China's Army On Combat Alert
By J.R. Nyquist

In response to the disputed presidential election in Taiwan, China's army went over to combat alert on Saturday (Reuters). If Taiwan is unable to resolve the dispute in an orderly fashion, Beijing officials have hinted at military intervention. The South China Morning Post is reporting, as of Wednesday, that Taiwan's election recount deal has collapsed. Violence has been reported between opposition protestors and Taiwan's police. This crisis offers the communists a possible rationale for exercising Beijing's declared sovereignty over Taiwan.
The disordered state of Taiwan's democracy stems from Saturday's presidential poll in which incumbent President Chen Shui-bian won by a narrow margin of 30,000 votes. The election took place the day after an apparent assassination attempt on President Chen that has been decried as a "stunt" by opposition partisans.
Intervention by China is yet unlikely, despite the combat readiness of the People's Liberation Army.
Taiwan's troubles would have to spiral further out of control for intervention to appear fully justified (within China). Furthermore, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could not hope to succeed without an extended period of naval blockade, the establishment of local Chinese air superiority, air and missile strikes against Taiwan's defenses, and the acquiescence of President George W. Bush. Back in 2001 President Bush stated that he would defend Taiwan against communist aggression, and President Bush has generally backed up his words with military action.
Would China dare to challenge U.S. military power over the Taiwan issue?
There is the possibility that a Chinese move against Taiwan could be used to draw the U.S. into yet another conflict in which America is depicted as an "out of control" aggressor. Going against Europe's preference for a sellout of Taiwan to the mainland communists, President Bush could not expect support from NATO in a confrontation with China. Adding to the confusion of America's stand, President Bush has yet to formalize his opposition to China's stated position by recognizing Taiwan as an independent, sovereign state. Because of this, any U.S. move to defend Taiwan would be inconsistent with longstanding U.S. policies, including the "One China" policy (The "One China" policy is the principle that the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, a.k.a Taiwan, are one country).
It should be remembered that in December 1978 President Jimmy Carter terminated the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the U.S. and the Republic of China (Taiwan). If America attempted to break a future Chinese blockade against Taiwan, America would technically be committing an act of unprovoked aggression against China. (In reality, America would be defending an independent democracy threatened by communist aggression; though world opinion, of late, prefers a legalistic standard for judging such things.)
Why is American policy regarding Taiwan so tangled?
I should like to quote from an essay written by George H. W. Bush in 1979, published in a volume titled About Face: The China Decision and Its Consequences: "Because of the importance of the Russian threat ... the questions of full normalization and of Taiwan were never a major barrier to progress on commercial and strategic issues." In other words, we compromised Taiwan's position during the Cold War to make nice with the communist Chinese in order to unite with them against Russia. It seems that Russia's hyper-expansionism of the 1970s drove America into China's waiting arms (with a little nudge from Dr. Kissinger). Now consider the strategic implications of today's reversal of the old combination. Twenty-five years later Russia and China are "strategic partners" and Taiwan has no official status, no recognized sovereignty. The United States is virtually alone when it comes to the defense of Taiwan, a commitment that could lead directly to a hot war with China. Furthermore, the Sino-Russian Friendship Treaty opens the door to Russian military support for China in the event of outside interference in the internal affairs of China. It would seem that any American moves to defend of Taiwan might bring American directly into conflict with two nuclear powers. If this outcome were intended by China, then Beijing's diplomatic moves since 1978 might be regarded as worthy of Bismarck or Richelieu.
Since war is always inevitable, grand strategy should, ideally, have the following character: You play your diplomatic, commercial and economic cards in such a way that when war clouds threaten, the war is already won in advance. The combination of Chinese economic entanglement with the U.S., along with China's penetration of Latin America, Beijing's hold on the Panama Canal, its subversion of Canada, the sheer size of the People's Liberation Army, China's strategic partnership with Russia, the combined transport capacity of the Chinese and Russian merchant marine, and America's simultaneous military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea, complicate America's position versus China. Also, the War on Terror must be considered as a possible dimension of conflict the Chinese could plug themselves into -- if they have not clandestinely done so already. Should the present crisis over Taiwan develop into a hot war, al Qaeda's leaders might redouble their efforts against the American mainland, bolstered by the prospect of open Chinese encouragement and support.
There is, of course, America's supposed military invincibility. But is America actually invincible? We might put this question to the British troops overrun by Zulu warriors at Isandlwana, or to Custer as he went down at the Little Big Horn. Professional or technical superiority is no guarantee of success in war.
Of course, military experts expect that the United States would sweep China's third-rate navy from the seas in the event of a conflict. However, China's vast coastal buildup of ballistic missile weapons suggests a possible danger to U.S. naval forces. The Chinese have, in their possession, EMP warheads. These can disable warship electronics at a distance. Blanketing an area of sea with EMP warheads might cripple a U.S. carrier battle group, leaving it vulnerable to submarine or surface attack by advanced Chinese anti-ship missiles (acquired from Russia).
We must also remember Russia's mysterious "plasma stealth" technology, which enabled Russian strike craft to over-fly the Kitty Hawk battle group twice in the fall of 2000. Had this over-fly occurred under combat conditions the carrier would have been sunk. In a conflict with Russia or China we cannot rule out the possibility of technological surprise. Despite the obvious weakness of these countries, they nonetheless possess thousands of nuclear weapons, hundreds of missile launchers, advanced torpedoes, cruise missiles and highly advanced anti-air and anti-ship missiles. The armed forces of China, Russia and North Korea are not to be compared to ill-disciplined, poorly led and demoralized Iraqi troops. China and Russia also possess technological depth.
China has not directly challenged the U.S. militarily since the Korean War, and it is unlikely to do so until its leaders believe they have a definite military-diplomatic advantage. Since the time of confrontation over Taiwan will be at Beijing's choosing, a blockade of Taiwan or an invasion would signal a moment of grave danger for the United States.
© 2004 Jeffrey R. Nyquist
March 24, 2004



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