothing defeats an amphibious landing quicker than an armored counter-attack.
On the PLAN as a blue-water navy:
The PLAN is not just undergoing modernization of its surface and submarine fleet, it is also increasing its numbers of blue water vessels. Furthermore, China is building new conventional and nuclear attack submarines. Although not very effective for supporting an amphibious operation, they give an edge even the largest navies in the region would be hard pressed to match.
Conclusion:
Chinese military forces for the next ten years will become formidable by regional standards and capable of a sea control role in the South China Sea. They could be used against Taiwan to isolate the island, as would China's expanding conventional and nuclear attack submarine fleet, but are still vulnerable to coastal defenses, and as there are no aircraft carriers, air strikes as well.
The report concludes with some discussion of the possibility that China may seek to acquire an aircraft carrier in the near to medium-term future. I don't see this happening on the grounds that one aircraft carrier would be putting too many eggs in one basket for a military the size of the PLA.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Military Power of the PRC 2005

The Rumsfeld Pentagon has released the much-anticipated 2005 edition (pdf) of the annual congressionally mandated report on Chinese military capabilities. Among the interesting points in the report...
China continued to deploy its most advanced systems to the military regions directly opposite Taiwan. (3)
This shows a shift from a few years ago when many experts felt the PLA forces were spread evenly around the country and not obviously concentrated in the southeast.
The PLA conducted joint maritime search and rescue drills for the first time with British, Indian, and French naval forces in 2004. China and Russia announced plans to hold a combined exercise in China sometime in 2005. (3)
Are these a prelude to real drills or just search and rescue drills and nothing more?
The PLA appears interested in converting retired fighter aircraft into unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). (4)
Is such a thing feasible and/or desirable? Most UCAVs are significantly smaller than any manned aircraft and are designed from the ground up for that purpose.
China's naval forces include 64 major surface combatants, some 55 attack submarines, more than 40 medium and heavy amphibious lift vessels, and approximately 50 coastal missile patrol craft. Two-thirds of these assets are located in the East and South Sea fleets. (4)
I wish the report would have offered more information on the capabilities of the amphibious lift and other platforms and their capacity to carry infantry or marines across the strait.
China's submarine force continues to rapidly grow and modernize:
Last year, China launched a new diesel submarine, the YUAN-class, improving the capabilities of its submarine force. China's next generation nuclear attack submarine, the Type 093, is expected to enter service in 2005. (5)
United States policy welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China. However, there are forces - some beyond the control of China's military and national security planners - that could divert China from a peaceful pathway. These include:
  • nationalistic fervor bred by expanding economic power and political influence;
  • structural economic weaknesses and inefficiencies that could undermine economic growth;
  • an inability to accommodate the forces of an open, transparent market economy;
  • a government that is still adapting to great power roles; and
  • an expanding military-industrial complex that proliferates advanced arms. (8)

Secretary Rumsfeld's fingerprints are clearly on this document, with portions echoing his previous statements:
China does not now face a direct threat from another nation. Yet, it continues to invest heavily in its military, particularly in programs designed to improve power projection. The pace and scope of China's military build-up are, already, such as to put regional military balances at risk. Current trends in China's military modernization could provide China with a force capable of prosecuting a range of military operations in Asia - well beyond Taiwan - potentially posing a credible threat to modern militaries operating in the region. (13)
The report says that 'Local Wars Under the Conditions of Informationalization' has replaced 'Local Wars Under High-Tech Conditions' although
the implications of this new concept are not yet known. (16)
On an editorial note, is informationalization even a word?
The report speaks of
multiservice exercises with 'joint' characteristics and/or 'joint' command and control (17)
Note to all China pundits: Exercises with joint characteristics are not to be confused with joint exercises.
Russia has supplied over 85% of all of China's arms imports since the early 1990s and has been a significant enabler of China's military modernization. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Russian conventional weapon technology transfers, including better aircraft, quieter submarines, and more advanced munitions, have advanced the lethality of every major category of weapon system under development in China. (23)
Does anyone see this as a possible weakness? Russia has been willing to feed China's military growth to keep its military industrial complex in business after the fall of the USSR and especially after the late 1990s; but what would it take to separate China and Russia?
The report also talks to Israeli arms sales to China, which I have addressed in more detail here.
China has not yet demonstrated the ability or innovation to go through a research, development, and acquisition process for a sophisticated weapon system without foreign assistance. (24)
This leaves the question of where China's AWACS platforms came from unanswered. Where did the foreign assistance on that one come from?
The report spends over a page addressing the implications of lifting the European Union's (EU) arms embargo that was placed on China after the Tiananmen Square 'crackdown' (wouldn't massacre be a more appropriate word?). The obvious implication of increased capabilities due to sales from Europe is addressed, as is a worrying secondary effect:
Lifting the EU embargo would also lead to greater foreign competition to sell arms to the PLA, giving Beijing leverage over Russia, Israel, and other foreign suppliers to relax limits on military sales to China. Potential competition from EU countries already may have prompted Russia to expand the range of systems it is willing to market to China. (25)
The new report mentions Assassin's Mace (ShaShouJian) programs twice (26, 33) but doesn't seem to show much more understanding of the concept than before. See my discussion of the subject here.
The new DIA estimates for the number of Chinese short-range ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan are offered:
China's SRBM force totals some 650-730 missiles, increasing at a rate of 75 to 120 missiles per year. (29)
This compares to last years numbers of 500 (2004 Report, 49). The previous assumption was that the number of missiles was growing at 50-75 per year.
The report offers some new information that may call into question my previous comments about the time needed to cross the strait:
PLA ground forces in the Nanjing and Guangzhou Military Regions have received upgraded amphibious armor and other vehicles, such as tanks and APCs, and may add armored assault vehicles and air-cushioned troop vehicles to improve lethality and speed for seaborne assaults. (emphasis added, 30)
On the other hand, discussion of China's lift deficiencies (31) may validate some of my other comments in the same earlier post. Of course since the DOD seems so unsure, maybe I shouldn't be so confident. Instead of a conclusion on China's capabilities to win a war with Taiwan, the report offers:
The PLA's prospects in an invasion of Taiwan would hinge on: availability of amphibious and airlift, attrition rates, interoperability of PLA forces, the ability of China's logistic system to support the necessarily high tempo of operations, Taiwan's will to resist, and the speed and scale of third-party intervention. (42)
The report addresses China's sea denial capabilities and intentions and points out that the intent is to deny the adversary access only and is not a 'sea control' strategy, which requires a much greater naval capability (33). For more information on this, see my post on sinking an American carrier here.
The report dedicates a full page to
[D]ependence on overseas resources and energy supplies, especially oil and natural gas, [which] is playing a role in shaping China's strategy and policy. (10)
Later in the report, it addresses choke points that could be exploited by an opponent to cut off China's oil imports, specifically the 'Malacca Dilemma,' after noting that China does not currently have a strategic petroleum reserve (10, 33).
Recent events such as China's entry into the space race and China's Anti-Secession Law receive quite a bit of print (35-36, 38-39).
The report sums up China's attempts to persuade and coerce Taiwan into acceding to annexation by China (for an explanation of why I use annexation, not reunification see this post by Michael Turton):
China's current approach to preventing Taiwan independence combines diplomatic, economic, legal, psychological, and military instruments to convince Taipei that the price of declaring independence is too high. (39)
The term 'Joint Island Landing Campaign' will undoubtedly replace 'Assassin's Mace' as the newest shibboleth among China-watchers popularized by the annual DOD report:
Publicly available Chinese writings on amphibious campaigns offer different strategies for an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. The most prominent of these is the Joint Island Landing Campaign. The objective of this campaign is to break through or circumvent the shore defense, establish and build a beachhead, and then launch an attack to split, seize and occupy the entire island or important targets on the island. To achieve the final objective of the Joint Island Landing Campaign, a series of sub-campaigns, such as electronic warfare, naval, and air campaigns, must be executed, including the underlying logistics support. (41-42)
Unmentioned in the list of 'Factors of Deterrence' offered by the report is a 'Silicon Shield.' (42)
The report concludes with a balance of forces between China and Taiwan (43-45). The report wisely differentiates between Chinese national forces and Chinese forces in the Taiwan Strait theater. It does not, however, make any generational categorization, instead offering purely quantitative analysis. Any kind of breakdown showing how many of each category (ships, aircraft, etc.) were modern and how many were antiquated would have been more informative than the simple number of frames.
Two final thoughts:
  • The word Taiwan is used 168 times in the 2005 report compared to 133 in the 2004 report.
  • What would you have liked to have seen in this report that was omitted?

Update: The Taipei Times brings us the responses of Taiwan's political parties:
The DPP used the report to attack the pan-blue camp parties for blocking the special arms-purchase budget, with the KMT responding that the fault lies with the government, while the PFP actually defended China's missile build-up

Particularly worrying in my opinion are comments like this:
Chen Chieh [of the KMT] said it is not surprising for the US to interpret the cross-strait military imbalance this way because it is pushing to sell its weapons to Taiwan.
I have frequently heard it said that Taiwan doesn't need the expensive weapons in the special appropriations bill or any expensive weapons and the only reason Taiwan is considering buying them is because of pressure from America. This is very dangerous thinking.

