Sunday, January 29, 2006

Nothing to Fear But...

Long time readers of MeiZhongTai will remember the attempts of the ROC Army and Air Force to sink a wounded South Korean freighter that was leaking benzene. My take on the situation was that it was in some ways a better display of ROC military proficiency than the scripted exercises performed for the press. SimonWorld brings us news from the other side of the Taiwan Strait that can be seen as comparable.

In a post titled "Fear Not the Red Dragon,"Simon brings us this from the unlinkable South China Morning Post:
the Red Army troops were defeated because the army commander forgot to call in air support.
The obvious conclusion here is that PLA commanders are incompetent. Forgetting to call in air support is a pretty bonehead move, after all. A possible alternate explanation is that the PLA is moving toward more authentic training, which is resulting in bonehead moves being exposed (and presumably corrected) instead of hidden, where they are likely to be repeated.

I'm guessing that none of the commanders in the ROC's most recent Han Kuang exercise forgot to call air support... because no phone call was required. It was decided in advance that the air support would arrive at a set time. In the long run, which country is going to end up with a more potent fighting force, the country who allows their officers to fail under more authentic circumstances and then motivates (humiliates) them to improve or the one that scripts everything so that problems are never exposed in the first place? While it is embarassing that this officer made such a blatant mistake, the fact that the mistake was caught shows some commitment to improving. I hope the ROC military is taking note of this. I for one would welcome more failure in the next Han Kuang exercise. That exercise would benefit Taiwan the most if it would just lose the exercise honestly.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Taiwan's Defense Needs

There has long been talk of exactly what weaponry Taiwan needs for its self-defense. Some outsiders view the Taiwanese government as one entity who isn't taking its own defense seriously, e.g., Ted Galen Carpenter. Others look deeper into the politics and weapon systems for explanation.

Party Politics
While observers disagree as to the rationale, the Blues clearly are obstructing the purchase of the arms offered Taiwan by the United States. The old refrain was that unless the (Green-led) government was planning to provoke China by declaring independence, only minimal defensive arms would be needed to defend the island because China isn't particularly threatening. Eventually this line of reasoning faded, and the Blues began to debate about the specific weapons.

The Arms Package
In 2001 the Bush administration offered to Taiwan diesel submarines, anti-submarine patrol aircraft, and Patriot missile batteries in response to a request from the earlier (KMT) Taiwanese leadership. Most controversial of the three pieces has been the submarines, as the United States doesn't have eight diesel submarines to offer or the facilities to produce such craft. Equally troubling, all three pieces of the arms package appear to be significantly overpriced. Due to international political constraints, Taiwan is prevented from much in the way of comparison shopping.

Are these weapons appropriate for Taiwan's needs or is Taiwan only considering their purchase as part of a protection scheme? The answer seems to be that the submarines would be nice if Taiwan had unlimited funds for defense but the money could be much more efficiently and effectively spent elsewhere (this argument has been made by Michael Turton with Admiral Eric McVadon and anonymous PACOM officers singing backup (after quite a bit of debate, I even came around to agree with the experts).

While naval mines and other weapons have been mentioned, the most common weapon system cited as a more productive use of Taiwanese defense dollars has been fighter aircraft. The blogosphere has been aflutter with news on this front in the last few days. Particularly interesting have been posts by Michael and Jason about Taiwan's stated interest in the Joint Strike Fighter or other aircraft with Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capability.

Whatever becomes of this arms package, it is important to not judge the ROC military or the commitment of Taiwan to its own defense solely by this one package. As Gary Schmitt and Dan Blumenthal have pointed out, not wanting some overpriced submarines is not the same as free-riding or lacking commitment to one's own self-defense. The government is doing its best to whip up support for arms acquisitions after all even if it does seem to be taking a page from the duct-tape-as-a-defense-against-terrorism school of defense with proposals for a strategic quick-drying cement stockpile.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

America's Coming War With China

The much blogged about (1, 2, 3) CATO book talk to mark the release of Ted Galen Carpenter's America's Coming War with China: A Collision Course Over Taiwan took place Wednesday at the CATO offices in Washington D.C.

Joining Mr. Carpenter on the stage were moderator Chris Preble (CATO) and China experts Richard Bush (Brookings) and Clyde Prestowitz (Economic Strategy Institute) with the latter two offering comments on Mr. Carpenter's book. The roster of attendees reads like a who's who of China and national security scholars as well as policy and defense practitioners. For those who were unable to attend and don't wish to watch the video in its entirety, a summary and discussion of the points raised follows. It needs stating that these comments are based on the notes I took during the talk and I am unable to double-check their veracity against the video due to a slow internet connection.

