Sat, Dec 23, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: What follows a war with China?

Let's say that one day Beijing elects to attack Taiwan with all its military might, but Taiwan refuses to surrender despite mounting civilian casualties and considerable damage to roads, bridges, ports, airports and other key infrastructure.

Caught unawares, or at least unable to respond in time, Washington dispatches warships to the area and ratchets up the rhetoric. By the time these arrive, however, People's Liberation Army (PLA) ground and air forces have overcome the Taiwanese military in most locations and secured the Presidential Office, key military installations, the legislature and other important government buildings. The Americans, recognizing when a thing cannot be undone by military means, withdraw a certain distance and watch.

What then?

Before the end of World War II, a preparatory body headed by Chen Yi (陳儀), the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) first and much maligned executive administrator of Taiwan, spent some time developing a takeover process for the lost territory. Reasonably sophisticated research on how the Japanese ruled and how Taiwanese would respond to a change in government was undertaken. Unfortunately, as it turned out, this research was as much a blueprint for the theft of Taiwan's wealth as it was an attempt to smooth the way for the new government. At the very least, however, there was an executable plan.

Amid all the bluster about how many hundred missiles China has pointed at Taiwan, the fundamental issue of how China would administer postwar Taiwan is obscured, if not ignored.

China has plans of some nature drawn up for an invasion. But it is not clear that Beijing has the remotest idea how to govern an occupied territory that was once a wealthy democracy -- and this does not factor in the logistics of feeding and sheltering an occupying army and bureaucracy.

The idea that Taiwanese civilians would be unwilling to confront PLA forces and a military government -- especially after atrocities occur -- is not convincing; what would be needed to mitigate such problems is a collaborationist administration.

An interesting question that follows is: Who would they choose? And from this: Are such people identifiable now?

The likelihood of a collaborationist government being able to competently deal with the international economic response to an invasion is low -- indeed, Beijing would probably be struggling hard to defend "mainland" China's economic integrity.

Other changes that might shock Taiwan's middle class from its stupor would be the expulsion of selected foreigners and organizations, the purging of universities and possible revoking of citizenship for people of "non-Chinese" descent and their title to property, and restrictions on movement.

The best-case scenario for China would see a pragmatic public accept their lot -- much as Taiwanese did following the flight of KMT troops to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But after that time the KMT was boosted by US support and sensible economic reforms that spread wealth across most sectors of society. It is not clear how China would act in an occupied Taiwan, and whether "sensible" policy would have much role to play.

The more one fleshes out a postwar scenario, the more insane an invasion appears. With Beijing, however, this does not lessen the likelihood of one. Of prime concern is the certainty that a postwar administration would quickly earn the contempt -- then hatred -- of most Taiwanese, a situation mirroring that of 60 years ago. If China wishes to proceed with this scenario, it had better be prepared to crush dissent ruthlessly and so destroy its uncertain international reputation -- and kiss its fantasy of a spiritually united China goodbye.

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