Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, February 28, 2019

In a war between China and Taiwan, who would win? 

Taiwanese soldiers training in January for a possible invasion from China.
Click for larger image.

Don't get excited, I don't anticipate a war between China and Taiwan. But the question comes up every once in awhile, and the issue was raised again the beginning of January when Xi Jin-ping gave a speech reiterating China's claim to Taiwan. By the way, I use the terms "China" and "Taiwan" because it's simpler. But it is important to point out that both terms are technically inaccurate. "China" is inaccurate, because both China and Taiwan claim to be the "real" China. "Taiwan" is inaccurate, because there is no country in the world that calls itself "Taiwan." Taiwan is not the name of a country, it's the name of an island. The name of the country is "Republic of China." So the accurate way to talk about it would be "People's Republic of China" and "Republic of China." But that gets confusing, so most of the time you will hear people say, "China and Taiwan." It is important to note that both the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China claim all of China, but govern only part of it. The Republic of China claims all of China including Tibet and Mongolia (which was taken by the Soviet Union, and is now an independent republic), but only actually governs Taiwan. The People's Republic of China also claims all of China (although I think they have given up on Mongolia), but only actually governs the mainland. So understand that when I say "Taiwan" I mean the Republic of China, and when I say "China," I mean the People's Republic of China.

I don't want to go into detail on the history of this problem, because I have addressed that in a previous post, but just quickly, before and during World War II China was ruled by the KMT under Chiang Kai-shek. China was an ally of the United States in the fight against Japan, a conflict that temporarily overshadowed the ongoing civil war between the Guomindang (KMT) and the Communists. After World War II was over, the fight resumed, with the KMT being overwhelmed but never completely defeated by the Communists. In other words, technically, the civil war between the KMT and the Communists is still going on. The KMT under Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, and essentially set up a government in exile. The Communists were determined to invade Taiwan and finish off the KMT, thus becoming the undisputed ruler of China. Fortunately for the Communists, Truman hated the KMT. He felt they were corrupt and he did not want to get involved in any conflict between the two parties. In other words, he was strongly disinclined to "rescue" the Republic of China from the Communists. But unfortunately for the Communists, Kim Il-sung got the brainy idea to invade South Korea, thus starting the Korean War. Truman got cold feet and sent the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait, thus essentially putting the Chinese civil war into a stalemate that has lasted until this day.

Now, back to the present. As I said, Xi Jinping recently gave a speech where he advocated reunification, with the offer that Taiwan could have a "one country, two systems" arrangement.

The current leader of Taiwan (Tsai Ing-wen) rejected the offer. This has renewed criticisms of her and her "obstinate" approach, and also provoked negative comparisons of her with Ma Ying-jeou (leader of Taiwan before Tsai) and the party he represents. Tsai is from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), generally considered the party of the Taiwanese natives, and Ma represented the Guomindang (KMT), which has historically been the party for those who came from the mainland in 1949. But these comparisons are unfair and not entirely honest. It is true that the KMT supports the "one China" principle, but the one China they support is not one China under the Communist Party. Not at all. Supporting one China under the Communist Party would be tantamount to surrender. It would go against everything the KMT believes in. They want to see one China under the KMT. So in fact, both parties are equally opposed to one China under the Communist Party.

The other issue is the "one China, two systems" arrangement that China is proposing for Taiwan. Tsai is being criticized for rejecting it. Also unfair. The KMT also rejects, and has always rejected, the one country, two systems arrangement. Ma Ying-jeou's rejection of one China, two systems was clear and unambiguous:

If the system is good, then we believe it should be "One Country, One System." (from interview with Aljazeera)
Here is how he defines it:
Mutual non-recognition of each other's sovereignty.
Mutual non-denial of each other's right to govern.
So if the Guomindang (KMT) feels the same way about these issues as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), why does Beijing have a better relationship with the KMT? It seems that for Beijing, any kind of "one China" is better than no "one China." The KMT and the Communists fought a bloody war on the mainland. On April 12, 1927, Chiang Kai-shek began a purge of the Communists that ultimately resulted in the deaths of thousands of Communists. But the conflict between the Communists and the KMT was complicated by the Japanese invasion. Over time, the Communists gradually got the upper hand, and the KMT was forced to flee to Taiwan. In contrast, the DPP has never fought against the Communists, or taken a stand against them. They just want to be left alone on Taiwan--they have no interest in invading the mainland.