After a brief introduction by Chris Preble, Carpenter explained the conclusions outlined in his book. If the United States, the People's Republic of China, and Taiwan all continue on their present courses, war is almost certain within the next decade.

Taiwanese public opinion is shifting in favor of independence as demonstrated by the oft-cited public opinion polls on self-identification and feelings toward reunification, independence, and the status quo. China is becoming increasingly impatient in its wait for reunification and less satisfied with the status quo as shown by China's 2000 Defense White Paper and the 2005 Anti-Secession Law. Finally America's Taiwan Strait policy of strategic ambiguity relies on convincing China we would defend Taiwan were it attacked and convincing Taiwan that we would not (to oversimplify the matter criminally) could potentially be read the exact opposite way. Due to these trends a costly war is likely and ten years down the road the balance of power may have shifted to the extent that American victory would not be assured, Carpenter asserts.

As the United States has limited control over Chinese or Taiwanese foreign policy, averting conflict can only occur by shifting American policy in Carpenter's view. Therefore, he recommends that the American policymakers view Taiwan as but a peripheral issue to the United States, not the vital concern it is often characterized as. As such, America should continue selling defensive arms to Taiwan to allow it to defend itself but explicitly rescind any American security guarantee to the island. To put it simply, we care about Taiwan enough to sell them arms but not enough to put American sons and daughters in harm's way.

Richard Bush, author of At Cross Purposes and Untying the Knot, offered three comments in response to Carpenter's book and talk. First, Bush agrees that there is a significant danger of war due to miscalculation in spite of the growing economic interdependence between the three economies. He feels that any miscalculation is more likely to result from a failure of the leaders in Taipei or Beijing to understand the decision-making of the other capital's leaders than from any ambiguity related to American foreign policy.

Second, having been a representative of American foreign policy in Taiwan, Mr. Bush contended that American policy hasn't been nearly as ambiguous as Carpenter suggests. He cautioned Carpenter that American policy can not be interpreted solely based on public pronouncements, rather one must realize that much of the communication occurs in private consultations with senior leaders on both sides. To illustrate his points, Bush pointed out that Chinese defense acquisitions indicate that China believes the United States would intervene in a conflict. Additionally, in his talks with senior defense and policy leaders in Taiwan, he noticed little confusion as to American policy.

Third, Bush offered some policy concerns in the form of questions.
  • Can Taiwan afford the weapon systems necessary to defend itself against a Chinese attack?
  • Would Taiwan have time to build up its defense capabilities before being abandoned by the United States?
  • Is there American public or policymakers support for such a shift in foreign policy?
  • If the US abandoned Taiwan, would that cause Taiwan to seek nuclear weapons? How would the United States respond if Taiwan were to acquire nukes?
  • Would abandoning Taiwan cause Taipei to sue for peace immediately?
  • Shouldn't we include Taiwan and the Taiwanese people in the decision-making process?
  • How would such a move effect American security?

Avoiding a war with China (either hot or cold) and bringing China completely into the global system is a vital national interest of the United States, pointed out Clyde Prestowitz, the author of Three Billion New Capitalists. Is defense of Taiwan as vital a national interest? When deciding whether or not to extend a security guarantee to Taiwan, America must consider the relative importance of these goals and decide what America is willing to sacrifice in defense of Taiwan. Prestowitz used an uninhabited Hawaiian island as an analogy to point out that Taiwan means a lot more to China than it does to America.

In closing, Prestowitz recommended that if America truly wants to engage China and include it fully in the globalized interconnected world, America should strengthen its commitment to globalization. During the question and answer session, Prestowitz further elaborated on this point saying,
If you want democracy in China, uncensor Google.

In response to the comments offered by Bush and Prestowitz, Carpenter offered three points. He replied to Bush's question about Taiwan's ability to defend itself by admitting he didn't know if Taiwan was capable or not but argued that the Taiwanese legislature would act more "responsibly" if it lacked an American security guarantee. In reply to Bush's question as to the political support within the US for such a move, Carpenter admitted a policy change was unlikely, especially because of Taiwan's democratization, but argued it is too dangerous for the United States to fight China over the island. Finally, in response to Prestowitz's comments/question as to the relative importance of Taiwan to China and the United States, Carpenter agreed that Taiwan was vastly more important to China, pointing out that when a security guarantee is offered one must consider not only the balance of power, but also the balance of fervor, by which he means the intensity of commitment to the cause being fought for.

Q & A Session
Questions were offered by Mark Stokes, Eric McVadon, and Parris Chang among others. One of the more interesting questions came from a representative of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, who pointed out the strategic importance of Taiwan due to its proximity to sea lanes vital to South Korea and Japan. The answer came that if the waterways are important to those countries, let them defend it. In response to a similar question that followed, Mr. Bush commented that adopting Carpenter's advice would likely profoundly effect the alliance between the US and Japan. Mr. Prestowitz countered that the Japanese have never understood the American commitment to Taiwan, pointing out that they would much prefer America focusing its defensive efforts on their island.

