Not your everyday China-Taiwan-Armageddon thread

I know that the question has been asked several times before, but I feel like present developments merit a new thread.

There is a lot going on here in Taiwan that seems to make China very uneasy, and I know that’s not anything new, but what is new is how close Taiwanese government officials are getting to talking about more than just de facto independence.

Frank Hsieh, the DPP’s presidential candidate’s reasoning for saying a referendum on whether or not Taiwan should petition for a seat at the UN as Taiwan and not the Republic of China is that, as he says, Taiwan is already an independent country (which it is by pretty much every test you put it up to) and they don’t need a referendum to prove it.

Moreover, Hsieh favors writing a new constitution .

Add to that, Taiwan is about to have it’s fourth democratic elections, which pleases the PRC even less than it does the KMT (who once enjoyed one-party rule over the island).

"Unnamed sources " in the US government say that this spring could be more tense than back in 1996 when China, just being peeved that the people were electing their leaders, shot some missiles into the Straits. In 1996, there was no Anti-Secession Law , nor had there been eight years of DPP leadership, giving the Taiwanese people the kooky idea that, “Hey, we’re not Chinese” and that the “One China” policy is a farce.

So, I want to know what other people think. I’m fairly new to the whole Taiwan-China debate, compared to a lot of y’all out there. I want to know if things are different now, if tensions really are escalating. Do you think that we are about to see an armed conflict between the two countries? Or am I just paranoid?

Commercial trade between the U.S. and China is very advantageous to various extremely influential parties in both countries. Armed conflict between China and Taiwan would threaten that. Therefore, it will not happen.

That’s exactly what I’ve been clinging to for so long. I’ve long not been worried about this issue due to that fact. That trade is far more important to all those involved than war.

But, Taiwan, it seems, is getting very close to solidifying its de facto independence. Do you think China will not attack or take any “non-peaceful means” to subdue Taiwan? That could include a blockade or some sort of non-military action.

One problem is that the Chinese military leaders know very well they have no hope of winning any direct military conflict with Tiawan, even if the rest of the worlds stays out of it, which it won’t.

China has been saber rattling over Taiwan for a long time, but I really believe that’s all China would do. Going to war with Taiwan would wreck its own economy. I just don’t see it happening.

What would worry me, though, is that this is the kind of event that can act as a catalyst in a world that is getting increasingly unstable. China wouldn’t attack, but would they do something like form an alliance with Russia and attempt everything from economic sabotage on the west to trade wars to threatening to arm the enemies of the U.S. unless the U.S. tried to intervene on China’s behalf?

It’s getting to be an awfully dangerous world.

In many countries that would be true but the Chinese government doesn’t think like that. I’ve said before that the People’s Republic of China is a country with a communist government and a capitalist economy. There is a wall between the country’s political and economic interests. At some point in the not-too-distant future I think China will face a big blow-up when those interests can no longer live together in the same country but for the moment the politicals are still in firm control of military and foreign affairs. And those people have staked a large piece of their reputation on Taiwan; tolerating Taiwanese independence would be a huge blow to them.

I also think this is a real bad time for Taiwan to think about making any bold moves. A mainland move against Taiwan would upset a lot of countries but let’s face facts - everybody is going to wait and see what the US does before they commit themselves. If we aren’t able and/or willing to fight for Taiwan everybody else will back down as well. And at the moment, we’re stretched a little thin.

I agree that mainland China wouldn’t start a war, but they might make moves to provoke Taiwan into launching a strike, and then use it as an excuse to respond. I’d getting hard to say exactly what power bloc is in control of China, and particularly the military, at this point. Certainly the PRC has made it adequately clear that it will never accept widespread acceptance of Taiwan as an independant Chinese state, even as they conduct trade and political relationships with Taiwan. For their part, the Taiwanese would be stupid to shake the tree at this point; the world has pretty much abandoned Taiwan post-1970, and they exist in this kind of diplomatic purgatory mostly at the pleasure of the United States which continues to support them (though not as richly or publically as in past decades) as a thorn in the side of the PRC.

