China Has More Cards Up Sleeve

Assessing the international situation has been my life’s work. I served in the Foreign Ministry and Defense Agency for 40 years. Based on my experience, if you want to know the prospects for the international situation next week, you have to closely examine all the events of the last month.

Today, I would like to forecast the course of world events for the next 50 to 100 years. This requires looking back over several centuries.

Such a long-term view is surprisingly simple compared with the short-term analysis of contemporary affairs. The pattern that emerges is one of Anglo-Saxon might.

The Anglo-Saxons destroyed the Spanish Empire and, soon afterward, the Dutch Empire. Then, the Anglo-Saxons fought the French–first against the Bourbon monarchy and then against Napoleon–and successfully survived both encounters. In the first half of the 20th century, the Anglo-American world beat Germany twice and Japan once.

When World War II ended in 1945, I was 15 years old. One adult visitor to my house wondered how long it would take the Japanese to avenge their defeat. But another said: “Never fight those Anglo-Saxons again. Look at Germany–it was beaten twice.” As a boy, I felt there was more truth in the latter observation.

During the Cold War, people were afraid of the Communist threat. At the height of the Soviet propaganda offensive in the 1950s, Japanese leftists threatened, “If we succeed in our revolution in Japan, people like you shall be purged.” But even then, I did not have the slightest doubt that the Americans would eventually beat the Russians.

Some now argue that Japan lost its autonomy under the U.S.-Japan security treaty. They say that Japan is currently not independent and should have more autonomous diplomacy. In response, I will always restate my basic view of history.

Many nations have been beaten by the Anglo-Saxons, but nations such as the Netherlands and France, which then decided to follow Anglo-Saxon leadership, have been successful in guarding their national security and prosperity. Japan was defeated and cannot possibly be an equal partner with the United States. But the same applies to the Dutch in the 18th through 20th centuries, to French in the 20th century, to Germany after World War II and perhaps to Russia now.

This is my argument for Japan, but the same historical reflection can also be applied to China. Only China can be the next challenger to the Anglo-Saxons. If China succeeded in getting along with the United States and maintaining its security and prosperity, China would be the only major country in history that has managed to avoid confrontation with the Anglo-Saxons. On the other hand, if China confronts the United States, I am afraid that it will suffer the same fate as other nations that in the past challenged Anglo-Saxon hegemony.

The Spanish and the Dutch lost their empires. The French lost Canada. Germany lost half of its territory. Japan lost its empire. Russia lost all of its European and Central Asian territories acquired after Peter the Great. And China, if it chooses war and is defeated, will surely have to recognize the self-determination of Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and so on. ===

Taiwan to be pivot of history

It all depends on Chinese policy toward Taiwan.

At present, both the United States and China appear to agree on the maintenance of the status quo. The United States insists on a peaceful solution to the Taiwan problem. The United States declares that it would not support Taiwan’s independence, while maintaining its commitment to “one China.”

These commitments, however, are fragile by nature. How long can the United States keep persuading Taiwan to refrain from seeking independence? The United States could have persuaded the dictatorial Kuomintang regime. But it cannot forever prevent the Taiwan people from freely expressing their own will through democratic procedures. Suppose that some future popular election is won by a party that unequivocally declares independence. Could the United States intervene in the election? Suppose that China then uses force. Could the U.S. public and Congress overlook it? Given the current atmosphere of Congress, the answer is predictable. The United States is most unlikely to refrain from defending a democracy.

Before the Korean War, the U.S. government had declared that Korea was outside the U.S. defense line. If the North Koreans really believed this, they were inadvertently tricked into war. The United States’ declaration of nonsupport for Taiwan independence might have a similar effect. Prior to the visit to Beijing in 1998 by then U.S. President Bill Clinton, there emerged an idea among scholars in the United States that the United States should declare that it would not defend Taiwan in a crisis caused by Taiwan’s unilateral declaration of independence. I aggressively took part in the debate, pointing out that it would mean a repetition of the mistake of inviting the North Korean invasion. Quite likely, it would indeed prove to be an invitation to war with China.

