Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Link: Why a Free Taiwan is Vital to Japanese National Security (Revised Edition)

     All too often when policymakers in Washington think about the importance of Taiwan in regards to American interests in the East Asian region, it is done with a relatively narrow point of view.  What this means is that  often when policy is discussed regarding Taiwan, there is a  tendency to focus only on areas  which have direct  tangible for American interests: The American  trade and military  relationship with Taiwan and how these relationships effect the American-China relationship are usually the  primary focal points within Washington.  Yet the argument could be made that Taiwan's importance to other American allies is nearly as important as the US-Taiwan relationship itself. Which brings us to the state of Japan: America's closest ally in the Asian Pacific.  To understand why Taiwan's status should be of paramount importance to American interests, this article will show why a free Taiwan is so vital for not only Japan's national security interests, but for East Asian regional stability, and American interests as well.

It's All About Location 
Taiwan is located in a strategically important location within the Pacific Ocean.  In any direction from Taiwan, there are vital sea lanes that a resource-poor Japan relies upon for its trade and energy resources.  Two of these primary trade arteries, The Taiwan Strait, and the Luzon Strait, are shown below.

   Both the Taiwan and Luzon Straits are shipping lanes in which most Japanese imports that originate from the Persian Gulf and Central Asia are shipped through en route to ports in Japan. If Taiwan were to lose its sovereignty and fall under PRC jurisdiction, China could use its naval power to cut-off these sea lines of communication that are vital to Japan's means of acquiring goods and energy.  The mere threat of doing so could force Japanese concessions in areas that China currently does not have the leverage to enforce to the degree that it would like (ie. Senkaku/Diaoyu territorial disputes).  There would also be security concerns for Japan and the United States, which will be covered later.


      A Chinese-controlled Taiwan would also allow the Chinese Navy (PLAN)   greater access to the South China Sea, an area in which nearly 60 percent of Japan's energy supplies are shipped.  Additionally, nearly one third of all global trade passes through the South China Sea maritime shipping lanes.  Any disruption of these trade routes by either blockade or conflict could not only cripple the Japanese economy, but send  shock waves through the global economic system that would leave no country untouched in its wake. China's territorial ambitions in the South China Sea makes the scenario of a Chinese-controlled Taiwan even more precarious for Japan's security interests. Former Japanese diplomat Hisahiko Okazaki stated in 2003 that
"Occupation of Taiwan means control of the northern entrance of the South China Sea.  Then, the large part of the South China Sea would become a kind of China's inner water. If China claims exclusive jurisdictions there, in case of emergency, the only safe seaplane for Japan in Asia will be the passage through the Lomboc Strait in Indonesia through the east coast of the Philippines."

Too Close for Comfort 
From the Japanese perspective, Chinese control of Taiwan would cause  immediate concern, as the Senkaku Islands would see the  already small geographic buffer between the two countries all but erased. Currently the islands are located 200 nautical miles from China, but if China were to control Taiwan, that distance would be nearly halved to 120 nautical miles.  Richard Fisher, Senior Fellow of Asian Military Affairs for the International Assessment and Strategy Center, states that "with forces on Taiwan the PLA can better take control of the Senkakus and Sakashima islands, which then give defensive depth to their forces on Taiwan."  Fisher also states that in the long term, the island of Okinawa could be a future target of Chinese territorial ambition, stating "Chinese possession of any of the Ryukyu chain will strengthen its claim to Okinawa.  We can be sure that China is helping to stoke Okinawan independence sentiment.  You can be assured that the PLA would like to control Okinawa as well." Fisher also says of Taiwan's importance to Japan: "Taiwan bisects Japan's southern strategic horizon.  If Taiwan is under PRC control then Japan's sea lines of communication are effectively cut.  Aircraft and missiles on Taiwan can reach thousands of kilometers into the Pacific to interdict Japanese commerce."

The Ryukyu island chain is part of the "First Island Chain" that the PLAN must negotiate through in order to move into the open waters of the Pacific.

Taiwan's Importance to the PLAN's Maneuvering & the Aftermath of PRC- Controlled Taiwan 

China's navy currently has a number of constraints it must overcome in order to move its vessels into the open water of the Pacific (This author previously  compared these restraints to a Pacific version of the Maginot Line).  A Chinese annexation of Taiwan would greatly relieve these constraints on a number of levels. Currently, the lack of deep waters on its coast remains an achilles heel of the PLAN, as described by Okazaki:
 "Chinese submarines have to sail on the surface for a considerable distance and dive near the Ryukyu Archipelagoes in order to operate in the Pacific. As a result, Chinese submarines are presently not a serious threat. In contrast, Taiwan's east coast is directly faced with the deepest sea in the Pacific. If China controlled Taiwan, China could utilize Taiwanese ports for submarines to operate freely throughout the Western Pacific."  

PLAN submarine ports in Eastern Taiwan could critically hinder the advanced submarine surveillance capabilities of the Japanese Defense Forces (JDF) if it lost the capability to track PLAN submarines once they left port, as they would not have to traverse through JDF-monitored maritime space near the Ryukyu Island Chain.

If Taiwan were to fall under Chinese control, China could then move on to redirecting its military capabilities towards territorial claims in the Pacific region.  Its increasingly advanced aircraft, naval vessels could be turned towards pressing its claims in the East and South China Sea.  China has been in negotiations with Russia for over 5 years in an attempt to secure a sizable order of Sukhoi-35 fighter jets. If a sale is completed, these aircraft have extended fuel tanks which would allow for increased periods of time that the PLAAF would have in patrolling the skies over the Senkaku islands.  The ability for the PLAAF to take off from airfields in Taiwan (in lieu of bases in Southeast China)  would greatly increase the patrol times of the aircraft as well.  Such a move would force Japan and/or the United States to increase their respective patrols of the skies, thus increasing the possibility of conflict, or allowing the PLAAF to patrol over the area unimpeded.  Additionally, the PLA 2nd Artillery Corps could focus its nearly 1,600 ballistic missiles based in Eastern China towards new adversaries, with Japan being a likely target. The PLAN would also have the ability to extend its reach directly towards the American military hubs in the region: Guam and Hawaii--unimpeded. The "boxing in" of the PLAN would be no more.

Reason for Optimism? 
There are experts, however, who believe that such a scenario is highly unlikely, if not impossible under current conditions for both military and political reasons.  Ian Easton, a Research Fellow at Project 2049 Institute, believes that "for a number of reasons, the PLAN will not be able to compete with us and our allies for at least 20 years." He also states that Japan has a tremendous ASW, mine sweeping, and air defense capability--and the 7th Fleet relies on the JMSDF to a great degree in these areas.  For its part, Taiwan is rapidly developing and fielding the means to destroy any PLAN surface operation within some 100-200 nm of her coastline with land, air, and sea launched anti-ship missiles.  (The) PLAN is extremely vulnerable to Taiwan's missiles---and USN submarines and F-18s.  The more aircraft carriers China builds, the more vulnerable it will be."

Regarding the much-publicized 1,600 missiles that China's 2nd Artillery Corps has aimed in the direction of Taiwan, Easton states that Taiwan appears to be developing and implementing the capabilities to counter what is thought by many to be Taiwan's most serious military threat. "These are a real threat," he states, "but one that Taiwan is well positioned to counter through a combination of passive air base hardening and resiliency measures, active BMD interceptors (PAC-3 and TK-3), and conventional strike (and cyber) attacks on PLA launch units and command nodes. Japan and the U.S. are less well prepared to defend against Chinese missiles, and have much to learn from Taiwan."   

Easton is also confident that the United States and Japan have little to fear of such a scenario because "that scenario is absolutely impossible." He goes on to say that  Taiwan, as a democracy, will not surrender on its territorial sovereignty, no matter how much money it is able to make through sweet-heart trade deals with the PRC. Even President Ma, Taiwan's most "China-friendly" leader in history, is rock-solid on this issue. He doesn't even acknowledge the legitimacy of the CCP and doesn't recognize the PRC as a "real" country. In that sense, he's a lot tougher diplomatically than we are." 

The Big Picture 
Finally, what would the long-term ramifications be for Japan and the region if such a scenario were to unfold? First, it would likely mean a regional arms race, a diminished role for the United States in the region, states increasingly accommodating an assertive PRC, and a new order in the Pacific region.  Mr. Fisher offers two points on this scenario.

On an imminent regional arms race:A free Taiwan plus the continued engagement of the Americans allow Japan the luxury of not having to rearm completely.  Japan has the luxury of stressing those forces most needed to assist US military operations only for the defense of Japan.  A loss of Taiwan will mean that such an era is over for Japan, it will have to build a full nuclear deterrent, which will spur ROK, Australia and Vietnam to follow suit."

