America’s Alliance with Taiwan

In the recent article of “Strategy and Tactics”, an excellent magazine that I highly recommend, they discussed the threat from China with a sobering assessment of the potential outcome of a war between the USA and China over Taiwan. China’s military is becoming more and more effective each year as the country gets richer, and China’s technical capabilities are increasing by the day (think of how much of your electronics are “Made in China”). As I read through the article I thought of all the casualties our carrier and air forces would suffer while repelling a Chinese attack across the Straits of Formosa, the open ocean separating Taiwan from the mainland, even in the “best case” scenario.

At the end of the article I had what was, for me, kind of a heretical thought:

“Why are we even in this alliance with Taiwan, anyways, and is it worth a war against China?”

In the past Taiwan has been seen, rightly so, as a bulwark against Communist expansion. In the years following WW2, when the Communists took power in China (in the late 1940’s), the USA was looking for dedicated friends in the region, not only for Allied troops but for bases that could be used to counter the Communist threat (both Russia and China).

Over the years, however, the situation has changed. China has gone from being a nearly-insane, Mao led “cultural revolution” type of society to one that is fiercely free-market based and where most forms of expression, with the exception of political discourse, is not too severely repressed.

Hong Kong was integrated into the fold, and while human rights haven’t increased in that country, they haven’t noticeably decreased, either. Certainly the hand off went pretty smoothly, much better than the doomsayers (such as myself) would have predicted.

What I thought of was a friend I met who is from the Channel Islands, which are filled with citizens of British origin (mainly). These islands were occupied by the Germans in WW2, even though the Royal Navy controlled the English Channel.

The reason that the islands were occupied is that they were so close to the mainland that they were basically indefensible; the Germans could pound the islands with artillery fire, wrecking it militarily and inflicting unacceptable casualties on the non-soldier citizens.

While Taiwan is more defensible than the Channel Islands were in WW2, the concept is basically the same; these possessions can’t reasonably be expected to be held if the enemy is willing to expend considerable effort (blockades, air attacks, missile attacks, as well as amphibious invasion) against the island.

And what is our cultural tie to Taiwan? Do you know any Taiwanese people? Do we have significant inter-family relationships? Other than a shared hatred of Communism, there isn’t a lot that joins us together. We do want them to exist as a democracy, and should support them to the extent possible, but should we prepare to fight a major war with China on their behalf?

In WW2 the British and French fought a war to help the Poles, and although in the end Poland fell under the Iron Curtain until it fell in the late 80’s, it made sense due to a shared history that Poland was part of a military alliance. Chicago is supposedly the largest Polish city after Warsaw in terms of # of Poles, after all.

In summary:
1) the take over of Hong Kong by China didn’t involve mayhem or bloodshed, or significant suppression of human rights, as the worst-case may have suggested
2) China’s capabilities are growing by the day militarily
3) Taiwan has a natural defensive barrier (the open ocean) but this is diminishing as a shield against Chinese military abilities
4) the US and Taiwan share a hatred of Communism, but not a lot of inter family ties, or shared culture. The current version of Chinese communism does not inspire the same level of intense feelings as did the version under Mao of the Great Leap Forward, for example

Maybe we ought to let Taiwan take a bigger part in its own defense, or pare back our desire to fight over this island. At a minimum, Taiwan ought to think twice before overly provoking the mainland. Or maybe we ought to realize that it is frankly indefensible.

Cross posted at LITGM

39 thoughts on “America’s Alliance with Taiwan”

  1. If we tell Taiwan that we will no longer defend them then Taiwan will quickly make lots and lots of WMDs.

  2. Taiwan should get nukes, as should Japan and probably South Korea. Ideally, Taiwan would be like Israel: a democratic US ally that is so powerful that it can maintain the regional balance of power and does not need our military assistance to defend itself. That’s unlikely, however, given that China is militarily more competent than the Arabs and Iranians are.

    The important question is the one that you glided past in your effort to see only the upside of Chinese national dynamism: If China is such a non-threat, why are we even concerned about a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? I would suggest that we all recognize that China is a threat. We argue about the degree of danger it poses but it’s clear that there is a danger. And in that case it’s in our interest that China not invade Taiwan or otherwise expand its influence by force. It’s also in our interest to protect a fellow democracy against aggression. Why did we help to defend Britain from the Nazis?

