China and Taiwan -- Two be or not two be

By Diane Alden
web posted August 16, 1999

In the fairy tale The Emperor's New Clothes, an entire kingdom, royalty and vassals alike, declare that each set of new clothes worn by the emperor were the finest they had ever seen. No one, including the emperor, was willing to face the fact that the emperor was naked. His subjects oh'd and ah'd about his impressive imaginary duds until a small child innocently declared, "The emperor has no clothes." Well, no matter what anyone says, including the Clinton Administration, the one China policy is the emperor's new clothes of the last 50 years. In fact there are two Chinas. This is not to say that one China may not become a reality in the next 20 years; it just won't happen because the People's Republic of China or U.S. politicians say so.

The current belligerent posturing of the PRC in regards to Taiwan, ROC (Republic of China), is merely an insecure nation state -- mainland China, trying to be intimidating. The reason for the saber rattling has more to do with the trouble the Chinese Communists and the old guard on the mainland are in, than it does with an overwhelming national need to "take back" Taiwan.

Struggle for legitimacy

The most recent flap between the two Chinas, began after an interview given by Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to the German press. He was asked how he felt about mainland China's contention that Taiwan was a "renegade province." His response was to term the relations between the two Chinas as "state to state." The PRC's reaction to Taiwanese President Lee's statement is symptomatic of vengeful face saving, and mainland China's desire not to have another crisis on its hands. Mainland China has been operating under the assumption that at some point Taiwan would reunite with the mainland and Lee's statement, for the moment, denies that conclusion anytime soon.

Some analysts say that the Taiwanese president audaciously made his declaration in order to take advantage of the strained relations between the U.S. and the PRC. The immediate response from the mainland was to reiterate its alleged right to invade Taiwan in order to prove there is indeed -- one China.

China's neighbors Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand have been backing the PRC claim over Taiwan; not because they believe that Taiwan is part of the mainland, but because the status quo and the illusion of unification is more agreeable and viewed as less destabilizing to the area. Regardless of Lee's statement, Taiwan has been an independent state for 50 years. It has had its own political and economic systems independent of the mainland. With its own foreign policy and trading practices, it provided a key element in the U.S. policy of containment of the PRC.

Lee's comments at this time, are interpreted by some China watchers as a wily move to use the window of opportunity provided by strained relations between Beijing and Washington. His declaration is viewed as a first salvo in the geopolitical recognition process of Taiwan as a sovereign state. It is expected that in the fall, Taiwan will make a bid to become a full-fledged member of the U.N. But Lee's actions may have backfired, and rather than helping Taiwan's case for entry into the U.N., it has resulted in appeasement actions by the U.S. and China's neighbors towards the PRC.

Playing an international game of "chicken"

On the one hand, the Clinton Administration has increased its contact with China, reaffirmed its one-China policy, and publicly cautioned Taiwan against creating more problems with the mainland. On the other hand, the U.S. is selling new high tech weaponry to Taiwan. Senator Jesse Helms is conducting hearings and has proposed legislation, which would authorize the sale of some missile defenses, satellite early warning data, diesel submarines and air-to-air missiles. It would also ban any limit of arms sales to Taiwan. With more than four dozen congressional co-sponsors, the legislation would upgrade exchanges between the U.S. and Taiwanese military. In addition it would improve communication channels between commands.

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. will totally abandon Taiwan. Even though Beijing declared it has successfully test-fired a new type of ground-to-ground missile, and even though the PLA air force has been involved in confrontations with the Taiwanese over the Straits, and even though at their annual meeting the leadership is proposing the confiscation of one of Taiwan's offshore islands -- at this point the mainland does not want a war. As in the past, the PRC knows the the United States will intervene between the two Chinas -- if it has to.

Nevertheless, the PRC continues -- in its tin ear way -- to make threats towards Taiwan and the West. General Yuan Yunzhi of the Academy of Military Sciences states that the new Chinese missile is capable of hitting Seattle, Australia, Africa or Europe. While referring to the West, the rhetoric is a clear warning to Taiwan to restrain its push for recognition and therefore - legitimacy. The worrisome aspects of this missile capability, have been articulated in the Japanese press. It reports that the ICBM, Dongfeng-31, has already been tested in Shanxi province. According to Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems publication, Beijing is supposed to build 10 to 20 of these missiles and deploy them on mobile launchers. It is most probable that the technology came from U.S. weapons labs over the last 20 years, with the most important pieces of missile technology being amassed during the Clinton Administration.

Ever the bully, China recently seized a Taiwanese freighter on its way to bring supplies to the 50-year bone of contention between the two Chinas, the island of Matsu. In addition, the power elite in the PRC created an internal situation by going after a new age type exercise group called Falun Gong. Though apolitical, this organization frightens the government because it has the ability to rally huge groups of people at a moment's notice. The Chinese see any ability to bring together large numbers of people into one spot as a preliminary to disaster - unless the government controls the assemblage.

