Speaking the language of power

Looking at its actual military threat and China's record in dealing with its weaker neighbors, acclaimed writer Cao Chang-ching sees any subservience to China's bullying as detrimental to Taiwan's interests

By Cao Chang-Ching 曹長青

The Taipei Times
Tuesday, February 29th, 2000

China's white paper, The One-China Principle and the Taiwan Issue, though 11,000 words long, is little more than the platitudinous reiteration of the Communists' "Taiwan policy" -- with one new addition: China may now use force if Taiwan refuses indefinitely to pursue reunification.

There are two major purposes in Beijing's release of this white paper:

First, it wants to warn the US "not to stand in the way of the reunification of China." This is to threaten Washington over providing Taiwan with defensive weapons."Although China will rapidly replace its old weapons in the coming two decades, its military technology will remain at the experimental level and it still lacks the professionals and resources to turn itself into a modern military power."

Second, it seeks to warn Taiwan's voters not to elect a candidate who may pursue the goal of a freer and more independent Taiwan. It demands that they elect their preferred candidate, James Soong, despite the fact he is mired in allegations of corruption, as a token of their acceptance of Beijing's "one country, two systems" model.

This time the US response to Beijing's recklessness was overwhelming. One can feel the strong waves of resentment at every level of government: Congress, the Pentagon, the press and academia. They all sharply denounced Beijing's contemptible action.

The editorials of four major US newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times all stated that Beijing is not only threatening Taiwan, but also challenging the US and the value of democracy.

The British, French, Japanese and Australian press also criticized Beijing. As a former senior White House officer pointed out: the white paper showed that Beijing not only misunderstood the situation in regard to Taiwan, but also misunderstood US politics. The effect of the white paper may very likely be the opposite of what Beijing hopes -- a repetition of the 1996 missile threat.

Now the key point is, what should Taiwan's response to such treatment be. Although the Mainland Affairs Council has released a statement rejecting the white paper, its response is relatively low key, intentionally avoided the use of the "state-to-state" model.

What will the reaction of Taiwanese be? If they "no" to China again as they did four years ago when they elected the candidate most disliked by Beijing, China will be the biggest loser in the showdown.

History has proved countless times that threats rarely work, especially when the bully has no real power. Some in Taiwan worry that if you always say "the wolves will not come," what if they really come? The fact is that if the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is truly an approaching wolf, then, it will face not a powerless child, but two mature hunters: Taiwan's army and the US army.

Almost all Western military experts agree that Taiwan's military has both air and sea superiority. The PLA's currently is only capable of sending 20,000 troops to Taiwan in a single wave. On the other hand, Taiwan has 250,000 well-trained ground troops, and in a normal battle on the Taiwan Strait, one defender is worth 20 invaders.

Although Beijing purchased fighter planes and warships, history has showed that no country could win a battle simply by purchasing one or two new weapons, let alone winning an amphibious war using the superannuated warships such as those it has recently purchased from Russia.

Western analysts also say that the military power of PLA will not be a match for Taiwan's until 2005. Even then, the PLA's chance of winning is only fifty-fifty and has no assurance of seizing the island.

Even after the PLA's strength surpasses that of Taiwan's military, it will still have to confront the US military. The Taiwan Relations Act clearly states that the US has a responsibility to defend Taiwan. The US government showed its determination by sending two warships to the strait four years ago when China fired missiles near Taiwan.

Quite apart from the damage that the use of force would do to China's bid to join the WTO and its relationship with the US if Beijing dares to use force, simply in terms of military power, Beijing is no match for the US. A confrontation would only invite defeat and shame.

According to an article published in last summer's National Interest by Bates Gill, director of the Southeast Institute at the Brookings Institute and an expert on China's military power, China has only 25 long-range ballistic missiles that can carry a nuclear warhead, but the US has 8,000, or 300 times more than China.

China is still a developing country with a per capita income about one-tenth that of many western nations.

China's military budget is around UNS$12 million, which is only 5 percent of the US budget of US$305.4 billion for 2001. And this sum has to feed an army twice the size of the US army.

The US has 12 aircraft carriers, but China is pondering whether to raise funds for the purchase of its first. (China's neighbor and rival India has already begun to build its second aircraft carrier.)

The commander-in-chief of the US Pacific forces, Admiral Dennis Blair, declared that China's military power was several decades behind the US in almost every aspect.

In his book The Great Wall: Six Presidents and China, the former Beijing bureau chief of The New York Times Patrick Tyler expressed his opinions of China's military strength. He said that both China's air force and navy were very backward. Although China will rapidly replace its old weapons in the coming two decades, its military technology will remain at the experimental level and it still lacks the professionals and resources to turn itself into a modern military power. The threats of blockading the Taiwan Strait have been exaggerated, he said.

This explains why neither Mao Zedong nor Deng Xiaoping tried to take over Taiwan by force; they both understood that China lacked the military strength.

Some of Taiwan's presidential candidates echo the "one country, two systems" nonsense to please Beijing, hoping their obsequiousness will win a kinder response from the dictators. These candidates are either the victims of illusory Communist promises or suffer from fantasies of a Greater China. It shows their ignorance of the nature of the Communists, who recognize only strength. The use of force is determined not by obedience but by power.

Look at the case of Tibet: trying to bring Beijing to the negotiation table, the Dalai Lama compromised with Beijing many times, and under pressure from Beijing even agreed to state that "Tibet is part of China," and also that "Taiwan is part of China." Even after these concessions, Beijing still shows not the slightest inclination to negotiate with the Dalai Lama. Why? Because China has power and Tibet has none.

Therefore, in the face of China's threats, Taiwan should react in the following way:

First, cast away illusions regarding China and be clearly aware of the nature of the Communists. Any fantasies about this evil power is suicidal for Taiwan.

Second, augment Taiwan's military strength and heighten its capacity to counterattack. This should include the establishment of TMD. This is the only language that Beijing understands.

Third, improve Taiwan's democratic system. The key reason for the overwhelming sympathy and support for Taiwan from the international community, especially from the US, is based on Taiwan's democracy as much as on its prosperous economy. The free world will definitely not allow Red China to swallow up a free and democratic Taiwan. The more mature Taiwan's democracy, the more support it will win from the international community.

Four, speak as you feel. Four years ago, Taiwan faced up to China's intimidation by saying "no" and electing the candidate Beijing most disliked. It is exactly because Taiwanese expressed their will to be free and independent that it won support from the international community.

The whole world is watching Taiwan's presidential election. We want to see the second election mark a true beginning of democracy and we believe the people of Taiwan will have the courage and wisdom to choose a candidate with a high regard for Taiwan's dignity and independent status and who will confront China's bully by telling them: "The people of Taiwan will never yield to intimidation."

Cao Chang-ching is a writer and journalist based in New York.


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