Update 2:Brian over at The Dignified Rant has sharper eyes than I:
Oh, and in an amusing little error that I expect the Chinese government to go batty over when they notice it, the map on page 27, apparently a 1996 model, indicates Macau as Portugese territory and Hong Kong as British territory. Heh. Peking doesn't know the half of our interests in their "internal" politics, apparently, if they are only thinking of Taiwan!


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Monday, July 18, 2005

What Goes Up...

Ever since I read the news that Chinese oil consumption fell in the last quarter, I've been planning to write a post pondering if this is a sign of a drop in the Chinese economy. From the NY Times article, which calls the drop in consumption "sudden and mysterious" comes this:
After growing 11 percent in 2003 and 15.4 percent last year, China's overall oil use declined 1 percent in the second quarter from the comparable quarter a year earlier, the agency said. The drop is the latest in a series of unclear and often conflicting indications about whether the Chinese economy is still growing strongly.
But alas, I didn't have to write the post on the possibility that China's economy is in decline because Survived SARS had already written it. China Business Strategy also covered the state-owned enterprise (SOE) angle. All I really have to add is that anyone who thinks that such analysts are overly optimisitic (or pessimistic depending on your point of view) about the weakness of the Chinese economy, read "Asia Minor: Is China's Economic Boom a Myth?" by Joshua Kurlantzick in the New Republic (16Dec02), which is online for subscribers only.
A few highlights to convince you to go read it:
[D]espite all the lattes sold at Starbucks Beijing, China is only making positive economic strides, not revolutionary leaps. The Chinese government claims the economy has grown by 7 percent to 10 percent per year for the last two decades. But, apart from the export sector-China's economic brightspot, but only about 20 percent of GDP-the government's numbers do not add up.
[...]
Looking at energy data, independently compiled GDP figures and other statistics, [economist Thomas] Rawski concludes that, between 1998 and 2001, China grew by approximately 4 percent rather than the 7 to 10 percent claimed by the government.
[...]
How could Rawski's numbers differ so much from Beijing's? The primary explanation is that China's national economic statistics, which are compiled from provincial data, have no safeguards against political meddling. When the central government declares its growth targets early in a year-in 1998, for example, Beijing announced that 8 percent annual growth was 'a political responsibility'-provincial officials simply make up numbers to substantiate them. 'China's statistics are based on a Soviet-type system where each town and province reports figures, rather than having a national organization do the reports, and many local officials I have met with feel intense pressure to meet targets,' says Joe Studwell, editor of the China Economic Quarterly.
[...]
Other prominent economists share Rawski's doubts about China's reported growth rates. Leading Chinese economist and writer He Qinglian told me that, in 2000 and 2001, she traveled around southern China, stopping into provincial officials' offices. When she asked them for their provincial GDP statistics and their methodologies, many were unable to provide either; when they did provide them, the numbers almost never added up.

Read the rest. Basically what this all boils down to is that no one, Chinese or foreign, knows the true size of the Chinese economy. While many have offered educated guesses, no one knows how fast the Chinese economy is growing. I find that quite troubling and worry that the intelligence analysts and punditry at large may be as wrong about China as they once were about the Soviet Union.


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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Missing a Good Opportunity

If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons. -General Zhu Chenghu (source)

A spokesman for the American State Department characterized the recent comments by General Zhu, who is a professor at China's National Defense University, as "irresponsible" and "unfortunate."
As many of the articles on General Zhu's comments pointed out, this is not the first time a PLA general has threatened America with nuclear attack if America defends Taiwan:
Xiong Guangkai, now the PLA's deputy chief of general staff, once threatened to use nuclear weapons against the city of Los Angeles.
'Americans care more about Los Angeles than they do about Taiwan,' Xiong told former US assistant defense secretary Chas Freeman in 1996 as a reminder that China's intercontinental missile force could target the US for siding with Taiwan in a cross-strait conflict.(source)

A better characterization than that of the State Department spokesman comes in the form of a quote from French President Chirac in reference to an unrelated situation in European politics:
It is not really responsible behavior. It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet.(source)

China obviously has the right to defend itself from attack but this would clearly represent a departure from China's no first use (NFU) policy if this were official policy and not just a lone general (or pair of generals) shooting off at the mouth.
While countless others have blogged this subject, the best title for a blogpost award clearly goes to Imagethief with "How Not to Alarm People, Lesson One: Don't Mention the Nukes."

Update:Interesting analysis of the subject at Zenpundit, who offers China's Khrushchev Moment, Writ Small, and Tigerhawk, who speaks to "The rationality of irrational Chinese sabre-rattling."


