On Jan. 24 at George Washington University, Scott Bates, president of the Center for National Policy, elaborated on his provocative “Taiwan 21” plan, in which he outlined his ideas to enhance Taiwan’s security and its regional standing within East Asia. While his proposals are well intentioned, they fail to take into account the realities on the ground in Taiwan, both militarily and politically.
Bates said that Taiwan should make a “solemn pledge that in the event of hostilities, the Republic of China will never conduct any military action on the shores of China.” This declaration would give Taiwan “the moral high ground” and cause China to “lose face” in such a conflict, causing China to become too “humiliated and embarrassed” to continue such an attack on Taiwan.
Beijing has shown that it places little value in international perception when it comes to “internal affairs.” The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, as well as continued military and police crackdowns in Xinjiang and Tibet, shows that the notion of Taiwan taking a moral high ground in a military conflict with China would have little or no value in the international arena, save for token condemnations and expressions of anger from nations that have repeatedly shown to be guided in their actions by an economic compass rather than a humanitarian one.
In strategic terms, the notion of Taiwan publicly renouncing any military means of retaliation from a Chinese initiated attack on it is beyond comprehension.
Although Taiwan’s ability to launch a counter-offensive in the scenario listed above could be limited in scope and effectiveness due to initial damage from military action, it is a possibility the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would have to weigh heavily before taking any military action against Taiwan.
To lose military personnel and hardware over the Taiwan Strait is one thing; to have ports, fuel and missile depots and military installations damaged or destroyed in China is another, and could have a devastating impact on the psyche of both the PLA and the civilian population. Such a valuable tool should not be abandoned by Taiwan for the sake of potential goodwill among the international community.
Bates also suggested that the Taiwanese army be modified and recast as a “self-defense force.” This new force could then, according to Bates, become a premier disaster response team in Asia, providing states in need with airlift capacity and logistical support. While this idea is noble in theory, it is not grounded in reality.
The reason? The same international community that Bates feels Taiwan should garner goodwill with to solidify its future will undoubtedly be under pressure from Beijing to refuse such aid from Taiwan.
China’s successful lobbying in 2004 excluded Taiwan from the international tsunami donors coordination conference and similar pressure from Beijing could force states to refuse humanitarian assistance from Taiwan, so even the most advanced, well-trained disaster response force in Asia could find itself remaining in Taiwan, helpless to carry out its primary mission of disaster relief in the region.
Bates places unrealistic expectations on what the reactions of the international community would be if a benign Taiwan were attacked by the People’s Republic of China. If history is any indicator, states around the globe would protest, but China, seeing Taiwan as the last territorial remnant of Western imperialism that has not been reclaimed by the motherland, would pay little attention.
No amount of well-intentioned pledges from Taipei would stop Beijing in the case of conflict if it sensed an opportunity to close its last geographic wound from 1949 that has not yet healed.
Brian Benedictus is a research fellow at the Formosa Foundation.