It would be a much better world if everybody could just agree that there are two Chinas and be done with it, but there’s too much history and too many egos at stake. One just hopes that such egos don’t fuel an unnecessary conflict over squatter’s rights.


I think its just more of the same ole same ole…just China rattling Taiwan’s cage again. Taiwan is probably rattling China’s cage as well…they have been talking about this stuff for quite a while as well.

Not really…not in a meaningful way wrt a possible China/Taiwan conflict (which as I said I don’t think is a probable scenerio). We wouldn’t be committing ground combat forces in the event of a shooting war after all…it would be our fleet that would be engaged, and THAT’s not stretched nearly as thin as our ground forces. At a guess we always have subs on station, and I think there is usually a carrier task group in the area as well…which should be more than enough to support Taiwan (and deter China) in the unlikely event that thing heated up to the point of open conflict. Since I seriously doubt China would use nuclear weapons against Taiwan (be a bit pointless, even if the rest of the world wouldn’t land on China like a ton of bricks for doing it), so that leave conventional…and that means an air and sea battle (pretty much a POINTLESS air and sea battle as I don’t think the Chinese have the logistics capabilities for a forced entry assault on Taiwan using conventional means…even without the US support).

The only caviot I’ll use for the above is if Taiwan actually DOES push things (I know a lot of the old guard are getting a bit impatient for things to change), then China might just throw that air/sea battle, pointless as it would be. Face means a lot in that neck of the woods, and China may feel (though it seems irrational to us) that they HAVE to at least make the gesture.


Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union fought through proxies and avoided any direct confrontation, because neither wanted to risk the possibility that a conventional war might escalate into a nuclear exchange. Wouldn’t the same deterrent apply as between the U.S. and the PRC?

Not what you were telling us during the P-3 Hainan “crisis” not so many years ago, was it?

Perhaps you could provide some cites that it’s not?

I did a combined search for all posts made by Sam Stone that included the word “Taiwan” and could not find a single one in which he states a belief that China has current designs on invading Taiwan. He does say on a half dozen occasions that he doesn’t think China is even capable of doing it (which he’s probably correct about.)

Interesting. It’s getting to be an awfully interesting world.

I’ll agree that the warships aren’t being used in Afghanistan or Iraq (or elsewhere) so they’re available. But the logistics of keeping a sizable force in being at sea 9000 miles away from the continental United States is no small task and a lot of our support assets are already working at capacity. Especially when they’ll be stationed in the South China Sea. China will be able to stretch the game for months by keeping their ships in port while we’ll have to maintain a fleet on battle alert against a sudden embarkation.

I’m posting this from Taiwan, while my pro-independence Taiwanese wife is attending a medical seminar.

The base issue is not Taiwan, which the PRC knows it cannot easily invade or beat. The issue is Tibet and the rest of their empire, which would push harder for independence if Taiwan were to go.

Tawanese will not shoot the first shot. They are well aware of their limitations in military capability and with the old guard of the National party out, there’s no one pushing for blood on this side of the Straits.

The problem is that China is quietly gaining naval strength. According the a recent report:

China recognises that the US carriers are the greatest threat they face, so they have been working on countering this. From the same report.

I’ve read somewhere else, but don’t have a cite for it, that strategy is to employ quieter, more lethal subs, which will make the carrier groups stop short of the strike ranger will they hunt for the subs. With the US held temporarily at bay, China could cross the Straits and get enough troops onto the island that they could forse a desirable outcome – without necessarily having to outright defeat Taiwan – before the US carriers could come close enough to bring in the US airpower. The idea is that they can’t beat the US, so keep them out of the way for long enough.

There’s no doubt that this capability does not exist yet, but it seems to be where they are headed.

I’m also writing from Taiwan, where I had the opportunity last night to speak with someone very knowledgeable who’s lived for considerable amounts of time in both Shanghai and Taipei, working for the US government.

In a long conversation about the whole issue, he brought something to my attention that I had never considered before: young Taiwanese don’t really give damn about whether the Chinese attack, at least not enough to sign up for the military and fight for what they believe in.

