Taiwan Communiqué No. 68, October 1995

Safety and Security for Taiwan

Lessons from the Chinese missile crisis

The firings of Chinese missiles and the PLA military exercises in an area only 80 miles off the coast of Taiwan brought home a number of important lessons to the people of Taiwan, and to the international community in general. To the Taiwanese people it meant that the promises of the Beijing authorities for "peaceful unification" under a "One country, two systems" approach (originally pronounced by Mr. Deng Xiao-ping in the early 1980s) are null and void.

More recently, the Chinese authorities stated that they would "...fully respect the lifestyle, the legitimate rights and the interests of the 21 million 'compatriots in Taiwan' " (Mr. Jiang Zemin's "Eight-point-plan" of January 1995). It is now more clear than ever, that these are empty promises. The missile crisis confirms the suspicions of most Taiwanese that the Chinese were never serious about the "peaceful" part of "unification", and simply used it as a ploy to lure Taiwan into its smothering embrace.
The missile exercises also brought to light that, in spite of its strong economy, viable defense system, and evolving democracy, Taiwan does have a number of vulnerabilities:

  1. Because many Taiwanese businessmen have investments in the coastal provinces of China, they eventually could become hostages to Chinese blackmail. As we reported in our previous issue (Taiwan Communiqué no. 67, p. 16), many Taiwanese businessmen are realizing this, and are shifting their investments to South-East Asia, to countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.

  2. While Taiwan's military is well-trained and well-equipped, China has a numerical superiority. Still, most US defense experts agree that China at present does not have the capability to invade Taiwan. Even a blockade of Taiwan by China would be ill-fated: it would evoke a strong reaction from the international community (in particular the US), and the Taiwanese have shown themselves adept at circumventing hurdles. It would also prompt a boycott of Chinese-made goods in both the United States as well as in Europe. However, as was shown in the recent crisis, just because of its sheer size, China can have an impact -- in Taiwan and beyond -- just by rattling its sabers and by threatening and bullying.

  3. A third vulnerability in Taiwan is ironically due to the evolving democratic system: while the old Kuomintang diehards, such as former Prime Minister Hao Pei-tsun, have been relegated to the political sidelines, a new and dangerous strain of Chinese chauvinism has raised its head in the New Party, an extremist group which split off from the Kuomintang in August 1993. This pro-unificationist group presently has seven members in the Legislative Yuan, and has made vocal attacks against both President Lee Teng-hui and the DPP party.

Shadow of the missile

Candidates for the first direct presidential elections in Taiwan history:

"Under the shadow of the missile."

In spite of these vulnerabilities, the missile crisis has brought a newfound cohesion and self-confidence to Taiwan. Recent opinion polls on the island show that between 80 and 90 percent of the Taiwanese would fight to defend Taiwan against China, and oppose China's claims to sovereignty over the island. The country is proceeding with the election process for both the Legislative Yuan elections in December and the Presidential elections in March 1996, it is further strengthening its defense capabilities, and is continuing the efforts to raise its international profile.

Perspectives from Washington

The increasing military profile of China in East Asia, and the PLA exercises of course also caught the attention of researchers, analysts and policymakers in Washington and elsewhere. On 13 September 1995, the DPP-mission in the US organized a conference titled "China's threat, Taiwan's preparedness, and issues for the United States." At the meeting several prominent East Asia specialists presented analyses of the situation, and concluded that while China at the present time does not have the capabilities to seriously threaten Taiwan, the island would do well to strengthen its defenses, particularly in the area of missile defense (an upgraded Patriot system or the newly developed Theater Missile Defense system). The meeting also concluded that the strongest argument for raising Taiwan's international profile is the fact that the island is now moving towards a fully democratic political system.

During the past few months, China's military adventurism also prompted several major articles and reports on the topic. We briefly mention a few of them: David Shambaugh, "The United States and China, A new Cold War ?", in Current History, September 1995. Evan A. Feigenbaum, "Change in Taiwan and Potential Adversity in the Strait." Rand Corporation, National Defense Research Institute, 1995. US General Accounting Office, "National Security, Impact of China's military modernization in the Pacific region." June 1995.

Finally, the growth and role of China's military prompted hearings on the issue in the US Congress: on 11 October 1995, the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, held a hearing at which both U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord, and Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye testified. Both gentlemen presented arguments in favor of the US's present "engagement" approach, arguing that this would increase the transparency of China's military system, and hopefully help steer China in the right direction.

Towards a stable balance in East Asia

Taiwan Communiqué comment: While there is general agreement that it would be desirable to have stability, peace, and security in East Asia, opinions differ on how to achieve this. Stability is not served by condoning China's missile exercises. Peace is not achieved if the international community kowtows to Beijing. Security in East Asia coninues to be at grave risk as long as China displays a penchant for expansionism.

The best way to achieve this much-desired stability, peace, and security in East Asia is for China to respect the rights of other nations around it and learn to live peacefully, side-by-side with Taiwan. The best way for the international community, and particularly the United States and Western Europe, to assist in this process is to help bring the people of Taiwan out of the international diplomatic isolation into which the shortsighted policies of the Kuomintang have led the island, and to recognize a free and democratic Taiwan as an independent country.

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