Posts Tagged ‘US Military’

The Hainan Island Incident, Ten Years Later

April 1, 2011
The US Navy EP-3 that landed on Hainan Island ...

Image via Wikipedia

Hard to believe, but today is the 10th anniversary of the 2001 incident in which a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft operating above the waters of the South China Sea was struck by a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) interceptor jet. The U.S. pilot, Shane Osborn (who has gone on to be a successful politician in Nebraska), managed to keep the crippled plane in the air while the crew members hastily tried to destroy as much of the payload as possible – classified equipment and materials related to the aircraft’s surveillance mission. Unfortunately, due to the in extremis situation, the crew was only able to partially complete this task before an emergency landing was made at an airfield on Hainan Island. The crew was taken into custody and the aircraft seized.

The PRC lost the jet pilot who ran into the EP-3, but in the long run they gained a lot more. Writing in the November 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh detailed the take:

The plane carried twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women attached to the Naval Security Group Command, a field component of the National Security Agency. They were repatriated after eleven days; the plane stayed behind. The Pentagon told the press that the crew had followed its protocol, which called for the use of a fire axe, and even hot coffee, to disable the plane’s equipment and software. These included an operating system created and controlled by the N.S.A., and the drivers needed to monitor encrypted Chinese radar, voice, and electronic communications. It was more than two years before the Navy acknowledged that things had not gone so well. “Compromise by the People’s Republic of China of undestroyed classified material . . . is highly probable and cannot be ruled out,” a Navy report issued in September, 2003, said.

The Navy’s experts didn’t believe that China was capable of reverse-engineering the plane’s N.S.A.-supplied operating system, estimated at between thirty and fifty million lines of computer code, according to a former senior intelligence official. Mastering it would give China a road map for decrypting the Navy’s classified intelligence and operational data. “If the operating system was controlling what you’d expect on an intelligence aircraft, it would have a bunch of drivers to capture radar and telemetry,” Whitfield Diffie, a pioneer in the field of encryption, said. “The plane was configured for what it wants to snoop, and the Chinese would want to know what we wanted to know about them—what we could intercept and they could not.” And over the next few years the U.S. intelligence community began to “read the tells” that China had access to sensitive traffic.

The U.S. realized the extent of its exposure only in late 2008. A few weeks after Barack Obama’s election, the Chinese began flooding a group of communications links known to be monitored by the N.S.A. with a barrage of intercepts, two Bush Administration national-security officials and the former senior intelligence official told me. The intercepts included details of planned American naval movements. The Chinese were apparently showing the U.S. their hand. (“The N.S.A. would ask, ‘Can the Chinese be that good?’ ” the former official told me. “My response was that they only invented gunpowder in the tenth century and built the bomb in 1965. I’d say, ‘Can you read Chinese?’ We don’t even know the Chinese pictograph for ‘Happy hour.’ ”)

This incident can be considered as the opening event in a series of clashes that have marked increased tensions between the U.S. and the PRC in the South China Sea. In the next instance of conflict between the two nations, in 2009 an unarmed U.S. ocean surveillance vessel manned by civilians ran into trouble in about the same area of the South China Sea. Chinese vessels harassed the ship and nearly rammed it, while at the same time attempting to snag its towed sonar array. Since then, direct U.S.-China confrontation has been supplanted by amplified pressure between China and other countries surrounding the South China Sea, many of whom have competing claims to land features and territories in the sea such as the Spratly Islands. These tensions came to a head at the 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum, where U.S. Secretary of State Clinton declared, as a counter to resurgent PRC claims of the South China Sea as a “core interest”, that the U.S. had “a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”

The final chapter in this dispute has yet to be written.

H/T Cheng-yi Lin

To read more about the Hainan Island Incident, see Shirley A. Kan, et al., China-U.S. Aircraft Collision Incident of April 2001: Assessments and Policy Implications, CRS Report to Congress, October 10, 2001.