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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Taiwan's Silicon Shield

Two months back Business Week had an article entitled "Why Taiwan Matters" (Hat Tip: The View From Taiwan).
A shooting war between Taiwan and China would be catastrophic in human terms. And for the Western companies that have built their fortunes around Taiwan, the damage would be a direct hit to the global economy and the Digital Age. "It would be the equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off," says a top executive at a U.S. high-tech giant. Couldn't U.S. industry develop sources of IT supply that don't involve the Taiwanese? "That's like asking, 'What's the second source for Mideast oil?' says this exec. "You might find it, but it's going to cost you." Insiders estimate that it would take a year and a half to even begin to replace the vast web of design shops and mainland factories the Taiwanese have built. "The IT model is not one built on second-sourcing," says Ken Wirt, a top executive for the handheld business of palmOne Inc.
A few years back, Craig Addison wrote an article and book claiming that a 'Silicon Shield' protects the beautiful island from attack. From the article:
Silicon-based products, such as computers and networking systems, form the basis of the digital economies in the United States, Japan and other developed nations. In the past decade, Taiwan has become the third-largest information technology hardware producer after the United States and Japan. Military aggression by China against Taiwan would cut off a large portion of the world's supply of these products. Suddenly the global information technology economy - dependent on silicon and software - would be threatened with disruption.
Such a development would wipe trillions of dollars off the market value of technology companies listed in the United States, Japan and Europe. Chinese attempts to damage the factories or supply lines of Taiwan companies like Acer, Quanta Computer and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing would be an indirect but potentially lethal hit against giant U.S. firms, including IBM, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems, that rely on Taiwan for manufacturing services and components.
Addison also made the comparison to the Middle East and oil:
Any U.S. moves to protect its supply of information technology products from Chinese aggression would have some parallels to the Gulf War. While the U.S.-led United Nations forces were ostensibly stepping in to protect a democratic Kuwait from attack by Saddam Hussein's military dictatorship, the motives had more to do with protecting the supply of Kuwaiti oil to the rest of the world. In the case of Taiwan, it would be to protect the supply chains to U.S. and Japanese technology companies.
In 2002, Huang Tien-lin warned in the Taipei Times that the 'Silicon Shield' was in danger:
Deplorably, Taiwan's secret weapon, the silicon shield, is now being handed over to China by Taiwanese businesses. Chinese leaders have sensed the power of Taiwan's production capacity, the importance of which has surpassed Middle Eastern oil in recent years. Silicon products have become fundamental materials indispensable for advanced countries. How to disarm Taiwan's industry has become part of Beijing's grand strategy, as well as the main reason behind China's all-out efforts to lure Taiwan's high-tech industry during the past few years.

In light of recent discussions in the blogosphere as to whether or not the US would defend Taiwan from an attack (see this LGM post for a good example), I ask: What role do Taiwan's high-tech industries play in defending the island from attack or in securing American (and/or Japanese) support in a conflict with China?


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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

First Ever MeiZhongTai Roundup

I'm not trying to steal any thunder from Simon and his famous roundup of daily linklets, but I found a few interesting stories worthy of mention. Included in this roundup is a beauty queen, a port full of sailors with too much leisure time on their hands, and some KMT politicians (no not all in the same story).
  • The Three Links are a major point of contention in ROC politics. They will likely re-emerge in the news in the near future as a result of reduced traffic in Kaohsiung Port.
    Two major shipping associations warned recently that should the government delay the opening of the direct transportation with China, the number of cargo containers handled at Kaohsiung Port would continue to decrease, which would also cause the port's global ranking to drop below top 10 ranking.
    A story in Commercial Times quoted the statement from Mao En-ming, chairman of Taipei Shipping Agencies Association, saying that this is so because most shipping companies have moved their operations to China. Sales of most shipping agents in Taiwan have greatly reduced , as new cruise lines developed by big shipping firms have stopped pulling their vessels into the Kaohsiung Port. (The China Post)

  • Asiapundit has a post on Miss Tibet being kicked out of the Miss Tourism Pageant at China's urging. Quoted in that post are some questions Imagethief has for the Chinese leadership:
    [A] beauty pageant? Do you have a hobby? Friends? A dog to walk? A charity to start? Visas to issue? Is there really nothing better that the Chinese consulate in Malaysia could be doing than obsessing about beauty pageants?
    That is exactly how I felt when I first learned that Taiwan's national baseball team was named Chinese Taipei.

  • Jujuflop explains Taiwanese politics as noone else can. He has a must-read post on the race for Chairman of the KMT.

  • The China Stock Blog reports that "China Companies Lack Confidence in Economic Prospects". (Hat Tip: Simon's World)


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US-China-Taiwan Relations Recommended Readings

I have been asking around for lists of a few books that other people interested in the field of US-China-Taiwan relations (or MeiZhongTai for all of you Chinese speakers) would recommend as the best books for the novice who wants to better understand the field.

The first reply came from The View from Taiwan, who offers his recommendations in the form of a blogpost entitled 'Ten Books on Taiwan'. In the comments section of his post, some of his readers offered their thoughts for additional books, so be sure to scroll all the way down.

Hopefully some others will soon offer their lists, but I'll go ahead and offer mine:


Richard of Peking Duck offers his picks:



Dr. Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns, and Money offers a few additions to the list:

Any other bloggers who wish to add a list to the collection can post them at their blog and e-mail a link or just e-mail me their lists at meizhongtai[at]gmail[dot]com.

Any readers who want to add to the list, feel free to do so in the comments section.

Updated to include a list from Peking Duck and another from Lawyers, Guns, and Money.


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Sunday, July 10, 2005

War in the Taiwan Straits: A Rebuttal (Part II)

After examining his update and the possibility of an invasion of Taiwan proper, let me go back and look at the body of his post.

Mr. Turton's Thesis:
Much of this commentary has the laudable goal of countering what is essentially a bit of propaganda. Yet, in doing so, these pieces tend to go overboard with naive assumptions about the rationality of government actors in NE Asia, naive assumptions about what China is, and naive assumptions about the ability of the US to project power in the region. Essentially, this writing overestimates the power of the US, Japan, and especially Taiwan, and deeply underestimates the ability of the PRC to conduct a limited and successful war in the Taiwan Strait while suppressing public opinion at home, should any contrary opinion arise.
He further elaborates on each point and I will hold off and address each specific point as he does...
In the event of a cross-strait conflict, would Taiwan's military fight? Maybe, and maybe not. The military rank and file are Taiwanese, but the officer class remains mainlander and therefore, in its heart, pro-China. I'd imagine there would be some outright defections if the Chinese actually moved, and there would be quite a lot of sabotage one way or another.
One of the commenters on Turton's site labeled this ethnic determinism, calling it
cheap stereotypes of "He's ethnically Taiwanese, so he's a proud defender of the motherland" or "He's ethnically mainland, so he's a Red Book-waving surrender-monkey."(source)
I also don't agree with ethnic determinism and feel it is quite unfair to say that just because of one's ethnicity (or more specifically, because of the nationality of one's parents) they are more or less likely to defend their country or surrender to aggression by the People's Republic. Based on the Iraq-related comments Mr. Turton has made lately, I am reminded of those opposed to the Iraq War saying that Americans would not be welcomed as liberators from their oppressive leader by the Iraqi people because no one likes to have their home country conquered by outsiders. The same applies in this situation. No one wants to be conquered, whatever their skin color or ethnic heritage.
The local military is riddled with PRC spies, and there has been a steady flow of retired military officers moving to China and selling local military secrets. When Chen Shui-bian became President, senior military leaders bluntly said that they would not defend the island if it declared independence.
I don't claim to know if there are any Chinese spies in the military but I am curious to hear more about this assertion and the basis of the claim. I have seen some reports of the odd soldier or civilian on either side of the strait being arrested and accused of spying for the other. Does the PRC have more or less spies in the ROC military than the ROC has in the PLA? Does anyone really know?

As to the senior military officers, the officers that sat atop the hierarchy in 2000 when President Chen was inaugurated are not the same ones that command it today. As is ROC tradition, the President has a significant role in the selection of general officers. I seriously doubt he will pick officers for senior positions unless he is confident in the general's willingness to fight.
A second problem is that the Taiwanese themselves do not want to fight China. A recent poll said about two-thirds of the young people would not fight if China came over.
I didn't see this poll, so I can't evaluate their method of sample selection, survey size, or wording of the question. Since half of Taiwan's young people are females and wouldn't be expected to serve anyways, it doesn't surprise me all that much though. Show me a (properly conducted) survey of graduates of the country's military academies or of able-bodied men doing their mandatory military service saying they won't fight and I will find it much more alarming.
A third problem is that the local armed forces are of questionable competence. Taiwan has been a pariah state for three decades now and the military has had almost no practice with foreign powers. Its tactical and technological ideas are often years out of date. The Taiwan military has four major branches, army, navy, air force, and logistics, and the last is extremely corrupt. My students, many of whom have served as conscripts in the military, often wryly joke that their job if attacked is to stand there and die.
I agree that Taiwan has been treated by the militaries of the world as an unwanted stepchild for many years. The military as a whole has participated in no significant military exercises with foreign powers in many years. If China was regularly participating in multi-national exercises with first-rate powers, this would be worrying by comparison. But China has not. (One exercise involving a two foreign warships doesn't count for much, especially when that foreign country is France.)

