Posts tagged: World War II

The NY Times Overreacts to U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan

By , February 2, 2010

In yesterday’s New York Times, Helene Cooper argued that the Obama Administration’s recent announcement of over $6 billion in arms sales to Taiwan shows a “new toughness” toward Beijing and perhaps even a “fundamentally new direction” in the Administration’s China policy.  But, by focusing on the arms sales, Ms. Cooper overemphasizes the event.  U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are far from novel or tough, and some may argue, periodically required under U.S. law.

Similarly, Beijing’s angry reaction was predictable.  In fact, for each prior Administration’s arms sales to Taiwan, the Chinese government has responded in much the same way: postponement of military-to-military meetings, issue formal protests with U.S. officials, and saber-rattling for the domestic consumption.  However, Beijing’s recent threat of sanctions against U.S. companies involved with the arms sales is new and serious.  But this is more a reflection of China’s growing confidence and less a reflection of a changed or “tough” U.S. policy toward China.

Why Does China Care so Much about Taiwan?  Isn’t it a Separate Country?

Nope, scrap that vision from your mind.  Taiwan is not a separate country, at least not in the eyes of the Chinese, Taiwanese or U.S. governments.   The People’s Republic of China (a.k.a. the mainland) views Taiwan (a.k.a. “The Republic of China”) as a renegade province and any relations between Taiwan and other countries is viewed as interference in the mainland’s domestic affairs.  While Taiwan has largely developed as an independent society, it agrees with the mainland’s assessment that there is only “one China.”  The Taiwanese government has never called for independence and the Kuo Min Tang party (pronounced Gwo min-dang and a.k.a. “the Nationalists” or KMT), which has ruled Taiwan for most of Taiwan’s separate existence, also espouses the view of “one China” and that eventually, the mainland and Taiwan will reunite.  The difference is who rules this reunited China.  For Taiwan, it’s the KMT; for the mainland, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

All of this stems from World War II.  After the War ended in 1945, the KMT and the CCP resumed their civil war, a civil war that was put on hold to fight the Japanese invasion from 1937 to 1945.  By 1949, the CCP’s victory was certain and the KMT government fled to the province of Taiwan to continue the Republic of China.

China DailyThus began the baffling existence of two Chinas – the communist People’s Republic of China on the mainland and the KMT’s Republic of China on Taiwan.  Each China claimed that it was the “official” and “rightful” China and the other a mere province; each forced the international community to recognize only one China – either China on the mainland or China on Taiwan – hence the birth of the “one China” policy.

The U.S. continued to ally itself with the KMT and the Republic of China, recognizing Taiwan as the official China and all but denying the existence of the mainland.  But starting in 1972, with President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to the mainland, relations between the U.S. and the PRC began to improve and in 1979, the U.S. switched recognition of China from Taiwan to the mainland.

Obama’s Arms Sales to Taiwan Is Par for the Course in U.S.-China Relations

The Obama Administration’s recent announcement of arms sales to Taiwan follows a long line of arms sales by the U.S.  Almost every president since 1978 has sold arms to Taiwan.  In fact, the U.S., under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), is required to sell defensive arms to Taiwan.  In 1979, after changing recognition to mainland China, the U.S. did not want to leave its former ally completely open to attack or takeover.  As a result, Congress passed the TRA.

The TRA authorizes quasi-diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.  For example, instead of having an official embassy on Taiwan, the TRA allows for the “American Institute in Taiwan.”  Additionally, and more importantly, the TRA established the U.S.’ responsibility toward Taiwan if it is threatened.  At issue here is the TRA’s requirement that the U.S. periodically sell defensive arms to Taiwan.

In announcing arms sales to Taiwan, the Obama Administration is merely following its obligations under the TRA.  green peopleAdditionally, the Obama Administration has not acquiesced to Taiwan’s request for F-16s.  During the George W. Bush Administration, Taiwan repeatedly requested the purchase of F-16s.  Similarly, Taiwan put out feelers with the Obama Administration to see if there was a possibility that they could purchase F-16s.  Again, Taiwan was told not to put in a formal request for F-16s.

The F-16s are a big issue since they are not “defensive” arms; Beijing would very much view a sale of F-16s to Taiwan as going a bit too far.  But Obama’s package to Taiwan merely includes the usual: Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, mine-hunting ships and information technology.

If the Obama Administration wanted to use the Taiwan arms sales requirement to “toughen” its stance to Beijing as the New York Times claims it has, the Administration would have acquiesced to Taiwan’s request for F-16s.  Instead, it merely sold similar arms to Taiwan that President George W. Bush sold in 2008.

This is not to say that the Obama Administration does not have a strong China policy.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent policy speech on internet freedom was a robust critique of countries like China that censor their internet and partake in cyberhacking.  This follows President Obama’s strong and public criticism of internet censorship while in China this past November.  The New York Times would have done better to focus its argument on the Administration’s novel and forceful rhetoric on internet freedom vis-à-vis China.

The Future of Japanese-Chinese Relations under Japan’s New Government: An Expert Weighs In

By , October 5, 2009

Originally posted on The China Beat.