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Conant to return to USPACOM

March 15, 2011

I just caught this news while trolling DoD news releases, even though it has been out on the street for almost a month. Major General Thomas L. Conant, USMC, currently Commanding General, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing in California, has been nominated to be the deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. combatant command for this neck of the woods. This is fantastic news, for General Conant has been at PACOM before (as the Director of Strategic Policy Planning [J5]) and is well-versed in the significant issues of the region. Plus, from a service point of view, it gives us (Marines) one more highly-placed general officer in the various regional and functional commands. (Last time I posted on this topic, we were taking the deputy spot at U.S. Cyber Command.)

“A disaster of absolutely historic proportions”

March 14, 2011

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard about the massive earthquake (they’re giving it a 9.0 magnitude now), then tsunami, now nuclear disaster of unclear proportions that struck Japan starting on Saturday, March 12. It seems almost like the “perfect storm” of calamities is unfolding –  a national security strategist’s worst nightmare. The most surreal part of it all is that it took place in the middle of the day and that people around the world were able to watch the destruction unfold live on television and online.

For its part, the U.S. Navy has kicked its deployments in the region into high gear in order to provide as much humanitarian assistance / disaster relief (HA/DR) as possible, as soon as possible. At least eight warships have been dispatched to the area to render assistance, with more to follow. And it’s not just the Navy pitching it – the Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, from Okinawa, Japan, are embarked on the USS Essex (LHD-2) and related ships of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and are also on the way after a brief stop in Malaysia. Already there has been a nuclear issue, with personnel from the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) being irradiated to an as yet-to-be-determined degree after the ship steamed through the nuclear fallout cloud emanating from the damaged nuclear reactor at Fukushima. Some people believe that the nuclear crisis we are witnessing in Japan will be the death knell of the resurgence of nuclear power in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Michael Turton over at The View From Taiwan muses about a similar disaster striking Taiwan. From what he says, it leaves one with the distinct suspicion that the regime that brought you the botched handling of Typhoon Morakot in 2009 would not be making the strong showing that the Naoto Kan government in Tokyo is (though he also emphasizes that it is not simply a Ma Ying-jeou issue or a KMT issue).

Finally, the best bunch of photos of the destruction in Japan I have yet seen are here at the Atlantic’s In Focus blog – truly worth looking at. Amazing, terrifying stuff.

Links of Interest 03/06/2011

March 6, 2011
A panorama of Beijing's CBD - China World Trad...

Image via Wikipedia

  • H/T Small Wars Journal

    tags: FC China rise Taiwan

    • The prospect of failing to attain the level of economic development before its elderly population places an unbearable strain on the country’s economy while simultaneously coping with tens of millions of idle and alienated young men may present the vaunted PRC technocracy with a challenge beyond its capabilities. As Hudson and den Boer ominously warn, “At some point, governments [will] consider how they can export their problem, either by encouraging emigration of young adult men or harnessing their energies in martial adventures abroad.”
  • tags: FC China defense budget

    • BEIJING—China’s government plans to increase its defense budget by 12.7% this year, a pickup from last year’s sharply slower growth that comes amid widening concerns about the capabilities and intentions of China’s military.
  • tags: FC China

    • China’s counterproductive policies are better understood as reactive and conservative rather than assertive, and Beijing should be encouraged by the United States and its allies to return to the more assertive but more constructive policies Beijing adopted in the two years just before the financial crisis.

      In that period China was actually more innovative, proactive and assertive than it is today. By softening its traditional prohibitions on interference in the internal affairs of other states, Beijing was able to play a constructive leadership role in addressing global problems and improve U.S.-China relations in the process.

  • tags: japan Military buildup China FC

  • In December, Tokyo announced plans to strengthen its forces in the southwestern Okinawan islands, including adding a dozen F-15s in Naha. The increase is part of a broader shift in Japanese defensive stance southward, toward China, that some analysts are calling one of Japan’s biggest changes in postwar military strategy.This strategic shift is another step in a gradual and limited buildup of Japan’s forces, aimed at keeping up with the changing power balance in Asia while remaining within the bounds of Japan’s antiwar Constitution and the constraints of its declining economic power. Political analysts say Japan is slowly raising the capabilities of its forces to respond to a more assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea — and to take a first, halting step out of the shadow of the United States, its postwar protector, which many Japanese fear may one day no longer have the will or ability to defend Japan.
  • The Decline of U.S. Naval Power – WSJ.com

