- Last week saw an intense campaign by China to warn anyone
who would listen that it was going to take some sort of military action
against Taiwan. We tend to believe them. We do not think that there will
be an invasion, but several other military options present themselves.
Given the public threats it has made, China must take some action. Beijing's
credibility is now on the line. The United States says that it will intervene,
while simultaneously claiming that China will not take action. On Saturday,
a U.S. State Department official met with the Dalai Lama, China's mortal
enemy. The U.S. is now committed to defending Taiwan, having said on record
that the Chinese are bluffing and having publicly met with the Dalai Lama
in the middle of all of this. China believes that the United States is
trying to "Kosovo" it. Meanwhile, Johnny Chung is saying that
the Democrats Counsel on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee
gave him advice on how to take the Fifth Amendment. Things are, as they
say, getting interesting.
- China launched an intense and very public campaign last
week designed to convince the world in general - and Taiwan and the U.S.
in particular - that it intends to take military action against Taiwan
in response to its stance on statehood. Newspapers throughout the world
were filled with reports of statements made by Chinese diplomats and journalists
to the effect that China was committed to taking military action against
Taiwan in order to punish it. The Communist Party newspaper in Hong Kong
reported, for example, that the "military situation was a lot more
serious than what the outside world was aware of," and that China
had identified 200 military targets on Taiwan. Troops were ostentatiously
put on alert. Chinese warnings of inevitable military action against Taiwan
were delivered to the U.S. as well.
- We take these warnings seriously. We are reminded that
many years ago, just prior to China's intervention in the Korean War, Chinese
diplomats and journalists delivered warnings in several venues about the
consequences of UN forces moving close to the Yalu. Moreover, given the
level of public visibility that the Chinese have given to their warning,
it will be difficult for China not to act.
- As we stated last week [ http://www.stratfor.com/services/giu/080999.ASP
], we do not think that an invasion of Taiwan itself is possible at the
moment. Therefore, the question is what sort of military options are available
- One option, already discussed by us [ http://www.stratfor.com/asia/specialreports/special47.htm
] has apparently been floated by Chinese officials, is the seizure of two
islands, Quemoy and Matsu, that are just off the mainland of China but
are controlled by Taiwan. The islands were frequently shelled and threatened
during the Cold War. Their seizure would be a high- profile, low-risk
operation within the amphibious capabilities of China.
- A second strategy (or additional dimension to the Quemoy/Matsu
move) is the launching of rockets and missiles against Taiwan. Such an
attack could consist of anything from a symbolic attack with a small number
of missiles against an unpopulated area, to an all-out attack against Taiwan's
air and naval forces designed to reduce Taiwan's ability to defend itself
against a follow-on amphibious assault. Now, there are two risks to this
strategy. The first is in its effectiveness. As the U.S. discovered in
Kosovo, there are limits to the effectiveness of air campaigns. To attack
and fail is worse then not to attack at all. There is also the risk of
Taiwan or U.S. counterstrikes against Chinese installations. If these
were effective, the net effect of the campaign on China's strategic position
would be disastrous. How confident is China in its aerospace forces?
- A third option is a campaign against Taiwan's shipping.
A full blockade is not possible, but intermittent attacks against merchant
vessels (recall the tanker wars in the Persian Gulf) might be possible
using missiles, as well as aircraft and submarines to carry out direct
attacks and lay mines. The problem with this strategy is that it could
strike at the shipping of third powers, such as Europeans. In addition,
Taiwan and the U.S. could retaliate by striking at China-bound shipping
and mining China's ports. In a geographical sense, China is somewhat more
vulnerable in this strategy than Taiwan. We should add here that If the
U.S. participated in such a blockade of China, the ability of the Chinese
to create problems at the Panama Canal would suddenly become an important
- Each action has the possibility of a dangerous reaction.
China must measure its actions against reactions. Chinese newspapers were
full of bravado in the past week. Declaring victory before the war is
dangerous, particularly when China cannot know whether they face Taiwan
alone or the United States as well. The U.S. did everything it could last
week to convince China that the U.S. was on auto- pilot in its Taiwan policy.
