Is Taiwan Willing to Pay the Price to Stay Independent?

There is something about Taiwan’s military strategy that I don’t understand.The focus on conventional defense simply means delaying the completion of a future PRC invasion.Does it matter whether said invasion requires 2 weeks or 3?Posssibly,but only if the US is going to enter the war on Taiwan’s side.So if China chooses to attack at a time when the American political/military situation prevents such military action,Taiwan has no choice but to surrender or go down fighting.On the Taiwan side of the straits there is natural horror at the thought of such a conflict since the island (incuding surrounding waters and airspace) would be the battleground.For the same reason, in the PRC there is no such concern.It is easy to support a war when there is no danger of bombs falling on you.That is why I don’t understand Taiwan’s unwillingness to develop a serious long range missile force.This could force PRC citizens, especially in major cities,. to more seriously consider the cost of invading Taiwan.Even with conventional warheads a suffiently large missile force could have a some real deterrent value.And of course,there would be the option to use unconventional warheads which would make an attack on the island almost unthinkable.Taiwan has pursued a morally justifiable but politically naive course of seeking formal independence.Those who really want to preserve the island’s de facto independence need to think about realistic options.

Because an arms race is unsustainable on ROC side. The economy of Taiwan is currently less than Guangdong GDP. So there is not enough money. Not to mention the best and brightest in Taiwan don’t stay very long to do R&D in Taiwan. They usually end up abroad or in the PRC these days. So there is a talent pool issue as well.

Beside die hard TI supporters, entering PRC sphere of influence was never put entirely out of the question either.

Taiwan has always been a satellite country to the strongest influence in the region, this fundimental characteristic has never changed.

You raise some good points but there would be no need for an arms race with China.North Korea does not need to match the south’s economic growth because its weapons scare the ROK.The only answer to a good long range missile program is an extremely good anti missile force.Nobody (including the US) has come up with one.That new one in Poland and the Czech Republic is very dubious and at best could only handle a small number of missiles.

China will never invade Taiwan, the costs are far too high. Even if an invasion were successful, with many Taiwanese hostile, ruling the island would be a huge headache for Beijing. Even if Taiwan declared independence, invasion would be unlikely.
That said, since the legitimacy of the CCP is based on nationalism, Beijing strongly opposes Taiwan independence.
If the ROC were to be destroyed, only two options would be left-independence or reunification. Both of these are unattractive for Beijing.
It therefore tacitly accepts the existence of the ROC by leaving it some diplomatic space. It would be easy for Beijing to launch a diplomatic offensive to win over the ROC’s remaining allies, but it has refrained from doing so.

CCP legitimacy is indeed based on nationalism and the highest goal of Chinese nationalism is strengthening and reuniting the country.Tibet,Macao and Hong Kong have been retaken.Only Taiwan is left.Preparations for the final step in reunification are well under way.Cost is not a problem.Look at the size and extremely rapid growth of the PRC military,far beyond the needs of defense.China has desperately pressing problems like pollution and water shortages yet the government spares no expense in building a military that will in the forseeable future be able to take on the US.Why would China need that powerful a military?The only serious prospect for a US-China clash lies in the Taiwan question.As to the difficulty of handling a hostile population,the PRC has ample experience in Tibet and other areas.The Taiwanese will be given a simple choice:Become loyal citizens of an autonomous area like HK or see their lives,businesses and families destroyed.The vast majority of Taiwanese will soon knuckle under.The Chinese economy is a wonder of growth but like other wonder economies it will slow down someday.When that time comes a lot of social problems now covered up by the opiate of high growth will come to the fore.War for a glorious national cause is a classic solution for an authoritarian regime facing such problems.

There are many polls which illustrate average Taiwanese, like myself, have no interest in war and would rather wait and die if a war broke out.

Watching world events the average Taiwanese has no interest in becoming Georgia. I think the US will need to use Korea as bait to instigate a war with China. The Taiwanese are not interested.

Where did you get that idea from? You clearly have no understanding of PRC Taiwan policy or foreign policy.
And you think they are going to be able to take on the US militarily in the foreseeable future…I don’t think any serious defence analyst would hold that view.
They might just want a powerful military for the same reasons that any other country wants a powerful military.
Ruling Taiwan would not be like ruling Tibet. Everything about Taiwan is different-the level of development, education levels and international awareness. Why the hell would they want ruling Taiwan to their already long list of worries?

Taemannom, I’m going to tell you something that’s probably going to shock you. Are you ready for this? China doesn’t want to invade Taiwan any more. No, seriously, they won’t do it. And it’s not because they can’t, it’s because time has changed and there’s no longer an interest in doing so.