On the aftermath of a Chinese-controlled Taiwan:  "At this point an unfree Taiwan becomes not just a liability for Japan but also for the US as well.  An Asia in which most states have daggers and nuclear daggers drawn on most of their neighbors is a recipe for incalculable instability, and a grand loss of the benefits of our vast commercial relationship with Asia.  In a post free Taiwan era, the US security network in Asia will be based not on an extended US nuclear deterrent, but upon our willingness to proliferate, give nuke weapon tech to our closest friends, which would make inevitable the very instabilities for our children that our predecessors prevented from befalling our generation."

For Japan and the United States alike, a Chinese-controlled Taiwan could aid China in its goal of reshaping the regional maritime order that has been a bedrock of stability for not only the economic development of the region, but for the overall stability of it as well.  Oftentimes, the interests of a state and one or more of its allies  will directly intersect, creating an scenario  in which a mutual interest can be found.  In the case of a Taiwan free from PRC control, Japan and the United States should not find it hard to see that there is a mutual interest in maintaining the current order in the Pacific.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Document Number 9": The Secret Chinese Government Memo and why it matters

     For decades there has been a strong voice among some Washington policymakers that are of the school of thought that believes if the United States approaches its relationship with China in a way that does not intend  to shake the current political and social status quo within that country, that China would inevitably find itself embracing the  lure of Western democracy, and the capitalist economic system and basic tenets of social freedoms that come with it.  While the notion is admirable in its intentions, the reality is that the leadership of  Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees these same ideals as threats to its grip on power, and has given the notion of interacting with China with "kid gloves" perhaps a mortal blow in the form of Document Number 9  .

   Before focusing on the mentioned document, a quick reflection back into recent Chinese history.   Former Chinese President Deng Xiaoping stated that it was wise to "hide your strength and bide your time".  During his time as leader of the PRC (which lasted in various forms from 1976 to 1989), China was just waking up from a Mao-induced economic coma that lasted nearly thirty years.  Additionally,  Chinese society was in tatters from the Cultural Revolution that wasted a decade of potential economic growth, as well as sorely needed economic and society building that was essential for stabilizing the country.  Deng realized this and toned town China's hostile tone towards Western states in general, as well as laying the foundation that was soon to become an economic boom within China.  The idea seemed to be for China to be patient, adopt specific aspects from the West that were needed in order to revitalize China, and to lie dormant until China had the strength politically, economically, and militarily to pursue its goals of once again placing China atop the global pecking order of the international system.  Success was to be measured in decades; not in election cycles.  China could afford to be patient, as there was no electorate to answer to, and no opposition party to fear.

Many countries, including the United States, saw the potential for a consumer market of one billion people, and  a cheap labor force in which to manufacture their goods.  For many countries, the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was naively believed by many in the West that if China were to "become exposed" to Western capitalism, as well as its liberal social values that coincide with it, it would eventually itself liberalize and happily join hands and walk into the sunset with the rest of the liberal international order.  This mindset was fraught with problems with the outset.  It did not take into account that a liberalization would likely spell the end of one party rule in China, that China was not one of the states who helped form the new international order following World War II and did not want to be subject to its restraints, and that many within Chinese society feel that their country was shamed by Western encroachment in the past century, and there are scores that have yet to be settled properly.

Yet Beijing was content to play the Western game as long as it needed to.  During this patient phase, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was of grave concern to the CCP leadership, as it saw its future if it did not take steps to ensure its own security within China.  Even today, mandatory classes are given to CCP members about the lessons from the downfall of the Soviet Union--and how they can be avoided. From the portions of Document Number 9 that were released, it appears that Xi Jinping has taken these lessons to heart, and the West should take note, as perhaps Beijing feels that its long period of slumber is now over.

Portions of the document, obtained by the New York Times, appears to run counter to Xi Jinping's statements about a desire to come to an agreement with the United States on a new "Great Power" Consensus, and instead views many aspects of Western society as threats to the Communist Party in China.

"Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society.
These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader. The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past."