As China’s navy rises and ours declines, not that far in the future the trajectories will cross. Rather than face this, we seduce ourselves with redefinitions such as the vogue concept that we can block with relative ease the straits through which the strategic materials upon which China depends must transit. But in one blink this would move us from the canonical British/American control of the sea to the insurgent model of lesser navies such as Germany’s in World Wars I and II and the Soviet Union’s in the Cold War. If we cast ourselves as insurgents, China will be driven even faster to construct a navy that can dominate the oceans, a complete reversal of fortune.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Links of Interest 01/22/2011

January 22, 2011
  • tags: China FC PRC PLA civil-military_relations CMR

    • PLA leaders have delivered seemingly bellicose remarks and used incidents such as the 2001 Hainan Island patrol plane incident and the 2007 anti-satellite test in a calculated manner to bolster the PLA’s authority and display its determination to use force when it considers it necessary to defend China’s interests.
    • Most notable in this regard is the PLA’s displays of determination to use force if necessary to establish China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, in the hope of deterring U.S. intervention should a crisis over the island occur.
  • tags: PRC FC Taiwan US war

    • “The reason [the U.S.] lost was because the Chinese sortie rates and persistence carried the day,” Davies says. “Any American aircraft was operating out of Guam or Okinawa because the airfields in Taiwan were taken out in the first half hour [of the conflict]. So [U.S.] time on station over the Strait is quite limited.”
    • “The Chinese have been working since the [Taiwan] Strait crises of 1995-6 to deny the approaches to China to a carrier battle group. That’s why basing becomes an issue.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

US weapons sales to Taiwan, 2011 redux

January 22, 2011
Hu Jintao

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China has been all over the news lately. Between President Hu Jintao’s recent US trip and the test flights of the J-20 stealth aircraft that coincided with US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates‘s visit to China earlier this month, it’s been pretty much non-stop. In the run-up to Hu’s US trip, a lot of folks wrote about whether or not Sino-US relations were faring well or heading toward another fallout. Whether or not relations are good or bad right now, if the rumors of new round of weapons sales to Taiwan that began to swirl just prior to Hu’s visit turn out to be true, then we can pretty much assume that relations will be in the tank again soon.

We can make this assumption based on, among other things, the PRC’s reaction to the last round of US weapons sales to Taiwan, which was announced a year ago. This package, which boasted a sticker price in excess of $6 billion, consisted chiefly of utility helicopters like the ones that @Starbuck_WOI flies, missile defense systems (the latest version of the venerable Patriot system), and command and control equipment. In response, the PRC cut military-to-military ties to the US for nearly the balance of the year. These “mil-to-mil” ties are an important part of the regime of confidence building measures (CBMs) in place between the US and the PRC, mainly because the PRC government is not forthcoming with information about many things, in particular defense and security-related issues.

During the moratorium on US-China defense ties in 2010, Secretary Gates requested to make a visit to China in conjunction with a trip that already had him in Asia. The PRC response was that the timing  was “not convenient,” and his request was denied.

Gates was finally able to make the trip this month, and while he was there, the PLA trotted out its new J-20 stealth aircraft for some very public test flights. (US-based observers freaked out.) The PRC vowed the timing was purely coincidental. Of course it was.

Also seemingly not coincidental was the timing of a Taiwan missile exercise during Hu Jintao’s US trip. It is also possible that the results were not coincidental – one third of the missiles tested failed (most of these were US-supplied weapons of a rather old vintage). Could this be a plea to the US to provide “more weapons, more quicker?”

The rumored new weapons sales will not be quite as expensive as the 2010 version ($4 billion this time), and supposedly would include upgrades for Taiwan’s aging F-16 fighter jets, including avionics, engines, and missiles (Washington Times, Foreign Policy).

The US agreed, in the 1982 Joint Communique with the PRC, to decrease both the quantity and quality of the weapons sold to Taiwan over time, but in practice this has been contingent on the military threat to Taiwan being reduced.

The US has not backed away from making weapons sales to Taiwan in the interim, but one could argue that too much accommodation of Beijing’s anticipated reaction has affected at least the timing of the weapons sales, if not the content (though likely this as well – after all, whatever happened to the submarines and F-16s that Taiwan was supposed to get?).