So here is the irony: The party that is committed to invading the mainland, totally defeating the PLA, wiping out the Communists, and taking control of the country, has a good relationship with Beijing. They send representatives to Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders, and several years ago, the KMT leader was awarded the Confucius Peace Prize.

But the party that has no interest in invading China, and just wants to live peacefully on the island, has a terrible relationship with China. Whenever the DPP is in power, China is constantly taking threatening actions and issuing warnings. It is as if China is saying, "We only love the ones who hate us."

But let's try to see this from Beijing's point of view. If China were to have good relations with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), they would be surrendering their claim to Taiwan, because the DPP has no interest in making Taiwan part of China--they are opposed to "one China" in any form. But if Beijing has a good relationship with the KMT, they don't have to give up anything. Since the KMT is committed to taking over China, China has no fear that they would declare independence, since that would be contrary to their ultimate aim, and also no fear that they would one day conquer China.

But there is a problem with Beijing's way of thinking: Being on good terms with the KMT still does not bring Taiwan back to China. Again, the KMT's "one China" and the Communist Party's "one China" are very different. Couldn't be more different. The KMT is not, and never will be in favor of one China under the Communist party. They are just as opposed to domination by the Communist Party as is the DPP. The KMT and the DPP are often portrayed as being different, but in fact, they are not, except in theoretical terms. Here's how it works:

Ulitmate long-term goal of Taiwan's two main parties:

DPP: Independence from China
KMT: Control of all of China

But does anyone really believe that the KMT has a chance to take over the mainland? Chiang Kai-shek never gave up that hope until the day he died. But he died in 1975. That's a long time ago. Officially, the KMT has never given it up. That's why Taiwan is still called the "Republic of China." But does anybody seriously believe today that Taiwan has a ghost of a chance of retaking the mainland? So if we can all agree that there is no possibility that the KMT will ever again govern all of China (unless China agrees to a multi-party system or something), then the KMT and the DPP are essentially the same with respect to their relationship with the mainland. Again, other than that theoretical difference, there is no daylight between them on that issue. Neither of them would ever consider being dominated by China.

But Beijing doesn't see it that way. They have convinced themselves that the KMT's belief in "one-China" means that they are easier to deal with. And it is this belief, rather than Tsai's (the current president) attitude that has produced the tension. She is protrayed as being obstinate and recalcitrant. Not fair. When she became president, she reached out to China. They rebuffed her, not the other way around. I suppose from Beijing's perspective, you could say that they rebuffed her because she rebuffed the one-China policy. That's fair as long as you let me point out that every KMT president has also rebuffed one-China under the Communist party. They only want one-China if China surrenders to the KMT and allows the KMT to govern all of China.

I should interject here that a big part of the current tension has to do with the difference between the current leaders and Chairman Mao. Whatever you think about Mao, he was a confident leader. He didn't worry much about Taiwan. The current tension around islands in the South China sea could not have happened during Mao's time. He was thoroughly Chinese--focused on the mainland. Here is a conversation about Taiwan between Mao and Kissinger (from On China - ISBN: 9781594202711 pg 307):
Mao: It's better for it to be in your hands. And if you were to send it back to me now, I would not want it, because it's not wantable. There are a huge bunch of counter-revolutionaries there. A hundred years hence, we will want it [gesturing with his hand], and we are going to fight for it.

Kissinger: Not a hundred years.

Mao: [Gesturing with his hand, counting] It is hard to say. Five years, ten, twently, a hundred years. It's hard to say. [Points toward the ceiling] And when I go to heaven to see God, I'll tell him it's better to have Taiwan under the care of the United States now.

Kissinger: He will be very astonished to hear that from the Chairman.

Mao: No, because God blesses you, not us. [waves his hands] because I am a militant warlord, also a communist. That's why he doesn't like me. [Pointing to the three Americans] He likes you and you and you.

Does this conversation from the Seventies indicate that Mao did not care about Taiwan? No, I don't think so. I believe it reflects two things about Mao's thinking. First of all, Mao was a realist. He saw that the thinking of Taiwan people was very different from the thinking of mainland people, so taking over Taiwan by force would change Taiwan, but it would also change China in ways that Mao did not want China to change. Second, Mao was a very confident leader. He was not in a hurry, because he was confident that when he was ready to take Taiwan, he would take it, and nobody would stop him. So he could afford to wait.

Modern Chinese leaders, in contrast, are much more insecure. China today seems burdened with an inferiority complex--forever needing to prove to the world, and even more to herself, that she is a major player on the world stage. Mao had no time for such antics. Building fake islands in the middle of the South China Sea would not appeal to him.