Turton writes:
I think there are many people who consciously or subconsciously imagine that Taiwan is some kind of East Asian version of Israel. Don't.
Agreed. Taiwan is not Israel. Taiwan's neighbors cannot march to invade it. This is important because power projection in East Asia, unlike the Middle East, cannot be attained by simply purchasing comfortable shoes. Israel was forced to react to a planned invasion with only a week or so notice in the 1967 War. It is completely inconceivable that Taiwan would ever face an invasion force (even one of the size Turton offers) with that little advanced notice.

Along the same line, a commenter on Turton's site added:
You forgot the quote from the US officers who visited here: "We came expecting Israel, we found Panama." And the Taiwanese couldn't complain because Panama is a diplomatic ally!
That oft-repeated quote is illustrative of one thing and one thing alone, the ignorance of that one officer. Taiwan is not Israel and it was naive of him to think it would be. Neither is Taiwan Panama. Taiwan is Taiwan and it must be appreciated in its individual circumstances.

His questions as to the interoperability of the alliance is best summed up in this sentence:
In short, the US-Japan-Taiwan alliance is like the WWII ABCD alliance, one that looks great on paper, but whose mutual fighting qualities are likely to disintegrate under the pressure of serious warfare from a determined opponent.
The ABCD alliance was made up of formidable powers who fought well individually but didn't coordinate their efforts as well as they could have. I don't know where this disintegration talk comes from considering the ABCD alliance emerged victorious from World War II. I do think it is fair to say that the allies that form together to defend the island of Taiwan will have interoperability problems just as the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq has had such problems and just as every previous alliance in the history of the world has had them. Will that prevent them from winning a war? No more than it did the ABCD powers in World War II. Should the militaries of those countries be working with one another to address those concerns in advance of such a conflict? They should and they are.

Next, Turton criticizes what he calls the
'don't worry be rational' theory of non-conflict
I agree with him that we cannot rely on the standard Structural Realist assumptions (that decisions are made by a unitary rational actor seeking to maximize national gains, especially in the realm of security) in the case of China. To quote from an earlier MeiZhongTai post:
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.
Turton then offers:
Were China to move against Taiwan, a short war might be only a blip on the development radar. Europe does not support Taiwan or Taiwan independence, and has always been ready to sell the island out in exchange for favors from Beijing. Why would trade with Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South America cease if a war begins?
Firstly, who says the war will be short? Seems to me we are making a lot of assumptions in favor of China. War planners who think that every advantage will fall their way tend not to perform well in real conflict. A China expecting mass desertion and a short war will be quite surprised by what they find on this beautiful island.

Secondly, China's trade with Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South America would be dependent on their opponents not imposing a blockade of some kind, as would the 5.56 million barrels per day that China imports. More importantly though, China's top two trading partners are Japan and the US, and Taiwan is number seven (with the EU being considered as one trading bloc). Even if China was not subjected to a blockade, I suspect that significant losses of trade due to conflict and the loss of one's biggest trading partners would result in much more than a 'blip on the development radar.' Trade with all of the locations mentioned by Turton is a blip on the GDP screen compared to the combined economic forces of the US, Japan, and Taiwan. Additionally, Japan, the US, and Taiwan all rank in the top five as sources of FDI. (For a great country-by-country analysis of trade with, and investment in, China, see 'China's Foreign Trade and Investment' in China and World Economy (vol. 13 no.3), which is the source of the above data but sadly isn't available online.)
Does anyone really imagine that if there is a serious war the population of China will conduct mass protests against it?
No.
Should FDI slow, or the economy fail to grow, CCP leadership may well conclude that a war would become feasible as (1) the economy is tanking anyway and (2) the public needs a diversion from worsening economic conditions.
Agreed. I would argue that a challenge to the CCP leadership, most likely brought about by the end of China's rapid economic growth, is the event singularly most likely to spark a China-Taiwan conflict.
Can the US sustain any kind of war with China? We cannot even afford to pay for a conflict against insurgents in Iraq.
YES! Despite Turton's eagerness to declare the Iraq War a victory for the resistance, Coalition forces are performing quite well in Iraq and to date none of America's checks have bounced. I will refrain from further discussion of the Iraq conflict, however, because that is amply addressed by hundreds of other blogs and news sources. As to America's ability to sustain a conflict with China, allow me to offer a quote from Joseph Nye who sums the issue up well:
If anyone doubted the overwhelming nature of U.S. military power, Iraq settled the issue. With the United States representing nearly half of the world's military expenditures, no countervailing coalition can create a traditional military balance of power. [Source]

If that didn't convince you, read chapter three of America's Inadvertent Empire or Gregg Easterbrook's article 'American Power Moves Beyond the Mere Super.'

