Do we have a Chinese Curtis LeMay on our hands or is China attempting say something else ?
We have a triangular relationship going on here that is potentially dangerous because each party has incompatible strategic objectives expressed in maximalist and minimalist possibilities.
CHINA: Has the maximalist objective of eventually coercing Taiwan into reunification with the Mainland on Beijing's terms. There is flexibility in the timetable and even on the terms but this outcome is considered absolutely non-negotiable by Beijing.
China's minimalist objective, also non-negotiable, is that Taiwan must refrain from formally declaring independence.
TAIWAN: Has the maximalist objective of forcing China to accept Taiwan as an independent, equal, sovereign, state. Again, no hard and fast timetable here and the door is open at least a crack toward reunification on favorable terms, but Taipei's eye is on independence.
Taiwan's minimalist objective is preserving their de facto independence from China's control. This is non-negotiable and it constantly prods Taiwanese leaders to demonstrate their freedom by periodically sticking their finger in Beijing's eye.
THE UNITED STATES: Has the maximalist objective of preserving the status quo on Taiwan as based on the original Shanghai communique cobbled together Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai - barring the two other partises making some kind of peaceful reuinon on terms generally favoring Taiwan.
The minimalist objective of the U.S. is to prevent the outbreak of war between China and Taiwan.
The only non-negotiable aspect of the American position- if you can call it that- is that an unprovoked attack by China on Taiwan is unacceptable and the U.S. has statutory defense obligations. What we would consider " unprovoked" or the precise nature of those " obligations" are is up for grabs.
The problem here for American policy makers is that they are holding the weakest cards of the three by their own strategic choice to play nursemaid to two irreconciliable powers. If the guarantee to Taiwan was an unambiguous nuclear umbrella - as it is with Japan, South Korea or NATO - the situation might have remained stable. But American ambiguity on this crucial point is encouraging the gamblers in both Beijing and Taipei to play both ends against the middle to our disadvantage.
To reprise my comments at the Glittering Eye today, the Chinese government has been signalling, for at least a decade, that their bright red line for war is a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan and that they will absolutely go to war regardless of the costs.
Having stoked the fires of nationalism to make-up for the decline of Marxism in public esteem in order to legitimize their rule, the CCP leadership sees such a declaration by Taiwan as:
a) A threat to China's territorial integrity and a likely inspiration for Tibet and Xinjiang to follow suit.
b) Something that could spur massive urban unrest and bring down the Communist Party if they fail to be perceived by the populace as taking strong action to prevent it or to punish Taipei.
That China would commit this kind of national suicide in any other context is belied by their blustery but ultimately ineffectual reaction to our bombing of their embassy in Belgrade ( which contrary to official reports I believe to have been fully intentional on our part and well-deserved for hostile Chinese SIGINT assistance to Serbia during the air war). I find China going nuclear over the Spratley's or a downed plane to be a specious scenario.
To return to the original question posed by Nadezhda, to pursue their strategic objectives, Taiwan needs a defense establishment capable of deterring an amphibious invasion and formidible enough in its retaliatory powers to make a massive missile and air attack a high-cost affair for Beijing without even considering American intervention. This would require across the board investments in ballistic missiles, submarines, warplanes and if they can get away with it - nuclear weapons ( note: this would not be in America's interest - I'm simply explaining what capabilities Taiwan requires) Defensive tech like Aegis is nice but somewhat pointless given the sheer magnitude of what China can throw at Taiwan - the only significant variable here in Chinese calculations are what costs Taiwan can impose on China in return.
On the other hand, regarding Taiwan, the leaders of the CCP are much more serious and this should be taken into account by American policymakers. Whether Beijing would escalate to the extent threatened by General Zhu is debatable but what is not debatable is that the Chinese are desperate to indicate to the United States and Taipei that independence is regarded by China as a critical national defense interest.
The Bush administration for its part needs to reevaluate our strategic objectives in regard to China and Taiwan. Far too much decision-making power has been voluntarily ceded to circumstances that can be created by others - thus encouraging China and Taiwan to be less responsible than if both parties were reacting only bilaterally to each other's moves. We need a clarification of our defense relationship with the Taiwanese so that neither China nor Taiwan miscalculates.
" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli