Safeguarding Taiwan’s freedom

By Li Thian-hok 李天福  / 

Sun, Jun 26, 2011 - Page 8

According to Chinese jurist and writer Yuan Hongbing (袁紅冰) in “The Taiwan Crisis: China’s Plan to Annex Taiwan Without a Battle by 2012,” former paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) drafted a secret political will before his death in which he focused on Taiwan. The most crucial section reads: “Advocates of freedom in the bourgeois class ... are itching to follow the so-called ‘Taiwan experience’... Settling the Taiwan problem directly affects the existence of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] and socialism in China ... The Taiwanese problem must be resolved by the end of Comrade Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) second term. Do not go beyond 2012. I hope that the 18th Party Congress will also be able to celebrate solving the Taiwan problem.”

In February 2008, the CCP held a joint meeting of the Political Bureau and the Central Military Commission at a strategic command center deep within a cavern in Beijing’s Xi Shan District. At this event Hu presented a top secret report about China’s historical mission. Here are some excerpts: “Historically, the West used battleships and opium to colonize China. Now the roles are reversed. We will seize the opportunity that capitalism’s economic crisis has presented us with. Through the opening-up policy, we will gradually make them Socialist China’s economic and cultural colonies ... Ultimately, we must free all of mankind through communism ... Solving the Taiwan problem is the first step we must take to fulfill our mission ... if we do not end the Taiwan problem, opposition activities attempting to topple our socialist government within and outside the country will run rampant ... Hence, quickly resolving the Taiwan problem is essential to keeping Socialism in China alive and to keeping the party in power.”

Hu’s term of office ends at the end of 2012 and as such he has a great incentive to achieve the annexation of Taiwan by then, to glorify his legacy. His chances look good, too, since the military balance across the Taiwan Strait has clearly shifted in favor of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan’s economic dependence on China has increased dramatically under the aegis of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration. Beijing is pressing the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to start political talks on how to implement unification.

Many Taiwanese who favor preserving Taiwan’s democracy and its de facto independence from China hang their hope on a victory by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in January’s presidential election. A DPP victory is indispensable to Taiwan’s freedom, because a defeat would be regarded as an endorsement from a majority of voters of the KMT’s unification agenda. However, a victory by the DPP, while necessary, would not be sufficient to preserve the “status quo.” The KMT could still sign a peace accord with Beijing between January and May next year, thus formally surrendering to the PRC. If a victorious DPP refuses to honor the accord China could launch a military assault on Taiwan to coerce capitulation.

What happens then would depend on how the US reacts. Recently there have been debates among US academics and retired officials about whether to abandon Taiwan (to remove a thorn in the side of better US-China relations) and even whether to retreat from Asia and to protect the US homeland through “offshore balancing” (withdrawing the forward deployed forces from East Asia and revoking alliances). It is, therefore, reassuring that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates emphasized the US commitment to maintain a robust military presence in Asia at a meeting with Asian defense ministers and military commanders in Singapore on June 4.

Even in the face of constraints on military spending, Gates said the US would find money for “air superiority and mobility, long-range strike capability, nuclear deterrence, maritime access, space and cyberspace, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, ... [to] address ... the prospect that new and disruptive technologies and weapons could be employed to deny US forces access to key sea routes and lines of communications.”

Supporting and cooperating with Japan and South Korea to maintain the peace and stability of East Asia is essential to the US military, economic and diplomatic presence in the region, but can this goal be achieved without preserving the “status quo” in Taiwan? As seen above, Beijing sees the conquest of Taiwan as the first step in its hegemony over Asia and ultimately dominance of the whole world.

Assuming that Washington has the wisdom to realize the importance of Taiwan’s freedom to peace and stability in East Asia and ultimately to the security of the US, what can the administration of US President Barack Obama do to preserve Taiwan’s de facto independence from the PRC?

First, the US should make clear its position that the so-called Republic of China (ROC) government on Taiwan has no legitimate claim to sovereignty over Taiwan and the Pescadores. The legal status of these islands is still in abeyance. In the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan gave up its title to Taiwan, but did not state to who the territories were ceded.

Some people argue that because the Taiwanese elect the President of the ROC directly, the ROC has gained sovereignty over Taiwan. This is not the case. The ROC is an exiled government of China, which is now ruled by the PRC government. What the Taiwanese voters confer on the ROC president is merely the power to administer the affairs of the island, not the authority to determine the legal status of Taiwan. That authority resides with the people of Taiwan, under the universally accepted principle of self--determination. So a referendum on the future of Taiwan cannot be conducted by the ROC government, under a law of its creation. The ROC is an alien government, imposed on the Taiwanese by coercion, including a 38-year period of martial law. The democratization of the island has not changed that fact.

Second, Washington should reiterate its policy that the future of Taiwan must be resolved peacefully and with the express assent of the Taiwanese people. To this end, the US needs to consider organizing a consortium of disinterested nations to conduct and supervise a referendum so Taiwanese can freely choose their destiny without any domestic or outside pressure. The US has a moral obligation to intercede in this fashion because it was the US which liberated Taiwan from Japanese colonization in 1945.

Third, the Obama administration should work with the US Congress to speed up the sale of F-16C/D aircraft and other weapons useful in resisting a PLA invasion of Taiwan. Approval of such weapons sales may not help to prevent Taiwan’s fall, if the KMT chooses to surrender Taiwan before the end of next year. However, such action will send a message to Beijing that Washington intends to abide by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and that the US has decided not to let the 23 million Taiwanese people fall under the CCP’s repressive rule. It will also boost the morale of the Taiwanese to continue fighting for their freedom.

Fourth, Washington should initiate high level contacts between the militaries of the US and Taiwan, to boost Taiwan’s morale and readiness and to help counter any subversive activities within Taiwan. Such exchanges could include port calls by US Navy ships.

Lastly, bolstering the US military presence in the Western Pacific (as mandated by the TRA and recommended by the US secretary of defense) should anticipate potential Taiwan contingencies.

Both Deng and Hu grasp the political and strategic value of Taiwan to China’s expansionist ambitions. Hopefully, US leaders will also recognize the importance of Taiwan to the US standing in the world and will adopt timely measures to forestall a geostrategic disaster for the US.

Li Thian-hok is a distinguished fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington.