August 22nd, 2002
I will try to give a long-term analysis of the world situation–one that many might say is outrageously long-term. I want to forecast the course of events in the world for the coming fifty to one hundred years.
Assessing the international situation has been my life’s work. I served in the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Agency for forty years. All of the posts that I occupied in Tokyo were always related to the analysis of the international situation. Perhaps that was a coincidence, because the Japanese diplomatic service has no tradition of cultivating experts. Rather, it follows the British tradition of respecting the generalist. My case was special. Perhaps they could not find any other use for me.
Based on my experiences, if you want to know the prospects for the next month, you have to follow closely all the events of the preceding year. You must know all the events and all of the personal histories of those in-charge; you must read the texts of what they said and know all of their published schedules. If you want to know what is going to happen six months ahead, you must know the developments of the preceding ten years. So, since I am trying to predict what will happen in the next fifty to one hundred years, I must go back to several centuries.
When it comes to examining what happened over the past several centuries, we find it surprisingly simple compared with short-term analyses of contemporary affairs. The Anglo-Saxons destroyed the Spanish Empire and, soon after, the Dutch Empire. Then, the Anglo-Saxons fought the French, the first time against the Louis monarchy, and then finally Napoleonﾑand successfully survived both of them. In the first half of the 20th century, the Anglo-American world beat Germany twice and Japan once.
When the war ended in 1945, I was fifteen years old, and there was a vacuum of sorts: all of the past authorities and morals had disappeared. In the short period before communist propaganda infiltrated and the severe censorship of occupation authority was enforced, people were free to think about anything. People were engaged in unusually deep thoughts, such as human nature, the origin and future of the Japanese race, and the future course of world history. One 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 1950’s, Japanese leftists used intimidation, saying, “If they succeed in their revolution in Japan, people like ﾒyouﾓ shall be purged.” Even at that time, I did not have the slightest doubt that the Americans would eventually beat the Russians.
Currently in Japan, there is the argument that Japan lost its autonomy under the US-Japan security treaty. They say that Japan is presently not independent and should have more autonomous diplomacy. 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 US. But the same applies to the Dutch in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, to French in the 20th century, to Germans after the Second World War, and perhaps to Russia now. If Japan wants security and prosperity both now and for posterity, there is no other way than to get along with the Anglo-Saxon world.
The above is my argument for the Japanese, but the same historical reflection can also be applied to the Chinese. Only China can be the next challenger to the Anglo-Saxons. If China succeeded in getting along with the US and maintaining its security and prosperity, China would be the only country in history that has managed to avoid confrontation with the Anglo-Saxons. If China confronts the US, I am afraid that it will have the same destiny as other nations who in the past challenged Anglo-Saxon hegemony. The Spanish and the Dutch lost their empires. The French lost India and 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, etc. If it avoids the war, it can maintain the expanse of the Chin Empire, the biggest Empire in history but the Mongolian Empire–a tremendous expanse though it misses only Taiwan and some parts of Siberia.
It all depends on Chinese policy toward Taiwan. At present both the US and China appear to agree on the maintenance of the status quo. The US insists on the peaceful solution of the Taiwan problem. And China warns any act of declaring independence would mean a change in the status quo, which would necessitate China to use force. The US declares that it would not support Taiwan’s independence, while maintaining its commitment to “one China.”
These commitments, however, are by their nature, vulnerable. The US declares that it would not support Taiwan independence. How long can the US keep persuading Taiwan to refrain from seeking independence? The US could have persuaded a dictatorial regime of Kuomintang. But it cannot keep preventing forever the Taiwanese from freely expressing their own will through democratic procedures. Suppose in some future referendum, a clear majority supports Taiwan independence. Can the US intervene in the election? Suppose China then uses force. Can American public opinion and the Congress overlook it? Given the present atmosphere of the Congress, the answer is almost predictable. The US is most unlikely to refrain from defending a democracy.
Before the Korean War, the US government declared that Korea was outside the American defense line. If North Koreans had really believed this, North Koreans were inadvertently tricked into the war. America’s declaration of nonsupport of Taiwan independence might have the similar effect. Prior to Clinton’s 1998 visit to Beijing, there emerged an idea among US scholars that the US should declare that it would not defend Taiwan if the crisis were caused by Taiwan’s unilateral act of declaring independence. I aggressively took part in the debate, pointing out that it means a repetition of the mistake of inviting a North Korean invasion. Quite likely, it will have proved to be an invitation for war to China.
China’s policy of maintaining the status quo is obviously short-term. China declares that it cannot wait indefinitely. A few years ago, one Chinese academic said that it would take the PRC two months to take Taiwan now, two weeks five years from now, and two days ten years from now, then, China can negotiate with Taiwan for unification. This shows one pattern of Chinese strategic thinking. The question is whether this would be perceived as a peaceful negotiation. In the context of the Taiwan Relations Act, it would be considered as an act of intimidation, one that the US would most likely not accept. This means that the policy of maintaining the status quo in this case is a collision course.
George Kennan said, “Democracy fights in anger.” Winston Churchill, upon hearing that Japan entered into war, said, “What kind of people do they think we are?” 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 in mainland China, first economically and then politically. This argument is often used as propaganda by China or by a critic of the Bush administration’s China policy as not reflecting the reality.
There exists eternal confusion on the interrelation between economics and politics. Before the First World War, Norman Angell asserted the impossibility of war in the modern world because of rapidly increasing economic interdependency. And his prediction failed. No statesman in any European capital took the slightest consideration on economic interdependency in determining whether to go to the First World War. No Taiwan politician or no Taiwanese would sacrifice their freedom for their economic interest at the last moment of its decision. If there exists any relation between politics and the economy, it is not a macro politico-economic relation. But it will take the form of intimidation or harassment by the Chinese government against Taiwanese businessmen in China, coercing them into supporting unification. In the long run, however, this kind of pressure will prove to be counterproductive as it becomes apparent.
It is understandable that the past US administrations have cooperated with China on the policy of maintaining the status quo, in other words, avoiding 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 US strategy, there 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 are realized, however, status-quo policy is no more than the postponement of future crisis. It is a historical pattern so 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 believes that the loss of Taiwan will inevitably result in the loss of Tibet and other territories. It is the same situation that Japan found itself in 1941, when it was told to give up entire gains of the Japanese Empire in mainland China since the Meiji Period. In such circumstances, the 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.
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 UN, were to instead sponsor Taiwan’s membership as a “big brother,'”then the Taiwanese would immediately be swayed pro-China. If China makes these kinds of offers, how can Taiwan refuse to accept the condition of the one-China principle? But China should realize that these trump cards have a time limit. They only work until the time when the Taiwanese and American public opinions may change so that they would not accept anything except unconditional freedom for such a democratic state as Taiwan. What is required for Chinese statesmanship in international and domestic politics is to engineer a peaceful and permanent settlement for a separate Taiwan, while they still have tramp cards in their hand.
As for the US, 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 noes.” Yet, it has not fundamentally modified the policy of maintaining the status quo, which is simply postponing the confrontation until China is ready for it.
The US should stop asking for artificial restraint and let Taiwanﾕs democracy work. It should better refrain from repeating the empty words of “one China,” or “non-support of Taiwan independence.” The US should not, indeed could not, intervene in the future course of Taiwanese politics. The US instead should watch carefully the natural course of events taking place, while committing itself to defending the freedom of Taiwan.
The Chinese should be made to understand that the only policy ultimately acceptable to US public opinion as well as the Taiwanese is to recognize that the Taiwanese themselves should decide Taiwan’s future. That will give a reasonable warning to China that it cannot count on a favorable change that maintenance of the status quo may create and that it should consider an alternative policy before it is too late.