Category Archives: China-Taiwan

Two Gentleman Of China

WHEN XI JINPING and Ma Ying-jeou meet in a hotel in Singapore for 20 minutes on Saturday, the diplomatic sensitivities require both men to address each other plainly.

Neither man will formally acknowledge the other’s official title at what will be the first meeting between the presidents of China and Taiwan ever and the first between the leader of the Communist Party and the Kuomintang (KMT) since Mao Zedong, at Washington’s prompting, reluctantly met Chiang Kai-shek in 1945  to try to resolve the civil war they had been fighting for 20 years.

Were they to be speaking in English, they would address each other as Mr Xi and Mr Ma.

Their encounter will be a landmark occasion, but its significance lies in the fact that it is taking place at all, not in what might be said or achieved, which is likely little. There will be no agreements signed and no joint statement afterwards. Indeed, the two men will hold separate press conferences.

That said, the meeting is a bigger gamble for Xi than Ma as he is injecting himself into Taiwanese domestic politics. Ma has to step down next year after completing two terms as president during which he has pushed for closer ties across the Straits of Taiwan. Eric Chu, the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate in January 16’s election of his successor, is trailing the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, who is not trusted in Beijing.

The KMT dumped its original candidate, the unpopular Hung Hsiu-chu, barely three months ago in an effort to close the gap with Tsai and Xi will hope his meeting with Ma will boost Chu’s efforts.

The risk is that the opposite happens if Taiwanese voters, who handed the KMT a punishing defeat in last year’s local elections, perceive the meeting as an unwarranted meddling in domestic affairs.

Regardless of the electoral impacts, it looks to this Bystander’s eye that the closer integration of Taiwan and the mainland will slow whichever candidate wins the presidency. Tsai is campaigning to reverse Ma’s policy and Chu has said the even though he favours continuing to increase economic cooperation, he would pursue it incrementally and at a slower pace than Ma.

Every Chinese leader since Mao has wanted to reunify what Beijing regards as its renegade province with the mainland. With the hollowing of Taiwan’s economic base, its brain drain and ever diminishing diplomatic recognition around the world (although the crucial support and protection of the United States remains), doing nothing and saying less might be Xi’s better bet.

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Beijing Counts Its AIIB Blessings — And Reaches 46 So Far

THE ASIAN INFRASTRUCTURE Investment Bank (AIIB) is turning into the gift that just keeps on giving for Beijing. State media report that the China-instigated lending institution attracted 46 applications by the March 31 deadline for would-be founding members. The list includes the likes of Australia, the U.K. and a raft of other European nations who defied Washington’s desire that its allies have nothing to do with the AIIB.

It also includes Taiwan. Even this potentially awkward application for Beijing (and controversial one in Taipei) is being turned by Beijing to its advantage. “The AIIB is open and inclusive,” Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang is quoted as saying. “We welcome Taiwan to participate in the AIIB under an appropriate name.” (Taiwan belongs to the Asian Development Bank as Taipei, China.) Beijing’s magnanimity in accepting its “renegade province” pointedly makes the U.S. stance look even more mean-spirited.

It also opens the door to Hong Kong to join by the time the founders list is finalised on April 15. Members’ stakes seem set to be based on relative GDP. Hong Kong membership would provide Beijing with a conveniently captive wodge of votes to add to its own, and the AIIB with the city-state’s financial markets expertise.

The April 15 date might also provide time for the sole Asian holdout, Japan, to come on board, though June is the more likely date being mentioned in Tokyo. As for the U.S., the only position that would be worse than being left isolated over the AIIB would be to join now in what the rest of the world would inevitably regard as an embarrassing climb-down. Even Beijing would scarcely believe its good fortune should that happen.

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Beijing Happier Than It Says About U.S. Arms Sale To Taiwan

Beijing does not come away badly from Washington’s sale of $5.3 billion-worth of arms to Taipei. Washington backed off including in the deal 66 new F16 C/D fighter jets that Taipei wanted. Taiwan will only get upgrades to its aging F16 A/B fleet, but not the 66 new F16 C/Ds it had requested. That was the price the Obama administration had to pay for keeping relations with Beijing on an even keel. Given the PLA’s modernization, Beijing will be just fine with that. Nor will it be too concerned about the rest of the deal, which includes air-to-air missiles, guided bombs, radar and training.