There used to be a time when both the PRC and ROC wanted military conquest of the other, but a lot has changed since the advent of “one country two systems.” By embracing the idea of an autonomous Taiwan, as noted even in your post, the idea of an invasion is largely moot because China is no longer seeking direct control of Taiwan. China does not seek, nor does it wish to take away Taiwan’s present autonomy. Sure, China considers Taiwan part of its territory, but in name only. Similar to Hong Kong- which is officially part of China but is completely autonomous- China has no problem with Taiwan being self-ruled. The notion of an old-school reunification where Taiwan is directly ruled by China is now quite anachronistic. As long as Taiwan doesn’t officially break away, China no longer has an interest in invading Taiwan.

As for your views on military strategy. There are many reasons why Taiwan might not want to develope long range missiles. They range from sustainability issue of an arms race to political repercussion from abroad(don’t forget the US is explicitly against Taiwan developing offensive weapons). Unless Taiwan wants to become an international pariah in the league of Sudan or North Korea, it can’t just do whatever it wants without regard to what anyone else thinks. CSB might not have a problem with that, but not the Taiwanese people. But the most important reason is that Taiwan simply doesn’t need those offensive weapons. The DPP’s strategy of “effective deterence”- for which the need for long range missiles was born out of- was not the result of sound military planning. Instead it was a product of its own political ideaology. This is quite simple. The DPP is for TI, therefore they know that’ll draw China’s ire, so naturally they want to arm themselves to the teeth. It’s pretty clear that weapons that lacks any defensive applications(who’s only use is to strike targets in the mainland) are not acquired due to genuine necessity but for political considerations meant to back up the DPP’s stance of Taiwan independence. The KMT on the other hand, isn’t for TI, and so there’s no need to buy/develope a bunch of weapons they don’t need. Furthermore, the KMT wants closer relations with China, not to antagonize them, so of course long range missiles are out of the question.

ac dropout,I agree that many Taiwanese would rather submit to PRC rule than face a war.That is why it will not be difficult to turn Taiwan into an autonomous region like HK.You are however misinformed if you think the US wishes to instigate a war with China.Americans like quick,easy wars like the first war against Iraq.No serious military analyst thinks either of those adjectives would apply to a war with the PRC.Taiwan is the only area of sharp enough disagreement to make war a real possibility and that is why US policy has been to quietly push Taiwan towards peaceful reunification.American foreign policy’s main focus is terrorism (at least of the variety that threatens the US).China is an important ally in that effort.Taiwan isn’t.Taiwanese who push for independence are a problem for the US foreign policy establishment.People like yourself who will go along with peaceful reunification make life easier for American diplomats.Of course,US law,history and a common commitment to democracy make it awkward for the US to be seen to push the ROC into the arms of the PRC but (prepare for a shock) national interest trumps everything else in American foreign policy.

ABC,Thanks for the “shock”.I sometimes need one or an espresso to get started in the morning.Let me return the favor;I agree that China does not want to invade Taiwan.The PRC policy is to build ever closer ties until the final step to a HK style autonomous region seems minor and inevitable.The military option is “plan B”.Indeed the military build up is aimed at persuading both Taiwan and the US that resistance is futile.Where we disagree is in your belief that with the introduction of the "one country two systems"policy ,Beijing has lost interest in reunification.This policy was created to facilitate reunification not replace it.If the CCP really believed as you suggest, cross strait problems would be easy to solve through an internationally guarenteed agreement having two main provisions:Taiwan agrees never to declare independence and the PRC agrees that reunification will only be pursued through peaceful means.Most Taiwanese would find that acceptable but the CCP would not.The Party doesn’t need to rule Taiwan directly but it does need the nationalist glory of reuniting China.When mainland Chinese come down from their high growth high, someone is going to comment on the oddity of a consummately capitalist country being ruled by a communist party.The CCP desire to burnish its nationalist credentials was also behind the huge spending on the recent Olympics.It seems likely to be rewarded with more support for proBeijing parties in the upcoming HK elections.As to long range missiles being “offensive”,I would say if a weapon’s only conceivable use is in response to an attack,it is defensive.I do agree that the US would be against them since American policy is much more interested in keeping China happy than preserving Taiwan’s de facto independence.By the way, if you doubt that reunification remains a core principle of Beijing foreign policy, just contact any PRC diplomatic mission.It’s no secret but for pragmatic reasons they don’t blare it from the rooftops.

Mawvellous,Can you cite any official PRC announcement that reunification is no longer a central principle of Beijing’s foreign policy?Maybe I missed it.I do agree that ruling Taiwan would be very different from ruling Tibet.It would be much more like ruling HK which has not presented any real difficulties for Beijing.

I think you’re mistaking something. At no time did I say China no longer wants reunification with Taiwan. Of course China wants reunification. What I said was that China no longer wants to militarily invade Taiwan. I have no doubt about reunification being the central principle of China’s Taiwan policy, just know this is not the old-school reunification where China directly controls Taiwan like Tibet or the other provinces.

