China and Taiwan
Were it not for 9/11 and the war on terrorism, much of my
attention would be focused on the situation between China and
Taiwan. On October 18, PBS'' "Frontline" program had a special
titled "Dangerous Straits," addressing the outlook between the
China has a huge leadership issue next year, as President Jiang
Zemin is due to step down. I will be highlighting this story for
the most part on my "Week in Review" link, but, for now, I
thought it would be useful to get some thoughts from leading
figures in the debate. The following is gleaned from extensive
interviews that "Frontline" conducted (post 9/11) and which are
available on the program''s web site (PBS.org). I have picked out
some highlights (most of which were not discussed during the
actual airing of the special).
Zhu Bangzao...spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry
Q: During the election campaign, President Bush made it
absolutely clear on television that he would do everything he
could to defend Taiwan. What is China''s view about that?
Zhu: The Taiwan question is a sensitive and important issue at
the center of Sino-U.S. relations. The United States has made
solemn commitments to China on various occasions, and that is
the foundation for the extension of diplomatic relations between
the two countries.
For instance...the U.S. has made an undertaking that they will
follow the principle of "one China."...I think what the United
States should do is stick to the policy of "one China" ...and keep
their other promises on the Taiwan issue, rather than violating
[Zhu''s own definition of "one China" is as follows. "Taiwan is
only a part of China, and it''s not a separate country at all. We
have a very clear policy of ''one country, two systems.'' This
means that after Taiwan and China have achieved unification,
Taiwan can still maintain its present political and social systems,
as well as its economic system and so on." I was in Hong Kong
this past May, and I can tell you that the experience there with
Chinese rule is not all peaches and cream. Once China digs its
claws in; it''s difficult for it to accept pure democracy.]
...Taiwan is Chinese territory, and the Taiwan issue belongs to
the internal affairs of China. No foreign country should interfere
in the Taiwan question. The United States has made many
promises to China on the Taiwan issue, and they should honor
their words, rather than undermining the commitments they''ve
Q: But don''t you see that you could make your relations with
America so much better if you gave up your announcement that
China would use military force to take Taiwan if they ever
declared independence? Why do you not renounce your use of
Zhu: I know there are people in the United States who use
China''s failure to renounce the use of force against Taiwan as an
excuse for the U.S. to support Taiwan and sell arms to Taiwan.
But their arguments cannot hold water.
Q: Can I just say that that gives the impression to the Americans
that China is a bully? It is a threatening power.
Zhu: Your impression, if you will permit me to say so, is totally
wrong. It suggests that the United States is very keen on a
peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue, while mainland China
wants to use military force. I think this is a misunderstanding
which gives a totally wrong impression.
Actually, no one in the world is more eager than China to find a
peaceful solution to the Taiwan question. We have always
advocated peaceful reunification on the principle of "one China,
two systems." Even after the tremendous changes last year in
Taiwan (ed. the election of Chen Shui-Bian), we still advocate
this principle, and hope to try our best to seek a peaceful solution
to the Taiwan question. This is our basic principle and it has
It is just because we want to solve the Taiwan question
peacefully that we cannot give up the use of force. If we give up
the use of force, that will only make a peaceful solution
impossible. For instance, if the Taiwan separatists declare
Taiwan independent, then how do we react?
Furthermore, it''s entirely China''s own internal affair if we
deploy military equipment on our own soil. The purpose of such
action is to safeguard China''s security, to defend its territorial
integrity and uphold the country''s peace and stability...
However, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are quite another matter.
They totally violate the promises made by the United States...
...In recent years, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have increased both
in quality and in quantity. So this shows who is really to blame
here. What the United States has done is interfere in China''s
internal affairs, undermined China''s sovereignty, and most
importantly, added further to serious tensions across the Taiwan
Q: If the leadership in Taiwan declared independence, you say
you could not let that happen. The Defense Department in
America worries that if that did happen, your response would be
to use the many missiles you have along the coast opposite
Taiwan, and that would be much more devastating than the
bombardment of the islands that happened in the 1950s, 1960s
and 1970s. Is that the sort of response you would have?
Zhu: I have made our stand quite clear: Taiwanese independence
is equal to war. That''s why the United States should not support
this movement; should not support independence for Taiwan...
Q: But what Americans can''t understand is why you worry about
Taiwan. It''s a relatively small island. You have a huge territory
with many potential problems. Why worry about a small island
which is trading very well with you, and relations are OK? Why
do you care about Taiwan?
Zhu: The Americans should change their habit of always seeing
things in their own terms, and trying to impose their own views
about how to solve this Taiwan issue. This is not right.
Why? Because China is a country with a fine history over 5,000
years or more. Its tradition has always stressed national unity.
Taiwan has always been part of China''s territory (except for a
brief period after the Sino-Japanese War, when it was taken by
However, after the Second World War, Taiwan was returned to
China. What happened after that was due to the civil war within
China. As I mentioned...the 1.3 billion Chinese people want
unification, and the majority of people in Taiwan also want
unification. They support "one country, two systems." Under
these circumstances, I don''t understand why there are people in
the United States who think that Taiwan should be separated
from China. This is what I cannot understand.
David Lampton...director of China studies at Johns Hopkins.
Q: Doesn''t China face potential for incredible instability?