     While Xi has used Maoist themes in a number of his speeches and decrees since coming to power, it has been widely assumed that it was done in order to placate the leftist factions within the CCP in order to consolidate his power base, as well as an attempt to appease supporters of the ousted Bo Xilai, the once popular Central politburo member now on trial for corruption.  Document Number 9 seemingly shows that the hope of liberalizing China through means of engagement and liberal economics will not work, and that the CCP  will continue to play by their own rules.  Potential American concessions to China in the areas of human rights, economics, Taiwan, and other issues should not be given simply because there has been little or no reciprocation from China regarding American interests elsewhere in the world.  Memo Number 9 makes clear that Western values and norms are not welcome in the eyes of the CCP in China.  The era of American concessions to China in the hope that liberalization would occur should cease.  The ruling party appears to feel confident enough in its abilities to rise from its slumber. It will take an equally strong resolve from the United States to maintain its place of supremacy globally, and no amount of goodwill shipped from Washington to Beijing will alter the CCP's stance of feeling threatened by Western liberal values. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Taiwan and China take yet another step towards economic integration

A short snippet taken from April's edition of Monocle magazine.

"China and Taiwan might be diplomatic adversaries but their economies have never been more tightly intertwined.  Businesses and investors on both sides of the strait can now exchange Chinese renminbi and Taiwanese dollars without having to convert to US dollars first. It's part of a gradual warming of economic ties with China that Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, has pursued since taking office in 2008.  Taipei's hope is that it will become a regional financial centre; the more likely scenario is that Taiwan adds to renminbi trading, raising the Chinese currency's profile overseas (emph. added), says Frances Cheung, senior markets analyst at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong."

Unfortunately, Mr. Cheung is probably right with his analysis.  Until Taiwan makes the difficult decision to deregulate its banking and energy sectors, moves such as the one described above will simply enhance the international perception that  Taiwan is moving ever closer towards near-total  economic dependency on China.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Yasukuni Complex

         The Yasukuni Shrine in Japan reopens old wounds on a near-annual basis for many nationalities in Asia.  

     On August 9th, The People's Daily Online, an officially sanctioned media outlet of the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial entitled "Time to put an end to Japanese 'ghost worship', in which it stated that "every year on August 15th, a historical scar is reopened by the refusal of Japanese politicians to face up to their history of aggression-- a refusal that is encapsulated in their "ghost worship".  It is a unique event in the fact that for at least one day out of the year, China shares a common historical bond with North and South Korea, as well as Taiwan in their opposition of Japanese leaders visiting the shrine to pay their respects to who they see as those who have defended Japan throughout history.  It's not difficult to see the sensitivity surrounding the issue. A number of  convicted war criminals have been enshrined into the complex, including Hideki Tojo and Kenji Doihara, which is the primary source of anger among many who  feel that these individuals are unjustly  honored, which also results in a collective  revision of historical events within Japanese society.  While these bones of contentment are understandable, Japan is not alone in having a difficult time facing their historical wartime demons. 

     Whenever a state is involved in conflict in  either an external or domestic nature,  there are individuals and events that the opposition will undoubtedly see in a negative light.  In the United States, the sensitive nature of the Civil War that took place over 150 years ago still rears its ugly head via flag controversiesmemorials, and burials among Americans in a way that oftentimes would give the impression that the conflict took place much more recently.  It is often difficult for a society to admit that over the course of a particular conflict,  some within their tribe committed acts that went beyond the scope of a defense of their respective nation and its ideals,  and more into the realm of unacceptable human behavior--The acts of a few can shame the collective conscience of a nation.  Shame is not a feeling that any society would enjoy having for any period of time, but it can be a necessary cross that needs to be carried for a time in order for a  society to  move on from a particular conflict, and to  regain a pride that has been damaged.  Some countries have been able to bear this burden well and come to grips with violent episodes in their recent history (post-Nazi Germany, Cambodia,  Peru), while some are still struggling ( South Africa, Turkey).  

Japan is a unique case in that it has shown  a willingness to accept responsibility for its role in the Second World War by adopting and maintaining a Constitution that is a drastically different governmental framework that it had prior to 1945, and is based on democratic values and a pacifist--defense oriented military (although the military aspect within the constitution  could change in the near future).  It also has sectors within its society that has shown a steadfast reluctance to accept the documented episodes of Japanese brutality that took place throughout many of its conquered territories over the course of the Second World War, either by glossing over history in its school textbooks, and for many, the annual visits by members of the Japanese government to the Yasukuni Shrine. 