Turton then offers:
Indeed, since only Japan and America will be prosecuting a war against China over Taiwan, it seems quite likely the opposite would happen: that those two nations will find themselves isolated from world opinion, and fighting alone. Europe will almost certain support China in a serious conflict, the Bush Administration having driven a truck through our alliance systems.
While I admit that relying on France or Germany to aid us would be unwise, I am curious to hear an explanation why anyone can be so sure that Great Britain and/or Australia would not offer some assistance. Turton later clarified here what he meant by Europe supporting China:
By 'support' I mean that Europe would not take an adversarial position. Just as the US supported Franco in the Spanish War by not opposing him.
By that definition, Europe is supporting both America and China. I do, however, agree that most of continental Europe won't get involved on either side of a conflict between China and Taiwan. Additionally, Turton forgot to include Taiwan in his list of countries that would defend Taiwan but maybe that was intentional.
Many nations are dependent on the Chinese economy as major markets, and will not want to see those markets lost in wartime. They will continue to deal with the Chinese even in the event of war, and even if it means risking US wrath.
To summarize, the countries will follow the money to decide who to ally with... Look around the world and find which countries do more trade with China than America. You will arrive at a very short list. Subtract countries who are already committed to one side or the other (Taiwan for example) and the result is a very short list of mostly insignificant powers.

Conclusion

The ROC military is much more capable than Mr. Turton implies. That does not mean that Taiwan is Israel-like. It obviously has problems (great article on the subject here), but its problems pale in comparison to those of the People's Republic. America's military is likewise much more powerful than Mr. Turton implies.

A war between China and Taiwan or China and Japan would be close (assuming the war was fought at sea or on the islands, not in China) but a fight against the United States would not be close at all. A fight against the combined forces of those three nations would be over before it began.

Update: Mr. Turton has replied on his blog.
Instead of starting round three, I'll just say that it is unlikely we will ever agree on this one. One or two quick thoughts (more questions than answers):
  • I would classify the IDF as a fourth generation aircraft and point out that the Su-27 and Su-30 are just as "untested" as the IDF, but this is just semantics at this point. One thing that really has me thinking on the subject is Jing's comment in reply to my first post:
    The ROC airforce has... no concrete additional purchases in coming years.
    Is the ROCAF going to cede air superiority to China as it appears to be doing on naval superiority (by not purchasing the submarines and other ASW platforms they need)?

  • The cadet that he mentioned, who from what I understand is performing quite well at USMA, had joined the ROC Military Academy one year prior to her attending USMA. Could it be that things like marksmanship and land navigation are taught in the ROC Army to the same degree, but just not in the first year of one's cadetship?

  • On the mainlander issue, Turton offers:
    mainlander is not an ethnicity. It is a political identity created by the KMT out of a variety of ethnic groups who happened to come across in 1949.
    I'm not an ethnologist (is that what one would call an expert on ethnicity?) but aren't all ethnicities socio-political constructs?

  • With regard to the outcome of the type of conflicts we have been discussing and the US's willingness to intervenes, Turton offers:
    A lot will depend on whether the general population accepts that defending Taiwan is worth it. Perhaps we pro-Taiwan bloggers should be expending our energy on that.
    Agreed.


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Friday, July 08, 2005

War in the Taiwan Straits: A Rebuttal (Part I)

The View From Taiwan's Michael Turton has written a fascinating piece countering those who have recently expended so much energy countering Bill Gertz (Asiapundit has the anti-Gertz roundup here).

Turton makes some quite controversial assertions in his post, which I will address here. Before you read any further, if you haven't followed the second link above and read his post, please do so now. While I will post a few excerpts to be evaluated individually, such short samples cannot do justice to his post. I will respond to his article's ample assertions in two posts. This post will respond specifically to his update and his comments about an amphibious landing on Taiwan. The second post (available here) will address the body of his post.

Size of the Invasion Force
In the update to his post, he cites my criticisms of Gertz and David Shambaugh's Modernizing China's Military, which I cite in that post.
People read the possibilities by projecting US logistical behavior and demands onto the siutation. But the US army is like eccentric old woman who, wherever she goes, takes her 38 suitcases with her.
The figure offered by Shambaugh is not based on the US Army alone but a figure commonly used my military strategists as a starting point for amphibious invasions. The amount of variation up or down from that initial 5:1 ratio is METT-T dependent.
The idea that anyone would plan to invade Taiwan with 1.25 million men all at once is absurd. The 5:1 formula is not total national strength but forces at the point of attack.
It is correct that a 5:1 formula need only apply to the defenders at the point of attack. Considering Taiwan's 3.8 million man reserves could be rapidly mobilized to such locations (especially considering the ample advanced warning and the predictability of where they will land), China would likely need more, not less than the number originally cited by Shambaugh to get a significant foothold.