As we speak, my girlfriend’s brother (they’re Taiwanese) is doing his mandatory military service, and when we went to visited him the other day, he told me that all of the people in his group had been joking at how stupid their senior officer sounded when he spoke of the Chinese attacking.

“They’re not going to attack us,” he said, “It’s just stupid.”

I don’t mean this as any assault on his character – seeing as he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met – but he has no desire to do his military service (God knows I wouldn’t either). He liked his job before. He likes computers and would be much happier if he didn’t have to put his life on hold to play this game.

According to the fellow I spoke to last night, in the unfortunate case that there is an attack, most young people wouldn’t put up a fight because they know that whether Taiwan is Taiwanese or Chinese, they’ll still have their jobs, their houses, etc.

Certainly that’s debatable. I have seen articles about China possibly using nuclear weapons, and there is always the chance that the Chinese will clamp down hard on many of the freedoms that people here in Taiwan enjoy.

Still, of all the Taiwanese people I know and love, I don’t see, knowing what I know right now, them fighting for this place. When it comes to that moment of truth, it all comes down to that point, not America’s protection, but Taiwan’s will and determination to fight for itself.

Sounds like you’re acquainted primarily with northerners, and primarily the descendents of mainlanders (“waishengren”, as they’re called here). Yeah, they tend to shit all over Taiwan, as they never figured they’d end up staying so long. Folks in the south tend to be much more “green”–and that’s not an environmental term, but a moniker for Taiwan nationalism. Those are the folks who have told me that they would go up into the hills and fight a guerilla war for Taiwan.

As for the OP, Beijing won’t do anything in the runup to next year’s election, for three reasons: (1) Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT candidate, appears on track to win the presidency, and letting the greens goad them into some kind of sabre-rattling would only alienate the Taiwanese electorate and as it did in 1996, thus having the opposite of the desired effect; (2) Beijing wants to look nicey-nicey ahead of the 2008 Olympics, and (3) as someone else pointed out, they’d destroy their own economy.

The last item is critical: Beijing knows its only remaining legitimacy rests on the promise of economic growth. A major economic downturn fostered by a pullout of foreign capital (not least Taiwan’s) plus trade retaliation from the rest of the world could be catastrophic. They are very much aware of this.

(aside) gitfiddle, do you live here or are you, like me, just visiting?

That may not be a bad thing, actually. Too many wars have been fought because people are willing to die or to let others die. That there are so few willing to fight could have helped keep Taiwan on this side of the Straits.

From my limited experience in talking to my wife and her friends, as well as the reading I’ve done lately, it seems that while there are some as pro-independent as my wife, many more so prefer to keep the status quo.

With a significant number of its citizens working and living in the PRC, and with themselves knowing their military limitations, you wonder if Taiwan would really push that far to provoke a war.

As I posted above, I don’t believe the Chinese could win a war (read, keep the 7th Fleet out) now, but that could change in the not too distant future. However, they still can’t defend their oil supply routes and if the world get pissed off at them and stops buying or selling to them or the US enforces an embargo, then their economy doesn’t do well.

Talking war is cheap, but starting serious ones isn’t so easy.

Also, take anything you hear from the US government, whether from “unnamed sources” or in person from a jet-setting Shanghai-based apparatchik, with a massive, MASSIVE grain of salt on anything related to Taiwan. They have their own little kabuki dance they have to go through in order to signal where their actual policy lies on potential cross-strait conflict. The dude you met last night–there is no reason whatsoever to believe that he was telling you the truth.

Fact is, Washington has been po’d with Taiwan because the island has not come through so far with a promised purchase of F-16s, which has been blocked by the KMT and its allies in the legislature. So yeah, they’d like to see that money, and they’re signalling all over the place that they doubt Taiwan’s “willingness to fight”, but it has nothing to do with the bellyaching of the conscripts on the ground.

The database is badly corrupted from that period. There are those of us with intact memories nonetheless.

Oh, what the hell, here’s a surviving example:

“Vulnerable” to whom? :dubious:

Search “Sam Stone” and “China” instead and you’ll find a whole litany of him rattling (someone else’s) sabers.