Lampton: If you look at all of the factors of instability in China,
you can get very alarmed very soon. And, indeed, China''s
leaders are very alarmed. In fact, they justify some of their
repressive political measures precisely because of what they call
"the factors of instability." Those factors of instability include a
financial and banking system that is basically bankrupt - the bad
loans out are greater than the real net reserves of the banking
They face literally perhaps between 80 million to 100-plus
million people that are moving from the countryside on a kind of
temporary contract labor into the Chinese cities. They are afraid
of large numbers of urban unemployed that are getting put out of
business and non-competitive state enterprises. So they''ve got
urban unemployed, rural unemployed coming into the cities,
unsound financial system, and general resentment against a
regime that has, in the past, grotesquely mismanaged things.
So the sources of discontent in China are great, but Americans, it
seems to me, make a mistake in one regard. There are also some
things that tend to work towards the regime being able to exert
some control over all this. The first thing is that the Chinese
people have been through a lot in the years since 1949, including
a famine where 20 million to 30 million people died in the early
1960s; a cultural revolution that went on into a decade, and the
national suicide rate of China went up in that period. Nobody in
China wants that kind of chaos again, so there is a kind of
constituency for law and order.
At the same time, many people are unhappy with the regime.
(But) the other big thing the Chinese government has going for it
is, while there are many poor people in China, and great
inequalities - maybe mounting inequalities in China - never in
the history of the world have so many people been lifted from
poverty so rapidly...So the achievements are huge. The
problems are huge.
Q: How dangerous is the Taiwan issue?
Lampton: Prior to the World Trade Center bombing and its
aftermath, if you look around the world today and asked where in
the world could two major nuclear powers come into conflict, I
would have said that the only probable place - and it is probably
still the only probable place - where two big nuclear powers
could come into conflict would be the Taiwan Strait.
In effect, the prevention of Taiwan going independent is
absolutely critical to the legitimacy of the Chinese communist
regime. Chinese leaders believe that, if they were to let Taiwan
go independent and not respond, they would probably be
overthrown by their own nationalistic people. Therefore, I think
they would be willing to engage in what we might call "self-
defeating military adventures" in order to prevent that result,
even if they knew they were going to lose.
So in my view, the key problem for the United States is how to
deter the PRC (mainland China) from using force against
Taiwan. We have to be very clear about that, because I think the
United States would intervene if force were used under most
circumstances I can imagine. But on the other hand, we have to
deter Taiwan from engaging in such risky behavior that they
precipitate an attack that will be destabilizing to Asia, destroy the
Taiwan economy and drag the United States into a regional
Q: And what would provoke this - China?
Lampton: They have a list of things that would provoke it, but
basically, certainly a...declaration of independence would be one
of those things.
Q: That would mean war?
Lampton: I would think it would probably mean war. It would
certainly mean some form of military conflict or economic
embargo or an attempt by the PRC to destabilize Taiwan''s
economy. But let''s put it this way: It would mean a substantial
escalation of conflict...the inevitable result of that. If China, if
Taiwan, were to be known to be acquiring nuclear weapons, this
might elicit a response as well. If Taiwan was to provide bases
for U.S. military, that might. In the end, of course, China still
has a relatively weak military. And I don''t think I know
anybody who believes China could invade Taiwan successfully,
almost even if the U.S. didn''t intervene.
Taiwan''s military is not trivial. But the point is that we have to,
on the one hand, deter Chinese inclinations to use force, and on
the other hand, deter Taiwan from engaging in provocative
behavior that could be bad for everybody - including Taiwan.
U.S. Senator Fred Thompson
Q: How important is the Taiwan Strait? How dangerous is that
Thompson: It is potentially very dangerous. One of the things
that I picked up...in August when we were in China is the
constant theme from them that "This is important to us. Taiwan
is important to us. We don''t want to wait forever. We want
unification." And it''s difficult for the average American to
understand why something like that could be so important and
why a little small place like Taiwan would be so important to the
PRC. But the fact of the matter is, it is true, it is real, it is very
important, and therefore very dangerous.
So our policy there has to be sophisticated and very courageous.
I''m glad that we''ve got people like George Bush and Colin
Powell and Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and people like that on
the job, quite frankly, because I think that our relationship with
China over the next few decades is probably the single most
important issue facing our country.
Q: Why is that?
Thompson: Because of the potential difficulties that we might
have, because of the potential threats, misunderstandings and
conflict that we have there...right now, they pose the greatest
potential. Hopefully, we can build bridges, but we also have to
draw lines. And when we draw lines in the sand with regard to
certain basic things that are vital to our interests and to the
interests of democracy and our friends around the world, we have
to be willing to back that up. If you''re willing to back it up,
there is potential danger; there is potential conflict.
*[On a totally different matter...]
Q: Did China really steal some nuclear secrets?
Thompson: My opinion, yes. I didn''t see them, but, yes, I''m
convinced that they did.
Q: How serious?
Thompson: Very serious. Some of our most important...secrets
in terms of warheads and design and things of that nature.
Again, that business...it''s probably not a matter of keeping the
genie in the bottle. It''s a matter of when. I think by what they
were able to do, they speeded up their process and their abilities
and capabilities several years.
Well, there you have it. Something to mull over during the
Hott Spotts will return on Thursday, January 3.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.