Removing the Taiwan Stone from Asia’s Great “Gō” Game: Thoughts on Taiwan’s Geographic and Demographic Role in Asia-Pacific Security

February 28, 2012
National Identity and Economic Interest: Taiwan's Competing Options and Their Implications for Regional Stability

Chapter 11


Removing the Taiwan Stone from Asia’s Great “Gō” Game: Thoughts on Taiwan’s Geographic and Demographic Role in Asia-Pacific Security

John J. Tkacik, Jr.

I. Introduction

Seen from high altitudes, Pratas Reef is an almost perfectly circular and strikingly large landmark some 15 miles across. Known as “Dongsha” (東沙 or “East Sand”) in Chinese, the reef is a glass-green roundel in a vast sapphire sea, suggestive of a clamshell “stone” in some cosmic version of “Gō,” the ancient Japanese game of strategy. It is so large that it takes 90 seconds for a jetliner to pass over at 550 miles per hour, it is prominent in the northern expanses of the South China Sea where it straddles north-south shipping lanes through the Taiwan Strait and eastward from Hong Kong out to the Western Pacific. Hugging the reef’s rim is Pratas island, a pretty place, a 1.7 mile-long emerald sliver fringed with snow white beaches, scattered coconut palms, and turquoise lagoons that, in another universe, could be an exotic vacation getaway.

But not in this universe.

Instead, a world war and subsequent cold war have left Pratas an obscure frontline naval outpost for over a half a century. Pratas island’s 1,867-meter concrete runway is imposing, the asphalt streets, and concrete office buildings of its coast guard base are reassuringly modern and well-kept. From the antiaircraft gun emplacements bordering the airstrip, one can see in the distance fleets of Chinese fishing trawlers as lazy specks—within Taiwan’s 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) but kept about 12 miles away from the rich sealife of Pratas reef itself. Pratas is one of the most ecologically diverse—natural reefs in the Western Pacific, home to over 400 species of crustaceans alone, a number that has dwindled from nearly 900 since 1990 as Chinese fishermen—no longer targets of Taiwan machine guns and warships— plundered the banks to supply China’s ever-growing demand for exotic seafoods.

In the geopolitical “Gō” game that now unfolds between the rising Chinese superpower and the status quo powers in the Western Pacific led by the United States and Japan, Pratas Reef is an isolated stone in a strategically vital maritime gameboard. To an untrained geopolitician, the Pratas “stone” is a negligible part of the still larger Taiwan security matrix. But it hardly matters because, in Asia’s “Great Game,” Taiwan’s role itself is commonly underestimated.

For six decades, Taiwan has been a link in the “island chain” that was America’s “littoral defense line in the Western Pacific.” But the great geopolitical “Gō” game in Asia is now on the cusp of historic realignments comparable to the rise of Japan at the end of the nineteenth century and America’s Pacific preeminence in the mid-twentieth. Taiwan’s geopolitical roles within Asia are changing in unexpected ways, ways that will ripple Tsunami-like throughout the region.

The first decade of the twenty-first century witnessed America’s bank-breaking strategic overstretch in western and central Asia and China’s astounding transformation from a regional manufacturing center to a global superpower. If one were glib, one might call China’s strategic rise a “Great Game Changer.” Across East Asia and the Pacific, politicians and statesmen, businessmen and economists are reassessing their region’s future vis-à-vis an emerging U.S.-China superpower rivalry. If the United States’s prospects appear good, Asians will continue to side with the United States and “balance” against China. But if China appears able and determined to overwhelm East Asia’s America-anchored security network, Asia will “bandwagon” with China.

This chapter looks at some of the more underappreciated geographic and demographic dimensions of Taiwan’s Asian alignments and argues that, far from being a minor actor of little relevance to the grand directions of Asia’s future, Taiwan’s fate will be a harbinger of Asia’s fate—or may determine it outright.

II. Understanding the Game Board

One can think of Asia’s “Great Game” in terms of a multidimensional “Gō” board upon which players carefully occupy key nexus points and join them over time into a network that constrains or suffocates an opponent. Taiwan is just such a nexus in East Asia, one that occupies critical military, sociopolitical, economic, and geographic spaces that the United States and its Asian allies have assumed to be within their pattern of influence since the end of the Pacific War in 1945. But as China’s game pieces amass along the strait, Taiwan now senses a weakening influence of the United States and democratic Asia.

As such, events in the Taiwan Strait are now critical factors in the overall calculus of Asian geopolitics. Taiwan is one of the globe’s top 20 economies; it is a major (albeit atrophying) military power; and Taiwan’s government sits upon geography in the Taiwan Strait and, incidentally, the South China Sea that provides a considerable strategic advantage to whatever global power it aligns with.

In Asian eyes, though, Taiwan is perceived as a client state of the United States that is being systematically threatened, then cajoled, then wooed, then threatened again by China.

Three decades ago, the United States legally assumed responsibility for Taiwan’s security with the passage of the 1979 “Taiwan Relations Act” that (among other things) declares it to be

the policy of the United States . . . (6) to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.

In the decades since the TRA’s passage, the United States did maintain a strong defense relationship with Taiwan, one in which Taiwan was always at or near the top of America’s arms-purchasers list and closely cooperated in collecting signals intelligence on China.

Since 1996, China’s military deployments opposite Taiwan have intensified exponentially and by now the People’s Liberation Army has nearly reached its strategic goal of “area denial” to U.S. forces (i.e., assembling naval, air defense and submarine forces that can effectively defeat any United States attempt to enter the Taiwan Strait area). During the Clinton Administration, the U.S. quietly strengthened its security relationship with Taiwan, but the successor administration of George W. Bush found it difficult to persist in that policy. (President Bush focused only on terrorist threats, Iraq and Afghanistan, and found it expedient to acquiesce to China’s demands in Asia—Taiwan and North Korea in particular; the U.S. relationship with Taiwan was further complicated by two successive Taiwan leaders who struggled to distance Taiwan from China, thus incurring Chinese wrath with which the United States was ill-equipped to deal; and Taiwan’s own security was undermined as “Chinese nationalist” legislators who feared Taiwan’s ultimate alienation from China blocked passage of Taiwan’s defense budgets for several years.)

China’s demonstration that its economic influence and strategic power are so great that it can oblige the United States to abjure its (admittedly self-imposed) legal commitment to Taiwan’s defense, and can deter U.S. military/naval involvement in the Taiwan Strait will be the deciding issue for America’s friends and allies in the Western Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean as they contemplate their futures in a China-centric Asia.

For its part, Taiwan seems already on a trajectory toward abandoning its historical alignment with the United States and its allies. On August 16, 2010, the Chinese government released economic data that showed China had surpassed Japan as the world’s largest national economy, second only to the United States. Just six weeks earlier, smiling representatives from Taiwan, the world’s nineteenth largest economy, met with equally delighted Chinese counterparts in China’s wartime capital of Chongqing (Chungking) to sign an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) designed to integrate Taiwan’s industry, finance, and trade with China’s. The choice of Chongqing as the venue for the ECFA inauguration was not accidental. In October 1945, leaders of both the Chinese Communist and Nationalist (KMT) Parties—about to fight a bloody four-year Civil War—warily eyed each other in Chungking’s elegant guest houses as they raised toasts to the defeat of Japan. That was to be the last time for 65 years that Chinese Communists and Chinese Nationalists would talk of national cooperation. The Chinese Civil War all but ended on October 1, 1949, when the Communists proclaimed their “People’s Republic of China” in Beijing and the defeated Nationalists armies retreated to Taiwan to reconstitute themselves as the “Republic of China” in exile.

The significance of the June 2010 signing of the ECFA in Chongqing was not lost on China’s neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region because the end result promises to be a trade bloc that will dominate Asia:democratic Taiwan as the very junior partner to Communist China. With Taiwan’s ultimate geopolitical integration into China not too far off, Washington and its Asia-Pacific allies are now reassessing the region’s political and military (as well as economic) “Gō” board. Once Taiwan is absorbed by China, not just defense, industry, and supply-chain factors, but geographic and demographic factors that had been fixed features of Asian politics for the second half of the twentieth century will take on a new and hostile cast.

Taiwan, which once had the fourth largest standing army in democratic Asia, is in a state of chronic strategic atrophy; but its once-vibrant military-industrial complex and its still-sophisticated basing infrastructure will not simply disappear from the “Great Game” board — they will, instead, move into China’s column. Geographically, Taiwan occupies a pivotal position astride a strait through which passes over half of the world’s annual merchant marine tonnage; Taiwan’s island possessions in the South China Sea—from Pratas Reef in the north to Itu Aba (the largest in the Sea’s southern Spratly chain) in the south—command strategic waters that had seemed benign and forgettable for six decades, but will look ominous and threatening under Chinese control; Taiwan’s lofty mountain peaks that now house sophisticated phased-array radar sites scanning deep into the Chinese mainland for ballistic missile launch signatures, will turn outward to sweep the Western Pacific for signs of the U.S. Navy; Taiwan’s deepwater naval bases at Su’Ao and Hualien—just a few dozen miles from Japanese territory—which had enabled friendly submarines to slip undetected into one of the deepest maritime trenches in the Pacific, will likely give haven to super-quiet Chinese diesel electric subs in the future. These are only a few of the maritime considerations that will upend the entire warfighting plans of both the United States and Japan, heretofore the two greatest naval powers of the Pacific.

Perhaps more so than “geography,” Asia’s “demography” will feel an epochal impact from Taiwan’s disappearance as an international actor in the region.

III.The Chinese Diaspora in Southeast Asia and the Pacific

Demography is a grossly neglected element of Taiwan’s once-considerable “soft power” in the Asia Pacific region. The most potent sociodemographic force in the Asia-Pacific is the overseas Chinese diaspora (what C.P. FitzGerald called “The Third China” ). As Taiwan removes itself from Asia’s strategic “Gō” board, an unsettling sociopolitical metamorphosis in the region is already taking shape as the “third” China realigns with Beijing.

For the better part of the past century, Chinese communities in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand had been split almost evenly between factions loyal to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists in Taipei and Mao Zedong’s Communists in Beijing. Paradoxically, the schism within the Chinese diaspora politically neutralized the Chinese communities and somewhat dampened antipathies among native Austronesians in the region who envy, fear, and mistrust Chinese wealth and business acumen.

Perhaps the sharpest picture of the divide between overseas Chinese and indigenous populations in Southeast Asia is in Malaysia. In August 1965, so fearful were Malay sultans of the influence of the peninsula’s Chinese community that they unilaterally expelled the country’s major Chinese population center, the city of Singapore, from the new Federation of Malaysia. Former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s memoir describes the Chinese-Malay partnership in Malaysia as one “marred by increasing conjugal strife over whether the new Federation should be a truly multiracial society, or one dominated by the Malays.”

“Conjugal strife” was understandable. In the 1950s, the Malayan sultanates were victim to severe Communist guerrilla rebellions that were supported largely by Beijing and fought largely by ethnic Chinese. At secession, Lee Kuan Yew, anxious that Singapore not be seen as pro-Beijing, instead developed a robust military relationship with Taiwan, and by the mid-1970s Singapore had established a permanent training operation called “Xing Guang” (星光) in which thousands of Singapore ground troops rotated through Taiwan each year, a relationship that continues to this day.

It is a puzzling relationship. China has asked Singapore to remove its troops from Taiwan, but Singapore has not. In 2000, Lee Kuan Yew even told a group of journalists—for the record—that “I instead clearly told [then Chinese premier] Li [Peng] that Singapore intends to continue sending its military servicemen to Taiwan for training and military exercises.” Lee even explained (for the benefit of the reporters) that Singaporean troops wear Taiwan's military uniforms with Singapore insignia. Lee wryly added that he had asked Beijing to inform Singapore in advance of China's plans to take military action against Taiwan so that Singapore could evacuate its troops from the island in time. He explained that while Singapore's soldiers in Taiwan “know that they could be attacked in a Chinese invasion, their mothers and fathers might not know it.”