Japan's New Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama

Japan's New Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama

The United States was not the only country that voted for change this past year.  On August 30, 2009, after fifty-four years of essentially one-party rule, the Japanese people voted overwhelmingly to usher in a completely new government and a new way of thinking.  The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which ruled Japan since 1955, was completely rejected.  Obtaining only 119 out of 480 seats of the House of Representatives (the lower Diet), the LDP took a second seat to the younger and fresher Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).  The DPJ won 308 seats in the House, ensuring that their leader, Yukio Hatoyama, would become Prime Minister.

The DPJ’s victory guarantees that much change will come to Japan.  Already in the first few weeks of Prime Minister Hatoyama’s tenure, he has called for the complete transformation of the traditional government-bureaucracy relationship, the need to rework Japan’s economic recovery plan, and has called for a review of U.S. troops in stationed in Japan.

But little has been made of the impact of Japan’s new government on its relation with its large and imposing neighbor to the west:  China.  Will the Hatoyama government seek to work with China or further alienate it China by continuing

Prof. Gerald Curtis, Columbia University

Prof. Gerald Curtis, Columbia University

to glorify Japan’s World War II past?  Is Japan’s goal to look more inward to Asia at expense of its relationship with the U.S.?  To answer these questions, I spoke with Gerald Curtis, a Columbia University political science professor and preeminent expert on Japanese politics, government and society.   In analyzing the future of Japanese-Chinese relations, Prof. Curtis left me with another word that has been used frequently in recent elections:  hope.

Transcript of Interview with Prof. Gerald Curtis

To Listen to the Interview, Click Here

EL: My first question is: how do you envision the China-Japanese relationship changing with the change of government in Japan?

GC: Well, I think it’s going to get better.  It’s already gotten better in the last few years, but it will get better.  One reason being Hatoyama’s view on the so-called history issue, on Japan’s responsibility for its behavior during the War and the years leading up to the War, is very heart felt and the Chinese will appreciate his view on the history issue.  Unlike some of the LDP leaders who apologized but didn’t really mean it, Hatoyama believes Japan was behaving very badly and will say so.  So I think that will be very good.  Also, he wants to see a stronger relationship with China.  He’s not going to go to the Yakasuni shrine which has been a source of difficulty.  He wants to create an alternative site in which foreign leaders can go, as well as Japanese leaders, to pay respects to all those who died in the War regardless of nationality.  He wants to encourage greater cooperation on issues like environmental, pollution control and so on, which the Chinese desperately need.  And I think he understands well that improving relations with China doesn’t come at the expense of relations with the U.S.  The U.S. wants to improve relations with China, so does Japan, but the U.S. and Japan together can do a lot in dealing with China and some of the problems it faces.  So I think the relationship is likely to get better.

EL: And another question is, in regards to his [Hatoyama’s] request to the [U.S.] military bases to close, my understanding is that Japan has been open to having a U.S. military presence in Asia in order to protect it against any problems with China or if China happens to invade Taiwan or become more bellicose toward Taiwan because that would adversely impact shipments to Japan.  What will Japan do, or does it no longer fear a military threat from China?

GC: Hatoyama has not suggested that the U.S. military presence in Japan should be abolished.  They think that some of, the extent of the presence in Okinawa is unsustainable, that there are simply too many bases in too many congested urban areas in Okinawa with no ostensible reason for there being there in terms of the threats that either Japan or the United States faces.  So they want to see some adjustments made but I think the government understands that this military alliance with Japan is critical for Japanese security and that to have a military alliance you have to provide some facilities but maybe not as much as currently exists.  So that is what the negotiation will be about.  It’s not about eliminating the U.S. military presence.

EL: And one more follow-up question.  Has Prime Minister Hatoyama made any direct overtures yet to the Chinese government, as far as you know?

GC: Yes, he met with Hu Jintao yesterday [Sept. 22, 2009] in New York and that was there first face to face and I believe he is going to visit Beijing in October for an extended discussion with the Chinese leadership.  But he has already taken the initial step with this bilateral here in New York City.

EL: One last question, one last question.  In regards to the ability, because there has been some issues, the Chinese-Japanese relationship has become more of a politically sensitive relationship in both countries, in China as well as in Japan, especially when the Japanese people saw the response of the Chinese people protesting against Japan.  Do you think that his [Hatoyama’s] making overtures with the Chinese will have a negative impact on his popularity in Japan?

GC: No, not at all.  Nobody wants a fight or a lot of tension with China.  I think his way he deals with China will be welcomed in Japan.  Hu Jintao in the meeting with Hatoyama yesterday was talking about the need for more cultural exchange and the need to educate both their publics about the importance of the relationship.  That came from the Chinese side, that’s really very important.  Neither country wants trouble with the other.  China doesn’t want trouble with anyone right now, they have to concentrate on their economic development, they don’t need any fights with neighbors and with Japan in particular.  So I think there’s the, sentiment is to try to move this relationship forward in a positive way.  I think they have a good shot at it.

EL: Ok.  Thank you very much, I very much appreciate it.

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