Because of the perceived “sell-out” involved with agreeing to curtail weapons sales to Taiwan, at the same time that the 1982 Joint Communique was being negotiated, the US provided Taiwan with what has become known as the “Six Assurances.”  The assurances indicated that the US would not set and end date for weapons sales to Taiwan; that the US would not alter the Taiwan Relations Act (see below for more on it); that the US would not consult with Beijing in advance of weapons sales to Taiwan; that the US would not mediate between the PRC and Taiwan; that the US would not alter its position on Taiwan’s sovereignty, which is that it was something that needed to be peacefully resolved by the Chinese themselves (and would not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with Beijing); and that the US would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. You can see how these assurances directly go against the 1982 Communique’s assertion that weapons sales would taper off.

But the US’s continued insistence on selling weapons to Taiwan, despite knowing that there will be a price incurred each time in Sino-US relations, as mentioned earlier, is predicated on a decreasing military threat to Taiwan. Anyone familiar with the PRC’s military modernization and expansion in the past couple decades, in particular the massive numbers of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) that are arrayed against Taiwan, knows that this has not been the case. So the weapons sales will continue.

The US knows that its weapons sales will not right the cross-Strait military balance, but does want to keep it from getting too far tilted in Beijing’s favor. (See more useful debunking of myths about weapons sales here, in a piece from the Center for Strategic and International Studies published not long after the last round of weapons sales.)

Taiwan also knows that there are some weapons the US simply will not sell them, so they must be produced indigenously. For example, Taiwan recently decided not to deploy a Taiwan-developed multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) on its offshore islands near the PRC to avoid provocation. Missile development is but one facet of what one observer calls an “evolving defense doctrine” characterized by greater self-sufficiency.

Defense Secretary Gates, when asked by a US senator last year what could be done to reduce or stop US weapons sales to Taiwan (referred to by the senator as a “substantial irritant” to US-China relations), replied that the issue was political, not defense-related. Until the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which mandates that the US will “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability”, is amended (note that the Six Assurances guaranteed that the TRA would not be amended) or repealed, there is no escaping this requirement. Gates replied similarly to a question about Taiwan weapons sales during his recent China trip, adding that in his view, that until the threat to Taiwan is reduced much more than it has been even in the era of cross-Strait rapprochement since the Ma Ying-jeou administration took office in Taiwan in 2008, that the weapons sales will still be necessary.

I can’t disagree. If you look at the capabilities that the PRC has aimed its defensive modernization and upgrades at, it seems quite clear that they are aimed at triumphing over the US in a limited regional war to take Taiwan. The PRC anti-access/area denial strategy supports it, development of 5th generation stealth aircraft supports it, expansion of the submarine fleet supports it.

In conclusion, when the next round of weapons sales to Taiwan are announced, don’t be surprised – surprised that the sales took place, or surprised that the PRC will be all aflutter about it. It’s nothing new, and it won’t be changing anytime soon.

Links of Interest 01/13/2011

January 12, 2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Pacific: Endgame

December 31, 2010
Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Image via Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this post in May 2010 after viewing the final episode of HBO’sThe Pacific” miniseries.  I think I meant to work on it more and then post it a bit later, but since it’s now the end of the year and I am just now posting it, clearly it fell by the wayside.  Previous posts on the series can be found here and here.

The final episode of HBO’s original miniseries “The Pacific” aired last night in Taiwan.  As I have written about a couple of times previously here at Facing China, I’ve been doing some reading related to the series and the World War II in the Pacific.  My final selection related to HBO’s The Pacific was the new book about the survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back. But before I get into the book at all, let’s discuss The Pacific, shall we?