“If everyone knows that there’s a ‘third party’ in Taiwan,” Lee joked that Singapore's military presence there would be an early warning against a Chinese invasion. “If anything should happen,” it would be a warning because “we would be getting out in a hurry.”

Singaporean military forces, including artillery, armor, and infantry troops, have been training in Taiwan since 1975. The symbiotic Taiwan-Singapore military relationship not only regularly exposes Taiwan’s armed forces to the operational doctrine of a truly world-class professional military, but also gives Taiwan the “face” and prestige of a first-class international security “arrangement” outside its client-patron one with America. The “arrangement” is also an essential part of tiny Singapore’s defense survival doctrine that deploys a significant portion of its overall air and ground forces outside the home island where they cannot be destroyed by a “first strike” conventional attack. From whom? Well, it seems important to Singapore not to specify who it fears might ever attack the majority Chinese city-state.

Singapore’s close ties with Taiwan and its arms-length stance toward China’s military also demonstrate to the rest of non-Chinese Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia and Indonesia, that it does not intend to become a Chinese “Gō” stone in the region. But if Taiwan is out of the picture, Southeast Asian suspicions that Singapore might become a Beijing stalking-horse will deepen.

At the onset of the twenty-first century, the ranks of overseas Chinese communities now swell with recent migrants from the PRC who are unanimous in their affection for China. No longer can the Bumiputra (ethnic Austronesian “sons of the soil”) Southeast Asian governments rest assured that their prosperous and numerous Huaqiao (華僑) citizens (in the case of Malaysia, longtime “Paranakan” Chinese—many of whom can trace their family’s arrival in the peninsula back to the fifteenth century—count for at least 25% of the population ) cancel each other out in their Nationalist-Communist rivalries. The sort of anti-Chinese pogroms that took place in Indonesia (1965 and 1998), Malaysia (1969), and even New Guinea’s Solomon Islands (2006) which had served to keep the Chinese in their place in the past century, will in this century likely be seen in Beijing as casus belli for a new China that now assumes a protective role for its coethnics overseas.

The enormous political influence of Huaqiao communities in a particular Asia-Pacific nation is hard to quantify, but the example of the Solomon Islands in 2006 is emblematic. There, ethnic Chinese account for a fraction of 1% of the 500,000 population but control most of the country’s retail trade. In April 2006, leaders of the major opposition party in the Solomons took advantage of deep anti-Chinese resentments among fellow Solomon Islanders with accusations that the ruling party was bankrolled by prominent ethnic Chinese businessman, charges that unleashed violence in the capital’s small Chinatown, destroying 70–80% of the shops and prompting about a third of the Chinese population to flee the country.

While Taiwan’s embassy evacuated only a few officials, China, which had no diplomatic relations with the Solomons, took responsibility for rescuing 325 Chinese (including Hong Kong) nationals in unofficial chartered civilian airlines flights. Many of the evacuees apparently were recent migrants from the People’s Republic of China; in the aftermath of the violence, one opposition politician complained that “this new wave of Chinese that have come in over the last couple of years, they own Honiara, so to speak.” Another opposition leader Joses Tuhanuku explained:

It is very serious in many ways. First of all, people feel they have lost control of their country. People felt that the last government was controlled by these people. The perception is that the Solomon Islands is no longer in the hands of Solomon Islanders, it is now in the hands of the Chinese. First of all, they control the economic life of the country, and now they are working on taking over the political life of the country. That is the fear that people have now.

Tuhanuku added, “everybody knew that Chinese businesspeople would give financial support to candidates and when they were elected they would expect them to return the favour.” Indeed, the riots had little to do with the Beijing-Taipei rivalry except insofar as Beijing claimed that they were stirred up by Taiwan government “money diplomacy,” claims that were echoed by the Australian government but vigorously denied by Taipei. It is doubtful whether the Australian government had any independent intelligence that Taipei money had indeed been the root of the Solomons’ violence of April 2006 because no subsequent academic studies even alluded to it.

Lintner notes that the Solomon’s old Chinese “Waku” (Huaqiao) feel “closer to the Republic of China, or Taiwan, than the Communist ruled People’s Republic of China.” Certainly the Solomons’ older Waku supported the Solomons’ ruling party politicians—and they were sympathetic to Taipei, not Beijing. Yet, the rioting primarily targetted “new Chinese” who have migrated from mainland China since the 1980s—a distinct subset of the Chinese community—leaving the old Waku relatively untouched. The source of the Honiara unrest, it would appear, was not Taipei’s “money diplomacy” but demographic dislocations caused by the influx of new Chinese migrants from the PRC.

IV. Beijing Guarantees Overseas Chinese security

Moreover, there was an ominous new geopolitical dimension to the April 2006 anti-Chinese riots in Honiara. It was the first time the Chinese government had organized an overseas evacuation of its nationals threatened by ethnic violence since 1966 when four Chinese ships were dispatched to collect 4,251 overseas Chinese from overcrowded refugee camps in Sumatra a year after bloody massacres of Chinese throughout Indonesia.

In fact, Beijing’s reaction to the more recent anti-Chinese riots in Jakarta and across Indonesia in 1998 in which scores were killed and at least 150 Chinese women were raped (including 20 who died of their injuries) was more muted: the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department reportedly ordered domestic media to downplay the 1998 Indonesian violence against Huaqiao.

That had changed by 2006. Following the Solomons evacuation, the Chinese Foreign Ministry asserted that “the Chinese government has always attached great importance to protecting the legitimate rights and interests of overseas Chinese including compatriots from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan,” a stance that one Chinese academic (quoted by China’s official Xinhua news agency) said “signified a major change in [the Chinese government’s] protection of overseas Chinese.” China’s skillful and well-organized evacuation of 33,000 Chinese workers from Libya in March 2011, all the more impressive because it was managed long-distance from Beijing, marks an entirely new phase in China’s commitment to the security of overseas Chinese populations across the globe—wherever they may be.

It is clear, therefore, that China has far more profound interests in the Asia-Pacific region’s Huaqiao communities than mere bickering with Taipei. Even in countries where Taipei does not have relations, like Fiji, Tonga, Western Samoa and New Zealand, China has encouraged large-scale immigration over the past 20 years, and that immigration has changed the electoral demographics of whatever country receives it.

The November 2006 riots in the Pacific island kingdom of Tonga, for example, also had an anti-Chinese subtext. Lintner notes “there were hardly any Chinese-owned grocery stores in the capital Nuku'alofa 20 years ago. Now, more than 70 percent are owned by newly-arrived Chinese, whose wealth and savvy have pushed local shopkeepers out of business.” Western Samoans, too, harbor antipathy toward newcomer Chinese.

Newcomers from China exert themselves on behalf of Beijing in their adopted lands (their enthusiasm for China’s globe-trotting Olympic Torch bearers in 2008 and their organized hostility toward Tibetans around the world are examples of their patriotic exuberance). In New Zealand, post-1991 immigrants from Mainland China are ardently pro-China and have begun to make their views felt in New Zealand’s electoral politics where they complain that longtime New Zealanders of Chinese descent don’t adequately represent Asian-New Zealander interests. One Labour Party stalwart, the Beijing-born radio announcer Richard Huo, charged that New Zealand’s best known “old Chinese” community politician, National Party MP Pansy Wong, "does not connect well" with most Chinese New Zealanders because “she is from Hong Kong and speaks Cantonese rather than Mandarin.” In private, Huo’s complaint was that Wong “is not Chinese enough,” not that she isn’t New Zealander enough.

Strategically, Taiwan’s diplomatic presence in the Pacific does occasionally have its silver lining for the United States. In 1999, news reports said China’s space tracking station at the eastern end of Tarawa island in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) had all its radar dishes pointed directly at the U.S. Army missile testing base in the Marshall Islands' Kwajalein Atoll 600 miles to the northwest.

Kwajalein is a splashdown zone for American ballistic missile defense tests. China reportedly supported Kiribati politicians linked to the then president Teburoro Tito. In Kiribati’s 2003 presidential election campaign, however, opposition candidate Anote Tong—the son of a Gilbertese mother and a post–World War II Chinese migrant father—pledged to recognize the Taipei government. Tong was elected and in due course recognized Taipei’s “Republic of China” government on November 7. Chinese diplomats in Kiribati immediately began to dismantle the Chinese tracking station, but apparently instigated protest demonstrations in support of China.

No doubt, the security of U.S. missile testing benefited somewhat in the absence of the Chinese radar facility. Eight months later, three Chinese diplomats remained in Kiribati apparently overseeing the packing and shipment of the radar equipment and embassy facilities. But their continued presence inclined President Tong to remark that the Chinese had “participated in the [presidential election] process before. They continue to hope there will be a reversal of the situation and a change of government, I guess.”

With the Taiwan factor removed from the Chinese Diaspora community equation, Southeast Asian nations must now calculate that any future violence against ethnic Chinese will be grounds for “humanitarian intervention” by China—and will involve the appearance of new and modern Chinese naval flotillas in their waters. Huaqiao communities across Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands are already a dominant economic force. Able to count on the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to defend them in future unrest, Huaqiao communities in Asia will leverage their wealth and numbers into concomitant political influence. Asia-Pacific regimes now face the prospect of rising political activism in their wealthiest and most educated minorities, an activism that will have backing in Beijing.

Taiwan’s waning presence in Asia-Pacific demography is a major boon for China. So too is Taiwan’s waning geographic presence. The decisions that Taiwan makes in managing its maritime jurisdictions in the South and East China Seas and in the Taiwan Strait are being watched with intense concern by its neighbors in the region.

IV.1. South China Sea

In June 2010, at his headquarters in Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii, Admiral Patrick Walsh gave an interview to a reporter from Japan’s major newspaper, Asahi Shimbun. Walsh was stressed by a new intensity in Chinese naval harassment in the South China Sea, especially its unseemly reef-grabbing and physical force against non-Chinese fishermen from the Sea’s other littoral states. Mimicking the terminology of the Chinese themselves, Walsh told the Japanese correspondent, "This is an issue that has us very, very concerned because, on principle, the interference with freedom of navigation in international water is a core interest for those who use the global commons." Walsh referred to "this economic 'carotid artery' that runs through the South China Sea ... they [the Chinese] are willing to put at risk over rocks, reefs and disputed claims."

To get a sense of how the strategic center of gravity East Asia’s geopolitical game will change in without Taiwan as an independent power in the region, one might first consider the ripple effect of apparently minute adjustments—for example, a shift in military control over slivers of sand in the South China Sea. Then imagine the impact that subtle movements in substantive areas of Asia’s industry, trade, and finances. Only then can one begin to grasp the significance that truly momentous political and security realignments between Taiwan and China will have on the “Great Game” of Asian geopolitics.
Take, for example, Pratas Island at the northern rim of the Sea that introduced this chapter. It is garrisoned by over 200 Taiwan Coast Guard and Air Force personnel.

By 2006, when I visited the reef, Taiwan’s Coast Guard had replaced the marine garrison and had begun to reestablish its enforcement authority, not as a belligerent in the Chinese Civil War, but as a protector of the waters’ fragile environment. Taiwanese environmentalists and biodiversity scholars now urge the Taipei government to expand its resources to protect the delicate ecosystems in the South China Sea reefs that Taiwan administers and they reasonably suggest that enhanced enforcement will strengthen Taiwan’s “soft power” among the other nations in the Sea’s littoral despite its lack of a diplomatic network in the region.

The strategic value of Pratas is readily apparent. The reef is almost equidistant from the tip of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the shores of northern Luzon in the Philippines, and virtually all sea traffic into the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea passes nearby. In a world where Taiwan is part of China, Pratas Reef extends China’s continental shelf jurisdictions another 200 miles toward the Philippines and the South China Sea—a not inconsiderable factor that would consolidate China’s hold on seafaring Asia.

