January 1, 2006


Taiwan warns of China 'threats' (Caroline Gluck, 1/01/06, BBC News)

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has warned of growing economic and military threats from China.

In his New Year address the president vowed to strengthen Taiwan's security.

In comments bound to anger China, he also suggested that the Taiwan could hold a referendum in 2007 to establish a new constitution.

This is a move that Beijing has strongly warned against, fearing that it could lead to Taiwan declaring formal independence.

Just as 2005 was the year the Sunni were forced to realize they're a minority in Iraq, let this be the year the PRC is forced to recognize that China will devolve into several states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 1, 2006 9:17 AM

Why not just give the bomb and the means to deliver it and be done with it.

Tell them we'll take back the bombs when they squash N Korea, and then renege after they do.

Posted by: Bruno at January 1, 2006 10:37 AM

Heck, I'd settle for it being the year that everyone in the US recognizes that!

Posted by: Kirk Parker at January 1, 2006 2:33 PM

I'm still struggling to see the fault lines in China except for in a few sparsely populated areas. Ethnically speaking, China is almost as pure as Japan. If you strip away Taiwan, Uighurstan, and Tibet, you've eliminated quite a few square miles, but almost none of the population and only one economically significant "province". On what basis, therefore, do you predict a devolution into smaller states?

Posted by: HT at January 1, 2006 3:35 PM

You've already created 4 Chinas right off the bat.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 4:05 PM

Yes, two with perhaps 20 million people (Taiwan and Tibet), one with 10 million ("Uighurstan"), and one with 1.27 billion. The point is, the one that's left is geographically contiguous, ethnically homogenous, and has a 2 thousand year history as a single political entity.

Please also understand that I'm not an apologist for Beijing. I'm actually not very fond of China, even though (or perhaps because) I've studied its history extensively. I just don't see them conveniently blowing apart in time to avoid inconveniencing us, and believe we need to keep our powder dry to head off potential conflict.

Posted by: HT at January 1, 2006 5:42 PM

The North was geographically contiguous and culturally homogeneous and the South didn't have especially many people, yet we tore ourselves to pieces over the notion of going our separate ways.

The PRC is a fiction and its devolution inevitable, yet they're totally unprepared for it.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 6:30 PM

A great deal of talk about Chinese unity and Chinese reunification is taking place in an intellectual vaccum, where ideological propoganda is being used, whether intentionally or not, in place of facts.

I suggest we look at the history of political unity and disunity in the historical territories inhabited by Chinese. Let me also apologize for the length of this post.

Between 770 B.C. and 221 B.C., the Warring States and Spring and Autumn periods, what is now called China was divided among many kingdoms. This was a total of 549 years of disunity.

Between 221 B.C. and 220 A.D., China was ruled first by the Qin and then by the Han dynasties. This was 441 years of unity.

From 220 A.D. to 581 A.D., China broke up into warlord regimes and regional dynasties. This was a total of 361 years of disunity.

From 581 A.D. to 907 A.D., China was united under the Sui and Tang dynasties. This made up 326 years of unity.

Between 907 A.D. and 960 A.D., Chinese-occupied lands were parcelled up among what are now called the Five Kingdoms and Ten Dynasties. This was a total of 53 years of disunity.

From 960 A.D. to 1127 A.D., the Song dynasty conquered and ruled all Chinese territories. This was 167 years of unity.

Between 1127 A.D. and 1279 A.D., North China was lost by the Song and dominated by the ethnically non-Chinese Liao and Jin dynasties. This was 152 years of disunity.

From 1279 A.D. to 1368 A.D., all of China was conquered by the Mongols, and should be considered a period of 89 years neither of Chinese unity or disunity, but rather of occupation by an ethnically and culturally non-Chinese regime that was eventually driven out.

Between 1368 A.D. and 1911 A.D., China was ruled by the Ming and then by the Qing. This was 543 years of unity.

From 1911 A.D. to 2005 A.D., Chinese-occupied territories have been divided up among warlords, the Communists, and the Nationalists. This makes up 94 years of disunity.