So where do we go from here? There are several possibilities, but let's talk about the impossibilities first, because if we can get them out of the way, the discussion about what is possible will not be burdened with unrealistic options. The following two things are impossible. They can never happen.

1. The KMT retaking the mainland by force and putting all of China (China + Taiwan) under its rule.

2. The Communist Party taking over the island of Taiwan and putting all of China (China + Taiwan) under its rule.

I'll take them one at a time.

The first impossibility we have already talked about. But I haven't mentioned yet that 70 percent of the people of Taiwan speak Taiwanese Hokkien. These people have never had any interest in taking over the mainland. But they do, of course, have an interest in defending their independence. They have not officially declared independence as a national act, but the individual leaders have. The current leader, of course. And Ma Ying-jeou before her said it very clearly. The only difference between him and Tsai is that she has declared independence from China, and while Ma declared independence as China. But again, practically speaking, those two are the same (since there is no possibility that Taiwan can ever take over the mainland and be the "real China"). Chen Shui-bian, of course, also declared that Taiwan was an independent country, and if I remember correctly, he even used the word "Taiwan" instead of Republic of China. I'm not sure about that part, but I seem to remember that. I don't specifically recall hearing Li Deng-hui proclaim Taiwan's independence, but he certainly believed in it. He was a member of the KMT, but he was a Taiwanese native, and was largely responsible for purging the KMT of old guard (as detailed in another previous post).

So in a defensive struggle, Taiwan would be completely unified. No one in Taiwan believes in "one-China" under the Communist party.

But in an offensive struggle it would be very different. Most of the people would be very opposed to trying to "retake" the mainland. That's before we even start talking about the logistics of it, which are obviously formidable. It's not going to happen.

Now let's talk about the second impossibility--that of China taking over Taiwan by force and bringing all of China under the rule of the Communist party. The following article addresses the logistics of such an effort:

Interesting article. I like it because it shows graphically the difference between China and Taiwan militarily. That's important. But remember, the difference between China and Taiwan militarily is nothing compared to the difference between the United States and North Korea, or between the United States and Vietnam, or between the United States and Iraq, or between the United States and Afghanistan. And the United States was not able to win any of those conflicts. Why? The reason is two-fold. First, it takes much more military force to attack than to defend. The second reason is that victory in conflict requires both military force and the will of the people to fight. The "human" side of war, if you will.

So let's take a look at the human side for a minute. If China attacked Taiwan, Taiwan would fight tooth and nail. Lots of people on both sides would die. I assume that the Americans would get involved to help Taiwan, but they wouldn't need to, as long as they were willing to supply Taiwan with the needed weapons of war. Believe me, when thousands of families throughout the countryside of China started getting their one and only son back in a body bag, there would be a revolt. Many people would be asking, "Why did my son have to die? Taiwan did not attack us. Why did we attack them? There is no reason for this. My son died for nothing." The common people would not support the war effort. Intellectuals in universities may support it, because their blood wouldn't be flowing in the streets. But the common people throughout the country would lose heart. Why? Because in order to have the people with you, you need a legitimate casus belli. It is very hard to be victorious without that, as the Americans have found in Iraq. Now, if Taiwan invaded China first, it might be different, at least for awhile. But if not, China would have no legitimate cause for action, either in the minds of the people, or in the eyes of the watching world. So an attack on Taiwan in these circumstances would be devastating for the current regime in China, both in terms of relationship with the other countries of the world, and in terms of relationship with China's own people. Most people in China are not Communists. But they do like stability. The current regime on the mainland has given them that. But if you take that away, the widespread support the current regime enjoys would disappear. Read history: a military attack that causes many people to die will never have the support of the masses unless you can convince them that you had to do it, and you had to do it now.

