As the storm clouds for the Iraq war are gathering, people around the world wonder what its consequences might be. While most people would welcome the removal of Saddam Hussein and his dictatorial regime, there are also many who oppose a war, and believe that alternative ways could be found.
In Taiwan, the primary concern is the effect on the precarious balance across the Taiwan Strait: will China take advantage of the confusion caused by two major crises around the world Iraq and North Korea and make a move against Taiwan? Or will the United States _ in its eagerness to get Chinese support for its position on Iraq _ trade away part of its security guarantees for Taiwan? Vigilance is warranted on both points.
At the same time, Taiwan must work hard to reduce its vulnerabilities in case a war breaks out. It is dependent on the Middle East for 70 percent of its crude oil. This needs to be reduced through supply diversification and energy conservation.
By Li Thian-Hok, a prominent member of the Taiwanese-American community. This article first appeared in the Taipei Times of 15 January 2003. Reprinted with permission.
The "National Security Strategy of the United States of America" was published by the Bush administration in September 2002. While commentaries on the report have dwelled on the contentious strategy of pre-emptive strikes against terrorists or rogue states, the intent to remain the world's unchallenged superpower and the right to act unilaterally when US interests require it, the 33-page document actually represents a new, comprehensive strategic vision designed to meet the challenges of the post Sept. 11 world. The US seeks a "balance of power that favors human freedom," will fight terrorists and tyrants and "will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers."
During the presidential campaign, Bush regarded China as a strategic competitor. Now China is to be treated as a partner in the global war against terrorism and in promoting peace in the Asia-Pacific region. This shift in America's stance is based on the hope that "In time, China will find that social and political freedom is the only source of ... greatness. The power of market principles and the WTO's requirements for transparency and accountability will advance openness and the rule of law in China." But what if these assumptions turn out to be mere wishful thinking?
To be sure, Beijing has presented a more friendly face to Washington since Sept. 11. To become an economically prosperous and militarily powerful nation, China needs access to the lucrative US market and American technology and capital. But once China evolves into a dominant hegemon of Asia and develops a credible nuclear strike capability to threaten the US homeland, what can the US do if Beijing then deviates from the path of democracy and peace? China is not threatened by terrorists and rogue states as the US is.
China does not share America's values of liberty. In fact, the fourth generation leaders of the CCP are determined to monopolize power by strengthening the state's tools of repression and by co-opting the rising entrepreneurial class. China's entry into the WTO may enhance the country's understanding of rule by law but will not necessarily convince the country's rulers to implement the rule of law, because the latter would impede the privilege of China's princelings and the rampant corruption which permeates the CCP cadres. The rule of law will also be incompatible with the party's authoritarian rule.
The US should not underestimate the extent of China's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to rogue states. China's transfer of nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan is largely responsible for today's dangerous nuclear standoff between Pakistan and India. US intelligence officials report that China shipped 20 tons of tributyl phosphate (TBP) to North Korea in early December. TBP can be used in extracting material for nuclear bombs from spent nuclear-reactor fuel (Bill Gertz, "China ships North Korea ingredients for nuclear arms," Washington Times National Weekly Edition, Dec. 23 to Dec. 29, 2002). The chemical can also be used to prepare uranium for the weapons process. China's transfer of the TBP to North Korea is particularly ominous in view of a series of related, subsequent events.
In October, Pyongyang announced that it was secretly developing uranium enrichment capability to make fuel for nuclear weapons and it planned to restart three reactors at the Nyongbyong complex, 80km north of Pyongyang. Then on Dec. 22, North Korea began removing UN seals and surveillance cameras from nuclear facilities and unsealed a spent fuel storage chamber which holds 8,000 irradiated fuel rods at Nyongbyong.
The CIA believes North Korea may have already produced one or two nuclear weapons. Experts say North Korea could quickly extract enough plutonium from the spent fuel rods to make five or six nuclear weapons within months. Tension has risen further since a defiant North Korea expelled UN inspectors (from the International Atomic Energy Agency) in late December and fired up a nuclear reactor that had been mothballed since 1994. In mid-January 2003, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The Chinese sale of TBP to North Korea could well mean that, despite its public statements that China favored a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, Beijing is unwilling to help Washington resolve the North Korean nuclear problem without a quid pro quo.
While it is hard to fathom Beijing's intent, China may actually be exacerbating the crisis to enhance its influence over North Korea and to gain diplomatic leverage against the US. Even while preoccupied with its homeland security and the impending war on Iraq, Washington cannot afford to take its eyes off Beijing's miscreant conduct.
The Bush doctrine proclaims that "freedom is the nonnegotiable demand of human dignity; the birthright of every person in every civilization." The US promises to "stand beside any nation determined to build a better future by seeking the rewards of liberty for its people." Yet the Bush administration has of late been muted in its criticism of China's often inhumane treatment of dissidents and religious practitioners. China continues to threaten and intimidate Taiwan by building up its military capability in a bid to force Taiwan to surrender its sovereignty and democracy.
The PRC applies political, economic and diplomatic pressure to force Taiwan to accede to unification on China's terms. Beijing even has a strategy of working with America to subdue Taiwan. While the "National Security Strategy" commends Taiwan for its democratization and affirms US commitment to the self-defense of the nation under the Taiwan Relations Act, the Bush administration has recently opposed Congressional efforts to legislate closer cooperation between the militaries of the US and Taiwan, including consultation regarding Taiwan's national defense and exchange of flag officers.
The goals of counter-terrorism and freedom may contradict each other. The "National Security Strategy" provides no coherent guide on how to resolve the conflict. If Americans are perceived as willing to trade the freedom of others to secure their own safety, the US will have a difficult time gathering any significant "coalition of the willing."
The "National Security Strategy" does not address the long-range threats to US national security posed by the rise of China. It simply states "We welcome the emergence of a strong, peaceful and prosperous China." The US needs to pay greater attention to China's deeply ingrained sense of aggrieved nationalism. Every schoolchild in China is indoctrinated in the country's 150 years of humiliation at the hands of the Western barbarians and the need to seek retribution and restore the Middle Kingdom to it's rightful place as a respected global power. The US should be vigilant about the large gap between the sanguine rhetoric of the Bush doctrine and the cold reality of China's compulsive expansionism.
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