Out of 2,775 years from 770 B.C. to today, Chinese lands were ruled for 89 years (3%) by a non-Chinese power, united under one regime or another for 1,477 years (53%), and disunited for 1,209 years (44%).

So the historical record hardly proves that it is inevitable all Chinese-inhabited lands must be governed by a single political authority.

Moreover, the above simple summary actually overstates the total years of Chinese unity. During the last years of the Tang dynasty, a number of powerful provincial governors ran de facto independent states. In the first 30-odd years of the Qing, the newly ascendant Manchu regime had to destroy powerful regional Chinese warlords before it was able to enjoy undisputed control of all Chinese-occupied lands.

Some will argue that since the Ming dynasty - 1367 A.D. to now - China has been united for many more years (543 years) than it has been divided (94 years). But this assumes that history ended in 2005 A.D. The current period of disunity, which began in 1911 A.D., could continue indefinitely. After all, the 441 years of unity under the Han dynasty were followed by 361 years of disunity after the Han emperors had been overthrown.

In other words, the myth of Chinese political unity is exactly that: a myth. If the Communist regime takes Taiwan, it will have reunited China. But the historical record doesn't prove that this is inevitable at all. Neither does it prove that the mainland Chinese territories themselves are destined to remain under the rule of one government.

Posted by: X at January 1, 2006 9:04 PM

The PRC, although a crummy government, is the legitimate successor to the Kuomintang which in turn succeeded the Ch'ing Dynasty (sorry, I vastly prefer Wade-Giles to Pinyin) which in turn deposed the Ming. All were very different, yet all have ruled essentially the same core territories for the last 650 years. Other dynasties carry the tradition back another 1500 years beyond that.

It may well be that the PRC will lose the "mandate of heaven" and be deposed by a successor regime, but I doubt that will cause any change in the basic composition of China as a state. Even the transition period is likely to be short and relatively insignificant in the greater scheme of things. After all, China lost 60 million people and 10 years in the "Great Leap Forward", and just shrugged it off in the reign of the Emperor Deng.

The nicest thing about China in the "olden days" was that they were completely happy ignoring the outside world if the outside world would leave them alone. Unfortunately, that seems to be a Chinese trait that has not survived into modern times.

All of this, of course, is just me trying to argue against the massive demobilization of conventional forces that you seem to feel is justified at this juncture. We need the DDX, the JSF, the Raptor, and a couple more carrier battlegroups for good measure. The Chinese are arrogant, ruthless, xenophobic, and without conscience, but they aren't stupid. You want to keep the correlation of forces of China vs. the West on roughly the same basis as it was during the "reign" of the last Dowager Empress, and then they'll behave.

Posted by: HT at January 1, 2006 9:18 PM

X: an interesting thesis, but you are clearly manipulating the "unity" vs. "disunity" numbers to favor your argument. China has, since the rise of the Ming, been effectively unified. In fact, even during the YŁan dynasty (from around 1260) China was unified, which makes 745 years of unity. Characterizing China since 1911 as 94 years of disunity is hardly accurate. A few holdouts on Taiwan (and understand, I support their claim to independence) is scarcely a challenge to the mainland regime. The Nationalist vs. Communist battles were similarly not wars between separate independent states, but a contest over who would rule the single Chinese state, just as were the previous dynastic transition periods. I count those as unity, not disunity. China is thus much more likely to hang together than blow apart. To build a strategic posture on any other assumption else would be...imprudent.

Posted by: HT at January 1, 2006 9:34 PM

HT, I don't agree the relatively short period from the Ming to the Qing or even the People's Republic should be taken as evidence for the perpetual unity of Chinese-occupied territories.

The value of looking at East Asia's political history from a longer temporal perspective is that it shows that alongside the Chinese tradition of political unity, there is an equally powerful tradition of political disunity.

As to your point that China has been united since 1911, I must disagree. Up till 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT tried to, but were finally unable to control all of China's mainland territories. That was one reason Chiang's regime couldn't resist the Japanese invasion effectively Too many of the military forces and territories that were nominally his were actually controlled by regional and local warlords. It was only after Chiang'd fled to Taiwan that he was finally able to bring all military units under his regime's control. In addition, for decades, the KMT government fought an internal war with the Communists, who occupied territories that remained outside its control.

I must also disagree with your point about Taiwan being an insignificant holdout from united Chinese rule. There are many reasons why the Communist regime is making a great deal of noise over Taiwan. But among the most important is that now that it can no longer use Marxist-Leninism to legitimize its rule, the mainland regime feels it has to play the nationalist card. This means it has to try to unite all Chinese territories, which now also include Taiwan, under one political umbrella, or else risk losing its right to rule. "China," as it is being politically defined today, is indeed still disunited.

Rather than simply assume that it is inevitable for Chinese territories to be united under one regime, Americans and their government would be wiser to understand just when political unity in China is more likely, just when disunity is more likely, and just what is happening now.

On this, we must agree to disagree.

Posted by: X at January 1, 2006 9:58 PM

X: I agree that we must agree to disagree. But I would still argue in favor of assuming, for planning purposes, that China will remain (mostly) united and pose a conventional threat that needs to be opposed conventionally.

Posted by: HT at January 1, 2006 10:16 PM


As to China being ethnically homogenous, perhaps from a Western perspective. The more trivial the differences, the more vicious the battle over them.

Posted by: Mike Earl at January 1, 2006 10:22 PM


It's never getting Taiwan back and isn't likely to hold places like Tibet, Uighurstan, Homg Kong, etc. It's got problems of demographic decline and gender imbalance. It's got a rising Christian population and Falun Gong to deal with. It's got terrible wealth distribution problems and a rural/urban divide. It's run by a totalitarian/authoritarian party. It's surrounded by enemies. Etc., etc., etc.

It's a threat to itself, not to us, but we should certainly treat it as if it were a threat to us, just to collapse it quicker.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 11:19 PM

HT, yes, the right to be able to agree to disagree without adverse political repercussions is indeed one of the things I treasure most about America.

One last point about China's disunity since 1911. Apparently, you and I disagree about what "unity" and "disunity" mean. I assume Chinese unity to mean undisputed political rule by one government. Mine is not a cultural definition. It is political. If a government can't exercise effective political writ throughout all Chinese-occupied lands, it cannot claim to have united them.

In this practical sense, it is clear that since 1911, political unity hasn't existed in China, except at the most superficial level. Let's take the example of post-1911 Guangdong, which is my home province. In my father's early youth during the 20s and 30s, Guangdong was supposedly under the control of the KMT. But in reality, warlords ruled in Guangdong and at one point even planned to fight a shooting war for political dominance with Chiang Kai-shek after Chiang's government'd moved to Nanjing. Chiang's KMT regime was really only a regional government with its strongest roots in Chejiang and Jiangsu, which were admittedly two of China's richest provinces, while all the other areas of China were controlled by local strongmen or by the Communists. And this was true as much after the Sino-Japanese War as before it.

I would also say that relegating Taiwan to the status of a "holdout" reminds me a little of one of my conversations with the son of a very prominent American official when I was living in China during the 1980s. He said to me, "Hong Kong and Taiwan are unimportant. They're only part of the periphery. They aren't part of the real China. They aren't a part of China's core." He was wrong that they're unimportant.

After 1949, for better or worse, the Chinese political world came to include Taiwan, not in the sense that China and Taiwan will inevitably be reunited but in the sense that Taiwan is now part of the political dialogue among those who are culturally Chinese. For the past half century, Taiwan's citizens have succeeded in building a thriving capitalist economy and liberal democracy, and have only been able to do so because not all of the Chinese world in East Asia is united under one regime. This is not insignificant at all.

Just before Tiananmen in 1989, there was a lively discussion among mainland Chinese ouside China that China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and especially Taiwan might be able to form a loose Chinese commonwealth, but retain their separate political identities. In those heady days of the Beijing Spring, Taiwan's prosperity and freedom had definitely impressed many young Chinese thinkers that political rule of all Chinese by one government might not be the most important thing after all. Who knows whether this fresh thinking about Chinese unity and disunity will re-emerge among mainland Chinese in the coming years?

If it does, it won't be the first time in history that the so-called periphery has changed the political destiny of the core.

