Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Clicking Of Certain Gears

I have been busy the back end of this week with a lot of interesting reading and with having to deal with a couple of minor domestic crises. I have five draft posts waiting to be finished.

Following on from his report last week on the secret meeting between the PRC's Vice Minister of Public Security, Chen Zhimin and Taiwanese security officials, this week J.Michael Cole sought a slightly longer depth of field to bring the context for this meeting into focus by drawing together answers from three proclaimed U.S. foreign policy experts to his questions on East Asian geopolitical-military maneuverings. The introductory warning:
"All these moves, added to a Washington that appeared to be increasingly reluctant to provide Taiwan with the advanced weapons it needed to defend itself, pointed to a possible reassessment of the line drawn by then-US secretary of state John Foster Dulles and then-assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs Dean Rusk in 1950, just as the Korean War was breaking out, which turned Taiwan into a redoubt against the communists in China. This is a line that, for all intents and purposes, remains effective today. Could this mean that Japan and the US, 50 years into their security alliance, have opted for a strategic retreat, abandoning Taiwan in order to consolidate a more easily defensible position, whose outer edge begins at the newly redrawn ADIZ?"
That single, rather timid sentence I have emboldened reads just like an anxiously elongated question mark, a nervous application for yet one more line of credit. That question mark, along with its instigator, the frightening prospect of a U.S. strategic retreat from East Asia, was what J.Michael Cole took to the following foreign policy experts last week.

First, Arthur Waldron, a professor of international relations in the history department at Pennsylvania:
“A month or so ago, that [U.S. retreat] would have been a plausible position. That is why, I think, Japan shifted the ADIZ [Japanese air defense zone]... Ironically, it has been the Taiwanese leadership and a seeming public lack of concern that has caused some to consider redrawing the line.”
A plausible position a month ago? Why not now? That doesn't reassure at all.

Second, the former chairman of the AIT and current Brookings Institute Senior Fellow, Richard Bush. He had this to say:
“We can certainly not rule out the possibility that the United States might decide to play less of an international role and provide less ‘security public goods’ than it has in the past … I see no sign that the US commitment to the peace and security in East Asia is waning”
... and ...
“We have a multi-faceted stake in the region. Our regional policy is one supported by both Democratic and Republican leaders and policy experts.."
I don't find that particularly reassuring either because my worry lies not so much with any purported waning of U.S. commitment to peace and security (i.e. the status quo), but with the fact that that "commitment" signifies the lack of any concentrated moral challenge to the existence of the PRC. When was the last time a prominent Western leader openly challenged or mocked the PRC, in the manner of Reagan's rebuke to Gorbachev? This cowardice ought to be traced back to the decisions by the political and military leadership of the U.S. and Britain after WW2 to forego the historical opportunity provided by their military advantage to challenge the communists in both the USSR and China. Nevertheless, the essentially evil nature of the PRC (and yes that is a considered use of the adjective) still remains effectively unchallenged, sixty five years later. I do not see how the people of China can ever free themselves without strong leadership from the West - and that most definitely is not going to come from the Europeans.

Cole's third interviewee was David Arase, a professor at Claremont in California, who did at least try to offer reassurance:
“I’m pretty sure no one is thinking about handing Taiwan over to China. If it did, why should Japan trust the US with its security?”
One answer to that of course is that Japan shouldn't and indeed, Japan has already taken some of its own, cautious, steps toward its own defense - it extended its Air Defense Zone in June and is talking about deploying troops on some of the islands - Yonaguni, Miyako and Ishigaki - it claims for its southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. It is correct of course that Japan's defense still overwhelmingly rests upon the weight of the U.S. deterrent, and any decision to develop nuclear weapons by Tokyo would likely face political difficulties. However, all of that is beside the point. In addition to noting the terms of Tokyo's surrender to the U.S. at the close of WW2, I think we must take into account the latent (and frequently not so latent) Chinese hatred toward Japan which has been a very useful card for the CCP to play on in maintaining their grip on political power. No Japanese government since WW2 has had any realistic chance of abandoning its strategic alignment with the U.S., and to pretend otherwise is insulting.

More from the interviews - this time, Richard Bush first:
"The actions of China are driving our friends back into our embrace,” Richard Bush said, with Taiwan ostensibly in mind. “That Beijing has brought this about is quite astounding after its fairly deft diplomacy of the last two decades.”
In the absence of evidence I can only treat the first sentence as conjectural at best; my sense is of a certain political momentum toward Beijing rather than Washington, hence the talks between the KMT and the CCP back in 2006 when the KMT weren't even in power. On top of that, I can't say I share the astonishment expressed in the second sentence - the U.S. has maneuvered itself into a position of relative weakness.

Back to David Arase:
“The Pentagon could see an advantage in provoking China to assume a belligerent stance. One good incident and China’s charm offensive in Southeast Asia is undone.”
Assuming there are people in the Pentagon who are trying to influence the Obama administration into putting the PRC "back in its box" as it were, I can only say the signs have been very timid so far. Naval exercises do not carry anything like the same weight when they are not backed by the clear, clarion call of moral challenge from the President himself. Has the current U.S. President given any signs that he is capable of that?

Finally, back to Arthur Waldron:
“The other Asian countries know that the Taiwan Strait is still the front line,” Waldron said, adding that as Taiwanese, like others in Asia, recoil from China’s “crude behavior,” more confidence and coherence will develop in society to oppose Beijing."
Let's hope so, but let's not kid ourselves that the rest of Asia can face down the PRC without the clear moral support of the people of the United States. And facing down the PRC is a responsibility that any person who cares for his or her freedom in this part of the world must not shirk.


  1. What changed in a month was PRC behavior which landed like a rock in a placid pond, and is still rippling and tossing the countries around the edge. I honestly think we have passed a turning point and that China will be viewed with much more caution in the future

    Arthur Waldron 13 October

  2. Mr Waldron

    Thank you for your comment. Two things: first, I am surprised that anybody can view the PRC's recent behaviour with surprise, but perhaps that is because I'm a layman. Second, I would think that, for the advance of freedom, the value of caution is subservient to a clarity of moral purpose. I hope that we have indeed passed a corner and that the days of "strategic ambiguity" are behind us.


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