Of course they haven’t “announced” it, that is not the way these things work. However they have said they will not use military force unless Taiwan declares independence, or all options for peaceful reunification have become impossible. In fact China has no interest in occupying Taiwan, or even turning Taiwan into another HK. This is the view of most experts on the cross-straits issue, whether from Taiwan or the West.
HK by the way is also very different from Taiwan-not least because it was a colony and has never had a significant independence movement.

I would go further, I don’t think the PRC leadership cares about reunification, in fact at this stage they would rather avoid it. But they cannot drop the idea ideologically because their claim to legitimacy is based on nationalism…of which reunification with Taiwan is one of the sacred tenants.

Rather like South Korea…sure they talk about reunification one day, but in reality nothing scares them more.

Mawvellous,South Korea is an interesting comparison.The government is indeed of two minds about reunification but that is because of the huge cost of cleaning up the North’s economic mess.There is also fear of social disruption from masses of destitute refugees flooding the ROK.Neither of these problems applies in the cross straits dispute.Administering HK has not come close to being a burden for China.Yes,Taiwan is larger and has a tradition of independence but also a tradition of pragmatism.China would probably allow the island to retain its freedoms and democratic system as long as CCP supremacy and national unity were accepted.Given the choice between HK style freedom and Tibet style repression Taiwan would obviously choose the former.But while the island was sullenly getting used to its new status there would be an outpouring of patriotic celebration on the mainland that would exceed the recent Olympic hoopla.The CCP’s image in the popular mind would definitely benefit.Right now the Party is riding high and doesn’t need such a popularity boost.The CCP can afford to patient.All the trends are pointing to an eventual reunification.However someday the Party may face domestic discontent for economic or other reasons.When that day comes,reunification will be an attractive option for regaining popular support.

ABC, I agree that the PRC does not want to invade Taiwan (at least for the immediate future).The most effective military strategy achieves its goals without actual fighting.The former British government of HK knew that the colony could be taken by Beijing anytime with little more than a phone call.One aim of the PRC military buildup is to create a similar mindset in Taiwan.

I agree the ROK is worried about reunification with the North for different reasons, was just trying to make the comparison that although a government may not want national reunification for practical reasons, it cannot completely give it up for ideological reasons (although the ROK has gone much further in publicly stating this).
I can also see how there might be propaganda benefits to the PRC for reunification. However, Beijing recognises that the risks and costs associated with reunification are much greater. For Beijing, maintaining the one-China ideology is sufficient, and the most efficient way to achieve this is to tacitly accept the existence of the ROC while opposing any moves to either ‘permanently divide’ China (‘two Chinas’) or Taiwanese independence (‘one China, one Taiwan’).

Surely no one actually expects any of the following:

  1. any real conventional resistance from the TWNese military lasting more than 2-3 weeks, and even then it is likely to be piecemeal?
  2. any concerted “resistance movement” if/when the take-over is complete? No doubt there are some die-hard pan-Greens who would be willing to risk their lives for the cause, but they are generally over 60, uncoordinated, and not equipped in any way to be even a minor threat.
  3. any meaningful support from the US if such a situation eventuates, TRA notwithstanding? The US is way too committed elsewhere. Even in the unlikely event of “world peace” occurring on all fronts allowing it to remove all forces from Afghanistan & Iraq, I struggle to believe that it would commit any direct military resources. It may be willing to fund and / or equip any resistance, but unfortuntaely, see point 2.

This is in no way an indictment of the TWNese people. I think they are just too pragmatic to squander lives and resources on a battle which, if it were to occur, they could never win. A peaceful unification, in which business interesta and overall way-of-life are protected, is the most likely outcome.

Being fiercely in favour of self-determination and the right of people to choose and dispose of their own leaders democratically, this inevitability is one I wish were not the case.

How exactly is ‘peaceful unification’ going to happen? The KMT are ideologically committed to maintaining the ROC, the DPP want Taiwan independence, the PRC want stability and do not care about reunification, the US also want stability and nothing that upsets the ‘status quo’, business interests would not want the risks of reunification. In short, reunification is in nobody’s interests and is not going to happen any time soon.

One factor in the PRC’s calculations would be the difficulties in ruling Taiwan. Even if there were no armed ‘resistance movement’, there would be significant opposition from Taiwanese in Taiwan and overseas supporters. This would add another problem that China simply doesn’t need right now.
A second factor is regional stability. Beijing does not want to risk anything that would disrupt this, and especially does not want to draw the US into higher levels of engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.

Kidding, right? Ever spoken to anyone in China? They are vehemently in favour of unification at, it seems, any cost. Even in the West, most people who have come from China are very strongly in favour of this unification, even after enjoying the freedoms of the democracies in which they now reside (eg Europe, New Zealand etc). It is certainly not just rhetoric from the CHNese politicians.

They may be, or claim to be, but the topic of this thread is if Taiwan is willing to pay the price to stay independent, and I believe that, no, they are not. The KMT is, again, a very pragamatic political party. This is the same party that once vowed to re-take the “mainland”, but, having seen the impossibility of that, has re-invented itself (somewhat). It will nevertheless soon dispense with these ideals for the sake of preserving prosperity (and possibly life). Again, this is not a lack of backbone in my opinion, it is survivalism.

[quote=“Mawvellous”]the DPP want Taiwan independence[/quote] No disputing that, but what are their options, and how many under-60’s who vote green are willing to die for that independence?

[quote=“Mawvellous”]the US also want stability and nothing that upsets the ‘status quo’[/quote] Again, quite right; the US does not want a “fracas”. Taiwan is an ally, China is not, but is the US able and willing to come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of a military emergency? I would say no on both counts. The ability will likely rise with a Democrat win in November, but the willingness will fall. The Democrats are likely to speed up a US withdrawal from Iraq & Afghanistan if possible, but I don’t see Obama having the foreign policy experience to bluff or force China out of a conflict.

TWNese or foreign business interests? TWN is BY FAR a net foreign investOR, not an investEE (made up English to show my point, sorry). And where do its investments lie? In China. It will comply with whatever it needs to in order to secure its investments (there’s that pragmatism again).

As for FOREIGN investment in Taiwan or China, you are quite right. A change in government (particularly a forced one) would be nerve-warcking to any foreign investor. This investment of course is mostly in China, so the risk would be comparatively low. However, I am proposing anyway that any likely unification would be largely peaceful (see my previous post for reasons why), so the perceived risks to business would likely be short-lived.

Any unification would almost certainly be through the creation of a Hong Kong-like SAR (depsite protestations from all political factions in TWN that this would never be acceptable - frankly I think TWN’s choices will be limited). Despite the 2003 street protests and general grumbling about the lack of real autonomy we have seen in Hong Kong, the PRC govt has been more than capable of keeping things under control there. Recent elections in Hong Kong have returned more democrats than expected to the legislature, but the system is structured in such a way that together they are still impotent.

[quote=“Mawvellous”]This would add another problem that China simply doesn’t need right now.[/quote] What are the “other” problems that this will add to? There are two things staying China’s hand, as far as I can tell. By far the most important is its desperate desire to be seen as a legitimate force to be reckoned with, that can sit at the big boy’s table. It is achieving this economically, which is, unfortunately, enough. Political freedom and respect for international law do not need to follow, as the West has made abundantly clear by, for example, rewarding China’s “coming of age” with an olympics. While the western press may pay lip service to human rights and democracy, the wimpish response of the IOC et al is an indication of the real level of concern when money is involved. Sorry to say, for all the Bush-haters out there, that his administration has been one of the most outspoken in its support for freedoms in China. Admittedly, this has been only rhetoric, but is better than the almost universal silence from Europe. But I digress.

The second thing staying China’s hand is the growing civil unrest in its western hinterlands. The “Go West” campaign is an attempt to deal with this, but it is a very real worry that internal strife will wrack the country if income / quality of life inequalities widen too much further. One almost gets the impression that some in the West “hope” for this, as the only way to hold China back from “world domination”. They have been predicting this strife for years, but one sees no reason to believe that such unrest will be quelled with any less vigour than in Tibet or Xinjiang.

China is a rising power that wants to take what it sees as its rightful place in the world (see above). Part of taking its place is to assert itself as the regional super-power, a position currently held by Japan (marginally). China is not interested in maintaining the status quo in the region. Its desire is to be an economic, military powerhouse. It cannot reach that spot without upsetting a few on the way.

The positive of this for TWN is that it will push Japan in particular, and possibly South Korea to a lesser extent, closer to TWN. I would almost venture to say that Japan is a more likely ally for TWN in the event of (unlikely) armed conflict than the US. Japan is feeling very threatened, and a Japan-TWN alliance may be sufficient to make China think again (for the next five years at least). Add a healthy dose of resurgent Japanese nationalism and “voila”, instant ally.

So, what will unification look like, then? It will likely begin as an economic cooperation of some sort (this is almost the case anyway, given the huge investments by TWN in China). If TWN is not eager to comply, a reminder of the $billions they have invested in China and the need to sfeguard this will be all that will be required. This will be followed by the SAR-style oversight suggested above. How many years it will take to get there from where we are today, though, is anyone’s guess.

Our one hope is that the democratic changes required in China to stop this happening, or even to make such a move a positive choice (imagine that!) do begin to take hold. Sadly, that is something I would not put money on.