Apropo the ongoing debate on several blogs about a China vs. Taiwan slugfest, I thought I’d blog this article in Foreign Affairs from earlier this year, which I tracked down on another blog. There’s a few interesting comments from it I thought I would highlight.

Preventing a War Over Taiwan
By Kenneth Lieberthal
From the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs


….China says that it wants stability across the Taiwan Strait, that it can postpone final resolution of the cross-strait issue for a long time, that it is developing its regional military capabilities solely to deter Taiwanese independence, and that it will use force if necessary to prevent or reverse a declaration of independence. But these positions have not served China’s interests well, because it has failed to make clear exactly what “declaring independence” involves.

It is interesting that all three parties, recognizing the high stakes and great tension, have opted for ambiguity, which allows everyone wiggle room.


….Meanwhile, whereas China’s military has been gaining in strength and operational capability, Taiwan’s defense budget has been declining (it is currently at its lowest level, in real purchasing power, since 1992), and Taiwan still lacks defenses well suited to fend off a mainland attack. Chen also has lost a great deal of support from the Bush administration, which has no desire to see regional tensions rise. Although he is now in his second term of office and prohibited from running for a third in 2008, Chen still has more than two years left to ensure a lasting legacy on the cross-strait issue before he steps down.

The writer’s opinion on Taiwan’s abilities to fend off an attack is negative.


Further complicating matters is a series of misguided assumptions in each capital that could easily lead to war. Many in Beijing believe that the White House seeks to encourage Taiwanese independence and uses its ongoing weapons sales to do so; that Taiwan can be defeated before U.S. military power can be brought into play; and that even if the United States did engage militarily, Beijing could force it to withdraw through a dramatic act such as the sinking of an aircraft carrier.


That’s interesting, and I wonder how the writer knows this. It seems that every nation concludes Americans are soft as a prelude to provoking war with us.


A second and politically more feasible approach would be to lock in the status quo by having Beijing and Taipei negotiate a 20-to-30-year “agreed framework” for stability across the Taiwan Strait. Such an agreement would eliminate the things that each side fears the most: for Taiwan, the threat that Beijing will attack; and for Beijing, the threat that Taiwan will cross the independence red line.


Fascinating. A major foreign policy veteran believes that a 30 year stand down will eliminate the threat that Taiwan will declare independence. In what way does a generation of peace fail to accomplish that in all but name? A decade of political freedom has already led to a vast public shift in voting patterns and in local cultural identities. Such an agreement would be out of the question for China, though I suspect Taipei would welcome it.