Air Superiority
Since China would not throw troops over without control of the air...
If this clause is accurate, then we can conclude that China will not invade as China does not currently have the fighters needed to accomplish this task. The ROCAF has air superiority over the strait and will maintain it in the near term.

The ROCAF's air superiority is due to a significant qualitative advantage over the PLAAF (and PLANAF). While China maintains an overall quantitative advantage, that counts all Chinese aircraft, not just those stationed in the Taiwan theater (defined as the Nanjing and Guangzhou Military Regions). According to Shambaugh, only about 1,600 of the PLAAF's 2,748 fighters are located within 500 nm of Taiwan (MCM, 154). Any attempt to reposition other fighters closer to Taiwan ahead of time would certainly give away China's intention long before hand. Thus while China could theoretically acquire air superiority days or weeks into a war with Taiwan, it will certainly not have it at the initiation of conflict.

Improvising
Since China would not throw troops over without control of the air, the actual situation would be one where PRC troops can move over even on small craft -- commandeered fishing craft -- to reinforce a beachhead, while movement toward the beachhead by Taiwan forces is interdicted by Chinese aircraft (helped by sleepers and sabotuers). Shambuagh writes as though the Chinese are really going to invade Taiwan by formula, with overwhelming force, like the Americans would. The Chinese can improvise.
That China will employ fishing boats is a common claim of those that feel China can invade Taiwan despite its pathetic power projection capabilities. This has been tried on Kinmen Island (Quemoy), which is only two kilometers from the closest Chinese soil. As the PLA learned in 1949, improvising can be a bad idea. Conventional wisdom says you should invade with a sizable numerical advantage at the point of attack (as mentioned above) and should soon be reinforced by heavy infantry and armor. China, however, had no need for such conventional wisdom and saw fit to invade the tiny island with light infantry brought over on fishing boats.
The result of the aforementioned Battle of Kuningtou: Kinmen Island is still very much part of the ROC and the PLA invaders that survived the brief battle surrendered en masse to the ROC Army forces. (For those seeking a list of excuses as to why the Communists lost, see this article cited by Turton.) The communists were able to take Hainan the following year because they followed the old paradigm more closely. They, unlike all of the pundits that argue fishing boats will make the difference, learned their lessons.

The situation in 2005 is obviously not that of 1949, but Taiwan (100 km away) and Kinmen (2 km away) are also not the same island. The distance, when combined with Taiwan's current early warning capabilities, guarantees China could not have the element of surprise (as they did at Hainan). The question is whether Taiwan's advanced notice will be a week or a month.
If a significant number of China's landing craft and troop transport craft survive a trip across the strait (and this is a big 'if'), resupply and reinforcement will be so far apart that the ROCA will have plenty of time to slaughter the first wave before the second wave has even left the mainland. In addition to falling prey to the ROCAF, they will have to cruise by Kinmen, Matsu, and Penghu, where they will certainly come under attack by ROC forces stationed there.

Turton asserts:
China can get troops across in hours -- the Strait is only 100 kms wide. What would happen if China got troops across, in good organization, and supported by air power, and kept them there for a few days?
This hypothetical is implausible since China wouldn't have air superiority (see above) and the troops wouldn't be in very good shape considering the sea sickness (mentioned in the China Defense article) and disorder caused by putting troops haphazardly on confiscated fishing boats. The answer to this question, however, is Kuningtou (the name of the battle on Kinmen previously referenced). The Chinese troops would come ashore underarmed and be slaughtered en masse before reinforcements could arrive.

According to Shambaugh:
At the shortest distance, the Strait takes roughly ten hours to cross. (MCM, 326)
That puts 20 hours (best case scenario) between wave one and wave two (which will be smaller than wave one due to attrition of vessels). I wouldn't bet much on there still being any remnants of wave one alive by the time wave two arrived, especially since the invaders will have no artillery or naval gun support (the former due to distance and the latter is rightfully ruled out in the China Defense article cited above).

Anyone planning to throw caution into the wind and 'improvise' would be well advised to study previous improvised battles like Kuningtou. Heavy infantry and armor have always defeated light infantry and as there aren't too many fishing boats that can hold even China's lightest tank (the T-99), China would once again be limited to light infantry. One could argue that a huge numerical superiority in favor of the invading light infantry could overturn that heavy-light paradigm but Turton has already ruled out invading with such a force. Likewise, saturation by land or naval artillery could help to overcome a small numerical inferiority, but PLA invaders will have neither.

Conclusion

China cannot invade Taiwan.


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