Likewise, in the center of the South China Sea, over a thousand miles to the southwest, is another, more isolated, Taiwan outpost on the oval pancake islet of Itu Aba (known in Chinese as “Taiping” 太平) the largest of the Sea’s Spratly Islands. Itu Aba and its surrounding islands were annexed by France (the colonial power in Indochina) in 1933 as France became alarmed at Japan’s naval expansion in the region. During the Pacific War, Japan outfitted the island as a submarine base, thus affirming the Spratlys’ strategic utility. China’s Nanking government briefly occupied the main island in 1946, and since 1952 its successor government in Taipei has held the position that Japan ceded “sovereignty” of the Spratlys to the Taipei government in Japan’s “Treaty of Taipei” peace accord with Taiwan.

Like Beijing’s “People’s Republic of China,” Taipei's “Republic of China” government persists in a broad territorial sea claim around the full periphery of the South China Sea—a claim which the Economist magazine calls “a great lolling tongue of Chinese sovereignty.” Itu Aba is the biggest of the South China Sea islands, and the only one with a functioning airstrip—a 1,150-meter concrete pad suited for military operations. There are promising seabed oil and gas structures within whatever EEZ might be compassed around Itu Aba and the surrounding Chinese-occupied (as well as Vietnamese- and Philippines-occupied) islets in the region. Since 1992, China has warned its south sea neighbors against exploring the Spratlys’ oil and gas resources. (Similarly, there are seabed hydrocarbon deposits within the EEZ surrounding Pratas Reef.)

Regardless of how the ASEAN powers juggle the data, then, Taiwan is a jurisdiction of immense relevance to South China Sea maritime operations, and Taiwan’s future confederation with China would considerably enhance China's comprehensive maritime power.
Paradoxically, within the context of Chinese territorial assertions in the South China Sea, Taiwan's role has already been significant. As early as 1974, Taiwan's ROC government reportedly opened up the Taiwan Strait to the transit of People's Liberation Army Naval (PLAN) warships in support of a Chinese attack on South Vietnamese forces on the Yongle (永樂) island group in the Paracel (西沙) islands. In March 1988, according to the PRC media, PLAN warships anchored for a week at Itu Aba/Taiping Island, a ROC base, to take on food supplies during their battle with Vietnamese forces then occupying Johnson South Reef (known as Đá Gạc Ma in Vietnamese and Chigua Jiao 赤瓜礁 in Chinese). Taiwan's Defense Minister Cheng Wei-yuan (鄭為元), openly declared that “if there was another war [in the Spratly chain] the Nationalist Army would assist the Liberation Army in a battle of resistance.” Supposedly, as late as 1993, Taiwan military officers would not rule out cooperation with China in the “development and management” of the Spratlys.

For this reason, the PRC media in 2006 blasted Taiwan's former president Chen Shui-bian and his predecessor Lee Teng-hui for “junking the tacit understanding” that preserved Chinese sovereignty over the Spratlys (南沙). Chen Shui-bian's sin was to build a modern airstrip on Itu Aba/Taiping without consulting Beijing. China responded by menacing the island with constant PLAN surveillance as the construction commenced.

Vietnam, too, complained about Taiwan’s new airstrip on Itu Aba. Hanoi claims the islands, and the Philippines has laid claim to others to Itu Aba’s north and east, but both now must review whether it is better to accede to Taipei’s transfer of jurisdiction over Itu Aba to Beijing or have Taiwan persist as an international actor in the South China Sea.
China gradually is tightening its strategic presence in the South China Sea. By 2008, the deputy commander of the Chinese navy’s East Fleet, Admiral Zhang Huachen, explained that “with the expansion of the country's economic interests, the navy wants to better protect the country's transportation routes and the safety of our major sea lanes.” A retired PLA general was a bit more candid: “We kept silent about territory disputes with our neighbors in the past because our navy was incapable of defending our economic zones, but now the navy is able to carry out its task.”

Indeed, while incidents at sea between U.S. Navy and Chinese forces have always been a fact of life, they have intensified since March 2009 when the U.S. naval ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable engaged in submarine detection operations in international waters about 75 miles south of Hainan Island was surrounded by several Chinese fishing boats which closed to within 25 feet of the American ship. The confrontation was preceded by a close approach incident when a Chinese naval frigate crossed the Impeccable’s bow at a range of 100 yards. When the United States lodged an official complaint about the Chinese behavior, China’s foreign ministry countered that the U.S. vessel had broken “international and Chinese law” and besides, the U.S. complaint was “totally inaccurate and confuses right and wrong and is unacceptable to China.” A senior Chinese strategic analyst at People’s University in Beijing, Professor Shi Yinhong, observed that “the United States is present everywhere on the world's seas, but these kinds of incidents may grow as China's naval activities expand.”

China now picks fights in the South China Sea with alarming frequency.

On June 11, 2009, a Chinese submarine deliberately cut the cable of a sonar array being towed by the USS John McCain in international waters about 140 miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines. Shortly after the contretemps with the Impeccable, China’s fisheries department announced that it would increase its fisheries patrols in South China Sea and by June had deployed eight new patrol vessels that had seized several Vietnamese fishing boats. In 2009 alone, Chinese had seized 433 Vietnamese fishermen in the South China Sea.

At the southern end of the South China Sea where China’s maritime claims abut Indonesia, Indonesian authorities detained 8 Chinese fishing boats and arrested 75 illegal Chinese fishermen. A year later, in the summer of 2010, Indonesian patrol vessels again confronted a fleet of 10 Chinese fishing boats, but this time, a Chinese “fishery management vessel” (described as a “repurposed heavy gunboat”) threatened to fire on the Indonesian coast guard ships. Moreover, the Chinese boats were not even in waters claimed by China, but in Indonesia’s EEZ near Natuna Island. One analyst believes that massive overfishing in Chinese waters have left coastal fisheries in “a state of near collapse,” and this has prompted the Beijing government to encourage its fleet of 300,000 fishing boats to go farther asea—a migration that now brings regular clashes in neighboring fishing grounds that China now claims as its own.

In recent years, China’s military has systematically occupied several chains of submerged coral reefs in the Spratlys west of the southern Philippine island of Palawan, secretly emplacing huge caissons of concrete in their shallow water and constructing massive platforms and anchorages. The first new Chinese military platforms appeared atop Mischief Reef in 1995, and the Philippines has been complaining about them ever since. In May 2011, the Philippines air force spotted several new structures in the Spratly island group, all complete with satellite communications, air defense cannons, and 300-meter-long cargo docks. The discovery coincided with the visit to Manila of China’s defense minister, General Liang Guanglie (梁光烈), who, without a hint of irony, proceeded to sign a communiqué with his Philippines counterpart who urged that “unilateral actions which could cause alarm should be avoided.”

As if to rationalize its new belligerence, China also set about declaiming that it had “core interests” in the South China Sea. In March, 2010, according to the Washington Post, Chinese assistant foreign minister Cui Tiankai explained to two senior U.S. officials that his country viewed its claims to the South China Sea on par with its claims to Tibet and Taiwan. This was reportedly the first time China had defined the South China Sea to be as central to China’s security as Taiwan. Thereafter, Chinese diplomats proclaimed a “core interest” in the South China Sea to progressively more senior Americans—and Southeast Asians as well. In tandem, Chinese security scholars declared in the official media that “by adding the South China Sea to its core interests, China has shown its determination to secure its maritime resources and strategic waters.”

By June 2010, China’s proprietary posture in the South China Sea had become unbearable not just to the major South China Sea littoral states, but to the United States as well. Addressing the annual Asian Security Summit in Singapore (also known as the “Shangri-La Dialogue”) on June 5, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates countered China’s “core interest” rhetoric with his own declaration of “the longstanding belief of the U.S. government that a peaceful and non-coerced resolution to the Taiwan issue is an abiding national interest—and vital for the overall security of Asia.”

In response, senior American officials began explicating America’s “national interests” in the South China Sea. Speaking at the Asian Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi on July 23, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a binding international code of conduct for the states claiming disputed islands in the South China Sea, including China, as well as a formal international process for resolving those claims. “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” Clinton asserted. China’s foreign minister immediately characterized the U.S. stance as an “attack” on China, adding ingenuously that “nobody believes there's anything that is threatening the region's peace and stability.”

There ensued several months of Chinese complaints about American interference in the Sea, beginning with the banner headline on the front page of the July 26, 2010, Huanqiu Shibao (環球時報, the international news mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party) that charged “Hillary’s ignorant rhetoric is cause of South Sea furor, Yang Jiechi refutes U.S. distortions, China Slams American interference in South Sea.” An English commentary in Global Times (the English language edition of Huanqiu) warned darkly of the “American Shadow over South China Sea” and cautioned that “Southeast Asian countries need to understand any attempt to maximize gains by playing a balancing game between China and the US is risky.” The commentary continued. “China's tolerance was sometimes taken advantage of by neighboring countries to seize unoccupied islands and grab natural resources under China's sovereignty. . . China will never waive its right to protect its core interest with military means.”

China kept up the pressure until it became clear that it was simply making things worse for its Southeast Asian diplomacy. By the spring of 2011, the “core interest” formula had faded from China’s official South China Sea rhetoric.

Personal correspondence of the author reflects that the Chinese had pressured ASEAN very heavily to keep the South China Sea issue off the agenda at Hanoi, attempting to leverage the Burmese and Cambodian delegations behind the scenes to break any ASEAN consensus . But when the United States informed the ASEAN hosts that the United States would raise discuss the South China Sea in a very pointed way regardless of whether it was on the formal agenda, the floodgates were opened. It was a smart approach by the US and its friends in ASEAN — for the first time in years, the Americans were seen very visibly to be engaging with ASEAN deftly avoiding ASEAN's consensus trap that had, in the past, been co-opted so effectively by China to block action it opposes without having to be seen as the “heavy.”

The weight of Taiwan in this equation is clear. Prior to the early 1990s, the Taipei government was almost as protective of the Spratlys as “Chinese” territory as Beijing. But through the 1990s and up to 2008, Taipei tended to regard Itu Aba as a distant outpost that could be used to strengthen Taipei’s diplomatic leverage with the Sea’s littoral states. The return to power in Taipei of the Chung-kuo Kuomintang (not for nothing is it called the “Chinese Nationalist Party”) instead marked a recrudescence of Taipei’s inclination to coordinate South China Sea policies with Beijing. As such, the entire correlation of forces in the South China Sea would change dramatically without Taiwan’s presence on Itu Aba/Taiping; militarily it is the largest island in the Spratly chain and the only one with an airstrip long enough for combat aircraft operations, and diplomatically, the fact that the largest island is not under Beijing administration dramatically dilutes China’s territorial claims.

Is China’s expanding security footprint in the South China Sea a problem for the United States as well as Southeast Asia? As former Asia policy aide to President George W. Bush, Michael Green, put it, “The Chinese are elbowing, seeing how far they can go before the referee blows the whistle on them and they get a yellow card . . . This is also a [Chinese] signal to Vietnam, the Philippines, and the smaller countries in the region, that ‘look, if we can do this to the Americans, what chance do you think you have?’”

IV.2. The Taiwan Strait

Perhaps a more momentous question Asia will have to ask is whether eventual unification of Taiwan with China means that the Taiwan Strait becomes a Chinese "inland waterway."

Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)—a scholar of international maritime delimitations—in his 1981 law school dissertation explains “The Taiwan Strait requires no international delimitation since the ROC and the PRC are not foreign states inter se. There is presumably no room for applying international law.” For its part, the Chinese military sees the strait as sovereign Chinese waters.
China began to get touchy about foreign naval transits of the Taiwan Strait only in the past decade or so as it unilaterally determined that foreign naval vessels must have advance permission for the Chinese government to transit territorial waters. At its narrowest (between Haitan 海灘island and Taiwan’s coast), the strait is about 76 miles wide — and international law recognizes a 12-mile (20 kilometer) territorial waters jurisdiction and an additional 12-mile “contiguous zone” of enforcement, thus narrowing the international channel to just a few dozen miles. Even then, China considers the entire Taiwan Strait as its continental shelf. Chinese law on its face restricts “freedom of navigation and overflight” in China’s EEZ and continental shelf only to states that observe “the laws and regulations of the People's Republic of China.”