    Unless your post was meant facetiously, in which case, ha ha ha.

  3. I wasn’t saying that the Chinese were a threat. They are a major threat. We should be concerned about an invasion of Taiwan. And it is in our interest to help Taiwan. Until recently, I never even gave it a second thought. But China is getting stronger, and our ability to project power isn’t infinite.

    But would we fight a major, shooting war with China right there, on the edge of their territory, in a place that is extremely difficult to defend? Why was it OK to allow Hong Kong to fall to the Chinese and not fight a war over that – conceptually the cases are very similar – except it was the UK and not the USA who was the defender and everyone realized that Hong Kong was completely indefensible in any case.

    Why did we help Britain defend the Nazis? Because we had a long historical alliance with them, and a vast shared history. That isn’t the case with Taiwan.

  4. “It’s also in our interest to protect a fellow democracy against aggression. Why did we help to defend Britain from the Nazis?”

    France was a democracy in 1940, but we did not get into the war on its behalf. We helped Britain because (1) it was our own first line of defense against Germany, (2) Hitler declared war on us, and Germany was more dangerous than Japan, so we went after Germany first, and helped Britain expend its own lives and treasure against our enemy, and (3) Britain was democratic, but also imperialist, and we aggressively weakened Britain and dismantled its empire during the war, taking advantage of British weakness to pursue our own aims at Britain’s expense.

    Taiwan is not really analogous in any way to Britain.

    Defending foreign democracies is something we pay lip service to, but we are as or more likely to defend dictatorships if some tangible is at stake. Zimbabwe just had an election, which is none of our business, and Mugabe is going to disregard it, and we are quite correctly not getting involved.

    We have been defending Taiwan for several reasons, I think. (1) most important is inertia, we are defending Taiwan because we have been doing so for a long time and planning and weapon procurement and political support and personal ties and relationships and the whole momentum of government is behind continuing to do so, (2) genuine fear that China is a threat and Taiwan is an element in a containment strategy, (3) Taiwan is a major trading partner, very wealthy, and we don’t want this relationship disrupted, or those assets in the hands of an actual or potential adversary, (4) Taiwan’s open society, including its democracyj (5) the prospect that Taiwan will acquire nuclear weapons to defend itself, if we remove our guarantee.

    The most important reason we should continue to defend Taiwan is simply because we have promised to do so. If we break that promise it will be harder for us to conduct our affairs and be trusted in the world. We should, however, demand more in return. Taiwan wants absolute freedom to provoke the mainland, disrupting a very important relationship between the USA and China. We should make clear what limits we expect in return for our defense commitment.

  5. Taiwan is a democracy threatened by dictatorships, as Britain was in the ’30s and ’40s. I think it’s in our interest to help to defend the place. And because we’ve willing to defend Tawain, if we cut Taiwan loose it would be interpreted as a retreat by China. We have to be very careful about how our actions are perceived.

    IMO it was a major blunder for Britain to cede HK to China. Britain didn’t have to do it. They blundered. China wouldn’t have gone to war over the status quo. I don’t see how we would gain by changing the current status quo. The only exception, IMO, is that we should encourage greater Taiwanese (and Japanese) self-reliance and acquisition of nukes, but that’s not what you appear to be suggesting.

    If we fight China, why cede an ally and forward base? Where should we fight China if it comes to that? Why not maintain as many options as we can? You appear to be suggesting that we abandon an ally in exchange for purely theoretical benefits. Even disregarding my belief that we should generally stand by small democratic allies against aggression by large dictatorships, I don’t see what we’d gain by your plan.

    A Chinese takeover of Taiwan could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we mishandle things. The current situation isn’t ideal, but the alternatives have a high potential for weakening us and encouraging Chinese aggression. Remember, Secretary of State Biden may be in charge when your plan goes down.

  6. France was a democracy in 1940, but we did not get into the war on its behalf. We helped Britain because (1) it was our own first line of defense against Germany…

    We would have been better off to defend France after 1939 if we could have. I think we should supply weapons to the Zimbabwean opposition and to the Darfuris.

    As you point out, Taiwan is our first line of defense against China — as Britain was our first line of defense against Hitler.

    I fail to understand our deference to the Chinese dictatorship. Rather than contain them, I think we ought to try to squeeze them by supporting the HK democracy movement and by encouraging Taiwan and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons.