So with both of those impossibilities out of the way, where do we go from here? What is the wisest course of action? Can Taiwan and China ever be unified? Can they ever be one country? Yes, of course. But whatever happens, it must be something they both agree to. This is key. Neither side has either the power or the right to force its will on the other. Once we can accept this, they are many possibilities. But they will take time. Why? Because regardless of where you come down on this issue, China and Taiwan are very different. Mao understood this. And if it was true then, it is so much more true now. At the time Mao and Kissinger had that conversation, China and Taiwan had been separated for less than 25 years. Now it has been 70 years. So trying to join them today would be hugely problematic. But there are interesting changes going on in China that could produce a very different dynamic in years to come. For one thing, Christianity is growing very rapidly in China. In 20 years or so, China could be the largest Christian country in the world. In contrast, Taiwan, like America, seems to be moving toward secularism. When I was a child in Japan, no one would have believed that in 2019, China would be well on the way to becoming the largest Christian country in the world. for us in those days, China was like North Korea. Now we commonly say "China" and "Taiwan," but in those days, we often said, "Red China" or "Communist China," and "Free China," and the common expression during the Cold War was "I'd rather be dead then red." Never could we imagine China as a Christian country. Mind you, China is not Korea. Korea is 30% Christian. But Christianity is much more significant in the country of China than it was when the missionaries left after 1949. Christianity is growing. There is a spiritual hunger in China that is pretty impressive for someone like me who grew up in Japan. In Japan, there was great freedom for churches to operate as they wished. But there were no churches. I lived in towns of several hundred thousand people and one church. The countryside of Japan has not changed that much in all these years, but China has changed drastically. In Beijing today there might be 10 or 12 Three-Self Churches. but there are thousands of independent "family churches." I have never been to Taiwan, but data shows that when it comes to Christianity, Taiwan is much more like Japan than China, andChina is becoming more like Korea every day.

The other interesting thing about China is that, in contrast to America, the percentage of Evangelical Christians is very close to the percentage for all Christians. In China, if you are going to be a Christian, there is little reason to be anything but Evangelical. That may not seem important now, but you better believe the effect of that reality in 20 or 30 years will be astounding. If Taiwan were forced into China today, it would be perceived by everyone as a less free country swallowing a free country. But if Christianity continues to grow at the current rate, China will be a freer country than Taiwan in years to come.

I said all that to say that patience is to everyone's advantage. But let's talk about options. What can be done? What are the good options and the not so good?

First of all, "one country two systems" is clearly a non-starter. Why? Well, both political parties in Taiwan oppose it, as expressed recently by the great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek:

I get the distinct impression from reading this article, that among the younger generation of political leaders, there seems to be a "moving together" of the two perspectives (KMT and DPP). But especially with respect to one China, two systems, they seem to be unified. So why are the people of Taiwan so overwhelmingly opposed to one country, two systems?

Perhaps I can explain this by way of analogy:

Let's suppose that China and Japan were fighting a war. Then let's suppose that the common people begin to hear the rumor that China had surrendered to Japan. They rush to turn on the television or radio, or go to the Internet to see what is happening. Now, imagine that they turn on the radio or something, and hear the announcer trying to reassure the public: "Please don't worry. Japan has promised that we can have one country, two systems."

What do you think? Do you think most people in China would be happy about this? Do you think they would say, "Oh, good. Nothing will change. And it's good for China to be together with Japan. After all, we are all Asians, so we must be related somewhere back there."

No. no way. I think they would be horrified. And picture the scene: At every elementary school, at every middle school, at every university, students would gather around the flagpole and watch the flag of their country coming down for the last time. Why? Because you can have one country, two systems, but you can't have one country, two flags. With tears streaming down their faces, they would sing their national anthem for the last time as they watched the flag slowly beijing lowered so that it could be replaced by the flag of Japan. Then they would have to go back to their classrooms and learn the national anthem of Japan. Why? Because you can have one country, two systems, but you can't have one country, two national anthems. Right now as I am writing this, Beijing is pushing a law in Hong Kong that could put you in prison for three years if you show disrespect for the national anthem of China.

Remember, this analogy is just that, an analogy. It's not true, and it would not happen. Japan is a peaceful country now, and they would not do that kind of thing today. But I share this analogy to make the point that if something like that did happen, it would not be accepted. Nobody would say, "Oh, look! We have a bright new flag with a big red sun in the middle! Isn't it lovely?" Nobody would say that. And nobody would say, "Japan is so kind to allow us to have one country, two systems. We don't even have to learn Japanese. We just have to learn the Japanese national anthem, so we can be loyal to our new mother country." Nobody would feel that way. There would be widespread unrest. Probably war in the streets. The mass of people would not be politely singing the Japanese national anthem. They would be singing, "Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!" And they would be singing it with gusto.

Sometimes Chinese people puzzle themselves over why the Taiwanese do not like the "one country, two sytems" idea. But in fact, Chinese people themselves would never accept such a thing if it were imposed on them by another power.

In western culture, we have what is called the "Golden Rule:"

Do unto others as you would have them to unto you.
It comes from the Bible--from the words of Jesus. But Confucius said something very similar:
Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you.
Since we are talking about China, we will use the Confucian version. Chinese people should not force something on Taiwan that they would not want forced on them.

