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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Taiwan announces a missile test, and burns the United States 


I have been arguing for more than a year that the United States needs to tip-toe away from its guarantee of Taiwan's security. Not only is our guarantee losing its credibility -- would we really go to war with today's China over a confrontation with Taiwan? -- but Taiwan's political leaders having been exploiting our security pledge. They have been both tweaking the People's Republic and ignoring the United States because it helps them win votes at home. The effect has been destabilizing, and it mucks up our engagement of China on more important issues.

The news today contains a prime example of Taiwan's geopolitical irresponsibility. In the midst of the North Korean missile-testing confrontation, Taiwan has announced that it, too, will test a missile capable of reaching China's mainland. Not surprisingly, the United States is annoyed:

Taiwan plans to test-fire a missile capable of hitting China, alarming the island's main ally, the United States, a cable news network said on Thursday.

The Hsiung Feng III, developed by Taiwan's Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, has a range of 600 km (360 miles) and is accurate to within half a meter, the online edition of cable news network ETTV (http://www.ettoday.com) said, quoting unnamed military sources.

That range would put areas along China's coast from Fuzhou in Fujian Province to Nan'ao in Guangdong within striking distance of the missile, the Web site said.

Now, Taiwan has every need to test missiles, and not a lot of space in which to do it. The problem is not the fact of the test or even that it was announced in advance, but that it was announced now, just as the United States is trying to enlist China's support in the coercion of North Korea. Taiwan has slapped us in the face, and probably for domestic political consumption. I'm sure that the voters of Taiwan want to know why North Korea has the stones to test missiles and Taiwan does not. The government's answer is to announce a test now, which has the obvious effect of undermining the United States. There is no military or geopolitical reason that Taiwan could not have waited for a few weeks to announce this test, which is not scheduled until September.

It is hard to imagine Israel, which does not have a security guarantee from the United States nearly as explicit as Taiwan's, treating us this shabbily. It is time to cut Taiwan loose.

14 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 06, 10:09:00 AM:

TH: I'd note that this came from a Taiwanese cable news network, without other sources -- Taiwanese media being rather notoriously unreliable.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Thu Jul 06, 10:27:00 AM:

Accepting Mycroft's caveat, maybe it's nonethelees time to propose we cut Taiwan loose and China cut North Korea loose.

Would be nothing if not interesting to see what followed.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Jul 06, 10:37:00 AM:

I'm against backing away from Taiwan in any overt way, but I do think that we should make a strong statement that we consider any step toward independence to be an act of aggression toward China that we will not countenance. That would both decisively limit our security guarantee to unprovoked attacks by China, and it appropriately slaps Taiwan down for facing us with the announcement of this missile test.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 06, 12:04:00 PM:

Tiger, I think you're being misled by a confused report. The HF-III has only just finished the development stage - it won't be tested for months. More importantly it is an anti-ship missile designed to attack a Chinese invasion force. The idea that Taiwan would try and bomb the mainland is ridiculous. China wouldn't be scared into backing off. Taiwan needs all its assets to protect itself.

The US should maintain its commitment to protect Taiwan. I believe that it would currently help the island, because it is the only time it could challenge the Chinese over intervening in other areas. Stand aside and US threats/warnings will never have any weight in Beijing. Stand your ground and they'll be cautious.

After all this situation wouldn't have arisen had it not been for American intervention in the Chinese Civil War. You guys told the KMT to stop when they could have finished the CCP off in Manchuria. You also then stopped the PLA from invading Taiwan decades ago, stopping a resolution of the crisis then. Your support for the KMT also led to vast oppression there - how many thousands of Taiwanese do you think died or suffered as a result of the US' unconditional support for Chiang and his cronies?

I am tired of Americans causing problems and then wanting to pull out. Why is it impossible for the US to finish what it starts? Did you ever consider that the world gets more angry at the US not fixing the things it breaks, rather than staying the distance?

Taiwan is under massive pressure internationally. It can't buy many systems - the US has a tight grip on what it can buy, often charging inflated prices. It can't join many international bodies and if it does has to call itself "Chinese Taipei" - a true humiliation. How would the Americans like it if they had to call their home "British Washington"?!