China started to put up “no trespassing” signs in the strait on April 17, 2001. That day, two Australian Navy frigates and a supply ship were intercepted by PLA Navy vessels and ordered by radio to leave the Taiwan Strait by the Chinese commander who insisted that the Australians had entered China's 12-nautical mile territorial waters. The Australian flotilla, steaming from Pusan in South Korea to Hong Kong, refused to change direction and continued on their way. The Australian Sun-Herald described the incident as a “tense stand off” in which the Australian commander “stared down” the Chinese.

Unlike previous fulminations by the PLA, this affair was not a matter of the People’s Liberation Army’s overzealousness in defending the country’s territorial waters in contravention of customary international law that it did not fully understand. China’s Foreign Ministry subsequently filed a diplomatic protest with Australia about the incident to which the Australian Foreign Ministry responded that “our position is our ships were exercising their rights under the international law of the sea which provides that foreign vessels can pass through another country's territorial waters, under the right of innocent passage, as it's described.” Australian Prime Minister John Howard later said “China's always had a different view about what international law allows the vessels of one country to do in the territorial waters of another.”

China, therefore, can be expected to persist in its “different view about what international law allows” as its navy grows more muscular and as Taiwan recedes from the picture as an autonomous international actor.
Another episode in November 2007 seems also to have heightened suspicions in the U.S. Navy that China’s posture toward the freedom of navigation in the Taiwan Strait was illegitimately possessive. When the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its accompanying battle group transited north from Hong Kong through the Taiwan Strait, the Foreign Ministry declared itself “gravely concerned” about the battle group’s passage. Taiwan’s press claimed that a Chinese naval task force that included the Sovremennyy-class guided missile destroyer Shenzhen and at least one Type-039 Song-class submarine shadowed the Americans for 28 hours during the transit—the submarine seemed to be lurking near Orchid Island (蘭嶼) off Taiwan’s southeastern tip in what were clearly Taiwanese, not Chinese waters. Although a U.S. Navy spokesman later denied any incidents had taken place, newspaper reports from Taipei said Taiwan navy antisubmarine aircraft had monitored the movements of a Chinese submarine and the destroyer Shenzhen during the Kitty Hawk’s transit and Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to deny stories that the Chinese navy had shadowed the Americans.

The significance of the putative encounter is not whether it occurred, but what the United States Pacific Command commander, Admiral Timothy Keating, thought the Chinese might have been signaling at the time. At a press conference in Beijing a few weeks later, Keating noted “Chinese submarines have impressive capabilities and their numbers are increasing.” He cautioned that “in submarine operations in particular, because of the medium in which they’re conducted, underwater, there is greater potential, in my opinion, for inadvertent activity that could be misconstrued or misunderstood.” And when asked why the Kitty Hawk battle group had chosen to return to its homeport in Japan via the Taiwan Strait rather than up Taiwan’s eastern coast, Keating seemed to bristle:

We don’t need China’s permission to go through the Taiwan Straits. It’s international water. We will exercise our free right of passage whenever and wherever we choose as we have done repeatedly in the past and we’ll do in the future. As it happens, the weather was pretty crummy on the leeward side of Taiwan, and so the commander made an appropriate decision, requested permission, was given permission to transit the Taiwan Strait, and we’ll do that whenever we need to.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Navy has not made a practice of transiting the Taiwan Strait — and when such transits are undertaken, they seem always to be part of a broader political message. For example, the November 2007 sortie was in response to China’s sudden withdrawal of permission for the Kitty Hawk to portcall at Hong Kong. U.S. fleet elements were deployed to the Taiwan Strait in March 2004 to deter Chinese interference in Taiwan’s presidential elections, similar movements of U.S. ships took place in February and March 2000. And during Taiwan’s first free presidential elections in March 1996, China launched four short-range M-9 ballistic missiles into Taiwanese waters and closed the Taiwan Strait to commercial shipping in a transparent attempt to intimidate Taiwan’s electorate. The United States sent two separate aircraft carrier battle groups to positions near the Taiwan Strait.

The Taiwan Strait is probably the globe’s single busiest waterway. In the year ending August 15, 2002, a total of 259,086 civilian aircraft transited the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) while 246,015 international commercial ships transited the Taiwan Strait and the East Taiwan maritime route, for a daily average of about 675 ship transits —compared to the Dover Strait that sees a daily average of 400–500 ships over 300 tons in daily transit. About 90,000 ships pass through the Strait of Gibraltar annually; about 50,000 ships a year pass through the Straits of Malacca. The Suez Canal processes about 55–60 transits a day while the more constricted Panama Canal manages just 40–44. Three of the world's major container ports (Kaohsiung, Hong Kong, Shenzhen-Yantian) abut the strait, most Japanese and South Korean fossil fuel supplies traverse it, as do all China’s sealines to Asia, Australia, Africa, and Europe. One study done in 2002 suggested that China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan together would process 86 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent unit cargo containers) by 2010, much of which will “come from increased cross-strait cargo,” and “will account for over 40% of Asia’s total container cargo and about 20% of the world’s total container cargo” (Chinese ports alone accounted for 80 million TEUs by 2006).

The Taiwan Strait links Japan and South Korea to their markets in Europe and their energy suppliers in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Whichever power controls the Taiwan Strait also controls Japan’s, South Korea’s, Taiwan’s, as well as China’s sea lines of communication (SLOCs).

With China now at the center of all East Asian export manufacturing supply chains, neither Japan nor South Korea (and certainly not Taiwan) is interested in interrupting or severing China’s SLOCs. For example, over half of South Korea’s component exports go to China — up from one-third at the beginning of the decade. China became Japan’s top trading partner in August 2007, something that a Japanese Finance Ministry official said reflects "the gradual shift of production by Japanese firms to China. I think the trend of growing trade with China will continue.” By April 2010, over half—50.69%—of Taiwan’s manufacturing production was completed by Taiwan-owned corporation factories overseas (well over 60% of which were in China in 2006). That figure was only 12.39% in January 2000. And over 60% of all exports booked by Taiwan firms are shipped from Taiwan-owned factories in China.

So, clearly, none of East Asia’s major powers is interested in disrupting China’s maritime trade. However, given the tremendous growth of China’s domestic industrial and manufacturing sectors (now probably bigger than the United States); given China’s industrial policies of sourcing the vast majority of manufacturing components domestically; given China’s neurotic hoarding of commodities and raw materials well beyond the demand of its industries ; and of course, given the significant expansion of China’s naval forces, particularly advanced submarines, the opposite is not necessarily true. China looks like it is making contingency plans for a major breakdown in global commodities supplies, either through a collapse of the U.S. dollar or a significant military conflict.

IV.3. The East China Sea—The Senkaku Islands

We have examined Taiwan’s geographic role in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Its role in the East China Sea is more complex. On two levels of China’s multidimensional great game board in the East China Sea, the geographic and geopolitical, Taiwan occupies essential space. Taiwan’s geographic position is self-evident. Taiwan’s geopolitical location—that is, where the Island is located on the spectrum of “Taiwan-China” national identity (guojia rentong 國家認同)—is also a potent diplomatic and propaganda factor in China’s quest for preeminence in the Western Pacific, especially vis-à-vis Japan and South Korea. A Taiwan that considers itself politically to be “Chinese” is more likely to cooperate with Beijing in extending China’s influence in Asia, while one politically “Taiwanese” is more likely to identify with fellow Asian democracies than with China.

In this context, China’s territorial claims on Japan’s Senkaku Islands just east of the northern approaches to the Taiwan Strait are not topographically as central to China’s security as the Taiwan Strait obviously is, but they do impact Japan’s strategic depth as well as the perception among Asia’s democracies that Japan remains a great power. As will be seen, Taiwan’s involvement in the Senkakus could tip the geopolitical balance of the issue.

Japan has administered the Senkaku islands since the 1870s when the Ryukyuan kingdom formally joined the Japanese empire. Japan erected light beacons and navigation aids on the islands and from 1904 through 1941, and a Japanese fishing community of over 200 thrived on the main Senkaku island. But Japan is now under intense geopolitical pressure from China to abandon the islands.

For a nation with a 5,000-year history of border conflicts and territorial disputes, China’s claim to the Senkakus is far and away from the newest—newer even than China’s 1940s claims to the South China Sea islets. Indeed, up to 1969, both the Taipei and Beijing governments consistently catalogued the Senkaku islands as Japanese territory. Indeed, there is no record anywhere of a Chinese (Taipei or Beijing) claim to the Senkaku islands prior to 1969.

Prior to 1969, no one knew of any particular benefit to owning the Senkaku Islands, except the Japanese who viewed it more as a navigation hazard surrounded by a rich fishing ground. In 1968, however, a report issued by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), noted that “The best prospect for large new petroleum discoveries are [sic] believed to be the mature and youthful continental margins off eastern Asia and off northern Asia.” While this news was greeted with some gratification in Japan, Taipei’s Republic of China government—then representing the Chinese mainland in the United Nations—was spurred into proffering Chinese claims to the Senkaku Islands and to the seabed oilfields within its orbit. It was a difficult propaganda “sell” because not a single Taipei publication could be found that had ever catalogued the Senkakus as Taiwan’s.

The Senkakus then became a matter of “face” in Beijing. In Henry Kissinger’s early meetings with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in October 1971, Zhou made a point of claiming the Ryukyu islands: “Taiwan is cursing us about the Ryukyus; not just about Okinawa. . . . I will not go into the historical facts of that, but I am certain those islands sent gifts to the Chinese Emperor and were looked upon as tributary states.” As late as 1973, however, Premier Zhou still had not raised the Senkakus issue with the Japanese despite the fact that he had already done so with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger and even with the Canadian foreign minister.

The subsequent history of China’s claims to the Senkakus revolved around expedience. On October 2, 1974, Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping told an overseas Chinese group in Beijing that “we will never give up this Chinese territory but Japan also will not surrender it,” and mused that “the movement to guard Tiaoyutai (Senkakus) has to be continued.” Nonetheless, Deng conceded to a visiting Japanese group that the China would be willing to shelve the Senkaku issue during negotiations with Japan on a peace treaty. From then until the early 2000s, as the Chinese navy acquired increasing power-projection capabilities, China was content to leave the Senkakus on the back-burner.

Although the China-Taiwan-Japan territorial frictions in the East China Sea started with oil, they are now mostly a matter of “face.”

In January 2003, China Youth News (中國青年報) quoted the Chinese Maritime Patrol Service’s (海監總隊) deputy commander as saying that the Service had responded effectively to violations of Chinese jurisdiction in the East China Sea with patrol vessels and aircraft to meet incursions by American and Japanese ships and aircraft. Chinese Maritime Patrol ships “had warned Japanese ships which were leaking oil pollution into the territorial seas.”

More ominously, over the past decade, several provocative transits of Chinese naval flotillas (including submarines) past the Senkakus and into Ryukuan waters have heightened Japan’s sense of the Senkakus’ strategic utility. In April 2010, the PLA Navy conducted an exercise east of the Senkakus in Japanese narrow territorial waters between Okinawa and Miyako islands. The Chinese fleet (at least 10 warships) included destroyers, missile frigates, and submarines. In 2008, a smaller Chinese fleet of four ships made a similar sortie. In fact, Chinese naval vessels have been probing Japanese waters east of the Senkakus since 2005. In September 2005, on the eve of Japan’s Diet Elections, five Chinese warships including one of China’s latest Russian-made Sovremennyy class destroyers menaced Japanese coast guard vessels north of the Senkaku islands thereby ensuring a landslide reelection victory for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s prodefense Liberal Democratic Party. A few weeks later, on October 2, the fire-control radar aboard the Chinese Sovremennyy near the Senkaku islands "locked on" a Japanese P-3 patrol aircraft, and another Chinese vessel’s artillery radar targeted a Japanese coast guard vessel nearby. China’s navy was baring its teeth. This foray was a repeat of a similar one that took place the previous January, at the start of government-sponsored anti-Japanese demonstrations across China, when two Chinese Sovremennyys loitered near a Japanese-leased oil exploration vessel in Japanese EEZ waters.