For all its bluster, Beijing never really thought it could scupper the whole deal. Keeping the military technology gap between the PLA and Taiwan’s armed forces as wide as possible was always its realistic goal in this case. Tick the achieved box. Similarly, possible retaliation, such as suspending military exchanges, as happened in January 2010 after Washington authorized the sale of $6.4 billion-worth of arms to Taiwan, will be hollow threats as doing so would remove the incentive for Washington to show restraint in future sales.

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China’s Military Modernization On Track But Still A Way To Go

There isn’t anything eye-openingly new in the U.S. Defense Dept.’s latest annual report to the U.S. Congress assessing the state of China’s military. Like many others outside China, Pentagon planners remain nervous and uncertain about the geopolitical and military implications of the steady modernization of the People’s Liberation Army. Yet, their overwhelming, and, we hazard, accurate assessment is that the modernization of the PLA remains a work in progress, but one that is progressing to plan as China closes its military technology gap with the U.S., Russia and Japan. This passage sums it up:

Over the past decade, China’s military has benefitted from robust investment in modern hardware and technology. Many modern systems have reached maturity and others will become operational in the next few years. Following this period of ambitious acquisition, the decade from 2011 through 2020 will prove critical to the PLA as it attempts to integrate many new and complex platforms, and to adopt modern operational concepts, including joint operations and network-centric warfare.

Beijing set the PLA an objective of turning itself into a modern, regionally focused military by 2020. As the Pentagon’s report notes, it is pretty much on track. This year has seen two high profile milestones passed, the unveiling of a stealth aircraft, the J-20, in January and the sea trials of China’s first aircraft carrier earlier this month. But the Pentagon believes it will be the end of this decade before China is able to project even a modest scale of long-distance force, which it defines as several battalions of ground forces or a naval battle group of up to a dozen ships, in even low-intensity operations.

This evolution will lay the foundation for a force able to accomplish a broader set of regional and global objectives. However, it is unlikely that China will be able to project and sustain large forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China prior to 2020.

The key question is how effectively the PLA will meld its emerging platforms and capabilities, such as its growing number of ballistic missiles, into an effective fighting force. This will take time. Training and integration are a crucial task for the PLA high command in the coming years. It may be getting new toys, but its human capital is only now being upgraded. The PLA is poor at inter-service command cooperation and lacks experience in both joint exercises and operations, one reason that China is becoming more engaged in international humanitarian, disaster-relief and anti-piracy missions as well as undertaking more bi- and multilateral joint military exercises.

Recent reshuffles of the PLA’s top brass and new appointments are bringing about generational change among the military leadership, raising professional standards and accelerating the modernization of its command-and-control structures. The Central Military Commission named six new full generals and 20 new lieutenant-generals in July; all of the latter group are members of the so-called fifth-generation leadership. This generational change is also, incidentally,  increasing the predominance of princelings, the offspring of the first generation of Mao’s revolutionary leaders and generals. That may mean the PLA gets even stronger support from civilian leaders (and vice versa as President assumptive Xi Jinping is himself a princeling); princelings are now the largest bloc within the military leadership. The CMC itself is likely to have a radical overhaul next year when many of its senior officers will have reached the age limit at which they have to stand down. The incoming leadership will be the most competent, best educated and professional the PLA has ever had, as well as being largely formed as individuals and officers in a China that has only been in the ascendant.

Taiwan contingency planning has largely dominated the PLA’s agenda throughout its modernization. Many of the PLA’s most advanced systems are based in its military regions opposite the island.

Although the PLA is contending with a growing array of missions, Taiwan remains its main strategic direction…The PLA seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms. In pursuit of this objective, Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland’s favor.

China’s ability to sustain military power at a distance remains limited, if expanding, primarily through the PLA-Navy. A section of the report dealing with energy and security underlines the importance to China’s energy supply of securing sea lanes.