So you see, a free people will always resist one country, two systems. In the interview I mentioned earlier, the interviewer, Steve Chao, who is ethnic Chinese, but very North American in his thinking (he's from Canada), seemed to be consumed with the idea that Taiwan people are watching Hong Kong and they see how one country, two systems is going, and they don't like it, so they decided not to accept it for Taiwan. I suppose this may be true to a certain extent, but Mr. Chao doesn't seem to realize that the KMT has always opposed one China, two systems as a matter of principle, for reasons that have little or nothing to do with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a colony. Furthermore, there is a significant part of the government in Hong Kong (called the "pro-Beijing camp") that likes the one country, two systems idea. In other words, not everybody agrees that one country, two systems is not going well. I don't want to get sidetracked into talking about Hong Kong right now, because I plan to address that issue in a future post, but it's not the same, as Ma Ying-jeou articulates very effectively in the interview.

So what to do? I think there is a solution that can avoid the problems we have talked about. I don't know the Chinese name for it, but in America we use a Latin expression: status quo. It means "leave things the way they are for now."

What would be the advantage of this approach?

  • Nobody dies. There would be no war. Under the 1992 Consensus, each side is allowed to believe that they are the "real China." As long as Taiwan continues to maintain that, they cannot be invaded. Right now, China has many missiles pointed at Taiwan. Missiles are indiscriminate. They don't just kill soldiers. If just one of those missiles were fired at a city like Taipei, many innocent people could die. We don't want that. As Xi-Jinping said in his speech, "Chinese don't fight Chinese."
  • Trade across the Taiwan Strait would continue. This is very important for both sides of the strait.
  • Taiwanese businessmen could continue to work in China. I heard somewhere that there are a million Taiwanese businessmen in China. I don't have any idea if they number is really that high, but there are a lot of them. They bring a lot of expertise to China, and a lot of income to Taiwan.
  • Student exchanges could continue. Chinese students could continue to study in Taiwan, and Taiwanese students could continue to study in China. These exchanges are so important! They keep young people from both China and Taiwan communicating with each other. Chinese students tend to be openhearted and relational. I have never been to Taiwan, but if Taiwanese students are even half as openhearted as Chinese students, these student exchanges have huge possibilities. As communication continues, the people of China and Taiwan in the next generation would grow together more and more.
  • Travel. Tourism is good for both sides of the Taiwan Strait. And as more and more people travel both ways, I believe that understanding between them will increase. When I first came to China, it was very rare to find Chinese people who had been to Taiwan. That has really changed and needs to change more.
  • Discussions about this problem could continue peacefully. I believe these discussions are very important. I do believe Taiwan has a right to insist that discussions are not done under the threat of force. Nobody wants to negotiate with the cold steel of a gun barrel on his temple. But there should be negotiation and dialogue.
  • The Americans would stay out of it. Sometimes I hear people in China talking about how America wants to control the Taiwan situation for their own purposes. I believe that is a misunderstanding. The Americans actually don't care that much about what happens in Asia. But they are desperately afraid of a land war in Asia. This is partly because of their experience in Korea, but also because of their experience in Vietnam. They did not win either one of those conflicts. Korea was a standoff, but Vietnam was a bitter defeat, with the Americans literally escaping in helicopters from the roof of the embassy in Hanoi. So whenever China talks aggressively toward Taiwan, the Americans become very concerned and sell lots of weapons to Taiwan. But when China talks peacefully toward Taiwan, the Americans lose interest. They have so many other things to worry about.
  • Perhaps more important than anything else, the respect for Chinese people as a peaceful people would increase. When the people of the world hear talk of war between China and Taiwan, they begin to wonder if the Chinese, as a people, are peaceful, or addicted to violent conflict. The status quo would do much to put these fears to rest.

I realize that the status quo is not a permanent solution. But I think it is by far the best option for Taiwan's current circumstance. Patience is a virtue that will yield rich fruit in the relations between China and Taiwan, and among all Chinese people throughout the world, and also the relationship between Chinese people and the people of other nations. In the future, I want to brainstorm some more about what possible solutions may be available that might be more long-term, and less temporary than the status quo idea. For example, it is clearly impossible for Taiwan to take over the mainland. But what if China invited Taiwan to take over and change the name of China back to "Republic if China?" I don't want to go there right now, because that's just a wild idea that floated through my brain, and I haven't had time to process it yet. But all who love China (both China and Taiwan) must never give up trying to find a peaceful solution to this problem.


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