Pointedly, throughout 2005, China’s new naval cheekiness in Japanese territorial waters coincided with sometimes violent, state-directed anti-Japanese demonstrations in several Chinese cities in March and April—protesting, of all things, Japan’s application to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Those demonstrations featured police-supplied busses that ferried stone-throwing crowds to the Japanese embassy in Beijing and public security officers who sat idly by while rioters smashed windows at Japanese firms in cities across China. The Chinese leadership's entire anti-Japan campaign seemed animated by an urge to demonstrate China’s new predominance over Japan in Asia, and (not incidentally) to test the limits of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty.

By October 2006, Chinese submarine activity in the Senkakus-Okinawa area began to alarm U.S. Naval planners. On October 27, a PLA Navy Song-class submarine surfaced in waters off Okinawa within torpedo range of the U.S. carrier Kitty Hawk where it was seen in the Kitty Hawk’s wake by an F-18 pilot as he vectored to land on the carrier. The Chinese submarine was undetected by the carrier battle group’s antisubmarine systems apparently because it had lain in wait, submerged and stock-still, for at least one day as the task force approached the area. Beijing’s state-controlled media later reported that China’s top submarine officer and vice-chief of staff of the PLA Navy, Rear Admiral Ding Yiping (丁一平), had “personally commanded” the entire operation (he may even have skippered the submarine himself) and predicted the success of his mission would lead to a promotion.

The operation suggested that Chinese submarines already are quite at home in Japanese waters. Chinese hydrographic survey ships assiduously mapped the seas around the Senkakus and by June 2008 Japanese media reported that Chinese submarines had entered territorial waters of the Japanese home islands and had shown themselves “very comfortable” with marine characteristics of the Japanese coastline. From then on, China’s naval presence in Japanese waters has become increasingly intense, reinforcing a sense in both Tokyo and Washington of the tactical importance of the Senkaku islands.

IV.4. September 2010—Senkaku Climax

The China-Japan face-off over the Senkakus reached a political climax on September 7, 2010, when the skipper of a Chinese “fishing boat” deliberately rammed a Japanese coast guard cutter within Japan’s territorial waters near Kuba (黃尾) island in the Senkaku chain. When the Japanese coast guard arrested the Chinese skipper, China’s Foreign Ministry protested that Japan had no right to take any maritime enforcement action in Chinese sovereign territory. This was followed by three weeks of steadily escalating diplomatic demarches, protests, and threats culminating in a de facto Chinese embargo on exports of Chinese rare-earths oxides (essential in the manufacture of advanced electronic devices) to Japan. Chinese customs officials also slowed processing for Japanese-owned factories in China.

The entire episode sent chills throughout the global trading structure, but the crisis finally prodded the United States to weigh-in publicly on Japan’s side. On September 24, the White House reiterated that the United States considers the Senkakus to be under Japanese “administration” and hence is covered by the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty. At a Pentagon press conference the same day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen confirmed that the U.S. “security umbrella” extended to the Senkakus, and that the United States was very supportive “of our ally in that region, Japan.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, standing next to Mullen, seemed to think the admiral’s statement wasn’t clear enough. He interrupted the admiral to add “and we would fulfill our alliance responsibilities.”
As such, in the tiny islets of the Senkaku archipelago, the significance of the Taiwan factor in America’s and Japan’s strategic calculus is subtle but profound. For most of the two decades, from the 1990s when Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was Taiwan’s president, and through the end of Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) presidency from 2000 to 2008, the Taipei government downplayed “Chinese” claims to the Senkaku islands. Both Lee and Chen are ethnic Taiwanese, and perhaps for that reason both men believe Taiwan’s future to be far more secure within a framework of strategic cooperation with Japan and the United States than in any partnership with China. In January 2011, former president Lee asserted that the Senkakus were, in fact, a part of Japanese territory, a view he had held at least since 2002 though he reportedly supported Taiwan’s claim to the islands as late as 1996 when he was Taiwan’s president.
During Chen Shui-bian’s presidency, the Taipei government’s approach to the Senkakus was cautious: it supported the traditional rights of Taiwanese fishermen in waters east of Taiwan that, during the Japanese colonial period, Taiwanese shared with their Japanese conationals. But Chen was careful, too, that the optics of Senkaku policy not turn on “sovereignty.” In 2005, Chen’s premier, Hsieh Chang-t’ing (謝長廷), stressed that the purpose of Taiwan’s Coast Guard patrols in the East China Sea was “to patrol and guard our fishing boats, not to emphasize our sovereign rights.”

For ethnic Taiwanese politicians, the Senkakus are primarily a matter of traditional fishing privileges that survived the decades after Japan’s surrender of Taiwan in 1945. Indeed, Chen Shui-bian did assert that “the territorial sovereignty of the Tiaoyutai (Senkakus) archipelago belongs to our Taiwan” (i.e., not to China). Chen was especially careful to note that Pengjia Yu (彭佳嶼)—and not the Senkakus—was an “extremely important economic and strategic location” and a “point in the delineation of Taiwan’s territorial waters.” A Pengjia islet monument that Chen dedicated bore an inscription “Shield of Territorial Waters,” a sentiment that belies a claim to the Senkakus that are waters another 100 miles northeast across the East China Sea. President Chen also linked his trip to Pengjia with the fifteenth round of amicable Taiwan-Japan fisheries talks in Tokyo on July 29. Chen stressed that Taiwan’s claims to the Senkakus, in contrast to China’s, would be pursued “through negotiations in line with international law and precedents and not use unilateral confrontational moves.” As for China, Chen noted that the presence of Taiwan’s Coast Guard garrison on Pengjia Yu was “for the sake of bolstering patrol capability and effectively blocking infringements by Chinese fishing boats and official vessels,” not to confront Japanese.

Whatever may be the case between Taiwan and Japan, Chen was clearly making the case that China had no part in it.

By contrast, Chen’s successor believes the Senkakus belong to China. The election of Ma Ying-jeou to Taiwan’s presidency in March 2008 marked the accession of an ardent, Mainland-born Chinese nationalist as the island’s top political leader. Ma has been a stalwart advocate of China’s historical ownership of the Senkakus ever since the Taipei government first realized in 1969 that the islands were sitting on a potentially world-class seabed oil field. Ma remembers as a law student at Taiwan University being inspired by the 1971 “Defend the Tiaoyutai Movement” (保釣運動) to be a scholar in the Senkakus’ history, geography, and geology. He was convinced that it would be a far more effective method of safeguarding Chinese sovereignty over the islands than merely “shouting slogans and marching in demonstrations.” Ma evidently once joined other young protesters in throwing eggs at the Japanese embassy in Taipei during the early “defend the Tiaoyutai” movement, an act he says landed his name proudly “on the blacklist.”

While the Senkakus stirred nationalist passions among young Mainlanders in Taiwan, they failed to interest the essentially pro-Japanese ethnic Taiwanese majority on the island who had come to view Taiwan’s 50 years of colonial Japanese rule (1895–1945) as halcyon, especially when compared to the rule of the Chinese nationalists since 1945.

Ma Ying-jeou went on to obtain a doctorate in law at Harvard University with an impressive dissertation that surveyed the international legal issues surrounding seabed demarcations in the Senkaku waters. Although Ma’s dissertation concluded that in international law the Senkakus are within China’s (not per se Taiwan’s) continental shelf, it set aside an analysis of historical claims that mostly supported Japan’s title to the islands. Nonetheless, as Ma Ying-jeou prepared for Taiwan’s 2008 presidential campaign, he had convinced himself that Japan’s continued claim to the Senkakus after World War II was devious. “How can these islands not be part of our territory?” he asked, “Japan failed to renounce control of them in 1945 and has since claimed sovereignty over the islands. This is called ‘stealing.’”

It was not surprising, then, that Ma’s first international crisis upon assuming the presidency (on May 20, 2008) involved the Senkakus. On June 5, several Taiwan-flagged fishing boats menaced a Japanese Coast Guard vessel near the islands and four days later, on June 10, when a Taiwan tuna boat loaded with nationalist-minded “sports fisherman” confronted another Japanese Coast Guard cutter in Japanese territorial waters at the Senkakus, the Taiwan boat sank and its occupants (none injured) were detained by the Japanese. One thing led to another, and by June 15, nationalist politicians in Taipei called for “war” against Japan. The new president Ma himself was quoted as saying “a war would not be all that bad” (不惜一戰). Some Taiwan politicians, following Ma’s lead, wanted Taiwan’s navy to use its American-made missiles against Japanese naval and coast guard ships. On June 16, Chinese nationalists from Taipei commandeered another fishing boat and once again sailed abroad to stake claim on the Senkaku islands hoping to provoke a Japanese maritime response. This time, President Ma authorized nine Taiwan coast guard patrol boats as an escort.

Japan, probably calculating that Taiwan’s neophyte president had lost control of the situation and not wanting to allow the Senkakus issue to infect entirely separate talks with China on East China Sea oil and gas exploration, allowed the Taiwanese flotilla to make its point. The Japanese Coast Guard took the unusually conciliatory step of a speedy investigation of the June 10 sinking of the Taiwanese boat followed by its conclusion that the sinking was due to "professional negligence causing injury" on the parts of both the Taiwanese boat and the Japanese coast guard vessel. Nonetheless, Japan’s cabinet secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, complained that “it was regrettable that a territorial intrusion like this took place." Still, while the Japanese concession defused the crisis, it left Japan convinced that Taiwan under Ma Ying-jeou was intent on pulling away from its traditional security ties in the Western Pacific and moving toward China.

Antagonizing Japan may have delighted Taiwan’s Chinese nationalists but it was not a big vote-getter among the Island’s ethnic Taiwanese majority. President Ma used the next two years to tamp down concerns that he was anti-Japanese. By February 2009, he had approved significant new agreements during the sixteenth round of Taiwan-Japan fisheries talks. Those meetings inaugurated a nongovernmental bilateral channel for fisheries information exchange and joint fisheries management between the Taiwan Provincial Fishermen's Association and the Japan Fisheries Association that pledged to use “rational and peaceful” methods to resolve future fishing disagreements. In May 2009, when a delegation of Chinese nationalist radicals attempted yet another fishing-boat-borne assault on the Senkakus, the Ma government quietly threatened to deny fishing licenses to any captain who enabled them.

The archnationalists were assuaged, however, when Taipei Foreign Ministry issued a formal declaration on May 12—just prior to the cutoff date for a statement under the UNCLOS—claiming the continental shelf, including the Senkaku islands, as the “inherent territories and waters of the Republic of China based on the indisputable sovereignty titles justified by historic, geographic and international legal grounds.”
The good feeling of the March 2009 fisheries talks faded in September when another Taiwan sport fishing boat again tested the patience of Japanese coast guardsmen. This time, Taiwan coast guard officers were on the boat and reportedly were roughed up by their Japanese counterpart, but Taipei just let the incident pass.

By May 2010, Japan’s concerns about the Senkakus were heightened by the ever-increasing and aggressive surface, submarine and naval air operations of the Chinese Navy. On May 25, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Robert Willard, warned “there has been an assertiveness that has been growing over time, particularly in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea” and characterized his command’s interaction with Chinese naval counterparts as a “very immature military-to-military relationship.”

The expanding Chinese presence in the Senkakus area in May 2010, which mirrored China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea, prompted the U.S. commander to rethink his naval and air arrangements with Taiwan. Part of that rethink involved pushing back the 60-year-old boundaries of Taiwan’s air defense jurisdiction, the ADIZ, away from Japan’s westernmost island of Yonaguni. The anachronistic East China Sea ADIZ lines had been drawn by the American military government in Okinawa in the 1950s to help coordinate military and civilian aircraft operations and identification with Taiwan and Japanese allies, and Taiwan’s eastern ADIZ (at 123 degrees east longitude) bisected Yonaguni island, leaving the Japanese air base incongruously within Taiwan’s ADIZ. Press reports indicate that Tokyo’s decision to push the ADIZ westward toward Taiwan was prompted by the Americans, but it was not discussed at all with Taiwan’s military, which reacted negatively.