If Taiwan were attacked, the United States would respond. U.S. Naval
officers in the region made it clear that they were prepared, in position
and capable of dealing with any Chinese threat. At the same time, in a
move intended to infuriate China, a U.S. State Department official met
with the Dalai Lama of Tibet in New York. Both the Taiwan and U.S. officials
stated that it was their view that China would take no action. National
Security Council spokesman David Leavy stated, "It's the United States
government's judgment that there aren't any extraordinary developments
or signs that there is a mobilization on the PRC's [People's Republic of
China] part." The official U.S. view, publicly stated, is that China
is bluffing and that its carefully circulated reports of mobilization and
inevitable action are untrue.
- There are three possible explanations for what is going
- 1: U.S. intelligence has information that China not
only can't invade Taiwan but that it cannot take any effective military
action. Alternatively, the U.S. may be reading China as having the capability
but being unwilling to use it. U.S. intelligence may have information
that this really is a bluff.
- 2: The U.S. would welcome Chinese military action as
an opportunity for a devastating counterstroke against China. It is engaged
in an extensive strategy, going back to the bombing of the Chinese Embassy
in Belgrade, designed to provoke China into a rash military move for which
the U.S. is poised and ready.
- 3: There is a massive disconnect between Washington
and Beijing concerning the others' concerns, contentions and capabilities.
This sort of disconnect has happened numerous times before in U.S.- Chinese
relations. It may be happening again.
- We choose number three. Let's look at the world from
China's point of view. U.S. action in Kosovo was a critical breaking point
for them. The U.S. had previously worked on a principle established in
Haiti and Somalia that it had the right to intervene militarily in sovereign
nations on humanitarian grounds. Embedded in that principle was the idea
that it would do so with the support of the international community, meaning
that there would be essential concurrence or at least neutrality in the
members of the Security Council. In Kosovo, this was not the case. The
U.S. intervened in the face of open opposition from two Security Council
members, China and Russia. In Kosovo, the U.S. established the new principle
that through NATO, it could intervene unilaterally into the internal affairs
of a sovereign state and partition the country. Furthermore, should another
country, even China, use its facilities to provide support for the targeted
country, the U.S. was prepared to take direct military action even against
- This told China two things. First, that the U.S. now
regarded itself as an independent arbiter of the fate of nations. Second,
that China would not be treated differently in any way from Serbia or Somalia.
After Kosovo, China saw itself in the cross-hairs of U.S. policy, for
- 1: China has two regional insurrections of varying levels
underway. One is among the Moslem population of Xinjiang province; the
other is in Tibet. China sees the U.S. as encouraging these insurrections.
Having established the precedent of invading Serbia on behalf of the rights
of the Kosovo Albanians, China sees the U.S. as having also, logically,
asserted the right to intervene in Tibet and Xinjiang if it chooses.
- 2: Directly in the wake of the Kosovo crisis, Taiwan
broke with fifty years of precedent by declaring itself a separate state.
China is convinced that Taiwan would not have done this without tacit American
approval. They see the U.S. promise to defend Taiwan after the declaration
as proof of this proposition. This follows from the Kosovo doctrine as
well: the U.S. has the right to redefine the boundaries of nations for
moral or humanitarian reasons.
- 3: The U.S. harbored the leader of Falun Gong in New
York. In Chinese dynastic history, numerous insurrections have originated
with apparently apolitical sects generating hostility to the regime. In
fact, the Chinese are setting up a campaign against a new group, Xiang
Gong, which is said to have 30 million members. The Chinese government
does not regard the rise of internal opposition as accidental.
- 4: China sees the U.S. as taking advantage of China's
economic problems. This weekend, China's official People's Daily wrote,
"An appropriate adjustment in the exchange rate may after all be a
policy option if imports significantly exceed exports and push up a trade
deficit." China is still in economic trouble.
- Regimes cannot afford to appear to be weak, particularly
when they are. The issue here is how Beijing appears to the Chinese masses.
