Remarks on the new US administration’s approach to cross-strait relations.

Remarks on Europe and the new US administration’s approach to cross-strait relations.

Conference on Taiwan’s New Security Predicament
Hosted by: The Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies
Whitehall, London, December 2, 2008.

By John J. Tkacik, Jr.

Let me begin with a quotation made last November (2007) by a Chinese colleague of mine: “In the world today, virtually all of America’s adversaries are China’s friends.” In Chinese, that reads "zai shijieshang, jihu suoyou Meiguode duishou dou shi Zhongguode pengyou." ("而在世界上,几乎所有美国的对手都是中国的朋友.") I'll get back to this later, but that quote, I believe, captures the entire context of our concerns today.

Our conference today has focused on Taiwan, and its "New Security Predicament". But let's be honest. Taiwan is only a symptom of a much broader, more pervasive but almost subconscious unease that pervades the foreign policy decision making in both Europe and the United States on the Taiwan challenge.

Our real topic isn't Taiwan at all. It is China, and why we are trying to convince ourselves of the urgency that we all encourage Taiwan to quietly acquiesce in a new sovereignty arrangement with China that Taiwan's citizens don't want, and which – if viewed objectively – is not in the security interests of America, or Europe, or – for that matter – of Japan or any of the world's other democracies.

I confess! I truly regret that I am the skunk at the Garden Party. I wish the burden of Cassandra's prophesy on the matter of China did not always fall on me . . . but, well, there it is.

China is now the second most powerful power on earth, and judging from the way it can organize its power, it may already be the most influential, even more so than the United States whose foreign policy decision-makers are torn between an unseemly desire to accommodate China's whims, no matter how unreasonable, on the one hand, and a deep phobia in the Pentagon that China is eating our lunch, stalking our nuclear aircraft carriers at sea, worming its way into our most secure computer systems , and developing advanced nuclear weapons designs and delivery systems targeted on the United States. And China is certainly more influential than the European Union which seems to determine its "common foreign and security policy" by consensus – meaning the lowest common denominator.

Over the past decade or so, China has used its national power to induce the United States to reduce its defense commitment to Taiwan. The Bush Administration has essentially told Taiwan's leaders that the United States will not aid Taiwan's continued separation from China – a direct repudiation of both the Taiwan Relations Act and the Reagan era "six assurances" to Taiwan in which the United States pledged that it "will not interfere in this matter [of Taiwan's relationship with China] or prejudice the free choice of, or put pressure on, the people of Taiwan in this matter.”

Yet, the full force of American influence has been pressed upon Taiwan to move into a union with China that the Taiwanese people do not want. The reason for this is obvious. China has made consistent threats of war if Taiwan were allowed to remain separate from Chinese communist rule. For six decades, American, and European, and Australian and even Japanese leaders, had demurred in formal recognition of China's sovereignty over Taiwan.

It had been a matter of national interests – for the United States, for example, Taiwan was its sixth largest export market in 2000, a major supplier of advanced technology products, therefore a trading partner of strategic significance, Taiwan had been a loyal and valuable defense and intelligence partner to the United States, and occupied a very important plot of strategic real estate in the geography of the Pacific's Western Rim, but certainly most important, Taiwan had emerged as one of Asia's most dynamic and vibrant democracies.

At the time, 2000, it made absolutely no strategic sense to let dictate America's relationship with Taiwan through threats of war.

But that has changed. America is has been militarily exhausted by the Iraq War since 2003. America's industrial and manufacturing base is shrinking. America is in the throes of an economic crisis. Meanwhile, China's military modernization surges ahead at historically unprecedented levels for any peacetime country. China's manufacturing and industry probably will overtake the United States in terms of percentage of world output next year. China has outpaced the world in foreign exchange reserves, and uses its financial holdings quite single-mindedly for strategic gain – I mean, who wouldn't? But it's a much more difficult thing to do in a representative democracy or a truly market economy where the nation's total wealth is not the property of the state.

In short, we've seen this sort of thing before – Japan's rise in Asia a century ago was just as sudden, as was Germany's rise on the European continent at the same time . . . and Germany's resurgence again in 1933, was a bit like this. But neither Japan nor Germany of the last century was anything nearly as powerful economically or financially as China today. In World War II, The United States' industrial output alone was more than double Japan's and Germany's combined.

So while history doesn't exactly repeat itself, certain patterns emerge that must be instructive and predictive. For instance, when Japan or Germany, or the Soviet Union, for that matter, threatened war if they did not get their way in Austria, or Czechoslovakia, or Manchuria, or China, or the Baltic States or Finland or Poland, the world's democracies took them seriously, and let them do what they would. Thucydides saw this 2500 years ago -- "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

Taiwan is in the same predicament as Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland. were 70 years ago. They were independent nations which had defense commitments of varying degrees from Europe's major democracies, the United Kingdom and France, but facing a threat of war, and a prospect of assured annihilation – as promised by the Athenians against Melos in the Melian Dialogues – decided not to make the choice the Melians made, and submitted to tyranny.

