Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chen Shui-bian has Taiwan Bamboozled

Many observers on both sides of the Taiwan Straits are worried that recent actions by Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian aims at misdirection, deploying one of 36 ancient Chinese strategies called “pointing east while attacking west.”

He has publicly avowed that he would not declare martial law in Taiwan and would never roll back the democratic process on the people of Taiwan. His critics fear that all his actions point to just the opposite.

Chen has repeatedly promised not to change the official name from Republic of China, not to declare independence, not to call a referendum that will change Taiwan’s status, and not to change the Constitution from the one-state doctrine.

But Chen has already removed the R.O.C. name from the passports, claimed de facto independence for Taiwan when such claims suited his purpose, and called referendum in past presidential elections that were repudiated by the voters. He has also obliterated public evidence of former president Chiang Kai-shek and rewritten the history of Taiwan.

Chen has been personally driving the referendum on whether Taiwan should apply for UN membership under the name of Taiwan. He wants to stage the referendum at the same time as the next presidential election in coming March.

The U.S. State Department has publicly and privately asked Chen to cease and desist because his actions will only raise tension across the Taiwan Straits. Chen insisted that he is merely following the will of the Taiwan people.

The opposition parties object to holding the referendum at the same time as the presidential election. Chen is persisting despite polls that predict resounding defeat for the referendum, because his objective is just to get enough votes cast--no matter for or against--to legitimize his referendum.

A frustrated Chen recently threatened to call martial law in order to have his way of holding the referendum. He publicly withdrew the threat the next day. It’s hard to know whether he tipped his hand prematurely or he was up to another misdirection ploy.

His latest gambit is to announce to the public of receiving repeated anonymous threats to harm himself, his wife and his family. To offset these alleged threats, he has called for heightened security about the presidential palace. In the meantime, his daughter apparently did not let the threats deter her from visiting Disneyland in Los Angeles.

Many in Taiwan, including the daughter of former president Lee Teng-hui, has asked Chen to stop creating more problems for people of Taiwan but to start solving some of the problems facing Taiwan. Taiwan is rife with speculation as to what Chen has up his sleeves.

Particularly worrying to people of Taiwan is that Chen has replaced all the senior generals in the armed forces with his appointees. His new minister of defense, Lee Tien-yu, admitted in his testimony before Taiwan’s parliament that he placed his loyalty to Chen ahead of loyalty to Taiwan’s constitution.

Chen’s threat is no idle bluff.

If Taiwan’s March election is held as scheduled, Chen would be out of the office by May 2008 and would face jail time for corruption charges. His claim of presidential immunity has protected him so far.

In his re-election bid in 2004, he was heading toward certain defeat by the reunited opposition when his belly was grazed by a mysterious assassin bullet on election eve. The military and police were put on alert. Most of them favored the opposition but could not go off duty to vote.

Chen with a bandage on his tummy squeaked through by the merest margins and took oath for office despite opposition charges of misconduct that were still pending in the courts.

He cannot run again and must think of another way to stay out of judicial trouble. Declaring martial law and canceling the next election would be one way out. Some in Taiwan even believe that Chen is capable of starting a military provocation with the mainland.

Unfortunately Washington has also been guilty of misdirection. On the one hand, State Department’s Thomas Christensen was the most recent spokesperson to ask Chen to abandon the referendum. On the other, the Bush Administration has recently announced sale of advanced ground to air missiles to Taiwan.

No wonder Chen has been assuming that the U.S. will come to his aid.

Considered the best of the 36 strategies, zou wei shang ji, which loosely translates into “getting the hell out when you can,” is also the best way out for Chen, the U.S., China and Taiwan.

Let the U.S. offer Chen, say, Los Angeles as the destination for exile in the manner former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos found refuge in Hawaii. The threat of military conflict across the straits would vanish and the rest of world can collectively exhale in relief.
Go to here, for review of Chen's earlier deception

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

High Stakes Drama Across Taiwan Straits, U.S. in Middle

Editor’s Note: Beijing’s recent refusal to let the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk into Hong Kong is a sign that all is not well in the Taiwan Straits. NAM contributor Dr. George Koo is an international business consultant. He has just returned from Beijing where he attended a Committee of 100 Conference, the first of its kind held on Mainland China. (First appeared in

BEIJING – If China were to engage in a military conflict with Taiwan, the United States best not interfere. This is the message China is sending to the United States in the recent drama on the high seas.

First, aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, with its crew and escorts of some 8,000 was abruptly informed that they would not be permitted to spend Thanksgiving in Hong Kong when the ship was within two days of arrival.

By the time Beijing rescinded the order 24 hours later, Kitty Hawk had already reversed course and headed back to Japan to the disappointment of family and friends gathered in Hong Kong in anticipation of reunions over America’s favorite holiday.

No satisfactory explanation has been offered. Both Beijing and Washington, D.C., have quietly downplayed the significance of this incident.

Some observers attributed denying entry to Hong Kong as a sign of Beijing’s weariness to endless American tantrums. Whether it’s the United States honoring the Dalai Lama, or the recent Congressional Commission report demonizing China for rampant espionage, or American media’s bashing of China over tainted products such as lead paint on toys, China is tired of being the go-to piƱata.

Others simply felt that the military and diplomatic sides of the Beijing hierarchy were not on the same page. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was holding naval exercise in South China Seas and did not want the Americans to get too close. They told Kitty Hawk to stay away without consulting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on possible collateral consequences.

Some also speculated that Beijing's refusal to permit the Kitty Hawk to enter Hong Kong had to do with the United States’ decision last month to sell Taiwan an upgrade to three sets of Patriot II ground-to-air missiles, for approximately $930 million.

All the suggested explanations contain some grains of truth. However, looking at the Kitty Hawk matter in a broader context, there is a lot more at stake.

Just a week after Kitty Hawk returned to Japan – having spent Thanksgiving on the high seas – a Chinese destroyer sailed into the Tokyo Bay amidst great fanfare. The Shenzhen was the first PLA navy ship ever to dock in Japan and both countries played this as a historic and inaugural event of closer Sino-Japanese military cooperation. This is perhaps China’s gambit: suggesting that neutrality over Taiwan is in Japan’s best interest.

The Kitty Hawk was also involved in a massive exercise on the Pacific a couple of months ago. To the surprise and consternation of the U.S. Navy, in the midst of the exercise, a Chinese submarine “popped” to the surface within torpedo-hailing distance of the aircraft carrier. Though surrounded by a flotilla of American navy ships, apparently none detected the presence of the submarine.

Was this another unintentional act? Hardly. China is sending a message to Washington: In the event of a military confrontation, the damage and cost will not be one-sided. The objective is to help the Pentagon more accurately assess the burden of adding Chinese engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So why send this message to Washington at this time? Because Beijing is becoming increasingly alarmed by Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian’s provocations – and frustrated by Washington’s apparent inability to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Prosecuting on serious corruption charges is awaiting Chen once his presidential immunity expires. One way to extend his immunity is to stay in office, which Chen can do if he declares martial law and cancels the presidential election scheduled for March 2008.

Chen may be able to justify declaring martial law on Taiwan by declaring independence and hoping to provoke military reaction from Beijing.

Since Taiwan has missiles that can reach coastal cities across the straits, many Mainland Chinese now wonder if Chen might just initiate military action himself.

Chen has publicly asserted that Beijing will not take military action against Taiwan before the Olympics in August. He also assumes that the United States will come to Taiwan’s rescue.

He is wrong on both counts, but is oblivious.

Beijing is sending Washington a clear signal that the cost for Kitty Hawk or any U.S. naval ship caught in the Taiwan Straits when a military confrontation occurs might be far higher than previously imagined.

The Bush administration needs to throw away strategic ambiguity and unequivocally tell Chen to behave.

Perhaps by offering him asylum in the United States a la the late Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines (i.e., take his ill-gotten gains and get out of Taiwan), a crisis can be averted. Otherwise, tension across the straits could reach an incendiary flash point before March next year.