Posted by: X at January 1, 2006 11:29 PM

HT, my apologies. I forgot to address your assertion about the Yuan dynasty as being a period of Chinese unity.

Under the Yuan (1279 to 1368), China was ruled by a Mongol dynasty as part of a much greater Central Asian empire. China was "united" under the Mongol empire in the way that Polish territories were "united" under the old Russian empire. Of all the non-Chinese dynasties that ruled Chinese lands, the Mongol dynasy was the least culturally Sinicized.

Most Chinese do not consider this period of Mongol domination to be one of "unity." It is no accident that when the mainland Chinese made a lavish television serial about Genghis Khan's life up to just before his invasion of South China, Beijing only allowed the show to be broadcast some seven or eight years after it'd been produced. Even today, the second part of the serial, which was to depict the Khan's bloody invasion of Chinese lands ruled by the Song dynasty, has still to be produced and shown to Chinese audiences.

Posted by: X at January 2, 2006 1:05 AM

Interesting discussion. I think your knowledge of Chinese history is wonderful, but perhaps not as relevent in the future as economics. China will be divided because it is too big and too poor. It will not remain as it is. As modern and internationally respected markets open up, the Chinese will tend more and more toward western marketing practices. Some areas of China are more suitable for building up than others. She will move from an agrarian to an industrial to a service economy, not exactly as the west has, but in her own way. China will divide naturally along lines of economic power. Richer areas will want to preserve and improve, and will not seek to remain united with poorer areas that leech their strength.

By the time China has westernized, and her provinces are wanting to be independent, the rest of the world will be moving away from independence, and moving toward a global economy and global government, and China will still be behind. By the time China is ready for globalization, the rest of the world will be moving to luxurious space stations. Thus the Ming will inherit the earth.

Posted by: lee at January 2, 2006 1:35 AM

Lee, I agree.

There is nothing in what you say about economics that contradicts the idea China isn't pre-destined to be ruled as one country by a single government. But I would also say, as I've argued in many of my previous posts, that economic forces don't determine everything on their own either. That is the fallacy committed by Marxists and MBAs alike, and it would be safest to avoid making it.

Rather, it is the incredibly rich, complex, and often unpredictable interplay of economics with politics, ideas, and the free choices human beings make that will change the Chinese world.

Posted by: X at January 2, 2006 2:10 AM

X: I wonder if we are not disagreeing about semantics more than facts. For example, I agree with much of what you have written about certain periods in Chinese history. However, if there was a lot of local autonomy with no regime with a competing claim to the "Mandate of Heaven", I would still classify that as "unity", while you seem to regard it as a "competing states" situation. There are many periods in Chinese history where a weak Emperor would permit such circumstances to develop, but the concept of China as a single political entity always seemed to survive such turmoil.

I agree that the Five Kingdoms period, as well as the time between the collapse of the Northern Sung and the conquest of all China by the YŁan, would qualify as periods of official disunity, however. And the period before unification too of course, although that, almost by axiom, should be excluded from a running total of the unity or disunity of China.

I even agree that the post (or even pre) 1911 period was a complete mess. However, during that time there may have been warlords (and generals, and presidents, and chairmen...) who laid claim to authority, but they never did so in the form of a regional title. In other words, no one ever claimed to be "President of Guang-dong", or "Duke of Pei Chih-li." They were always trying to establish a claim to the rule of the whole Chinese polity, or as a powerful regional governor under the aegis of that polity. In fact, when Pei-ching was re-named Pei-p'ing in the 30's this was a statement regarding the continuing unity of China, as well as a dig at the current controllers of that city.

Because, since at least the 14th century, that's what everyone (in the core Chinese provinces)expects. So even if a few peripheral territories drop away, what you're left with will still be greater in territory than China in the period of the Northern Sung (which you yourself would classify as "unified"). And in current political terms will still have 1.27 billion people and most of the valuable real estate and industry. While Taiwan is a nifty and highly valuable area now, it isn't (or at least shouldn't be) a make-or-break milestone for the continuation of the centralized Han state.