No, if the US pulls out from Taiwan it will be the ultimate turn-around, worse than leaving Vietnam or anything else to-date. As I said before, you guys clean up your own mess rather than leave the Taiwanese dangling because you're more interested in selling your souls for a shiny dollar from Uncle Hu.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 06, 12:13:00 PM:

By the way, sorry if I came across as being very irrate in the last post. I don't "hate" the US or anything.

But seriously, this is from one of your allies. We don't mind you being the world's policeman if you actually act like a policeman should do. But at the moment your double-standards and lack of commitment in some cases really annoys us.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Jul 06, 12:45:00 PM:

Raj -

I have no objection to Taiwan testing its missiles, or announcing those tests in advance. I have a huge objection to them announcing a test on precisely the day that we are trying to mobilize diplomatic opposition to North Korea doing the same. It makes us look like idiots. The timing of the announcement undermined the United States. There is no obvious motive for it, other than domestic political consumption.

I have no problem with Taiwan defending itself, and (as I wrote in the post) I agree it has to test missiles. This, however, is but the latest example of Taiwan taking American support for granted. It is able to do this because the American right, which is in power, is particularly passionate in its support for Taiwan.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 06, 01:10:00 PM:

Well nothing's going to change until 2008 at the earliest in terms of the US administration, as much as many people would like. In the future the US will have to get a more organised relationship with Taiwan. That way things like this won't occur.

Perhaps some embarrassment in Washington might help to keep it focused and not forget about the Taiwanese problem.

But as I said, it appears the fears are exaggerated because people are getting confused with the missiles and their roles.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 06, 06:52:00 PM:

Korea VS Taiwan:

I find it interesting that news of Taiwan's missile includes both distance and accuracy. I have seen no such reports about North Korea's weapons.  

By Blogger Michael Turton, at Thu Jul 06, 06:58:00 PM:

Well nothing's going to change until 2008 at the earliest in terms of the US administration, as much as many people would like. In the future the US will have to get a more organised reltionship with Taiwan.

Not necessarily. The Bush Administration's support of Taiwan is due in large part to a component of anti-China folks in it.

Taiwan has slapped us in the face, and probably for domestic political consumption. I'm sure that the voters of Taiwan want to know why North Korea has the stones to test missiles and Taiwan does not. The government's answer is to announce a test now, which has the obvious effect of undermining the United States. There is no military or geopolitical reason that Taiwan could not have waited for a few weeks to announce this test, which is not scheduled until September.

Tigerhawk, your position is absurd. The "announcement" is an online report in a Taiwan news service, not a government spokesman. There's no report in the major papers, and no reports in the English paper. It could well be vapor. In fact, you could construe this as the opposite even if true -- the government did not make a big deal, published it solely in Chinese, and did not move to embarrass the US.

As for dropping Taiwan, that not only would be a gross betrayal of this island, which we royally screwed by getting it into this mess, but also of Japan, which has been groping toward including Taiwan in its security umbrella as well. It may well provoke a war. Recall what happened when US officials announced that Korea would not be under our security umbrella....

Not only does US involvement with Taiwan help keep China from starting a war, it also keeps Taiwan from provoking an invasion.

just a thought

Michael  

By Blogger Automatic_Wing , at Thu Jul 06, 07:29:00 PM:

I think a policy of "cutting Taiwan loose" would be extremely unwise. First, one wonders if China wouldn't jump on the opportunity to retake Taiwan before we change our mind again. Second, it would surely make our other allies in the region wonder when they might be "cut loose" as well. Taiwan may have to be reined in occasionally but ending our relationship is a bad idea, IMO.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Jul 06, 07:56:00 PM:

"There is no military or geopolitical reason that Taiwan could not have waited for a few weeks to announce this test, which is not scheduled until September."