That means that quiet diplomacy that wouldn't give Beijing a public victory
is not going to happen. China sees the U.S. as having put into place policies
that, if followed logically, would result in U.S. participation in the
fragmentation of China. The one legacy of Mao that all Chinese value is
that he eliminated the foreign domination and fragmentation of China that
had existed for a century. Deng's promise was that he could retain Chinese
sovereignty while easing China back into the international economic system.
China is undergoing the great test of Deng's doctrine: can China retain
its unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty while in economic decline,
or will that decline generate disunity, fragmentation and a loss of sovereignty?
- The central problem is this. The U.S. did far more than
save the Albanians. It redefined the region's geopolitics. This affected
not only Serbia, but all countries surrounding Serbia. It drew countries
like Bulgaria deep into the U.S. orbit at severe geopolitical cost to the
Russians. The intention of Kosovo might have been limited. The outcome
of Kosovo was a profound shift in regional alignments. Further, China
has come to see U.S. peacekeeping operations as covers for expanding U.S.
power. It also sees Kosovo as a blueprint for such operations elsewhere
in the world, including China. It sees the bombing of the Chinese Embassy
as a clear signal that the U.S. no longer distinguishes China from Haiti,
Somalia or Serbia.
- Whether or not the U.S. intends to expand the Kosovo
doctrine to China is immaterial. The Chinese view is that every U.S. move
signals that the U.S. has a national interest in influencing human rights
issues within China's boundaries. China must assume that the U.S. intends
to carry that policy to its logical conclusion. If Taiwan is prepared to
assert state sovereignty and the U.S. is prepared to defend that assertion
militarily, then the U.S. is now prepared to redraw the map of China as
it did the map of Serbia.
- China cannot permit that. It cannot now invade Taiwan,
but it can take other measures. It must do something to retain its credibility.
A man in Jiang Zemin's position cannot afford to be made to look ridiculous.
- Now, there is a complicating issue. Johnny Chung, fund
raiser for the Clinton campaign, has just stated that he received advice
from the Counsel for the Democratic minority on the Government Reform and
Oversight Committee prior to his testimony. The advice was about taking
the Fifth Amendment prior to congressional testimony. One does not have
to be Woodward and Bernstein to know that something stinks here. Clinton
has a major China problem. That problem will drive him to be rigid and
inflexible in order to protect himself from the charge of being a pawn
- Now, are the military options for the U.S? The U.S. is
far from helpless against China, but there are clear limits to its ability
to engage China on its own terrain. China is not Serbia. Its ability to
project forces is limited; its ability to operate defensively is not.
Moreover, U.S. forces are scattered around the world. They are still carrying
out air strikes in Iraq under some policy no one can quite remember. Aircraft
and crews are being overhauled and rested from Kosovo. Korea is perennially
unstable. Draw downs in budgets are showing themselves in countless ways.
- Neither China nor the U.S. is ready for an extended and
indecisive encounter over Taiwan. It is not clear, however, that the Chinese
are in a position to avoid some action. It seems to us that Bill Clinton
cannot avoid responding. The danger here is not a short series of unimportant
counterstrokes, rapidly passing into history. The danger is that both sides
will get tangled in an extended, inconclusive and bloody confrontation.
We cannot help but think of the air crews patrolling Iraqi airspace this
weekend, eight years after Desert Storm. Decoupling from foreign adventures
is not the American strong point. Ignoring challenges to national sovereignty
is not the Chinese strong point.
- China thinks the U.S. wants to "Kosovo" it,
to coin a term. The U.S. knows this is ridiculous. The meeting with the
Dalai Lama was a courtesy. The Falun Gong leader's presence in New York
was a coincidence. Taiwan never consulted the U.S. on its sovereignty
statement. The U.S. has nothing to do with shipping arms into Xinjiang.
Bombing the Chinese Embassy was an accident. It has occurred to no one
in Washington to take advantage of China's economic problems.
- We're convinced. Now, somebody better tell the Chinese.
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