Posted by: HT at January 2, 2006 2:15 AM

Isn't Taiwan like only 20% Chinese extraction? I mean, not even pure Chinese but with Chinese ancestors? The rest of her population is a combination of immigrant and native peoples. Seems not much there to really call Chinese. Aside from Chiang setting up there as the Republic of China, and our support of calling it that, what makes it Chinese? (That's a real question, not a protest.)

Posted by: lee at January 2, 2006 2:24 AM

HT, I myself tend to be more impressed by the reality rather than by the rhetoric of politial unity.

Look at the total and final breakup of the Western Roman Empire. Up till then, Western Europe had been united under Rome's rule for more than half a millenium. But by the 5th century, the partly-Romanized Gothic tribes were moving into what are now Spain, France, and Italy in the name of the Roman emperors and with the sincere intention of upholding the Roman order and the Roman way of life.

In theory, the Western Empire remained united under the Germanic kings who pledged their loyalty to the idea of Rome the Eternal City. In actuality, despite the later attempted reconquest of the West by the Eastern Roman Empire, the 5th and 6th centuries saw the irreversible political extinction of the Western Empire. In the end, the rhetoric of unity gave way to the reality of disunity. The old rhetorical loyalty to the idea of Eternal Rome gave way to entirely new political allegiances.

I don't think the Chinese are any more immune than other peoples are from disunity and, if enough time passes where disunity has become the norm, from also developing allegiances to new centers of political authority.

This process of shifting political allegiances is already happening in Taiwan. A government that once pretended to represent both Taiwan and the Chinese mainland is now acting purely as the government of Taiwan.

Keep in mind that except for a relatively small part of the native Taiwanese population, the majority of Taiwanese did believe in the idea of one China of which Taiwan was an inseparable part. Some Taiwanese of mainland birth or descent still swear allegiance to the idea. But today, most Taiwanese, whether they'd gone to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 or whether their ancestors'd moved to the island centuries before, give their political loyalty to Taiwan and its government.

This doesn't mean they necessarily want Taiwan's government to declare independence, because many of them believe it would be political suicide to do so in the face of threats from the regime on the mainland. What it does show is that under the right historical conditions, ethnic Chinese can and will abandon the rhetoric of unity for the reality of new political allegiances.

And if this can happen in Taiwan, why can't it happen on the Chinese mainland itself? That is one of the mainland regime's greatest nightmares, and is another reason Beijing is so scared of Taipei.

Although the various contenders for power from 1911 to 1949 all used the rhetoric of unity, who knows what might have happened if the reality had been a sustained and enduring political and military stalemate among the warlords, Communists, and the KMT? Over these past decades, would new political allegiances have emerged? Who knows? Certainly, the Chinese Communist regime itself, which has tried to impose a new unity on China, is fearfully obsessed with "splittism," "localism," and "independent kingdoms," all political codewords for disunity.

P.S. Lee, except for a few hundred thousand aborgines of Polynesian origin, all Taiwanese have ethnic Chinese roots. The only real difference among them is when their ancestors and families moved to the island from the Chinese mainland over the past few centuries.

Posted by: X at January 2, 2006 3:54 AM

" it is the incredibly rich, complex, and often unpredictable interplay of economics with politics, ideas, and the free choices human beings make that will change the Chinese world"

What a quotable sentence. It sounds like the final sound bite after a BBC 5-hour "History of China" or something way too huge to sum up in a sound bite. You must have some deep (or rich and complex) feelings about China. Of course, the sentence would also be true if you substituted almost any nation or culture for "Chinese", or for that matter, if you left it out altogether. If you don't mind, I think I'll share the sentence in some emails.

Posted by: lee at January 2, 2006 5:07 AM

Tibet is Tibetan, though the Chinese have sent in a ton of settlers to try to shift the demographics. The point though is that the PRC thinks of all these places as permanently part of "China". They aren't and the psychic break caused by losing them will be significant, starting with Taiwan.

Posted by: oj at January 2, 2006 8:49 AM


Correct as to the economic pressures forcing China to devolve, but obviously wrong about the rest of the world going the other way. The pressures are identical and favor smaller states so states will become smaller.

Posted by: oj at January 2, 2006 8:55 AM