I'm not saying that China is the exact cognate of Japan or Germany or the Soviet Union – much less of Imperial Athens. But the similarities are more than passing. And the lessons of the past are striking.

America, Europe, Japan, democratic Asia and Oceania must not think that the bad old days of the Twentieth Century have no relevance today. In the 21st Century, where the Western democracies "mirror image" (that's a transitive verb) that all members of the international system see “peace” as the highest priority, "the system is at the mercy of its most ruthless members, and there is an overwhelming incentive to appease the demands of the most ruthless member regardless of how unreasonable they are." The inability of the major democracies to face down the most unreasonable demands of the system's most ruthless actors, China, Russia and their clients, must be seen as troubling to the rest of the world's democracies. China can enforce its expansionist demands on Taiwan, Russia on Georgia, and meanwhile Iran and North Korea continue their nuclear weapons development, Burma and Sudan continue their predations on their own peoples.

So I believe most of Asia, consciously or not, considers Taiwan as the canary in the American, or European, or Japanese foreign and security policy mineshaft – that is, they watch how American and Europe treat Taiwan, a friendly democracy, an important trading partner, and in the case of the U.S., a country for which the U.S. has assumed a rather robust defense commitment. If they are willing to sacrifice Taiwan to China's threats, then their own security must be reassessed.

Will the rest of Asia seek to balance or bandwagon with China? Will they accept their collective fate by bandwagoning with China as their leader, or will they attempt a balancing strategy risking that they may suffer the fate of the Melians in the Peloponnesian Wars?

So, to put Taiwan's new security predicament in a broader global context, one must see it as an essential part of America's and Europe's new relationship with China. Where do America's and Europe's interests lie?

I was taught in my undergraduate days that Great Britain's strategy for 400 years was always to align with the weaker European powers against any rising hegemon on the Continent, regardless of ideology, Catholic or Protestant, against a rising Spain, or a rising France, or a Tsarist Russia, a rising Germany or a resurrected Reich, and finally against a rising Soviet Union.

By the same token, one might say that America's strategy in the Cold War was to align with any powers, communist or otherwise, against the new hegemon on the Eurasian landmass.

Clearly, this is not what animates U.S. strategic thinking today – either under the Bush Administration or under the incoming Obama Administration.

But is it okay? I mean, does it matter if China and its friends have a free hand in the world today? I mean, how bad can it be? Certainly nothing like Germany or the Soviet Union, eh? I mean, it wouldn’t even be like Japan in the 30's, would it?

It was a straightforward observation made about a year ago: “In the world today, virtually all of America’s adversaries are China’s friends.” So wrote Dr. Yuan Peng, a rising scholar at the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the Chinese intelligence service’s flagship think tank, late last year in leading South China newspaper. His observation poses the central question for American and European foreign policy in the 21st Century: “can the world's democracies, America, Europe, Japan, Australia, India, and so on, conduct effective national security strategies on the assumption that China will be a partner rather than a spoiler?”

The short answer is “no.” If our foreign policy priorities -- and I list them in no particular order – are: 1) respect for universal human rights; 2) the expansion of the freedoms of representative democracy; 3) the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems; 4) rules-based free trade; 5) product safety and consumer health; the defeat of transnational terrorism in its myriad guises and, of course, the encouragement of political freedoms in repressive states mitigation of global environmental degradation; – then China’s behavior (and the behavior of its ‘friends’) cautions that China does not share those goals.

But the long answer is “China is now too big to confront, and managing China’s rise now requires a quiet, coherent, multi-dimensional and disciplined strategy that must be coordinated with allies and friendly democracies.” Europe will not moderate China's behavior by preemptively surrendering all its bargaining chips – like Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs did on October 29th when he formally announced a change in Britain's century-old policy to withhold recognition of Chinese state sovereignty over Tibet. Reportedly, the move was an effort to entice China to attend the EU-China Summit in Lyon, and secondarily to cajole China into more constructive negotiations with the Dalai Lama. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs seemed to say that he can't be holier than the Dalai Lama on the issue of Tibetan independence. But it was an emblematic move that got neither Britain nor Europe anything in return, and one could have predicted that the Chinese would pocket the concession.

Taiwan is in a similar situation. I don't believe Her Majesty's Government has yet formally recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. Neither the United States nor Japan has, nor, I believe have Canada or Australia. The United States made China's commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question a condition of reducing American arms sales to Taiwan. But the Chinese never committed to a peaceful resolution, and the United States never reduced arms sales.

But there will be tremendous pressure on Washington, London, Brussels, Tokyo, Canberra, etc. to formally announce recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. I mean, they can hardly be holier than Taiwan's nationalist government which also considers Taiwan to be under Chinese sovereignty of some sort or another, can they?

Well, the answer to that, is "yes, we can." All these countries declined to recognize Chiang Kai-shek's sovereignty over Taiwan because of Chiang's liquidation of tens of thousands of Taiwanese dissidents after the February 28, 1947, uprisings on the Island. But I'm afraid that the lessons of history do not find sympathetic audiences among China scholars these days.

In conclusion, let me predict that an Obama Administration will continue the Bush Administration's Asia policies and, thus, Taiwan is almost certain to show the way to the rest of Asia as it comes to terms with a new relationship with China. It will mean that what America and Europe once thought of as their shared strategic goals for Asia will give way to China's imperatives. If China's past behavior is an indication of its future policies, we will not be in for an easy time.

This, then, is my prophecy. Cassandra, of course, went insane . . . but her prophecies came true. Still, there is time to shape the future.

Crucial to achieving the shared strategic goals of Europe, America, Japan, etc, is a quiet consensus among the world’s democracies that we need to “balance” China’s rise. The key obstacle to this consensus is China’s sheer economic weight and Beijing’s willingness to use it to punish its competitors. Unless the United States takes the lead, the world’s democracies must perforce acquiesce in China’s ascent and ultimately will acquiesce to Beijing’s world view.




  "China: Reports of Increased Naval Activity,", October 21, 2008, at, and "Chinese Boats Stalk George Washington," at October 21, 2008 at Matthew Hickley, "The uninvited guest: Chinese sub pops up in middle of U.S. Navy exercise, leaving military chiefs red-faced," The Daily Mail, November 10, 2007, at See also Wu Mingjie, "Xiao Ying hao vs. Song ji yuanjia you pengtou" (Kitty Hawk vs. Song Class Submarine; Rivals again bump heads), China Times internet edition, January 15, 2008.
The penetration of classified networks appears to have been accomplished via viruses in "flash" drives manufactured in China which download files to the drive, then upload to the next internet-networked computer system it is attached to. See also Lolita C. Baldor, "Pentagon bans computer flash drives," The Associated Press November 21, 2008, at See also Julian E. Barnes, "Military Struck by Computer Attack, Assault Merited Briefing of Bush; Russia a Suspect," The Washington Post, November 28, 2008, p. A-4 (The original story in was carried by the Los Angeles times at,0,511.... See also Demetri Sevastopulo, "Chinese hack into White House network," Financial Times, November 7, 2008, p, 1.
The Secretary of State's International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) sees a "Chinese assured destruction [nuclear] capability" for use against the United States. A bootleg copy of the report of the Task Force on China's Strategic Modernization dated September 2008 is available at See Bill Gertz; "China report urges missile shield; Urges development of counterweapons," The Washington Times, October 1, 2008, at See also Thom Shanker, "Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence," The New York Times, October 29, 2008,
See Presidential Statement on Issuance of Communique, August 17, 1982, in hearing, China–Taiwan: United States Policy, Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, 97th Cong., 2nd Sess., August 18, 1982, p. 33.
Peter Marsh, “China to overtake US as largest manufacturer,” Financial Times, August 10, 2008, p. 1, at (September 22, 2008).
Thucydides quoting the Athenian delegation in the Melian Dialogue, see Robert B. Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides, a Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, Simon and Shuster Touchstone (New York) 1998, p. 352.
Awareness of “mirror imaging” is a doctrine among professional intelligence analysts: “Too frequently, foreign behavior appears ‘irrational’ or ‘not in their own best interest’ Such conclusions often indicate analysts have projected American values and conceptual frameworks onto the foreign leaders and societies, rather than understanding the logic of the situation as it appears to them.” The basic training manual for U.S. government intelligence analysts is Richards J. Heuer, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1999. For this observation, see p. 33.
Stephen Richards Graubard attributes this point to Henry Kissinger in Kissinger: Portrait of a Mind
(New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1973), p. 17.
Yaroslav Trofimov and Paul Beckett, "Singapore Prime Minister Warns U.S. Is Losing Influence in Southeast Asia," The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2007, at Japan is especially alarmed. "Japanese officials fret that they will get less attention under the Obama administration, given the number of China experts among his foreign-policy advisers." See John D. McKinnon, "APEC Leaders Fear U.S. Ties Are Fraying," The Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2008, at Even the U.S. intelligence agencies see that "American dominance will be much diminished" by 2025, with U.S. leadership eroding "at an accelerating pace" in "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas." Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus, "Reduced Dominance Is Predicted for U.S. Analyst Previews Report to Next President," The Washington Post, September 10, 2008, A02, at
In Chinese, his phrase is "zai shijieshang, jihu suoyou Meiguode duishou dou shi Zhongguode pengyou." See Yuan Peng, "Yuan Peng: Meiguo san da shouduan yanyuan Zhongguo jueqi" (Yuan Peng: America's three major schemes to impede China's rise), Guangzhou Ribao, November 23, 2007, p. A20, at (June 27, 2008). Dr. Yuan Peng is now a senior specialist in American affairs at the Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the research arm of China’s Ministry of State Security. For a discussion of CICIR’s role in the Ministry of State Security see Michael Pillsbury, China Debates the Future Security Environment, National Defense University Press (Washington, D.C.) 2000, pp. 365-366.
John Simpson, "China shows willingness to engage," BBC, London, 15 November 2008,, and "China welcomes UK Tibet decision," November 15, 2008,

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