Friday, December 12, 2003

more Taiwan

Taiwanbloggers, you're becoming the Next Big Thing (if you aren't that already). Taiwan-talk is all the rage. The subtext, of course, is What's Big Bad China Going to Do?

Anticipatory Retaliation has a fascinating meditation on the Taiwan problem. A big-ass biopsy sample:

There are a couple of relevant things to consider above and beyond the obvious items that have already been dealt with. For starters, Beijing, unlike Baghdad, has paid attention to CNN over the last 15 years or so. This means that they would not let the US stage unmolested. They have indicated a willingness to attack forward staging areas (or at least deny the Americans use of them).

This could be done in a couple of ways – first is the much-talked-about arsenal of Chinese SSMs. One way in which they could be used to issue, let’s say, the Japanese, a notice that any Japanese base used to support American interference in domestic Chinese affairs would make those bases subject to attack. In so doing, China could potentially really foul up forward staging and regional power projection.

Secondly, the Chinese could use their missile arsenal in a Day One effort to overwhelm air defenses before anyone can move substantial forces into the region. This, followed with a large wave of air attacks could prevent either side from attaining air superiority. This condition, then may allow the Chinese to establish an airhead or seize port facilities, permitting the Chinese to overcome some of their fundamental shortcomings in amphibious assault. Granted, the Chinese odds of sanitizing the Straits of Formosa are just about nil, but a short-term parity, plus a huge number of converted ships, and an insensitivity to casualties may allow them to land a significant number of troops.

It must be remembered that China doesn’t necessarily have to raise its flag over Taipei to “win.” If they are able to eke out a foothold and slow American response and effectiveness, then this might, in and of itself, be sufficient leverage for them to achieve a nominally favorable outcome.

Regionally, US strengths in the region include air and naval dominance – neither of which the Chinese can hope to counter head on. However, by vigorously attacking logistical and staging areas, China can certainly make projection of such forces into the theater much more difficult. The Chinese have also discussed the use of millimeter-wave terminal guidance on their ballistic missiles, making them potentially deadly anti-ship weapons: consider the effects of a few 1000 kg warheads exploding on carrier flight decks. The Chinese also employ cruise missiles in keeping with Soviet naval doctrine – which has neither been implemented nor defended against on a large scale before.

The nightmare scenario that bugs me no end is the notion of the Chinese goading North Korea into an attack while they make a grab for Taiwan. This would absolutely stretch our air and naval forces to the limit, especially considering the amount of time it would take us to move substantial ground forces into the region. Careful coordination between both countries (read North Korean threats of nuclear attack if Japan doesn’t remain neutral) could really push US forces to the limits.

And the comments thread is also interesting. Of special note is the first comment, which contradicts my own feeling about being ready to stand militarily with Taiwan. Quoted here in full for your consideration (I hope Ivy doesn't mind):

I am a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong. I always believe Taiwan should be an independent country. But they should fight for it themselves. Please don't involve our young men and women to fight for them. A couple months ago, the US advisers sent to Taiwan to help build their military reported that the Taiwanese military is full of officers, but no soldiers. Like South Korea, they enjoy our protection, they want us to fight their wars, then blame us for the mess after the wars. Don't get suckered into it. To hell with them, and [to hell with] the French too.

ivy chiu

UPDATE: democritus, guest blogging on Tacitus, offers sentiments close to my own, but with more meat. So yes, I feel safe in thinking that the Bush Administration's warning to Taiwan is more than a little bizarre, not to mention disappointing.


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