  7. “IMO it was a major blunder for Britain to cede HK to China. Britain didn’t have to do it.”

    China would have just rolled in and taken it, like India did to Goa. There was zero consideration of not pulling out. Britain’s trade with China had value, continuing to have some general authority to appoint the police commissioner in Hong Kong, etc. had relatively little value. The British were never very sentimental about their Empire. When it started seriously costing more than it was worth they wound it up. The treaty required the cession of the New Territories on the mainland, but the island, if I recall correctly was not specifically addressed. But everyone expected China to regain the whole territory in its entirety. No one would have benefited from some pointless gesture by Britain.

    The USA has tried to keep other countries from getting nuclear weapons, including Japan and certainly Taiwan. Whether you or I think it would be better for them to have them, there is no way the American policy is going to change.

    “If we fight China, why cede an ally and forward base?” You have it backwards. There is nothing to fight about except the purported “ally and forward base”. The difference between now and 1914 or 1939 is that both sides are rational actors and both sides have nuclear weapons. Taiwan would not be a base in wartime, it would be an exposed position which we would lose many ships, aircraft and many lives to defend for no benefit to ourselves. We are not going to invade the mainland, so it is a base that goes nowhere. We get zero benefit out of it.

    “A Chinese takeover of Taiwan could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we mishandle things.”

    A Chinese takeover of Taiwan is taking place in slow motion now, and is inevitable because both sides want it. The two economies have become totally intermingled while we talk about fighting on Taiwan’s behalf. While the USA is talking about starting Cold War II over the place, to justify buying weapons we don’t need and won’t use, the Taiwanese are investing and travelling and building in China in droves. The Taiwanese show little interest in assuming much of the burden of a defense we insist they need from their trading partner. It is a pretty good deal for Taiwan. China will probably end up annexing them without a shot being fired when the Taiwanese are offered a good enough deal.

    The fact that a foreign country has elections or otherwise has admirable institutions places no obligation on us. If we get some tangible benefit from protecting a foreign country we should do so without regard to how they select their government.

    All that said, we should maintain the defense relationship, solely to be seen to be keeping our promises.

    But that is a weak reason, and we should be looking toward some negotiated winding up of the relationship with Taiwan. The cost/benefit calculus does not come up favorably for the USA.

    This is a problem that will solve itself if none of the parties involved do anything stupid.

  8. “As you point out, Taiwan is our first line of defense against China — as Britain was our first line of defense against Hitler.”

    Did I say that? I didn’t mean to. There is no comparison whatsoever. We don’t need a “line of defense against China.”

    How is China analogous to Nazi Germany? No comparison. If everybody is Hitler, nobody is Hitler. Iran isn’t Nazi Germany. Iraq wasn’t either.

    Why should we “squeeze” China?

    Because they want to sell us inexpensive bicycles? Because they knock off our videos? Because they want to buy up all our scrap metal?

    We have nothing to fight about with China.

  9. “While Taiwan is more defensible than the Channel Islands were in WW2, the concept is basically the same; these possessions can’t reasonably be expected to be held if the enemy is willing to expend considerable effort (blockades, air attacks, missile attacks, as well as amphibious invasion) against the island”

    The PRC is not militarily able to take Taiwan at the present time, lacking the air and sealift capabilities, logistical networks and a number of other factors including a significant qualitative Taiwanese military edge and political will. The regime cannot risk an amphibious invasion that will kill *millions* of troops and civilians where the odds of success are low. If they fail, they fall.

    What Beijing can do is devastate Taiwan with a missile barrage and bombing campaign – at the cost of much of their air force which Taipei will shoot down and Taiwanese retaliation against mainland urban targets and infrastructure like dams, power stations, nuclear plants etc. Beijing will not do this unless Taipei declares independence – then they *will* do it because an independent Taiwan is an event that could unravel all China in the view of Chinese leaders.

    American interests here are babysitting Taiwan until the two sides agree on peaceful reunification or Taiwanese independence while making it clear that that the USG views the Taiwan Defense Act as purely defensive in nature and if Taipei unilaterally declares independence that they are on their own.

    Basically the Shanghai Communique remains valid.

  10. I think our involvement in the Taiwan – China dispute is what causes China to view us as an adversary.

    I think a lot of what we do in regards to China causes this atmosphere of distrust.