In a query sure to warm the hearts of Michael Turton and others, Eric McVadon of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis asked if the oft-discussed offer of arms to Taiwan in 2001 (diesel submarines, anti-submarine patrol aircraft, and missile defense batteries) represented the best package of weapons for Taiwanese defense needs. Carpenter responded that while diesel submarines might not be the best use of defense dollars, the KMT has not accepted a downsized package either but seems content to simply stonewall the entire package.

Parris Chang accused Carpenter of unfairly placing blame for the friction between China and the US at the feet of Taiwan, asking if the panelists felt that all disagreements between the two powers would disappear in Taiwan's absence. He also commented that Taiwan was not the provocateur in the matter as it is China pointing 800 missiles at Taiwan, not the other way around. Because his sentiments were worded as statements more than questions, his concerns went largely unanswered by the panelists.

Carpenter's conclusion that America should abandon its security guarantee to Taiwan is not surprising considering his position as the Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Libertarians tend to favor cutting of security guarantees and adopting a foreign policy of "restraint," which is to say a military retrenchment like the one advocated in Dr. Eugene Gholz's "Come Home America" (International Security, Spring 1997). The problem with this policy is the same today as when George McGovern first proposed it, the American people will not accept an amoral foreign policy. From a purely Realist position, accommodating the rising superpower might be wise and offering up Taiwan would be accommodation par excellance. There is little support in the American collective heart, however, for giving up on the 23 million free people of Taiwan. America claims to stand for the promotion of democracy and liberal institutions. While sometimes America has retreated from its vanguard position in the name of Realpolitik, surrendering Taiwan to a rising China would be a bridge too far. As long as there is support in America for a foreign policy based on more than pure self-interest, there will be support for assisting Taiwan in its defense.

  • Dignified Rant views Taiwan as a "canary in the coal mine."

  • I argue in the comments that if you add up those who feel we should support Taiwan because of past promises, those who think we should support Taiwan because it is a liberal democracy facing threat from a country who is not, and those who think we should defend Taiwan lest it become an hor d'oeuvres to the growing apetite of China, we will have reached the critical mass of popular support necessary to require action by the US government.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

2006: Same as 2005

The Economist has released its Big Mac Index for 2006. The Chinese yuan is 59% undervalued compared to the dollar. This is the same estimate as last year, so I will refrain from interpretting it, opting instead to point you to last year's analysis. So much for China's famed 2% revaluing of the yuan.

Other highlights of the 2006 Big Mac Index:
  • The Swiss Franc is once again the most overvalued currency against the dollar. (57% this year versus 65% in 2005)

  • The New Taiwan Dollar is undervalued by 25% (versus 21% in 2005).

  • The Euro is overvalued by 11% (down from 17%).

For those interested in the Chinese economy, The New Economist offers a roundup of must-read articles.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Marquand on Arms

Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor has a piece in today's paper on Taiwan's proposed arms purchase.
In a bid to rally Taiwan's flagging independence forces, President Chen Shui-bian's New Year's resolution seems to be provoking mainland China with a push announced this week to buy US arms, including eight submarines and a dozen sub-hunting aircraft.

A couple of questions come to mind:
  • Are "indepence forces" really flagging?
  • If it is a New Year's resolution, shouldn't it be somehow different from what he did last year?

While I liked some of his previous work, Marquand really starts off this article on the wrong foot. He then continues by discussing China's arms build-up (obviously aimed at Taiwan). Since when is defending one's country against a growing threat a provocation? I understand the idea of the security dilemma as well as the next guy, but this is ridiculous. Having a 55 submarine force (China) is okay, but trying to acquire eight submarines is a provocation? Can someone explain this to me?

He spends the rest of the article offering alternatives to the current arms deal of submarines, sub-hunting aircraft, and missile defense batteries.
Instead of spending huge sums on a diesel-electric sub that would take at least a decade to deploy, for example, they point to other measures that could be taken, including hardening airfields, buying antiaircraft missiles, and protecting electronic systems needed in a fight. Instead of procuring expensive and vulnerable warships, Taiwan could buy mines that would deny the Chinese Army an easy landing on island beaches.

While he makes some good recommendations (many of which have been made here before by commenters) I guess my concern is that after his opening, I'm not convinced he has Taiwan's best interests at heart.
His finale:
Another reason the Pentagon now balks at advanced weapons to Taiwan: Worry that they would slip into the hands of China's Army.