Ironically, three of the countries who often are most vocally opposed to the Yasukuni Shrine visits still have a "Yasukuni Complex" themselves in varying degrees.  The People's Daily editorial also stated that "Every time this date approaches, right-wing Japanese politicians parade their distorted view of war and history" and that the words from some Japanese officials "are shameless and aggressive" that "disdain the impact they have on the sensitivities of other peoples".  While there is not an official date that members of the Chinese Communist Party Standing Committee collectively get together to mark an official day of respect for those who they see as "heroes", the PRC does have what some could consider a building that is insensitive in its own right. 

Mao Zedong: The Chinese leader whose economic and political policies are  responsible for an estimated 20-70 million deaths. While the CCP criticizes Japanese "Ghost Worship", it practices its own version of honoring a controversial leader--in the flesh.  

While in recent decades, following Mao's death in 1976, the government has admitted "mistakes" were made over the course of Mao's rule, China has yet to come to terms with its own dark periods in contemporary history.  In the case of North Korea, it is not even worth exploring its own version of the "Yasukuni Complex", as it is a necessary component for the legitimization of the Korean Workers Party within the DPRK, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. 

In Taiwan, there has been considerable progress towards recognizing and coming to grips with  the brutal period of Chaing Kai-Shek's Kuomintang one-party rule for nearly 40 years on Taiwan, although there are still many people who have never been unaccounted for, and some within the KMT apparatus have attempted to gloss over the atrocities that took place within Taiwanese society  during this time as "necessary evils" in order to combat the communist threat from China proper.  

It is undoubtedly difficult to say "I'm sorry" as an individual. To do so on a collective level is perhaps even more difficult in that there are varying levels of emotion that must be grouped and packaged into a consensus that can be accepted by a society: guilt, responsibility, acceptance, pride, forgiveness, and surely many more.  The process can only begin by a willingness to take on these emotions, and in many cases certain societies do not yet have the collective will that is necessary to carry out this difficult task. In the case of Japan, perhaps it is time for it to do so, and in this modern age of mass media and social networking, the citizens of China, Taiwan,and even eventually North Korea could take note, and begin the process of  reflection themselves---and shedding their own "Yasukuni Complex" in the process. 


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

China Proposes Cross-Strait Highways to link China and Taiwan...Doesn't Ask for Taiwan's Approval

While Taiwan remains engulfed in its own domestic problems regarding the musical chairs being played over finding a new Defense Minister, the powers that be in Beijing continue to draw up lofty projects that are intended to draw Taiwan further into the PRC orbit.

On Monday,  the South China Morning Post reported that the Chinese government approved a national road project that includes the construction of two cross-Strait highways that would link the Chinese cities of Fuzhou and Xiamen with the Taiwanese cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung respectively. While members of the Chinese political elite have long been known to clamor over grand infrastructure projects, there was a small problem with this one in particular in that Beijing didn't ask Taiwan about its interest in such a project. A member of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council stated that "Based on national security concerns and cross-Strait interactions, we have not planned anything with such high political sensitivity and complexity,".

Looking at the official Chinese State media illustrations regarding such a project, it is not difficult to see why there would be a high level of opposition from those in Taiwan who are leery of the island being drawn uncomfortably closer under such a plan.

Looking to place  the shackles on Taiwan via tunnels and highways? 

While such a project remains merely a dream for China for the foreseeable future, it is not without supporters on at least a smaller scale from some within Taiwan.  The SCMP also stated in its report that The government of Quemoy "first proposed building the bridge in 2006, in a bid to increase tourism and economic exchanges with the mainland", and also stated that President Ma "voiced support for the bridge three months after becoming President in 2008..." but he later backtracked from supporting the project due to criticism from the "pro-independence camp".

China has also looked to increase joint development projects with Taiwan in other areas within the Taiwan Strait in recent years. In 2012, the PRC proposed a joint development project  with Taiwan on the Chinese-controlled island of Pingtan, in which Taiwanese citizens would essentially share posts with Chinese on the management committee in the management of the island.  (President Ma, however, was not receptive of the idea).  

While only a little over  five years have passed since Ma Ying-jeou began his term as President of Taiwan, which resulted in the warming of ties between Taiwan and China, it appears that the PRC will look to continue in its attempt to reach for higher hanging fruit in the relationship, even if some gestures, such as a massive highway link are currently out of the realms of possibility.