The report also flags up advances in China’s space and cyber operations, saying [Beijing] was “developing a multi-dimensional programme to improve its capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict”. More importantly, China’s military strategists emphasize the importance of gaining the upper hand in electronic warfare early in a  war as being one of the primary tasks to ensure battlefield success. The report notes:

PLA theorists have coined the term “integrated network electronic warfare (wangdian yitizhan 网电体战)’ to describe the use of electronic warfare, computer network operations, and kinetic strikes to disrupt battlefield information systems that support an adversary’s warfighting and power projection capabilities. PLA writings identify integrated network electronic warfare as one of the basic forms of integrated joint operations,” suggesting the centrality of seizing and dominating the electromagnetic spectrum in PLA campaign theory.

However, the report also notes that, “In the case of cyber and space weapons, however, there is little evidence that China’s military and civilian leaders have fully thought through the global and systemic effects that would be associated with the employment of these strategic capabilities.”

As a footnote, this Bystander’s eye was caught by this sentence in the report, “For over a decade PRC leaders have identified the so called ‘China threat theory’ as a serious hazard to the country’s international standing and reputation.” True to form and theory, Beijing has denounced it. “The report does not hold water as it severely distorted the facts,” said defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun.


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Taiwan’s 2012 Presidential Election May Test Beijing’s New Leaders

A timely reminder from Jacques de Lisle, the University of Pennsylvania law professor who directs the Asia program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Pennsylvania, that not only does China start the transition of its top leadership next year, but that Taiwan, too, will be holding a presidential election, as will the U.S. for that matter.

This three-legged electoral stool may, he suggests in a newly published interview with Knowledge@Wharton, provide an early test for Beijing’s new leaders.

At a moment of formal transition on the Mainland, which–for all the continuity–is a period of high tension when nobody wins points by being soft, and given what are pretty entrenched Chinese suspicions rooted in the pro-independence Chen Shui-bian era of what the [Democratic Progressive Party] in power means, there’s a real risk that China would react very badly to a DPP victory. That risk is particularly significant if it comes in the wake of Mainland-bashing or pro-independence electioneering in Taiwan, which is a real possibility.

Beyond Taiwan, deLisle also has thoughts on Hu Jintao’s legacy and the policy implications of what a princeling dominated new leadership might look like, and how the Youth League faction might balance its. All well worth the read.

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What Damage Does Taipei Spy Case Do To U.S.-Taiwan Military Cooperation?

The arrest of Taiwan’s Major-General Lo Hsien-che on charges of spying for Beijing pours cold water on the warming cross-Straits ties of the past couple of years. Lo was detained on January 27th on suspicion of passing on intelligence about U.S. arms sales and tactical military communications, according to the Ministry of National Defence in Taipei. Local media reports say that during raids on Lo’s home and office, investigators seized documents on the Po Sheng military communications system Taiwan is buying from U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, a proposed purchase of Apache helicopters from Boeing and and maps of the army’s underground fiber-optic cables.

China and Taiwan have long spied on each other but the 51-year-old Lo is the highest-ranking Taiwanese officer to be allegedly involved in espionage on Beijing’s behalf since the 1960s. He was reportedly recruited by China in 2004 while stationed in Thailand as a military attache and has been under suspicion of being a spy since last year. He was most recently head of the military command’s communications and information office. The question now is less what damage this will do to Beijing-Taipei relations than what damage it has done to U.S.-Taiwanese military intelligence cooperation, given the access Lo had to classified information about command, control and communications systems development.


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Double Agent Arrests in Taipei May Sour Cross-Strait Relations

In contrast to the current frosty state of relations between Beijing and Tokyo, those between Beijing and Taipei have been good, arguably their best ever. The arrests of a senior Taiwanese military intelligence officer and a Taiwanese businessman on charges of being double agents for China threatens to undermine that. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry says the arrest of the officer occurred on Monday after a four-year investigation. Colonel Lo Chi-cheng who was in charge at the bureau of building Taiwan’s spy network in China, is accused of having passed names of members of the network to Chinese authorities, according to local press reports. The businessman was named as Lo Pin, a Taiwanese spy run by Lo Chi-cheng and who was said to have been turned by China after being uncovered and arrested in Fujian in 2004. Lo Pin is reported to have in turn turned Lo Chi-cheng in 2007. One factor in the effect on cross-strait relations will be the extent of the damage done to Taipei’s espionage network.

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