October 1, 2004


Beijing ups the ante in war of words with Taipei (Jonathan Watts, October 1, 2004, The Guardian)

The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, has told the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war amid growing fears of a destabilising missile race across the Taiwan Strait.

Just days after rival leaders in Taipei threatened to target Shanghai to achieve a "balance of terror", Mr Hu used his first speech as commander in chief to demonstrate that he was as ready to use force as his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, to prevent the island from declaring independence.

"You must seize the moment and do a good job of preparing for a military struggle," the president told the 2.5 million strong PLA, according to comments carried in the People's Daily yesterday.

Although he did not mention the name of a likely enemy, no one doubted that he was referring to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province. Tensions between the two sides have hit a new pitch in recent days as Taiwanese leaders play up fears of a missile barrage to push through a controversial arms budget.

Taiwan's president, Chen Sui-bian, warned that the PLA had 610 missiles pointed at the island, up from 496 in December. With the number continuing to increase sharply, he forecast China would have 800 ballistic weapons in place by 2006 - enough for a sustained 10-hour barrage that could wipe out most of Taiwan's defences before its ally, the United States, could respond.

Strike first.

-Pre-emptive strike ability said necessary for Japan: A Defense Agency panel report says Japan needs the capability to launch a pre-emptive strike against a foreign target, such as a ballistic missile installation. (Japan Times, 10/02/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 1, 2004 7:52 PM

The Chinese will probably be told soon that if they do not lower the volume on this issue, the US will begin to publicly talk about a nuclear Taiwan. And a nuclear Japan. And mutual defense treaties, not just "understandings".

Actually, the other option the US has is to open a sudden dialogue with the Vietnamese. They are no friend of China, and a little bit of heat that close to Hong Kong and Guangzhou will get China's attention very quickly.

As for striking first - it would probably mean a sustained bombing & missile attack lasting weeks. And what happens then?

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 1, 2004 10:21 PM

This is a joke. The Taiwanese and Chicoms are just having a friendly saber-rattling contest.

The Chinese would ideally want Taiwan (and it's juicy economy) intact - and NOT a smoking hole in the ground. Also, even if China were able to inflict enormous losses on the Taiwanese military in some kind of "10-hour barrage", they would still need to somehow transport an occupation force of - say - 1 million troops across the strait. A million man swim, anyone?

I dunno, maybe some delusional general in Beijing thinks that the Taiwanese will come to their senses and happily re-join Mother China if they get nuked a few times. I hope nobody over there is that stupid - but barring that particular stupidity - the coming US-China war is a no-show.

Posted by: Karl at October 2, 2004 12:57 AM


The Chinese Communists have proven themselves to be just that stupid many, many times before, and there is no reason to think they will not be just as stupid in the future.

Posted by: X at October 2, 2004 1:26 AM

Taiwan is one of the PRC's major trading partners. It is only a matter of time before a peaceful Hong Kong-style reunification takes place. Maybe it will happen in our lifetime.

The PRC is not stupid. They do press the envelope from time to time but they are not suicidal. Any assault on Taiwan would have at most a dubious chance of military success as the PRC does not have a blue water navy. A nuclear attack on Taiwan would result in a nuclear response from the US and Taiwan, which if it doesn't have nukes now can slap them together in a short time. Any assault on Taiwan would result in a commercial freeze of the PRC from South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and of course the US.

Posted by: Bart at October 2, 2004 7:25 AM


The opposite is far more likely, the splitting up of China into several or even many states. Given the imperial tendencies of many in its government that reality could easily provoke stupidity.