Ah but there is. If they declare a test missile at the same time N. Korea, the irrational international pariah rogue state with nukes, is firing them off, who will condemn them? China? Big deal. It's a method of distraction. Kind of like how when France unilaterally and without asking anyone landed troops in the Ivory Coast at precisely the same time it was condemning American unilateralism (even though it wasn't really) in 2003. Most people never even knew about the Ivory Coast landings because it was overshadowed. Same concept, I think.

Still unhelpful to us, but there is a reason.

There's also the possibility that this was unintentionally leaked ahead of time..

Who knows?

Raj: *warning, long retort*

"You guys told the KMT to stop when they could have finished the CCP off in Manchuria. You also then stopped the PLA from invading Taiwan decades ago, stopping a resolution of the crisis then. Your support for the KMT also led to vast oppression there - how many thousands of Taiwanese do you think died or suffered as a result of the US' unconditional support for Chiang and his cronies?"

You have condemned the US for stopping (at least temporarily) a nasty civil war, for stalling the (presumably) brutal conclusion of said civil war later, and then for supporting the Nationalists over the Communists because they instituted 'vast oppression' in Taiwan. As opposed, I assume, to the utopia the Communists installed on the mainland.

I always knew that we should have supported Mao and the Communists instead, those anti-Soviet humanitarians, so they could have mercilessly slaughtered the Nationalists after finally invading and so Taiwan could have been included in the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward, et cetera. This after, of course, pretending that they would even deal with us, being the exploitative capitalist bastards that we are.

Or we could have just done nothing, I suppose. Kind of like in Rwanda. Then foreigners wouldn't dislike us so much for 'causing problems and then pulling out.' Then they'd just dislike us for 'sitting behind our oceans in our ivory towers and doing nothing.'

It's also funny how you negatively bring up our withdrawal from Vietnam (during a negotiated cease-fire, just like in Korea, BTW) but forget to mention how pretty much every other sovereign government in the world was telling us to, and then say 'Why is it impossible for the US to finish what it starts?' (first of all, this implies that we somehow started the Chinese civil war or the Vietnam war, which are patently false) 'Did you ever consider that the world gets more angry at the US not fixing the things it breaks, rather than staying the distance?'

1. We don't care terribly much how 'angry' the world gets at us. We pursue our own interests, not yours; just like your (and every other) state does. That's the whole point of being a state.

2. *laughter* Oh, you mean like we're sticking around in Iraq for the distance, despite continued protests and bitching from virtually every corner of the world, (except from the Iraqis, oddly enough) because we intend to fix it? You know, since we broke it? Hmph.

Maybe we haven't 'stuck around and fixed the things we broke' because the REST of the world won't let us?

"Oh, the Serbs said they'd stop, it's ok, everyone go home. Oh those mass graves? Rogue elements. Srebrenica? Never heard of it."

"No no, the Iraqis are behaving now; they said so didn't they? Training and arming terrorists? You've got bad intelligence. Missing WMDs? The inspectors will find them, even though they were completely fooled into thinking that there weren't any until Kamal defected and spilled the beans, and were then kicked out of the country for digging too hard. And just ignore the massive bribery and smuggling deals going on over here, they're no concern of yours HEGEMON. (dirty word)"

Most of the political constraints placed on the international behavior of the US exist because of our 'allies,' halting or altering what would be our preferred policy (like toppling Saddam the first time, an idea which the Gulf States put a stop to). Maybe you should look there for answers.

Lastly: We're not the world's police, and we're not going to act like it. That's a simplistic fantasy. We are what is called a status quo power; that is, we like the international system because we're on top of it and we'd like to keep it that way. And we're going to do what we think is good for us internationally, forever, until our country collapses onto the ash heap of history. And then its replacement will do the same thing, and its replacemnt, over and over, until the end of time.

Sorry if I come across as irate, I don't hate foreigners. (really!) But seriously, this smells of revisionist history by an 'armchair politician' and having my country smeared by one really annoys me. They always think that there is a 'right' choice and a 'wrong' choice, and somehow the US always seems to have made the 'wrong' one. Well sometimes there is only 'bad' and 'worse,' and which is which becomes clear only 10 or 15 years later. For instance, assassinating Osama would have been a 'bad' choice in 1992 because people thought 'we should be above that, we should leave it to the law.' Obviously now, looking back after 14 years, it would have been a good idea.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 06, 07:59:00 PM:

We need to be aware that the internal situation in Taiwan is increasingly unstable.