China’s policy of maintaining the status quo is obviously a short-term one. China has declared that it cannot wait forever. A few years ago, one Chinese academic said that it would take China two months to seize Taiwan now, two weeks five years from now, and two days 10 years from now–meaning that China can afford to “negotiate” with Taiwan for reunification. This shows one pattern of Chinese strategic thinking.

The question is whether this would be genuinely peaceful negotiation. In the context of the Taiwan Relations Act, it could be considered intimidation of a kind the United States most likely would not accept. That means that to maintain the status quo in this case is actually to remain on a collision course.

George Kennan said, “Democracy fights in anger.” China should never underestimate the possible reaction of the American public if it perceives that Taiwan’s freedom is threatened.

Recently, under the tendency of closer China-Taiwan economic relations, there is a proposition that Taiwan will eventually be absorbed into mainland China, first economically and then politically. This argument is often used as propaganda by China or by critics who say U.S. President George W. Bush’s China policy does not reflect reality.

There is eternal confusion on the interrelation between economics and politics. Before World War I, Norman Angell asserted the impossibility of war in the modern world because of rapidly increasing economic interdependence. His prediction failed. No statesman in any European capital gave the slightest consideration to economic interdependence in determining to get involved in World War I. Similarly, no Taiwan politician or no Taiwan citizen would sacrifice his or her freedom for their economic interest.

It is understandable that past U.S. administrations have cooperated with China on the policy of maintaining the status quo–in other words, staving off a crisis–because, in the short term, it is always a reasonable and realistic policy for any bureaucracy.

If there is any strategic thought behind the U.S. strategy, it might be the expectation that China will disintegrate, either by economic failure or by the process of democratization. Strategic thought, however, should not be based only on optimistic prospects. If none of these expectations is realized, a status quo policy is no more than the postponement of a future crisis. It is a historical pattern often repeated. It is always difficult to face problems squarely before they deteriorate so badly that everyone recognizes the necessity of the solutions. And quite often, it is too late.

This collision course will typically reach its final stage when China comes to believes that the loss of Taiwan inevitably will result in the loss of Tibet and other territories. It is the same situation in which Japan found itself in 1941, when it was told to give up all the gains of the Japanese Empire in mainland China since the Meiji period. In such circumstances, a government has to choose between a war and domestic upheaval–possibly a revolution. I am afraid that a war would be most likely when, as time passes, China finds itself in a similar dilemma. ===

China could be magnanimous

If China wants to settle the issue before it deteriorates into a crisis, the Chinese have many trump cards. If China were to declare that Taiwan should be a permanently neutral nation like Switzerland, who could oppose that? On such an occasion, how could the world deny China’s claim of sovereignty over Tibet and other territories? If China, which presently insists on opposing Taiwan’s entry into the United Nations, were to instead sponsor Taiwan’s membership as a “big brother,” the Taiwanese would immediately be swayed pro-China. If China makes these kinds of offers, how could Taiwan refuse to accept the condition of the one-China principle? But China should, however, realize that these trump cards have a time limit. They only work until the time when Taiwan and U.S. public opinion change so that the Taiwanese and Americans would not accept anything except unconditional freedom for such a democratic state as Taiwan. What is required for international and domestic Chinese statesmanship is to engineer a peaceful and permanent settlement for a separate Taiwan while they still have the trump cards in their hand.

As for the United States, it should have a longer-term strategy. Certainly, the Bush administration is remarkably expressive in its will to defend the freedom of Taiwan. It redressed the faux pas of the previous administration by refusing to repeat the “three nos.” Yet, it has not fundamentally modified the policy of maintaining the status quo, which is simply postponing the inevitable confrontation until China is ready.

The United States should stop asking for artificial restraint and let Taiwan’s democracy work. That will give a reasonable warning to China that it cannot rely on the maintenance of the status quo for an indefinite period and that it should consider an alternative policy before it is too late.

The Chinese should understand that the only policy ultimately acceptable to U.S. public opinion as well as to the Taiwanese is to recognize that the Taiwanese themselves should decide Taiwan’s future. The United States should not, indeed could not, intervene in the future course of Taiwan politics. The United States instead should watch carefully the natural course of events taking place, while committing itself on the nonuse of force by China. A long-term policy solution would then automatically flow from the logic of the circumstances.