Nonetheless, Taiwan was perceived to be ever more happy to accommodate China’s security concerns, and the Americans and Japanese began to make plans that did not presume Taiwan would be a friendly place in times of military crisis.

Concerns about Taiwan’s inclination toward security cooperation with China heightened when, in September 2010—as China escalated its own war of nerves over the Senkakus—the deputy commander of Taiwan’s Coast Guard, Wang Chung-yi (王祟儀) secretly hosted Chinese vice-minister of Public Security Chen Zhimin (陳智敏). While Wang and Chen conferred on September 14, Wang ordered a dozen Taiwan coast guard boats to accompany yet another lone Taiwan “fishing boat” out to the Senkakus where together—at the height of Japan’s Senkaku tensions with China—they confronted eight Japanese coast guard ships.

V. Conclusion—Taiwan Game-Changer

The specter of China-Taiwan cooperation against Japan (and the United States) in the East China Sea is already a factor in the strategic calculus in Asia. China’s naval harassment of Japanese vessels persists well into 2011. Japan’s 2011 National Defense Policy Guidelines—in a major strategy about face—has ordered the navy to increase the submarine fleet from the current 16 to 22: no longer will Japan’s submarine force be arrayed against a northern Russian threat, but against the southern Chinese one. Tokyo now faces the financial responsibilities of building up its island defenses in the Ryukyu’s far west Nansei Shoto (南西諸島)—including the Senkakus. And Japanese troops are now exercising with American allies in scenarios to counter Chinese aggression against the islands.

In another universe, the currently uninhabited Senkaku islands would appear to be of miniscule importance as would tiny Itu Aba/Taiping Island and the giant coral reef that surrounds Pratas. But their importance in defining Southeast Asia’s, Japan’s, and the United States’ maritime depth opposite the new Chinese superpower, and their symbolism of submission should Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines as well as Japan ultimately be obliged to cede their respective islands to China, are of immense concern. Should ASEAN’s major players and Japan be seen as accepting Beijing’s suzerainty in the South and East China Seas, South Korea, too would be obliged to follow suit. And the United States would have little leverage.

Likewise, demographic dynamics among the overseas Chinese communities across Southeast Asia and the Pacific ensure that their political influence in their adopted countries will soon match their economic and business heft. No longer will overseas Huaqiao electorates be divided between the old-time assimilated Chinese with sympathies for Taiwan and the newcomers who follow Beijing’s lead. Instead, they are now overwhelmed by large influxes of newcomers who prod their governments to accommodate Beijing and delink their security policies from the traditional U.S.-anchored network that had taken shape among the Asian democracies.

In January 2012, Taiwan’s voters will either choose to continue their island’s trend toward political unification with the Chinese superpower by reelecting a Chinese nationalist as their president, or try to halt the erosion of Taiwan’s autonomy as an international actor by electing the island’s Democratic Progressive Party candidate, Dr. Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), herself a career trade negotiator and China-skeptic. Or, theoretically, Taiwanese could elect a pro-China president and a China-skeptic legislature (or vice versa). If ECFA can produce true economic growth in Taiwan, voters will be inclined toward China; if ECFA hollows out Taiwan’s industrial and manufacturing base, moving what’s left of the island’s highly advanced electronics and semiconductor industries to China; voters may choose to back away from China. Voter ambivalence may yield divided government and gridlock. But gridlock can only delay—not reverse—Taiwan’s eventual absorption by China. The rest of Asia’s players will study the Taiwan Strait—and Washington’s reactions—as they reach decision nodes in their own planning.

The removal of the Taiwan “stones” from the great strategic “Gō” board of East Asia will ensure that in twenty-first century Asia, everyone and everything, including the spiny lobsters hidden in the aquamarine waters of Pratas Reef, will play by China’s rules.