    Perhaps there was a Cold War rationale for protecting Taiwan, but I say that rationale no longer exists.

    If China’s main concern is Taiwan declaring Independence, then the question is, would Taiwan do so knowing there was no longer any American security guarantees?

    I don’t think so. It would be because our alliance that they would take such a bold move.

    Clearly 10 years of Hong Kong under PRC control is enough time to evaulate what PRC promised regarding HK autonomy and what it delivered.

    I’m no expert in that, but I don’t hear any complaining.

    I say we negotiate with Taiwan a way out of our defense commitment to them.

    I don’t view Chinese culture as a particularly threatening one. All I see is a govt who doesn’t want to see the losers of a civil war to gain independence on disputed territory. And also a govt that is trying to secure for itself the energy sources it needs for the present and future.

    I think if the US and China can reach an understanding about these issues, there would be reason for either country to view the other with suspicion.

  11. This seems like one of those let sleeping dogs lie. If China invades Taiwan, well, we’ll need to have a policy. Let them develop and define their own relationship as much as possible. It does seem to me that saying we won’t defend it does two somewhat destructive things: it sends a message that we are not true to our word (do we want to get the reputation of the UN?) and it may well influence the policies that the two countries come up with in a way less attractive to our interests.

    I am, however, struck by the cultural argument. Sure, I see (and feel) our close connection to Great Britain, to the Anglosphere in general; certainly the large early groups of immigrants from northern Europe mean we have closer ties to them and the later influx from eastern Europe a considerable later influences. Still, I live in fly-over countries & what is often considered the boonies; my children have always had classmates from Taiwan, I work with people from Taiwan and the tension between the local Taiwanese and the first groups of students from mainland China was interesting, if a real cause for distress in the Chinese-speaking community. If you are arguing there are major cultural differences and these are cultures we haven’t assimilated in our great melting pot – or, at least, have not assimilated enough to have much of an effect on the contents of that pot, well, okay. But you ask, do you know a Taiwanese, then I think that’s kind of odd. Surely most of the people that read Chicagoboyz do, indeed, know some recent and some second generation immigrants. Especially if they or their kids are in orchestra.

  12. China won’t attack Taiwan—-they’ll buy it!

    As the two sides agree on opening up to each other the mainland has all the leverage. Taiwan needs the China and already does about 45% of it’s trade with them. Taiwan depends on the China for it’s economic growth.

    The new KMT president and legislature are very willing to work out a deal with the mainland. They have never been for democracy. They want a payoff and control of the island. CCP on the mainland and the KMT on the island!

  13. Abandoning Taiwan at this point in time will send the wrong signal to the new Iraq and its enemies.

    If the US abandons Taiwan, South Korea and Japan will feel less secure in their alliance with the US and either start cozying up to China or start work on nukes themselves.

    That being said, I recall there was a redeployment to the rear in South Korea, and the US could certainly adjust its presence in Taiwan as well.

  14. Encouraging Taiwan to use nuclear weapons would be a strategic disaster for the U.S.ーJapan relationship as well.

    Japan would hasten its own proliferation, as would South Korea.

    The world isn`t a videogame.

  15. In WW2 the British and French fought a war to help the Poles,

    Britain and France went to war over the invasion of Poland, however it didn’t do much fighting other than the Sitzkrieg. The German generals were a bit panicked that for their invasion of Poland they’d stripped the Western Front to bare minimum. And the Poles fought inflicting more casualties than the Germans would sustain in their Spring fight against France. However, that little issue about will comes back. The perception that the allies lacked will was correct and exploited.

    As for Taiwan, I don’t see the central government in China too worried about their power position like the junta in Argentina desperately looking to move the show elsewhere. Attacking Taiwan and annexing it by force may get the wink and nod from our State Department, but the average American will be outraged enough to boycott Chinese goods, no matter how entwined they’ve become to our daily lives. Low be the merchant or industrialist who can’t shift production elsewhere fast enough in the marketplace. The central Chinese government has never had to experience the consequence of a serious economic downturn after nearly a generation of good times. If they think they have control problems now, just wait till the effect of raising expectations meets unemployment upon a severe recession scale. That is an unnecessary risk to their power.