At the moment, the government of mainland China may be dangerous because it is experiencing a pervasive sense of not being in control of events. Underneath the government's obsession with control, the repression, and cultural and political mayhem, something is happening to China. What is occurring has the potential of changing the mainland with the impact of an 800-foot Tsunami tidal wave.

The interned is happening to China. Mastercard is happening to China. Economic relations and the possibility of an economy that will make the Japanese post-war miracle pale in comparison are a possibility. Though it faces a period of adjustment, there is every indication that China has a better than even chance of getting its economic house in order. American commercial and political interests know this. That is why most-favored-nation status was granted a few weeks ago.

Historical flim-flamary

For the most part, the current problems faced by Taiwan and China began in 1972. During the first phase of relations between the United States and the Mainland, the U.S. talked out of both sides of its mouth. It acknowledged the PRC position -- that there is but one China and Taiwan was part of China. Then when the United States established diplomatic relations with China in 1979, the U.S. recognized that the PRC was the sole government of China. However, at that time, the U.S. also agreed that Taiwan was not part of mainland China, merely that the PRC was the legitimate government of China. The U.S. was having it both ways, saving mainland Chinese face, yet not giving the PRC the upper hand and with it permission to invade Taiwan. Although Taiwan existed and had territorial integrity its government was not really recognized by the world -- nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

But under Clinton, all that changed and the mainland Chinese definition of "one China," became the U.S. interpretation. In 1994, the Clinton Administration sought to exclude Taiwan from international organizations and blocked Taiwanese leaders from entering the U.S. The attitude was rather like having a brother you are ashamed of, but support in one way or another -- while not letting him into your house or admitting him into your circle of friends. In 1998, President Clinton chose to declare that China's policy towards Taiwan was now the policy of the United States. Analysts call it Clinton' three no's: no independence, no two Chinas, no membership in state-based international organizations.

Independent minded Taiwan had been heartened by the largely successful and peaceful transition of Hong Kong over to the PRC in 1997. Taiwanese businessmen have huge investments in Hong Kong and count on a viable and free economy in the former Crown Colony. However, in recent months, and in its ham-handed way, Beijing decided to stir the pot and interfere with Hong Kong's independent judiciary. At that point Taiwan felt threatened and vulnerable; pointing out to the world that there were two Chinas. President Lee used the timing of the problematic relations between the U.S. and Beijing as the appropriate geopolitical moment to state what all Taiwanese have believed for years - Taiwan is a separate state.

After Lee made his "state to state" reference in the press interview, the President of China, Jiang Zemin appealed to Clinton to rein in the Taiwanese. Ever willing to comply with PRC requests, Clinton's National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, canceled a planned trip by mid-level defense officials to Taiwan.

Some in the Clinton camp wanted to cancel all visits by U.S. officials to Taiwan, as well as shipments of spare military parts. However, due to the Clinton Administration's scandals regarding questionable Chinese campaign contributions, and its malfeasance in regard to the theft or sale of strategic technological secrets to the Chinese, they were forced to walk a tightrope vis a vis China and Taiwan. The administration can't afford to appear too close to the PRC lest Congress start issuing subpoenas and actually take the Clinton Justice Department to court over Chinagate.

Blustering, threatening and human rights violations will continue by the mainland for the time being. Economic reforms will be resisted on the Mainland to some extent, because the government does not want the pain of economic dislocation. The Communist party in China is trying to put off the day when it will lose control. Losing control is what they fear most. Because of that they might be pushed to respond in some violent fashion to a real or fabricated threat; or they might have one of their client states, like North Korea, do the dirty work for them.

Business as usual

Legitimate business efforts by U.S. companies in China present economic opportunities for growth; selling Coca-Cola to folks in Beijing or buying toy trucks from a factory in China's provinces will not start World War III. However, exporting dual-use technology, (that is products with dual military and commercial uses) may have horrific consequences for Taiwan and the U.S. and the entire world.

The Clinton Administration, in cahoots with a few U.S. companies such as Loral, have acted like the three dingy guys from the old Bob Newhart Show -- Larry, Daryl and the other brother Daryl. These three weird entrepreneurs had a business called "Anything for a Buck." Cornering possums in the basement and cleaning grease traps and recycling the mess was their stock in trade.

Since the Clinton Administration and a few short sighted American companies had to carry on like the dingbats -- Larry and the Daryls, the cost to Taiwan as well as the United States may mean higher taxes and less security. Some time in the near future, the United States will have to play military and missile defense catch-up. This would not have been necessary if our nation's uncouth miscreants, i.e. the Clinton Administration and its venal corporate sycophants, had not decided to do "anything for a buck."

The two Chinas may one day recognize a mutual attraction, couched in economic terms; and find a marriage of convenience to be a smart political and economic move. This may happen in the long run. However in the short term, the U.S. would do well to hope the PRC literally doesn't go "ballistic."

Diane Alden is a regular writer for Enter Stage Right.

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