China: December 26, 1999

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China Gets Ready, for What?: A lot of interesting news coming out of China these days. Especially of you concerned about China going to war. Once you gather together all the pieces, you have a picture of a nation preparing for war. The objective is Taiwan. China has been very open in telling the world that it wants Taiwan to be part of China again. A lot of this is pure nationalism, but the fact that Taiwan is one of the most advanced industrialized nations in world also has something to do with it. Taiwan, a thriving democracy that has ruled itself for fifty years, has refused all offers of voluntary reunification. 

So what is China up to that we don't already read about in the news. Quite a lot, it turns out.
When China fires missiles into the waters off Taiwan, that makes the news. Most of China's bellicose press releases get some play as well. We see news reports about the missile bases being build on the Chinese coast opposite Taiwan, as well as the new warplanes bought from Russia and the additional air bases and anti-aircraft units established near Taiwan. Chine is building nuclear submarines and new surface warships. The army and air force are training more, All scary stuff. 
What you don't hear much about is the diplomatic campaign China is pursuing. For years, China has been bribes and threats to get nations to break diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Until quite recently, Taiwan claimed to be the legitimate government of China. Many nations went along with this, as China was a bankrupt totalitarian state until economic reforms of the 1980s changed things. Once China began to grow economically, China could offer lucrative trade deals, as well as outright bribes, to get nations to cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Why go to all this trouble? Well, if you are going to try and conquer Taiwan, you don't want a lot of commotion world wide by nations upset with this naked aggression. If you have most of the world's nations agreeing with you that Taiwan is not an independent nation, but rather a renegade province, then there won't be much support for American intervention. 

America has always been the major obstacle to China's trying to take Taiwan by force. China's diplomatic campaign to isolate Taiwan makes it more likely that America would have to go it alone in defending Taiwan. And China is well aware that U.S. policy has increasingly been one of only undertaking military action with a lot of allies along for the ride (even if American troops are doing most of the work). China also makes no secret of it's increasingly capable weapons. China bluntly announced that it now had nuclear missiles that could reach the western U.S. Or, as one Chinese general was heard saying (openly), "does American want to trade Los Angeles for Taiwan?" We'll never know if the threat is real, but the mere existence of such a threat creates a debate in America if China ever does move on Taiwan. This could slow down the American military response, and that might make the difference victory and defeat.

China has been using it's diplomatic weapon in other ways. Fences have been mended with neighbors and trade increased. While treaties with neighbors are nice, what really keeps them on your side is the fear of losing trade deals. Local unemployment is more important than missiles falling on Taiwan. Vietnam, both Koreas, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Russia have all been schmoozed, bribed and encouraged to be nice to China, and ignore anything that might happen in Taiwan.

And then there are the Taiwanese themselves. There is a small minority that would like to be part of China again. But some 80 percent of the population wants nothing to do with unification, at least as long as the communist party is still running China. And most of those, mainly the ethnic Taiwanese, want nothing to do with China, ever. That's another point the Chinese take great points to avoid, that before the defeated Nationalists descended on the island in the late 1940s, Taiwan was populated by a separate ethnic group. And these people still comprise the majority of the population. Taiwan is a democracy, and the ethnic Taiwanese want nothing to do with the Chinese. And they have a case. For most of the last few thousand years, China has largely ignored Taiwan, and left it to fend for itself. The Taiwanese never had much chance to be Chinese, because they were only part of China now and then when the Chinese forced their way in for one reason or another. But the Chinese have addressed that problem as well by offering a carrot and a stick. The carrot is Hong Kong, where the Chinese have largely kept their pledge to allow local customs and government once Chinese rule replaced the British. The stick is the threat of a destructive military campaign to retake the island. Even if the Chinese fail, much of Taiwan's wealth would be destroyed, and many of it's inhabitants killed or injured. So the implicit offer is; become Chinese and little will change. Refuse us and we will destroy all that you hold dear. 

While it appears that the Chinese have established a perfect plan for taking back Taiwan, one must not forget what the Taiwanese are doing to avoid it. Taiwan is a major economic power, particularly in electronics. Despite Chinese threats to trash the place, Taiwan has convinced its customers that Taiwan can defend itself. Lately, Taiwan has been making noises about creating a nuclear deterrent. Taiwan is one of those nations that possesses all the resources and skills to design and build nuclear weapons. Longer term, many Taiwanese believe that democracy will soon come to China, a process the communist's themselves have unleashed and even encouraged. Once China is democratic, it is felt that an economic, and then political, union can be worked out.

But for many Chinese leaders, it has become a matter of personal, and national pride to take back Taiwan sooner, rather than later.

Taiwan has openly announced that it is developing missiles and electronic devices to defeat the increasing number of modern weapons being acquired by China.

 

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