    The Chinese have shown a good degree of pragmatism and self interests. I think some have figured out that in the long run, they won’t need to invade. Although the focus is good for gearing up the quality of their military, its no different than us spending generation gearing up to fight on the central plain of Europe. Doing the math in the long run, someone probably has figured out, they could buy Taiwan [literally, stocks, bonds, and property]. Assimilation by hostile take over bid rather than force of arms.

  16. Lex wrote:
    Why should we “squeeze” China?

    Because they want to sell us inexpensive bicycles? Because they knock off our videos? Because they want to buy up all our scrap metal?

    Because it’s in our interest that China democratize. Aside from the question of whether it’s in our interest for people in China to be freer (I think it is, but that’s not the main issue here), a more politically open China would probably be much less of a geopolitical powder-keg than China under dictatorship is.

    China wants much from the West and especially from the USA. I suspect that we have more leverage with China than we use.

    We have nothing to fight about with China.

    That is up to the Chinese dictatorship. The dictators have been prudent so far but it’s always possible that they will change their behavior or miscalculate. This is the unavoidable problem with dictatorships. We should be ready for anything.

  17. Lex wrote:
    “IMO it was a major blunder for Britain to cede HK to China. Britain didn’t have to do it.”

    China would have just rolled in and taken it, like India did to Goa. There was zero consideration of not pulling out…

    No, it was a blunder. Goa is marginal while HK is a major locus of finance and industry. There was no reason to give HK to the communists. It was a matter of will. If Britain had sent some extra ships and troops to HK and made clear that they meant to stay, China would not have risked war over it.

    Britain held HK on a lease that everyone tacitly understood would be renewed. Then someone in the FO made gratuitous remarks about the expiration of the lease, the Chinese govt jumped on the opportunity, and instead of clarifying the remarks and reversing the error, the British govt followed through. They didn’t have to do it. It was a bit like the events that led to our “return” of the Panama Canal to Panama, except that Jimmy Carter was willful about handing over the Canal, and in the case of HK the cost of the blunder was much higher.

  18. “China won’t attack Taiwan—-they’ll buy it!”

    Winner, best comment award.

    We should “squeeze” China because it is “in our interest that China democratize”. I don’t see the cost/risk/benefit here. The immediate and actual costs of “squeezing”, which I presume to be a metaphor for military threats, against some remote, intangible and highly unlikely “democratization” of China.

    The people I know who go to China a lot and deal with the Chinese all say the same kinds of things. The leadership there is an oligarchy of very wealthy families who essentially own the whole country as a result of their Communist Party connections. They have zero ideology and want only to develop the country and keep their families secure and rich and in control. Nationalism is simply a legitimizing device, something they feed the masses to keep them placated. The leadership all studied abroad, speak English and don’t really care about that stuff.

    This kind of regime presents little prospect of a threat to us. To try to push it toward “democracy” is asking the leadership there to cut their own throats. It is a waste of time and we should drop it. They have 700 million people in serious poverty. Democracy is a late-blooming flower. The Anglosphere had all kinds of economic and political freedom for centuries before it had democracy. Leave the Chinese alone to run their own country their own way.

  19. Amazigly, neither you nor your commenters mention the “New Economic Policy” which the Bolsheviks adopted in 1920 and continued through 1929. This was a capitalist economy in Russia. Its purpose was to rebuild the infrastructure lost in WWI and to modernize Communist Russia. Begining in 1930 and ending with the Great Patriotic War, the Communists systematically hunted down and killed every capitalist in Russia. There were several Purges – eliminating grassroots capitalism was the Purge of the Kulacks.

    China is fundamentally irridentist. Has been for 3000 years. China is currently using The New Economic Policy to rebuild and modernize its infrastructure and military power. The Chinese government is committed to restoring the empire to the limits reached by the Tang and Qing. Taiwan, which has belonged to China (as have all the civiled world) before Jesus wept in the Garden, is only the first of many areas the Chinese leaders plan to reunite with the Fatherland.

    Never forget, the first humans in California were Chinese, a causa belli, and we are on their list. The Chinese have not forgotten California and the Americas were originally settled by Chinese.

    We can fight them now or fight them later or we can surrender now by simply learning to order our food by name rather than by number. I for one will always order by the numbers.