Taiwan's experiment in democracy has not gone altogether smoothly, and there are dangerously increasing levels of corruption, as well as a political faction that stands to gain domestically by pushing for independence, which will precipitate a war. That faction is currently in power.

It may become necessary to know where we will stand if the Taiwanese decide to abolish the status quo, irrespective of our desires.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Jul 07, 06:51:00 AM:

I obviously have some comments to deal with here.

First, Dawnfire did yoeman's work dealing with the core of Raj's comments. I'll let his answer stand.

Second, nobody has addressed my basic assertion that our guarantee is losing its credibility anyway.

Third, our guarantee only applies if Taiwan does not assert its independence. The problem is, the assertion of independence gets votes. I believe that the current government has been exploiting the popular perception that our guarantee is broader than it fact is, putting the stability of the region and American prestige at risk.

Fourth, the fact that the announcement of the missile test was only in Chinese is to me proof that it was for domestic political consumption.

Fifth, nobody addressed the suggestion I made in the comment, which is that the United States should redefine the security guarantee by making a clear statement that it would regard any move toward independence by Taiwan as an act of aggression, and outside the protection of the guarantee.

Any further comments?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 07, 07:08:00 AM:

Dawnfire82

"You have condemned the US for stopping (at least temporarily) a nasty civil war, for stalling the (presumably) brutal conclusion of said civil war later, and then for supporting the Nationalists over the Communists because they instituted 'vast oppression' in Taiwan. As opposed, I assume, to the utopia the Communists installed on the mainland."

I think you rather missed the point of what I said. The KMT were in a position to finish off the Communists, or at least deal them a decisive blow. Had the US not barked "stop right now" there was a chance that the Civil War would have ended there. As it was your actions guaranteed it would carry on. It also let to the Taiwan Crisis.

However because the Taiwan Crisis occured, the US then gave unconditional support fo the Nationalists. That gave them carte blanche to do to their people as they wished. The US could have reined them in, but didn't, because they wanted to keep them "on-side".

Maybe we haven't 'stuck around and fixed the things we broke' because the REST of the world won't let us?"

So you're saying the world objects only when you're half-through something but not when you start it? If you're so obedient to global opinion you wouldn't start these things to begin with.

"But seriously, this smells of revisionist history by an 'armchair politician' and having my country smeared by one really annoys me. They always think that there is a 'right' choice and a 'wrong' choice, and somehow the US always seems to have made the 'wrong' one."

And I think you're being hysterical because you can't take criticism when it's due. The US has made plenty of good decisions as well - such as stopping the North Koreans (while not nuking China) in 1950, going into Kosovo, even Afghanistan recently. It's a shame you paint yourself to be a victim all the time of unreasonable criticism. There are some people that will complain about the US whatever it does. I always thought it was ironic people wanted the US to do more in the Clinton years and then complained Bush went too far.

That said you guys always make a lot of having the moral high-ground. If you want continued support from countries around the world (look at the non-US prescence in Afghanistan and the British in Iraq) you will have to re-build your reputation. Anyone can throw their weight around. Of course the US is going to act in its best interests. But it's also in the US' interests to have a good diplomatic policy that ensures it can count on countries' actual (rather than just diplomatic) backing. If in the future you really need to launch a military operation, it may will be the case that no one helps you because they're tired of the way you go about things. If that's what you want, fine. But don't go begging to Europe, the Commonwealth, etc for help. Do it yourselves if you want to act as you say the US has the right to.

The US is not under pressure from the international community to leave Taiwan to China. In fact a lot of countries are grateful for the US' security arrangement, as they aren't in a position to protect it themselves. So your points about pressure aren't relevant there.

By the way I do have a decent history degree, so your nose is somewhat incorrect. :)  

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