a while there, I didn’t think it was all that big a deal when Dubya
told the press that the United States has a definite commitment
to the defense of Taiwan against military hostility from the mainland
Chinese regime. After all, such a commitment was very close to being
U.S. policy for a long time during the Cold War and maybe it wouldn’t
hurt that much to make it explicit. Sometimes there can be value
in clarity and clear positions known in advance.
talked to a few more people with a certain expertise in the matter,
however, I now view Mr. Bush’s desire for clarity as a mistake not
necessarily a huge, irretrievable mistake that will lead us inevitably
to war, but a mistake nonetheless.
Bush’s comment take the United States just a step or two closer
to outright hostility between the United States and China, and there
is no good reason that the relationship has to be hostile though
it may inevitably be somewhat mutually wary for a long time to come.
prospect of military confrontation or active hostility is still
a long way off, and there are underlying reasons for the Chinese
and American governments to avoid pushing matters too close to hostility.
But it does seem clear that relations between the two countries
are notably chillier than they were a month or so ago. The best
course for leaders in both countries might be to pull back a bit,
avoid loose talk and let things settle a bit.
relationship is the most testy and potentially hostile it has been
since the Chinese conducted missile tests and the US sent ships
into the Taiwan Straits in 1996," Ted Carpenter told us. Carpenter,
the director of defense and international relations studies at the
libertarian Cato Institute believes
that President Bush’s comments have not been helpful.
are notoriously uncomfortable with ambiguity," Mr. Carpenter
said, "but in diplomacy ambiguity has its uses, and it was
especially useful in negotiating the Taiwanese-Chinese relationship.
Back in 1995 a Chinese diplomat was discussing the possible consequences
of military action by the mainland with Joseph Nye, an old diplomatic-academic
hand. Mr. Nye said ‘I don’t know what we would do and you don’t
some utility in that kind of uncertainty."
Johnson, who taught political science at Berkeley, runs the Japan
Policy Research Institute in Cardiff, California, and wrote
the incisive critique of American post-cold-war imperialism, Blowback,
told me that official Beijing considers the possibility of Taiwanese
independence a huge threat to the country’s sovereignty.
seven states declared independence in 1860, Mr. Lincoln didn’t offer
to negotiate or discuss the matter, he used military power,"
Johnson said. The situation might not be precisely analogous, but
it is worth considering.
it was a big mistake for Abraham Lincoln to react so militantly
against the threat of southern secession, but given the context
it was hardly a big surprise. One could make a case that the best
thing for the sclerotic regime in Beijing to do would be to let
Taiwan go and forget those ancient but quaint beliefs in the rightful
hugeness of the Chinese regime. But at this point in history an
overt threat of Taiwanese independence is likely to provoke a military
response from the mainland. The Taiwanese know that. The Americans
seem oblivious to the possibility, perhaps imbued with that imperial
arrogance that assumes a threat from the mighty United States will
bring these recalcitrants into line.
the Chinese call the bluff," Ted Carpenter suggested to me,
"the United States would face a dreadful choice. Either it
would back down or it would fulfill the commitment to defend Taiwan.
Neither choice is especially attractive. China is not Iraq or Syria.
A conflict with China would be a serious matter indeed.
ironic thing is that most Chinese and a goodly portion of the ruling
claque have no desire for war with the United States. They watched
as the communist system in Russia imploded. The leadership at least
since the early 1980s has sought to spur economic growth, much of
it along fairly entrepreneurial lines. China is more open to foreign
investment than any Asian country, and most of the investment is
from the United States.
TIES THAT BIND
is coming our way becoming more commercial and capitalist but there’s
a powerful military faction that thrives on hostility," Chalmers
Johnson said. "Mr. Bush’s comments serve mainly to bolster
the influence of this group."
commercial ties between the United States and China are significant
and growing, and commercial relationships generally work against
political and military hostilities. But commercial ties are no guarantee.
"In 1914 Germany and Great Britain were one another’s largest
trading partners," Johnson continued, "but they went to
war. Political tensions can override business ties."
Johnson believes that in most of Asia Mr. Bush’s posturing in the
wake of the spy plane incident, combined with the comment about
Taiwan, amounts to baiting China in a way that is something very
close to outright warmongering. Few Americans seem to see things
this way, but the case is worth considering.
Johnson, who worked with the CIA back in the cold war days, says
the EP3E flights were not necessary or particularly important form
a strategic intelligence perspective. "The kind of surveillance
we need to do on China keeping track of major trends, large-scale
troop movements, economic developments with implications for the
face of the country can easily be done with satellites," he
kind of information gathered by the flights close to the Chinese
coast is more tactical in nature, and almost the kind of information
you would want to get during war or outright hostility. What activities
detected on what radar frequencies trigger what kind of scrambling
of planes or other defensive responses? You would want that if active
hostilities were underway or imminent. When they’re not, the information
has little direct utility, and collecting it is extremely provocative
to China," Mr. Johnson said.
Johnson says one under-examined consequence of the end of the Soviet
Union has been the extent to which it has led to a virtual end of
prudence in US foreign policy. We see troubles in Latin America
and send troops. We see China respond to our provocation and move
to eliminate some of the ambiguities that have made outright hostilities
that’s part of the arrogance of empire, in my view. The Sole Superpower
is an adolescent empire, full of muscle and self-confidence but
not very wise in the ways of the world.
are reasons to keep a sometimes-wary eye on China, but no reason
to believe hostility is inevitable or even as some influential Americans
unquestionably do to welcome the idea of China as a rival with which
we might have to fight. Leaders in both countries should pull back,
stay quiet and think about the long run.
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