  20. British Hong Kong was dependent upon active Chinese cooperation; its water supply has always come from the mainland. Had the UK resisted handing HK back, the PRC wouldn’t have had to invade; they could have wrecked the HK economy through a water cutoff and other measures to rasie the cost of doing businss in HK and causing a panic. Thatcher studied the question of how to hang onto HK militarily and reluctantly concluded it couldn’t be done. Then they tried to negotiate the best deal they could get. Taiwan is a much harder nut to crack, but the dynamic is the same. As was said above, eventually China will buy Taiwan; they’re haggling over the price right now and will do so for several more decades.

    Our interests in regard to China are the same as Britian’s interests in regard to Germany, 1870-1945: to prevent it from totally dominating its continent. This can be done without war so long as the US remains consistent and prepared, and maintains rational alliances. Trouble begins if the US gives off signals of weakness or inconsistency; or if one of the many overhanging disasters disrupts China and brings non-rational government to power again. (Cultural Revolution China was non-rational.) We need to maintain a reasonable position in Taiwan to help maintain consistency and as part of maintenance of an alliance chain – – Taiwan is a minor player in the “Baseball-Cricket Alliance” (US-Japan-Australia plus, less formally, India) that should be the foundation of US policy in the Indo-Pacific cockpit. Also, in naval terms, it would be useful to maintain the Taiwan-Japan and Taiwan-Phillipines gaps as barriers to Chinese naval operations in the event of China going non-rational and seeking to aggressively deploy naval power. So maintaining naval and air bases on Taiwan, or at a minimum, preventing China from having naval bases on the eastern side of the island would be important US goals.

    The best outcome is a happy, ever-more-prosperous China maintaining good relations with the US in a ever-more-prosperous multi-power Indo-Pacific region not dominated by any one hegemonic power. I this this is achievable with a little good luck and consisent US policy.

  21. “The Chinese have not forgotten California and the Americas were originally settled by Chinese.”

    Arnold better start laying mines and stringing barbed wire on the potential invasion beaches.

    It will disrupt surfing and other recreational activities, but that is the price of freedom.

  22. “The Chinese have not forgotten California and the Americas were originally settled by Chinese.”

    Good thing that Camp Pendleton, MCAS Miramar, and the high desert redoubt of Twentynine Palms are at the forefront of the resistance to the imminant Chinese invasion.

    And another tangential point: It looks like the Chinese and the Mexicans are going to have to fight it out.

  23. “[T]he Chinese and the Mexicans are going to have to fight it out.”

    Maybe they’ll do a joint attack! It will be like in Red Dawn where the Nicaraguans (who also speak Spanish, so, close enough) are being used by the Russions to hunt down the Wolverines. (Best scene in the movie, totally from memory, the Nicaraguan commander, after committing some atrocity as part of the counter-insurgency, says in disgust at his own bloody handiwork, “I used to be a revolutionary!”)

  24. We should defend Taiwan because our economy will collapse in a matter of weeks is something happens to it.

    People don’t realize this but Taiwan is the focus of much of speciality manufacturing in the world. I did some research on another matter back in the 90’s and discovered that mid-sized family owned Taiwanese produce a wide range of vital goods, everything from the worlds supply of nuts and bolts to critical electronic components. Most high end items marked “made in china” are in fact made in Taiwan. 90% of the high quality bolts nuts and general fasteners come from Taiwan. Without them we can’t build guns and aircraft.

    Most people don’t understand how utterly interconnected the planetary supply chain is. Frankly, we cannot write off any major manufacturing country without suffering immediate crippling harm. We have to defend critical areas all over the globe.

  25. Taiwan, in the forties, became the homeland for Chinese citizens who wished to be free. They established a democracy (with not just a few bumps along the way) and created a prosperous, modern and peaceful capitalist society. America has always been right to support their democracy and their independence. To abandon them now would be a callous exercise of realpolitik akin, I think, to withdrawing support for Israel to placate its powerful Muslim neighbors. I can’t understand the rationale for such a move at all.

  26. I’ve only skimmed over the above comments so forgive me if someone’s already raised this point, but we have not left Taiwan to its own devices for the same reason we didn’t leave the Iraqis to theirs after toppling Saddam: Because, for better or worse, our nation had committed to protecting them, and we honor our commitments. Even those made many years ago.

    Cutting and running might make (very slightly) more strategic sense in Taiwan than it would have in Iraq, but it would also have amounted to image suicide, as no freedom-loving people would have ever trusted us to protect them again.

