by EconMatters, EconMatters.com
Some long time readers probably know I occasionally write about Asian geopolitics related to China and Taiwan. Since Taiwan typically goes under the radar of major news media, I usually google browse both Chinese and English news about Taiwan. Over the weekend, I came across one disturbing piece of article by Hugh White who’s a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.
[T]he harsh reality is that no country is going to sacrifice its relations with China in order to help Taiwan…… China is simply too important economically, and too powerful militarily, for anyone to confront it on Taiwan’s behalf…….
Even more worryingly, this reality does not yet seem to have sunk in in Washington…. Any US effort to support Taiwan militarily against China would be almost certain to escalate into a full-scale US-China war and quite possibly a nuclear exchange. That would be a disaster for everyone….far worse than reunification [for the people of Taiwan itself]…….
Everybody Scared of China?
The article basically tells the world to give a nod of approval to an act of invasion to appease China as everybody is in dire need of China’s money and helpless against China since
“China can sink the carriers, and their economies are so intertwined that trade sanctions of the kind the US used against Russia recently are simply unthinkable.”
Judging from the lack of action by the international community against Russia in Russo-Georgian War in 2008 and Crimea in 2014, I should not be too shocked by this kind of defeatist mentality that is all too prevalent. What I find ludicrous is that a university professor specialized in strategic studies would come up with a view so simplistic and as un-strategic as one can get.
“Taiwanese overestimate the international support they can rely on if Beijing decides to get tough.”
but he obviously gives too much credit to China’s resolve to go to war with the U.S. over Taiwan, and under-estimate the alternatives of a non-military war.
Let’s just ask this ‘strategic’ question — Is it even plausible that China would go all nuke on the U.S. over Taiwan?
Nobody Wants A Military War
The fact is that NOBODY, China and U.S. included, wants to go to a military war, let along a nuclear one, regardless what the justification is. In this day and age, non-military alternatives are often employed to avoid an outright war. Look at how Russian economy suffered from sanctions and low oil price directly threatening Putin’s political position (Conspiracy theorists long posit that the current oil price war is actually a pact between Saudi and the U.S. to crush Russia.)
What International Support?
Next, I’m going to respond to White’s comment regarding ‘Taiwanese overestimate the international support‘.
Due to the island’s political tension with China for the past 65 years, Taiwan has experienced countless betrayals and back-stabbing by many so-called allies. So Taiwan has long learned not to rely on the ‘international support’, while striving for an independent economy and national defense (Taiwan has never asked or needed international bailout / handout like, for example, Greece, barring any humanitarian support for catastrophic events).
Nothing’s Free in This World Don’t think for one second that the support from the U.S. in the past 3 Taiwan Strait Crisis were purely to honor the commitment the U.S. made to the people in Taiwan via the Taiwan Relations Act (of course, it’d still look pretty bad if the U.S. were to break its own Congressional Act.)
Bear in mind, the ‘apparent support’ from the U.S. in the form of defense weapon or equipment is not a freebie. In order to beef up its own defense against potential military threat from China, Taiwan’s purchase has benefited many companies in American and European defense industry (It is well known in Taiwan that t the price is always jacked way up when selling to Taiwan, which I guess is the ‘China Risk Premium’).
Most importantly, Taiwan has something the U.S. needs.
As noted in my previous post, currently, the U.S. can’t really do anything about China’s increasing military and financial (i.e. AIIB) influence over the region. But U.S. has a gaping hole in its regional defense layer exposing U.S. Guam, Hawaii, even the U.S. West Coast to direct threat from China. Taiwan is the only friendly suitable and effective response to China plugging that hole in the U.S. regional defense network.
The continued existence of Taiwan (or the Republic of China) as a free, democratic and independent state is a chess move the entire international community, not just the U.S. cannot afford not to make.
China-Japan Before China-Taiwan
My observation is that China would leave Taiwan status quo as long as Beijing ‘feels’ Taiwan is part of China. So China may become difficult with Taiwan’s presence in international settings, and may act aggressively towards any local island independent movements, but would unlikely resort to actual military actions against Taiwan (although Communist China did try some 60 years ago when Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist Government first retreated to Taiwan).
In fact, the increasing nationalism in Japan, the visit by Japan cabinet members, including Abe, to pay respect to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, and the ongoing dispute over diaoyu islands, probably irk China more than Taiwan could ever achieve.
Japan has been a long-time ally of the U.S. who almost always has Japan’s back. So Mr. White should spend more of his energy ‘strategizing’ how Washington and the international community should best handle the ‘delicate’ scenario should a war or military conflict break out between China and Japan instead of a China-Taiwan scenario described in his article.