Wednesday, May 04, 2005

GT! FLASH BACK: FLASH POINT CHINA?


Digging way back for this week's syndicated Globalize This! repeat...Last week's Beijing summit between Chinese President Hu Jintao of China and president Lien Chan of the other China's (ROC) KMT party gives hope to some of my earlier fears. However, at least one editorial observer in the region is describing the meeting as an entente. Certainly a landmark moment in cross-Strait relations, but not one to wipe away the fears and threats of military conflict.

Originally "aired" January 23, 2004:

Forget Iraq, China may be the biggest threat to U.S. national (and economic) security.



In 1949, ousted president of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek (affectionately known as 'Mr. Peanut'), led his Nationalist Party (KMT) dominated Republic of China government (ROC) and droves of capitalists and freedom loving Chinese to the island of Taiwan, some 70 miles southeast of the Chinese mainland. With the ascent of Communist China, the exiled KMT--previously viewed as corrupt and incompetent--took on great importance in the Cold War (remember the domino theory?) as 'Free China.' Mao Tsetung's People's Liberation Army was closing in fast on Taiwan, so U.S. President Harry Truman ordered the Seventh Fleet to the Straits of Taiwan, which made Mao think twice about trying to take the island by force.

Brief digression on Taiwan: After years of often brutal Japanese colonization (1895-1945), Taiwan's economy was about the size of that of the entire mainland at the time of the KMT's retreat. The Taiwanese were doing okay in the post-WWII years and were not too keen on playing host to the mainlanders exiled on their island (which is only about 250 miles long). Opposition to their arrival was easy for the KMT to handle. They slaughtered Taiwan's indigenous elites, paving the way for 25+ years of one-party rule with the tacit military and economic support of the U.S. government.

This standoff persists over the status of Taiwan persists to this day, and negotiating the diplomatic path between China and Taiwan is growing increasingly tenuous. Ever since, China has maintained, in the words of Chou En-Lai "the fact that Taiwan is part of China will remain unchanged forever." This is the 'One China Policy.' Despite Taiwan being a de facto independent nation, any disruption to the 'One China' as such smacks the mainland as akin to an attack on Fort Sumter.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger added another layer of complexity to this conundrum when, in 1972, as a ploy against the Soviet Union, they decided to stop recognizing Taiwan and to recognize the People's Republic of China instead, allowing the PRC to assume a whole host of powers at the United Nations Security Council, and other institutions throughout the international system.

Tensions between Taiwan and China rank probably just behind global tinder boxes like the 38th Parallel dividing Korea, the disputed Kashmir region of India and Pakistan, the West Bank, and anything coming between Rush Limbaugh and a fresh batch of Krispy Kremes. There have been a number of skirmishes over the years, but all out war has always been averted thanks to U.S. intervention and an unrelenting drive to sell Taiwan more arms than an NRA wet dream, thus elevating the cost of war for China.

But eventually, something has to give. And when it does, the United States will be caught smack in the middle of the increasingly important economic powerhouse of the PRC and our democratic ally (and another critical economy) in the ROC, not entirely unlike the bind in which Great Britain found itself when Germany decided to invade Poland back in 1939. And you know how that turned out.

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