  27. Joshua said that “we honor our commitments”.

    Tell that to the Czechs in Prague in 1956. And the Vietnamese
    in 1975. And the Iraqi Marsh Arabs in 1993

    The only reason we don’t ditch Taiwan is inertia. When
    it costs us too much, maybe the PRC will raise the price
    of Mattel toys, we’ll toss them out of the sled too.

    America has the choice to fight our enemies or surrender.
    Since the chattering classes running the media and academia
    don’t want to study war no more we won’t be fighting any
    time soon.

    Thousands of years from now historians will wonder why
    when America had the world by the balls, it dropped it’s
    pants and let itself be sodomized instead.

    You lefties who think your new masters will let you
    share their pie didn’t pay attention in history class.

  28. Everybody’s right. We should give Taiwan, South Korea and Japan nuclear weapons and put our military resources to better use elsewhere. We should simultaneously embrace a policy of reunification for both China/Taiwan and North/South Korea under free, democratic, multiparty regimes. We should act and speak as if this were inevitable, and offer any type of support we can to such peaceful reunification.

    The Soviets collapsed without firing a shot; we need to focus our efforts on supporting a similar outcome from the remaining “People’s Republics” of the world. They’re simply not sustainable and are going to come down eventually regardless. The question is whether they take down anyone with them or not.

    Besides, it might anger the PRC that we facilitated a level playing field with the nuclear arming of their neighbors/antagonists, but by more or less leaving the region we would force a Chinese re-evaluation of the threat we posed to them, and ultimately we would have a less tense situation than we currently have now. And nuclear detente seems to work generally, so what the hey.


  29. Read DOD reports about China’s capabilities to actually mount an amphibious assault on Taiwan. They’ve only barely acquired that capability, which is why they’ve had so many missles pointed at that tiny place (and shot a few over it in 1996 around election time). I’m not saying that the DOD’s intelligence on China’s military capabilities is completely accurate, but to invade the island poses major problems–currents are hideous and the sea geography is not ideal. It would be an expensive, bloody invasion if it ever happened and the US should do whatever it needs to to avoid that kind of situation.

    The US and China are now too intertwined in just about every way possible. Any confrontation would be devastating for both economies. We better get used to the idea of a strong China (absolute GDP will be larger than ours in at least 10 years, although per-capita GDP will never surpass the US unless we completely melt down our economy). There are major cracks in the foundation over there, though. Spend time there and you’ll see it.

  30. So you tell a long time ally “hey, I know we said we would help defend you against the totalitarian state across the water there – but, hey, it might be hard – and we don’t have all that much personal contact with you fellows anyway. So, tough luck for you…”

    And I thought honoring a defense commitment to a democratic country who is an important trading partner might actually be in our interests.

    Maybe we could update the old JFK speech to read “Let the world know, that if it looks difficult, we will bear no burden, support no friend and oppose no enemy…”

  31. I am glad that this thread inspired some interesting (and funny) comments.

    As someone deeply familiar with military issues and in favor of keeping our commitments I did think this post was semi-heretical.

    But the purpose of a blog like this is to say what you think and then get intelligent (and not so intelligent) comments back from others, some who know more than me, and some who know far less.

    I was just reading about the British reinforcement of Singapore that led to the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse and reminding myself about how bloody any actions would be off the coast of China.

    I also am hopeful that it never comes to a shooting war; this certainly would be terrible for both sides on many dimensions.

  32. I think if Taiwan is abandoned the question is what will be next? To answer that question maybe you should look at a Chinese produced map and see the pretentous way that the entire South China Sea is marked in as territory of the P.R.C. I mean they have drawn the boundary line all the way down along the coast of Vietnam, along the coast of Malaysia and back up along the coast of the Phillipines. Can you imagine what will happen if that area falls under the control of the C.C.P. with all the international shipping that passes through those waters. Taking control of those waters doesn’t appear to be an idle dream. I mean do you think it is a conincidence that Vietnam is cosying up to the U.S. recently.

