Monday, April 25, 2005

War with China?

Last week's Best of Homespun includes a link to The Redhunter's piece on the possibility of war with China:
"In an earlier post called 'The Looming Threat', I wrote that China would likely attack Taiwan sometime 'before 2015'. In light of better information, I am revising my estimate to say that if there is a war it will occur sometime between 2008 and 2010.

I've changed my time estimate because of two factors; first, additional research has let me to conclude that the military 'window of opportunity' for the Chinese will start to close in 2008, and second I have given more thought to the meaning of the 2008 Olympic Games, which will be held in the Chinese capital of Beijing."
It's a well thought-out piece, so go and read it while we wait.

OK. Welcome back. We certainly agree that the possibility of a PRC attack on Taiwan should not be discounted, particularly if Peking believes the US would shrink from intervention for any reason. We must do all we can to make sure China is not tempted to attack Taiwan. Fortunately, last fall the Bush administration made a clear, unhedged statement of our committment to help defend Taiwan, while John Kerry urged a return to "ambiguity" in our policy. Lack of ambiguity should help assure we don't have to choose between abandoning a friend, Taiwan, and war with China.

There are a couple of other "straws in the wind" to consider. The US military is now revamping itself to fight guerilla/terrorist enemies, and China would be quite a different, more traditional enemy in war. We are also aiming to be able to fight in multiple, small scale conflicts at the same time. These trends could embolden China into aggression, if we appear weak or preoccupied. Fortunately, as The Redhunter discusses, need to cross the sea makes a direct invasion of Taiwan by China unlikely. So sea and air defenses are the key, and the US (and Taiwan) will have a technological edge for some time.

Domestic politics in China is the other wildcard. Market-oriented, freedom-based economic policies have created a dyanmic economy and rising expectations. There are expectations of increasing wealth, but inevitably the fruits of this growth are not and will not be distributed equally. Unequal results create friction even in the USA, let alone a country ruled by communist ideology for generations.

Economic freedom also feeds desires for more political freedom, desires that endanger the positions of those in control. If the political system also moves towards greater openness, the risk of a Chinese attack on Taiwan will decrease. In fact this path could lead to peaceful reunification further down the road. On the other hand, if the ruling elite feels endangered by calls for open politics, the risk of military aggression will be greater.

As a model for scrapping a communist system and moving to something that works, the Chinese approach has clearly been better than the Russian path. Taiwan itself is an example of an authoritarian government, which embraced economic freedom before political freedom. After a sustained period of strong economic gains, the political system also adapted to freedom. Let's hope that China will ultimately follow Taiwan's path to democratic pluralism.

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