Monday, July 31, 2006

Taiwan and missile testicles

Taiwan may be next up to test missiles-- ones capable of hitting points in the Chinese mainland.

As Asia grapples with the fallout from North Korea's projectile posturing, another military flashpoint in the region - the Taiwan Strait - is in the midst of missile tensions as well.

A private TV station reported earlier this month that Taiwan's military was preparing to test-fire a tactical missile in September capable of striking targets in China. While the details were sketchy and the claim was swiftly denied by the Ministry of National Defense, they struck a chord with analysts who have heeded the frustration among hawks in Taiwan over the island's vulnerability in the face of China's military might, including its expanding missile arsenal.

In the event of an imminent attack, Taiwan would be justified in launching a preemptive strike against military targets in China, runs the hawkish argument. This should go hand-in-hand with improved defenses on the island, including advanced interceptor missiles and attack aircraft. "Even if we are going to buy [US-made] Patriot missiles, we also need to develop our own offensive missiles," says Lee Wen-chung, a government legislator.

Such attitudes present a dilemma for the US, which is reportedly urging Taiwan to back off its missile program. US diplomacy in the region is a balancing act between deterring China from invading Taiwan and restraining President Chen Shui-bian on the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty. In this context, a homegrown missile primed to strike the mainland could be a red flag to China.

I've never been at ease with the Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes. What's worried me from the beginning is precisely what we see happening among other countries: many are reserving the right, as sovereign entities, to launch preemptive strikes on nearby countries should they perceive an imminent threat.

My own country's attitude toward Taiwan and China has always perplexed me. Practically speaking, we act as though Taiwan is a separate state. Diplomatically, however, the US largely cleaves to the old, Nixonian "One China" rhetoric. American businesses invest in both Taiwan and China; in China, our businesses engage in such ethically questionable practices as abetting the reinforcement of The Great Firewall (witness the Google controversy of late). In Taiwan, we have a partnership that extends to computer technology and weapons. One wonders what might happen should China decide it's time to reclaim Taiwan militarily. Morally speaking, I think we should side with Taiwan, but should we do so, the potential conflict would be on a far greater scale than what's been going on in the Middle East.

What would Jason do?

UPDATE: Jason's got a hilarious Google Video link here. Don't click if you're blindly loyal to George W.


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