Posted by: oj at October 2, 2004 7:47 AM

Everyone assumes the Chinese Communist Party is "rational," and so wouldn't do anything stupid. But this assumes the Party's leaders and the Chinese think the same way Westerners do, which is also assumed to be the very definition of "rationality." They don't. In many ways, with a loud nationalism stroked and encouraged by the Party, the Chinese have as much as contempt for what they believe is the decadent West and a declining America as the Islamic terrorists fighting us do. Many Chinese today have much of the same mentality that Germans did in Kaiser Wilhelm's Imperial Germany. That Germany had some of the most advanced industries in the world at the time. Its chemists were without peer. Its army was the standard by which every nation measured their own. German universities were among the finest in the world. But at the same time, the Germans bitterly resented being deprived of their "place in the sun," particularly in the face of a British empire that circled the globe, and indulged in paranoia about being encircled by enemy nations. And so these same "rational" Germans, who should have known better and whose economic interests should have told them otherwise, helped to precipitate the catastrophe that became known as the First World War. All this is well-known history. Why should the Chinese Communist Pary, with its long history of mindnumbingly stupid and bloody policies, be any smarter than those Germans of old? Economic determinism does not trump the ability of human beings, blinkered by a false ideology, to do the most stupid things.

Posted by: X at October 2, 2004 10:36 AM

There is unquestionably a centrifugal force in China and a return to warlordism is never far from the scene. However, the notion that the PRC, as an entity, would attack Taiwan is for all intents and purposes inconceivable.

Just imagine the conversations at the Chinese equivalent of the JCS. General A says 'Let's nuke Taiwan.' General B says 'My factories make million pairs of pants a day for Wal-Mart. I'm not gonna lose that.' General C says 'And my factories make a million polo shirts a day for Target and I'll turn you and your army into moo shu pork before I lose that.' etc.

Posted by: Bart at October 2, 2004 10:39 AM


That is unbelievably sloppy analysis.

Germany was being prevented from expanding its economy by Britain's denial of access to colonies. German trade was hemmed in by the British fleet. There was undoubtedly some loopiness among the German General Staff which enhanced their paranoia.

By contrast, the PRC is not limited in its trade at all. The people who run the trade are the people who run the PRC and the PLA. The generals are the guys who make the money from the trade. They are the guys with the fancy villas, cars, sex parties etc. that accompany great wealth in the Orient. The German military didn't make the bucks, the German business community did. The Germans were infected with a weird militarism that caused them to idolize the inbred Junkers. The Chinese admire their scholars and businessmen and have done so for millenia.

Mao is dead. Doing what the PRC has been doing appears to be working, although there are still mind-numbing problems in their society. The notion that they are going to chuck it all in order to engage in imperialistic adventurism, when patience will accomplish the same goal is insane.

Posted by: Bart at October 2, 2004 10:45 AM

Again, I would say that economic determinism doesn't trump human stupidity. I will point out again what the intellectual consensus was in pre-World War One Europe. Tariff barriers were coming down everywhere. International trade was booming. Whole nations were moving into the indusrial age. Peasants were leaving the soil, and entering the middle class by the tens of millions. No major war had been fought on the European continent for almost two generations. European intellectuals everyone were convinced that war was becoming obsolete, that economic logic dictated nations couldn't go to war because it just wouldn't be rational. Even if war came it would at most be a short affair. Then came 1914.

Posted by: X at October 2, 2004 10:48 AM


The most reliable historical analyses of trade in pre-World War One Europe was that the vast majority of trade was between and among the developed industrial nations. Except for the possible exception of India, the colonies were an economic liability. Lenin was wrong. Capitalism did not require imperialism.

Posted by: X at October 2, 2004 10:50 AM


By the way, I am a Chinese who has lived in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong as well as America. The Chinese are not as addicted to material wealth as you might think. They, too, have their fantasies about the superiority of their own culture and about how the West, particularly America, is holding them down.

Posted by: X at October 2, 2004 10:55 AM


And the war was a short affair.

Posted by: oj at October 2, 2004 11:40 AM


They look around and see an Empire they can't hold together--if they want it as much as you think then they'll fight.

Posted by: oj at October 2, 2004 11:44 AM

Well, I'm not Chinese, but I'd say these sorts of speeches are designed to intimidate the Taiwanese into surrendering without a whimper.

It often worked in the past. Hitler used it several times successfully.

One problem is that this sort of expansionist strategy is like a supercharger. The faster it goes, the faster it goes.

The logic tends to lead to a war that everybody either thought would never happen, or not yet.

Extremely dangerous.

I like X's treatment. I certainly do not think that a 'one China' policy makes any sense, nor does it match Chinese history, where division has been the usual state of affairs.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 2, 2004 3:08 PM