Briefing by the Taiwan Coast Guard on Pratas, September 26, 2006. See also Acta Zoologica Taiwanica, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2000): 1¬15 which reports that the distinct species of live coral declined from 137 in 1994 to 61 species in 1998 due to “illegal and destructive fishing”: 600 and 400 fishing boats from China and Hong Kong operated in the reef in 1996. Estimates are that Chinese fishermen used about 50 tons of cyanide and 1 ton of dynamite each year to catch reef fish, and that about 9 tons of electric batteries used by these fishermen during diving have been dumped at the reef.
The quote is from General Douglas MacArthur’s “Farewell Address to Congress” delivered on April 19, 1951, in the Congressional Register for that date, a version of which is at
The Asian perception of geopolitical rivalries through the prism of the “Gō” game (碁in Japanese; 圍棋 “weiqi” in Chinese) is explored in Scott A. Boorman, The Protracted Game; a Wei-ch’i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969); and David Lai “Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi,” Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, PA, May 2004. The earliest known weiqi board was excavated in China from an Eastern Han dynasty tomb (25¬¬–220 CE) in Hebei. Dating back at least a half-millennium before that, “weiqi was to become part of the cultural landscape of East Asia.” A description of the role of “Gō” in ancient China is found in Colin Mackenzie, “Games as Signifiers of Cultural Identity in Asia: Weiqi and Polo,” Orientations, September 2004, pp. 48–55.
For an extended analysis of area denial/antiaccess see Roger Cliff, Mark Burles, Michael S. Chase, Derek Eaton, and Kevin L. Pollpeter, Entering the Dragon’s Lair; Chinese Antiaccess Strategies and Their Implications for the United States, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, 2007;
In fact, China has been the globe’s second-largest economy in “purchasing power parity” terms since 1995. On January 20, 2011, China’s Statistical Bureau announced that the country’s 2010 GDP on a straight exchange rate basis was $5.88 trillion; a figure that was a 17.6% increase in U.S. dollar terms over the 2009 figure of US$4.96 trillion (that number itself was revised upward in July 2010). Peterson Institute researcher Arvind Subramanian argues that China’s GDP in purchasing power parity terms has already eclipsed the United States. Arvind Subramanian, “Is China Already Number One? New GDP Estimates,” The Peterson Institute of International Economics, January 13, 2011
C. P. FitzGerald, The Third China, the Chinese Communities in Southeast Asia, F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1965.
Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story, Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore: Simon & Schuster, 1998), p. 14.
Liang Dongping, “Xingjun zai Tai shouxun bu hui zhongzhi” (星軍在台受訓 不會中止) (Singapore Will Not Halt Military Training in Taiwan); Taipei China Times, October 29, 2000. For those who read Chinese, the wording of original news story may be amusing: “不過李光耀同時也很快地指出,新加坡軍人穿著台灣軍人的制服,但是所別的徽章還是新加坡的;而且,如果大家都知道有個「第三者」(指新加坡部隊),萬一真有什麼事情要發生,可以作出預警,「那麼,我們就可以及時撤出」。”
In most Southeast Asian nations, overseas Chinese are not counted in population statistics if they are citizens. While Taiwan’s “Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission” gives numbers for “Huaqiao” in Southeast Asia as of 2007 (Indonesia 7.776 million out of a total population of 237,512,352 (July 2008 est.)—3.24% of population; Thailand 7.123 million of 65,493,296—11%; Malaysia 6.324 million of 25,274,132 (July 2008 est.)—25%; Singapore 2.687 million of 4,608,167 (July 2008 est.)—60%; Vietnam 1.31 million of 86,116,560 (July 2008 est.)—1.5%; Philippines 1.170 million of 96,061,680 (July 2008 est.)—1.2%), these must be considered minimums. In the case of the Philippines, at least 22% claim Chinese heritage. See p. 11, 2007 Statistics Yearbook of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, available at
Japan’s former ambassador in Bangkok, Hisahiko Okazaki, made this case persuasively in an address entitled “The Strategic Value of Taiwan” delivered at The Heritage Foundation, July 31, 2003.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry estimated that there were about 1,000 ethnic Chinese in the Solomon capital of Honiara, of whom 500 were Solomon passport holders, 3 were Taiwan passport holders, and the rest were nonnationals. “Government Preparing to Evacuate Diplomats from Solomon Islands,” China Post, April 25, 2006.
Patrick Walters, “Race for Supremacy, Ethnic Chinese Political and Financial Influence Is an Underlying Factor Behind Destruction and Violence in Solomon Islands,” The Australian, April 20, 2006.
Beijing’s Foreign Ministry officials “lashed out at Taiwan's ‘Money Diplomacy’” in conversations with Americans. See AmEmbassy Beijing cable 06 Beijing 8333 of May 6, 2006, entitled “PRC on Relations with Australia and New Zealand and the Solomon Islands Evacuation.” Australian Prime Minister John Howard; “Envoy Slams Australian Accusations,” Taipei Times, April 21, 2006, p. 4.
Bertil Lintner, “The South Pacific: China’s New Frontier,” in Looking North, Looking South—China, Taiwan, and the South Pacific (World Scientific Publishing), p. 8. A comprehensive collection of chapters on Solomon politics is in Sinclair Dinnen and Stewart Firth, eds., Politics and State-Building in Solomon Islands (Asia-Pacific Press and ANU E-Press, 2008).
Clive Moore, “No More Walkabout Long Chinatown: Asian Involvement in the Solomon Islands Economic and Political Processes,” presented at an Australian National University workshop on Solomon Islands: Where to Now? May 5, 2006.
For a review of the diplomatic exchange and negotiations between Beijing and Jakarta on the refugee repatriation see Jerome A. Cohen and Hungdah Chiu, People’s China and International Law, a Documentary Study (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), pp. 874¬–78.
“China Media Asked to Play Down Indonesian Riots,” Hong Kong Ming Pao, May 16, 1998 p. a15, translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service at FBIS-CHI-98-197. Details of the violence were not published in China’s domestic media until mid-July, two months after the incident: He Chong, “Roundup: China Is Concerned about the Rape of Chinese Women in Indonesia”; Hong Kong Zhongguo Tongxun She, July 19, 1998, translated at FBIS-CHI-98-200.
“Evacuation of Overseas Chinese from Solomon Islands Completed,” Xinhua News Agency, April 25, 2006.
The Libya evacuation marked the first time Chinese military aircraft and naval ships have responded to an evacuation crisis. See “Late Departure? China Airforce Flies to Libya,” The Wall Street Journal, Internet edition, March 2, 2011.
Lintner is quoted by Aigaletaulele’ā F. Tauafiafi, “Riots Warning,” on the website of the Western Samoa Chamber of Commerce, December 30, 2010, at
Tupuola Terry Tavita, “Samoa: Don't Hate the Chinese, Learn from Them,” Pacific Scoop, Auckland University of Technology, March 3, 2011.
The U.S. Consul General in Auckland, John Desrocher, describes Chinese community electoral dynamics in a diplomatic cable to the secretary of state, 08 Wellington 295, dated September 12, 2008, entitled “New Zealand Election 2008—The Chinese vote.”
“China Rushes to Pull Down Atoll Satellite Tracker,” Agence France Presse, November 27, 2003.
“Kiribati Fears Beijing's New Strategy,” Agence France Presse, July 6, 2004.
One writer points out that every Indonesian billionaire in 1995 was ethnic Chinese, and that ethnic Chinese business networks in Southeast Asia were routinely transnational. Henry Wai-chung Yeung, “The Internationalization of Ethnic Chinese Business Firms from Southeast Asia: Strategies, Processes and Competitive Advantage,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 23, No. 3 (1999): 88¬–102 at
Yoichi Kato, “U.S. Commander Blasts Chinese Navy Behavior,” Asahi Shimbun, June 16, 2010.
One such scholar is Chen Chao-lun of Taipei’s Academia Sinica Biodiversity Research Center. “Safeguard South China Sea Sovereignty with Soft Power: Taiwan Researcher,” English language website of China Times, April 30, 2011.
Yann-huei Song, United States and Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea: A Study of Ocean Law and Politics, Maryland Series in Contemporary Asian Studies, Number 1-2002 (168), University of Maryland, pp. 21–22.
Taipei was not represented at the San Francisco peace talks in 1951 and signed a separate treaty the following year. Article 2 of that treaty specifically enumerated “the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands” as territory to which postwar Japan had “renounced all right, title and claim.” Although Japan did not explicate to whom she ceded her claim, Taipei was satisfied that, inasmuch as the Spratlys were mentioned in the bilateral treaty, Taipei’s “Republic of China” must be the successor sovereign.
“Banyan: They Have Returned; China Should Worry Less about America’s ‘Containment’ Strategy and More about Why the Neighbours Welcome It,” The Economist, August 12, 2010.
Shih Hsiu-chuan, Hsu Shao-hsuan, and Jimmy Chuang, “President Visits Disputed Islands,” Taipei Times, February 3, 2008, p. 1.
“Dalu Meiti zha Tai tiaozhan gongshou nanhai chenji, Taiwan fangmian zhunbei zai Taiping Dao jian jichang” (大陸媒體轟台 挑戰共守南海默契, 台灣方面準備在太平島建機場) (PRC Media Blasts Taiwan—Challenge to Tacit Understanding re Spratly Islands, Taiwan Plans Airstrip on Itu Aba). Shijie Ribao, January 7, 2006, citing a report in Xinhua's International Herald Leader.
“如果再發生戰爭,國軍將助解放軍抗戰,” ibid. It’s difficult to discern just what Taiwan’s leadership thought of the March 14 Chinese battle on Chigua Reef. In the weeks prior to the clash, Taiwan’s garrison reported some 40 PRC warships had been deployed in the Spratlys (FBIS-CHI-88, March 16, 1988, p. 55), and Taiwan’s Defense Ministry indicated the garrison was on high alert against a “Chinese Communist” incursion (FBIS-CHI-88-040, March 1, 1988, p. 39). Taipei International Service issued a commentary in English on March 4, 1988, averring “one thing is for sure, though, that Chinese, whatever side of the Chinese civil conflict they may be on , are not going to give up national territory for anything” (FBIS-CHI-88-046, March 9, 1988, p. 81). On March 25, the Defense Minister told a Legislative Yuan interpellation that there was no need for Taiwan to aid China in case of an escalation of tensions with Vietnam in the Spratlys (FBIS-CHI-88-059, p. 56). On April 1, 1988, the PRC-controlled Hong Kong newspaper Xinwan Bao published a commentary urging Taiwan to allow China to take over supplying Taiwan’s garrison on Itu Aba/Taiping (FBIS-CHI-88-065, p.51).
“台灣國防部官員也曾表示,「不排除與大陸合作開發與管理南沙」,” ibid. Taiwan’s press, however, reflects continued Taiwan anxiety about China’s military buildup on the Paracel Islands (e.g., FBIS-CHI-93-151, August 9, 1993).
“李登輝上台後,才拋棄在維護南海諸島主權上與大陸協調一致的立場”. Ibid.
Wu Mingjie “Taiping Dao zhoubian daojiao dou cao zhanling” (太平島周邊島礁多遭佔領) (Island Reefs Surrounding Taiping All Occupied); Wu Mingjie, “Guojun yaoxin gongjian pingxian wo Taipingdao haiyu” (國軍憂心 共艦頻現我太平島海域) (Taiwan Military Alarmed–PRC Ships Encroach on Spratly Island Waters), both in Taipei China Times, July 11, 2005.
Peh Shing Huei, “The Rise of the Sea Dragon; China Builds Up Its Maritime Might,” Straits Times, May 22, 2010.
Anne Gearan, “Officials: US Ship in China Spat Was Hunting Subs,” The Associated Press, March 11, 2009. For a description of the Impeccable’s operations, see Hans M. Kristensen, “US-Chinese Anti-Submarine Cat and Mouse Game in South China Sea,” Federation of American Scientists, March 10, 2009, at
Ann Scott Tyson, “U.S. Protests 'Harassment' of Navy Ship by Chinese Vessels,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2009.
Christopher Bodeen, “China: Activity by Confronted US Ship Was Illegal,” The Associated Press, March 10, 2009.
Chris Buckley, “China Says U.S. Naval Ship Broke the Law,” Reuters, March 10, 2009. Shi Yinhong’s sentiments are echoed by Mark J. Valencia in Foreign Military Activities in Asian EEZS: Conflict Ahead? National Bureau of Asian Research, May 17, 2011.
Christopher Bodeen, “China May Up Patrols Amid South China Sea Disputes,” The Associated Press, March 19, 2009; “More Navy Patrols Sent to South China Sea,” Agence France-Presse, April 16, 2009.
Yoichi Kato, “U.S. Commander Blasts Chinese Navy Behavior,”Asahi Shimbun, June 16, 2010.
Kelley Currie, “Why Is China Picking Fights with Indonesia?,” The Weekly Standard, August 6, 2010.
Lyle Goldstein, “Strategic Implications of Chinese Fisheries Development,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 16, August 5, 2009.[tt_news]=35372&tx_ttnews[backPid]=25&cHash=090511d03c.
David Jude “DJ” Sta. Ana, “China Builds More Spratly Outposts,” The Philippine Star, May 24, 2011 at; “China, Philippine Defense Chiefs Discuss Spratlys,” The Associated Press, May 23, 2011.
John Pomfret, “U.S. Takes a Tougher Tone with China,” The Washington Post, July 30, 2010, p. A01.
See commentary in English “Modernizing Navy for Self-Defense,” Xinhua, July 13, 2010. Chinese use the term “core interest” (hexin liyi 核心利益) as a diplomatic euphemism for an interest over which China will go to war. In the November 17, 2009, U.S.-China “Joint Statement” issued by Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, China insisted on including the statement that “The two sides agreed that respecting each other’s core interests is extremely important to ensure steady progress in U.S.-China relations.” By early 2010, the New York Times reported that Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo had repeatedly insisted to Secretary Clinton that the South China Sea was China’s “core interest.” See Edward Wong, “China Hedges over Whether South China Sea Is a ‘Core Interest’ Worth War,” The New York Times, March 30, 2011.
For the full text, see Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates to the International Institute For Strategic Studies (Shangri-La--Asia Security), Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, Saturday, June 05, 2010.
Pomfret, “U.S. Takes a Tougher Tone with China.”
“Xilaili Wangtan Nanhai zhengduan; Yang Jiechi bochi Meiguo waili, Zhongguo pingji Meiguo xieshou Nanhai,” (希拉利忘談南海 爭端; 楊潔篪駁斥美國歪 理, 中國評擊美國插手南海), Huanqiu Shibao, July 26, 2010, p. 1. An image of the front page can be found at
“'China Will Never Give Up Right to Use Military in South China Sea': American Shadow over South China Sea,” Global Times, July 26, 2010.
Private e-mail to the author.
Demetri Sevastopulo et al., “Beijing’s Naval Harassment Arouses US,” Financial Times, March 25, 2009.
Ying-jeou Ma, Legal Problems of Seabed Boundary Delimitation in the East China Sea, Occasional Papers/Reprint Series in Contemporary Asian Studies, Number 3–1984 (62), School of Law, University of Maryland, p. 42.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Article 33.