    The theory that people on both sides of the straits want intergration should take another look at the recent UN referendum in Taiwan. Althought the referendum failed because it didn’t get the necessary 50% participation the fact that close to 100% of the 35% who participated voted for Taiwan gaining a seat in the U.N. The irony is that if another 16 to 20% of eligible voters turned out and voted against the referendum it would have realised the 50% participation rate and passed. Anyway the fact is that despite the referendum being sabotaged by the U.S. State department and Bush administration as well as the fact that the referendum would have had little practical impact due to U.N. veto vote possesed by the Chinese Communist Party that over 34% of elegible Taiwanese voters felt strongly enough to go out and make their opinions known. So to make the unqualified statement that unification is wanted by people on both sides of the strait is not valid. Face the facts if the Taiwanese really wished to be brought back into the “embrace of the Chinese Motherland” why was the C.C.P so outspoken in condeming the Taiwanese U.N. referendum. I mean why didn’t they say “We know it is the true desire of out Taiwan compatriots to be reunited with the motherland so we will let them have the referendum and respect their decision”. I think we all know the answer to that one.

    It is simply unfair to criticise Taiwan for not shouldering its share of it defence when the Bush administration against the will of house Republicans vetoed a 12 billion dollar arms sales to Taiwan. Which included F-16 C/Ds which are badly needed by the Taiwanese airforce to replace fifties vintage F-5s which are barely in a fit state to fly let alone fight. So don’t criticise the will of the Taiwanese to defend themselves direct that criticism at the Bush administration and the US state department.

    I think the whole logic that the fact that the economies of Taiwan and the P.R.C are becoming increasingly intertwined so there should therefore be a political union makes no sense. Firstly why can’t there simply be economic agreements signed betweeen the two sides to allow for freer trade. Using greater economic exchange to justify a political union makes no sense. Secondly through the C.C.Ps policy of strangling and isolating Taiwan the C.C.P has sought to annex Taiwan through forcing it to become economically dependant on the P.R.C. Many in Taiwan are aware of this predicament and are keen to development lifelines by closing closer economic relationships with Japan and the U.S. What’s more closer economic relationships with high tech economies like Japan would have the added benefit of stimulating technological development in Taiwan and creating higher income jobs. But Beijing has gone out of its way to stop this. If the EU and the U.S.A were prepared to champion Taiwan’s quest for international space Taiwan would not be drawn into this web of economic strangulation.

    Finally I really hope that comment that went along the lines of “Taiwan was a part of China since Jesus wept was said in jest.” As most educated Chinese I have met many of whom are university lecturers will concede that Taiwan only became under Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty. In the late sixteenth century and even then conrol was nominal and limited to the west coast of Taiwan.

  33. Lex,
    I mostly agree with your assessment, but there is one factor that is left out and that is the hardliners in the PLA. THEY, want to take Taiwan much more than the fat-getting-fatter Party bosses. Our stated defense of Taiwan protects the party bosses from having to commit to any invasion of Taiwan at the behest of the military and allows the economic integration of Formosa and the Mainland to continue.
    Regarding the US’s relationship with China, I think it is pretty clear by public announcements from their various economic and trade ministries that they are seeking, in effect, a partnership in trade and investment (including the unfettered ability to invest all those dollars they hold back into the U.S.). There are worse deals to be had and we should pursue it and all get rich together.
    I believe they need us more than we need them, but we should not shun them.

  34. “The Chinese have not forgotten California and the Americas were originally settled by Chinese”

    Gee, I now am caught up with a fear of Viking raiders taking over Canada :)

  35. It might interest some to know that the fastest growing build-up in the PRC’s Navy is their amphibious assault capability.

    The key here is the extent to which the Communist leadership cadre are still captives of their own ideology. Ideologues often ignore both pragmatic financial and economic considerations (at least until such realities finally bite them in the derrier). Look at Ho Chi Minh. LBJ thought he could bribe him with a TVA-like MeKong delta water project like any other “politician.” We saw how well THAT went.

    And even if no longer Communist ideologues, we should take cold comfort when considering that plain ole’ cultural Imperialism is more than enough to drive the leadership of the PRC to risk even nuclear war if they think that by losing, say, 600 million peasants (A drag on the economy anyway) in exchange for the obliteration of 300 million Americans as a force never again to be reckoned with is an acceptable risk/trade-off.

    Remember, to preserve the Communist party in WWI Lenin voluntairly sacrificed the heart of it’s economic base at the treaty of Brest-Litovsk–approx. 94% of it’s steel mills. 89% of it’s working coal mines, and 20% of it’s most highly educated and trained population. What makes anyone think that the leadership of the PRC would hesitate to risk less if it meant their triumph, preservation and the elimination of America?

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