I notice Marquand has no attribution attached to that sentence. I'd be curious as to the origin of that sentence. Is it Marquand's own editorializing?

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Military News

Some interesting stories on Chinese and Taiwanese military forces in the news as of late. Troops, submarines, and missiles. A little something for everyone.
  • The People's Liberation Army continues to decrease in size relative to its sister services. This is a vital part of modernizing Chinese armed forces. The downside for the government is that it increases already high unemployment.
    At the end of 2005, China completed the task of trimming the ranks of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) by 200,000, bringing its total number of troops to 2.3 million. [Xinhua]

  • The KMT is characterizing the eight diesel submarines offered Taiwan by the United States as offensive weapons, and thus inappropriate for the ROC military. [Taipei Times]
    Taiwan should boost its defensive capabilities and aim to survive a `first strike' during a Chinese military attack. It is not necessary to spend huge amounts of money on offensive submarines.

    [B]ecause of China's sparse anti-submarine warfare capabilities, Beijing would have to spend around eight times the amount spent on Taiwan's submarine force to build up adequate capabilities, including procuring anti-submarine aircraft, minesweepers, mine-sweeping helicopters, anti-submarine missiles and destroyers. Therefore, the move would distract China from concentrating on its offensive capabilities.

    The supposedly non-partisan editor of Taiwan Defense Review:
    The KMT wants Taiwan to take a beating from China

  • Speaking of offensive weapons, Jane's Defense Weekly reports Taiwan will soon begin deploying Hsiung Feng IIE cruise missiles capable of striking China's east coast. Earlier, I was unclear whether the HS-IIE was a land attack or anti-ship cruise missile. After further consideration, it is likely both, since there is only minimal difference between them, much like the Exocet and Harpoon can be launched from numerous platforms.

Update: Brian Dunn critiques a piece on the above-mentioned missiles that has earned the title "most twisted analysis yet."

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Heritage Rankings

The Heritage Foundation recently released its rankings of economic freedom. Of some relevance to this blog: Hong Kong ranked number one (most free economy), Taiwan ranked 37, and China tied Zambia at 111 out of 157 economies graded. The blogosphere has been abuzz since the rankings were released.

Firing the first shot was Sun Bin, who noted that Taiwan has dropped in the rankings since President Chen Shui-bian took office and that Hong Kong has not dropped since the island reverted to PRC control. Specifically, he faults Chen for attempting "active management" of the economy (which results in a low rank for government intervention in the Heritage rankings).

Asiapundit followed-up on Sun Bin's post with a discussion of who, if anyone, deserves the title "communist" out of the CCP, KMT, and DPP.

Michael Turton fired back with a history lesson and charges of an ideological slant.
Heritage's ideas of what constitutes "intervention" are strongly value-laden... In sum, the report's methodology is highly slanted, selective, and obviously right-wing.
Finally, Simon World brings us an article by Jake van der Kamp pointint out that Hong Kong is not the world's freest economy, Somalia is.
We [Hong Kong] have our rating, largely thanks to the approach the foundation has taken, which, whether deliberately or not, happens to emphasise foreign trade and foreign investment over domestic economic considerations. We fit that cookie cutter perfectly.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year in Politics

China's President Hu Jintao marked the arrival of the new year with a speech reemphasizing his commitment to the One China policy. Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian replied with his thoughts on his island's relationship with China.
President Chen Shui-bian said Sunday that Taiwan needed to increase its weapons purchases and warned against greater economic ties to the mainland.
The market responded negatively to Chen's speech.

Michael Turton of The View From Taiwan highlights some particularly good reporting on Taiwan as of late, including the International Herald Tribune article linked above. Especially noteworthy is the portion of the IHT article noting that Chen's policies have not changed. For that matter neither have Hu's.

One thing that has changed is the arms available to Taiwan. This could potentially unfreeze the stalled arms purchase bill and result in a better mix of weapons available to the ROC armed forces.

Update: It now appears there has been no change in the arms sale.

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News broke a few days ago that Michael Anti's blogs (Chinese and English) have disappeared from the blogosphere. He had recently taken up the cause of the reporters and editors at the Beijing Daily News. Rebecca MacKinnon has concluded that it was his blog service provider, Microsoft's MSN Spaces, not the Great Firewall of China that killed his blog. Anti has now returned to Blog City (English, Chinese) which is blocked throughout China, likely because of Anti's blog previously hosted there.

In a similar line of thought, John Pasden of Sinosplice wonders why the prominent bridge blog EastSouthWestNorth has never been blocked inside China. A dialogue between Pasden and Roland Soong of ESWN is here with additional comments from Soong here. It is an interesting case study of who gets blocked and who doesn't and guesses as to why.

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