Article 11, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act, Adopted at the third session of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People's Congress, June 26, 1998.
Fia Cumming, “The Day Our Boys Stared Down China,” Sun Herald, April 29, 2001, p. 7.
Mure Dickie, “Kitty Hawk's Taiwan Passage Angers Beijing,” Financial Times, December 5, 2007
Wu Jieming et al. “Meiguo Xiaoying hao Zhonggong qianjian, Tai Hai duiqi 28 xiaoshi” (美國小鷹號中共潛艦 台海對峙28小時) (USS Kitty Hawk and PRC Submarine Face-Off in Taiwan Strait for 28 Hours), Taipei China Times, January 15, 2008. “Report: Chinese Ships Confronted Kitty Hawk,” Kyodo News Service, January 16, 2008. ht tp://
Wu Jieming et al., “Xiaoying VS. Songji yuanjia you pengtou” (小鷹VS.宋級 冤家又碰頭) (Kitty Hawk vs. Song Class Submarine; Rivals again Bump Heads), Taipei China Times, January 15, 2008. “Zhongmei junjianTaihai duiqi, Guofangbu: neng chongfen zhangwo” (美中軍艦台海對峙 國防部:能充分掌握) (Taiwan MND Says They Have Sufficient Grasp of Situation), Taipei Central Broadcast News, January 15, 2008.
Commander's Transcript from January 15, 2008, Admiral Timothy Keating, Commander, Pacific Command Press Roundtable Beijing.
On March 11, 1996, the aircraft carrier USS Independence, the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill were close enough to observe the missiles with the Aegis radar banks capable of tracking missile flight paths. The carrier USS Independence was operating about 200 miles northeast of Taiwan, the Bunker Hill just south of the island with the guided missile destroyer USS O'Brien. That day, State Department spokesman Nick Burns acknowledged that “most of the Taiwan Straits now is off limits to shipping due to this live-fire exercise.” The carrier group Nimitz joined the flotilla on March 20.
Taiwan Ministry of National Defense, briefing for members of the Trilateral Dialogue Conference, PowerPoint presentation, August 26, 2002, p. 7.
UK Maritime and Coast Guard Agency, April 17, 2009. Figures for 2006; Gibraltar Port Authority. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Database, January 2008.; Egyptian Maritime Data Bank for 2008.
Ji Guoxing, “Asian Pacific SLOC Security: The China Factor,” Royal Australian Navy Sea Power Centre, Working Paper No. 10, April 2002.
“Evergreen Marine's Chairman Sees Container Market Continuing to Flourish,” SeaportsPress Review, November 2, 2007.
China’s centrality to East Asia’s export trade is summarized in Valentina Romei, “Chart of the Week: China Replacing Japan in East Asian Supply Chains,” Financial Times, April 20, 2011.
“China Becomes Japan's Top Trade Partner,” Agence France Presse, April 25, 2007.
Lin Yizhang, “Taiwan jie dan, Zhongguo Shengchan bizhong kong yue liucheng “ (台灣接單中國生產 比重恐逾六成) (Ratio of Taiwan Export Orders Filled in China Feared over 60), Liberty Times, Taipei, April 23, 2010. An article in English is at “Taiwan’s Overseas Production Triples in Ten Years: Liberty Times,” eTaiwan News, April 23, 2010.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook recalculates China’s 2010 GDP of US$5.9 trillion at nearly US$10 trillion in “purchasing power parity” (ppp) terms. That is, the total goods and services produced by China’s economy are worth about US$10 trillion dollars on the U.S. market. Industry accounts for 47% of China’s economy or about US$4.7 trillion in ppp terms, while industry is only 22.2% of the U.S. economy, or about US$3.27 trillion.
Some of China’s most bizarre hoarding behavior is in tradable commodities such as copper, iron ore, rare earths oxides, cotton, and maize. For an interesting discussion of how these vast stores of physical commodity stocks in China are being used for creative “inventory financing” see Izabella Kaminska, “On the Scale of Hidden Copper Stocks,” The Financial Times online, April 27, 2011. For cotton see Leslie Hook and Gregory Meyer, “China to Build Cotton Reserve to Encourage Output,” Financial Times, March 30, 2011. For corn, see Chuin-Wei Yap, “A 546-Million-Ton Elephant in China's Grain Silo,” China RealTime, December 10, 2010. In 2008, senior U.S. Trade Representative official Timothy Stratford worried that China now has more excess steel capacity than the entire steel production capacity of Japan. In addition, China produces more steel than the United States, European Union, and Japan combined, Stratford said. “China is not investing in steel on a market basis.” Regulation & Law, No. 26, February 8, 2008, p. A-2. China’s very bizarre behavior in iron ore markets, including obsessive compulsive purchasing of overseas iron mines from Mongolia to Africa suggests that the country is stockpiling strategic amounts either in event of a dollar crash or major military conflict. It seems that China’s iron ore imports vastly outstrip its steel production. Chuin-Wei Yap, “China's Metals Imports Rise Article,” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2009. .
In January 1953, for example, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) flagship newspaper, People’s Daily (Renmin Ribao人民日報), called on the people of the Ryukyus to rise up against the American imperialists occupying their homelands and (just to be clear about to whom they were referring) the newspaper enumerated the “Senkaku” (尖閣) archipelago as part of the Ryukyu chain, using the Japanese name for the islands rather than the current Chinese name “Diaoyu” (釣魚), clear evidence that the Beijing government considered the islands part of then American-occupied Okinawa even in the heat of the Korean War. See “Ziliao: Liuqiu Qundao Renmin Fandui Meiguo Zhanlingde Douzheng” (資料: 琉球群島人民反對美國佔領的鬥爭) (Reference: The Struggle of the Ryukyu Islands People against the American Occupation), Renmin Ribao, January 8, 1953, p. 4. The unsigned article apparently assumed that the Senkakus were still inhabited because the first sentence reads: “The Ryukyu Islands are located in the sea between the northeast of our country’s Taiwan and the southwest of Japan’s Kyushu island, and they include the Senkaku Islands.” The Senkakus are the first islands listed.
John J. Tkacik, “The EEZ around Japan’s Senkaku Islands,” U.S. Asia Law Institute, New York University School of Law, December 14, 2010.
K. O. Emery and Hiroshi Niino, “Stratigraphy and Petroleum Prospects in the Korean Strait and the East China Sea,” UNECAFE/CCOP Technical Bulletin, Vol. 1 (1968): 13, cited in Ma Ying-jeou, “Seabed Delineations,” p. 19 (footnote 38).
And every Taiwan geography text book indicated the islands were Japanese. For example, the Republic of China Yearbook (中華民國年鑑-Zhonghua Minguo Nianjian) published in October 1968 states “Taiwan’s northernmost [Island] Is Pengjia Yu.”
Memorandum of Conversation, October 21, 1971, 10:30 a.m.–1:45 p.m., Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1969–76, Volume E-13, Documents on China, 1969–72.
See telegram from Embassy Tokyo to the secretary of state dated June 15, 1973, 73 Tokyo 7545, entitled “Japan's Attitude on Jurisdictional Issues concerning Oil Resources Off China' s Coast.”
Telegram from Amconsul Hong Kong to the secretary of state dated December 6, 1974, 74 Hong Kong 13174, entitled “Teng Hsiao-ping’s October Meeting with Overseas Chinese.”
Xu Xiangli, “Zhonggong qianghua haishang jiankongquan” (中共強化海上監控權) (PRC Beefs Up Maritime Surveillance Capabilities), Taipei China Times, February 13, 2003.
“Zhong-Ri zheng youtian, zhanjian dapao dui feiji, Jiefangjun paokou xiangxiang, Ri dachen pi tiaoqi, jianyi buzhangje huitan jiejue” (中日爭油田 戰艦大砲對飛機 解放軍砲口相向 日大臣批挑釁 建議部長級會談解決) (PRC-Japan Squabble over Oilfield, Chinese Warships Aim Cannon at Japanese Aircraft and Ships, Japan PM Slams Chinese Provocation, Suggests Ministerial Level Summit to Discuss Resolving Issue), New York World Journal (In Chinese), October 3, 2005, p. A-8.
(No author cited), “Resources and energy—More Open China a Threat to Japan; China Gorging and Japan-China Resource and Energy Conflicts,” Yomiuri Shimbun, April 13, 2005, reprinted in Japan Focus. Yang Peiling, “Xiandaiji Quzhujian xunxing youtian haiyu” (現代級驅逐艦 巡行油田海域) (Sovremennyy-Class Destroyers Patrol Oilfield Waters), Taipei China Times, January 26, 2005.
For an account of the Chinese government’s complicity in anti-Japanese violence, see Joseph Kahn, “China Is Pushing and Scripting Anti-Japanese Protests,” The New York Times, April 15, 2005.
After North Korea's highly provocative July 2006 missile tests, recalls the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, China's foreign minister “repeatedly blamed the entire crisis on Japan's aspiration for a permanent seat on the Security Council!” (exclamation mark in original). John Bolton, Surrender Is Not an Option (New York: Threshold Editions, 2008), p. 297
Bill Gertz, “China Sub Secretly Stalked U.S. Fleet,” The Washington Times, November 13, 2006.; Audra Ang, “Admiral Downplays China Sub Incident,” The Associated Press, November 17, 2006. Private conversations with U.S. analysts indicate the submarine was spotted accidentally by an F-18.
“Gencong Xiaoying, Ding Yiping zuozhen zhihui; Haijun zhongda xingdong zhihuiguan zhiyi 2003 nian yin qianting shigu bei jiangzhi; jinnian 8 yue beige jinsheng fusilingyuan; yuji sannian hou geng shangceng lou” (跟蹤小鷹 丁一平坐鎮指揮海軍重大行動指揮官之一 2003年因潛艇事故被降職 今年8月破格晉升副司令員 預計三年後更上層樓) (Shadowing the Kitty Hawk, Ding Yiping in personal command; One of commanders of the major naval operation was demoted because of a 2003 submarine accident; promoted to deputy commander of the navy this August; predicted for another step up within three years), Shijie Ribao, November 16, 2006, p. A-01. This story cites Beijing's Zhongguo Tongxun She as the source.
Chen Shichang, “Dalu Qianjian Gongran Fuhang Riben Hai, Dumai Xinwen Zhiyi zai Shiwei, Xianshi Suxi Haiyu Dixing, ‘Haimianxia de Shili’ Chaoyue Ri Ziweidui” (大陸潛艦 公然浮航日本海 讀賣新聞指意在示威 顯示熟悉海域地形 「海面下的實力」超越日自衛隊 ) (Mainland Submarine Cruises in Sea of Japan for first time, Asahi Shimbun says significance is in its demonstration, clearly it was familiar with the maritime characteristics, ‘Subsurface force’ surpasses the Japanese Self-Defense Forces), World Journal, New York, June 9, 2004.
Yoree Koh, “Maritime Collision Fuels China-Japan Row,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2010. Ian Johnson, “China and Japan Bristle over Island Dispute,” The New York Times, September 8, 2010.; Shino Yuasa, “China Calls in Japan Envoy over Boat Collision,” The Associated Press, September 8, 2010; Chris Buckley et al., “Beijing Protests as Japan Arrests China Boat Captain,” Reuters, September 8, 2010.
Jamil Anderlini et al., “Wen Turns Up Heat in Row with Japanese,” Financial Times, September 22, 2010.; Keith Bradsher, “Amid Tension, China Blocks Vital Exports to Japan,” The New York Times, September 22, 2010.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, September 23, 2010.
DOD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon, September 23, 2010.
Ko Shu-ling, “Lee’s View on Diaoyutais Challenged,” Taipei Times, January 12, 2011, p. 2.; Wen Kun et al., “Li Denghui tuifan ziji liu nian qian shuofa” ( 李登輝推翻自己六年前說法) (Lee Teng-hui Reverses His Own Stance of Six Years Ago), Taipei China Times, September 26, 2002.
Rich Chang, “Coast Guard Might Patrol Oilfields,” Taipei Times, April 23, 2005, p. 1.
Emphasis added. Dennis Engbarth, “Chen Reaffirms Taiwan`s Rights to Tiaoyutai,” Taiwan News, August 11, 2005, p. 1. Huang Tai-lin, “Chen: Diaoyutais Belong to Taiwan,” Taipei Times, August 11, 2005, p. 1.
See obituaries of the late professor Hungdah Chiu who oversaw the publication of Ma’s Harvard University doctoral dissertation. One, posted on the PRC-controlled “” website, quotes the spokesman of Taiwan’s presidential office, Luo Chih-chiang, as relaying President Ma’s sentiments on Chiu’s death. “Taiwan Zhiming faxuejia bingshi, ceng tuidong Wang-Gu huitan, qidi Ma Yingjiu baodiao” (台知名法學家病逝 曾推動汪辜會談啟迪馬英九保釣) (Noted Taiwan Legal Scholar Passes Away, Promoted Wang-Gu Talks, Inspired Ma Ying-jeou in Defense of the Diaoyutais,” Zhongguo Xinwenwang, April 13, 2011. “Ma Ying-jeou zibao zeng lie heimingdan” (馬英九自爆[sic, 報?] 曾列黑名單) (Ma Ying-jeou Youthful Indiscretion, Admits He Was on Blacklist), World Journal, December 19, 2007.
Ying-jeou Ma, Legal Problems of Seabed Boundary Delimitation in the East China Sea.
Ibid., p.69
Mo Yan-chih, “It's Time to Get Tough on the Diaoyutai Chain—Ma Ying-jeou,” Taipei Times, October 26, 2005, p. 4.
Su Shujiun and Wang Yanhua, “Haixun tai man duifang tai ying . . . wo 9 chuan wei Ri jian” (海巡太慢 對方太硬…我9船圍日艦) (Coast Guard Too Slow, the Opponent Too Belligerent . . . 9 of Our Boats Surround Japanese Warship), United Daily News, Taipei, June 5, 2008.
Chen Shi-shang, “Taiwan haidiaochuan cao Ri zhuisui chongchen” (台灣海釣船 遭日追逐撞沉) (Taiwan Ocean Fishing Boat Sinks in Japan Encounter), World Journal (New York), June 10, 2008.
Su Longqi, “Diaoyudai shijian Liu kui: bu xi yi zhan shi zui houde shouduan” (釣魚台事件 劉揆:不惜一戰是最後的手段) (Diaoyutai Affair Premier Liu: ‘A War Isn’t That Bad’ Means It’s the Last Resort), Taipei China Times, June 13, 2008.
“Naval Vessels to Escort Legislators to Diaoyutai Islands,” Taipei Times, June 17, 2008, p. 3.
Reiji Yoshida, “Taiwanese Patrol Ships Join Intrusion, Protest Boat, Escorts Make Senkaku Foray,” Japan Today, June 17, 2008.
Toshinao Ishii, “Taiwan Steps Back from Japan,” Yomiuri Shimbun in English, June 28, 2008.
For a report in English, see Dennis Engbarth, “Ma Nets Harvest in Taiwan-Japan Ties,” Taiwan News, March 5, 2009, p. 6.
Declaration of the Republic of China on the Outer Limits of Its Continental Shelf, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taipei, document No. 003, May 12, 2009. The declaration, however, was made in accordance with the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf to which the Republic of China is a party.
Shih Hsiu-chuan and Flora Wang, “Yang Demands Sailors’ Return; Question of Size: The KMT Caucus Secretary-General Said the Coast Guard Had Demonstrated Taiwan’s Military Capability by Sending Ships that Were Larger than Japan’s,” Taipei Times, September 16, 2009, p. 4. Flora Wang, “MOFA protests Japan’s treatment of two CGA officers,” Taipei Times, September 17, 2009, p. 3 at
Kathrin Hille, “US Warns over Beijing’s ‘Assertiveness,’” Financial Times, May 25, 2010, at
“Taiwan Rejects Japan's Plan to Change Air Defense Identity Zone,” Kyodo News Agency, May 29, 2010.
Vincent Y. Chao et al., “Chinese Security Chief’s Visit Kept Secret,” Taipei Times, September 29, 2010, p. 1 at; “China Vice Security Minister Visited Taiwan, Report Says,” Taipei Times, September 28, 2010, p. 3; Private e-mail dated September 15, 2010.
Martin Williams, “Taiwan Activists Return Home after Coast Guards Face Off Near Senkaku,” Kyodo News Agency, September 14, 2010.
After South Korea-U.S. Drills, Now It’s Japan’s Turn,” Wall Street Journal online, December 1, 2010, Geoff Dyer, “Slighted Chinese Hit at US-Japan Drill,” Financial Times, December 2, 2010, at Martin Fackler, “Japan Announces Defense Policy to Counter China,” The New York Times, December 16, 2010, at


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