I enjoyed the series.  It had big shoes to fill, though.  I would say that if The Pacific had come out 10 years ago in place of Band of Brothers, people would be gushing about it, me included.  But since it had so much to live up to, I must reluctantly admit (I already admitted that as a U.S. Marine myself, I am biased) that in my opinion Band of Brothers is the superior series.  Why?  I am not completely sure…perhaps it was because Band of Brothers focused on a smaller “scene” in the European theater of war, as compared to the far-ranging American effort across virtually the entire vastness of the Pacific Ocean.  I think that as a result The Pacific was a bit disjointed, it didn’t flow as smoothly as Band of Brothers did.  Then there was the characters – none of the actors in The Pacific really excelled and stuck with me the way certain characters did in Band of Brothers, like the crazy-legs lieutenant that seemed invincible running across many a battlefield, inspiring the troops to greater accomplishments.  Or Dick Winters, the ultra-charismatic officer who Band of Brothers followed throughout the war.  His equivalent, Sledge’s company commander at Peleliu, “Ack Ack,” did not survive that island’s fighting.

I asked at the outset whether or not the producers of The Pacific would be able to do justice to the baseness and ferocity of the fighting in places like Peleliu and Okinawa as described in Eugene Sledge‘s book.  I think they did a fair job in showing the incredibly demanding conditions the fighting took place in, like the never-ending rains in Okinawa that turned everything to a sea of mud.  In his book, Sledge described one Okinawan vista this way:

It was the most ghastly corner of hell I had ever witnessed.  As far as I could see, an area that previously had been a low grassy valley with a picturesque stream meandering through it was a middy, repulsive, open sore on the land.  The place was choked with the putrefaction of death, decay, and destruction.  In a shallow defilade to our right, between my gun pit and the railroad, lay about twenty dead Marines, each on a stretcher and covered to his ankles with a poncho – a commonplace, albeit tragic, scene to every veteran.  Those bodies had been placed there to await transport to the rear for burial.  At least those dead were covered from the torrents of rain that had made them miserable in life and from the swarms of flies that sought to hasten their decay.  But as I looked about, I saw that other Marine dead couldn’t be tended properly.  The whole area was pocked with shell craters and churned up by explosions.  Every crater was half full of water, and many of them held a Marine corpse.  The bodies lay pathetically just as they had been killed, half submerged in muck and water, rusting weapons still in hand.  Swarms of big flies hovered about them.

In the end, it’s back to the old cliché – read the book.  At one point in The Pacific, a Marine on Okinawa slips down the side of a hill of mud while trying simply to get from one place to another.  He ends up in a deep puddle of maggotty mud-water along with a rotting corpse or two.  While it is disgusting by any measure on the screen, here’s how he described the same events in the book:

My buddy rose, took one step down the ridge, slipped, and fell.  He slid on his belly all the way to the bottom, like a turtle sliding off a log.  I reached the bottom to see him stand erect with his arms partially extended and look down at his chest and belt with an mixed expression of horror, revulsion, and disbelief.  He was, of course, muddy from the slide.  But that was the least of it.  White, fat maggots tumbled and rolled off his cartridge belt, pockets, and folds of his dungaree jacket and trousers.  I picked up a stick and handed him another.  Together we scraped the vile insect larvae off his reeking dungarees.

I’d certainly recommend The Pacific as a good series to watch about World War II in the Pacific from the U.S. point of view.  It doesn’t tell the whole story, but how could it?  Four years of fighting can hardly be compressed into under 10 hours of television.  Nice effort – 4 of 5 stars.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I also wanted to talk about the book The Last Train from Hiroshima.  First, it’s important to note at the outset that the book is controversial because of problems with key sources of information the author used in researching the book.  In fact, because of these source problems, the publisher pulled the book from further sales earlier this year and the author is re-writing the book without the tainted sources.  Oh yeah, the sources scandal also raised questions about the author’s academic credentials, and it turns out that the PhD he claimed wasn’t real.  Due to all these problems, Last Train may not have been the best book to choose in retrospect, but in my own defense, I bought it soon after it was released, prior to all these skeletons coming out of the closet.  I decided to read it to tie in with World War II‘s “endgame” – nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and a few days later, Japanese capitulation.

The nuclear attacks on Japan are not a major event in The Pacific – they occur at the end of the 9th episode, and are not shown, only alluded to in a conversation about some fancy, new “super bombs” wiping out a couple Japanese cities.  This is not to downplay their significance; it is simply because the attacks themselves are beyond the scope of the story.  It is because of the atomic bombs used on Japan that the story ends as it does, with a U.S. victory on Okinawa, with no need to chance the estimated 1 million U.S. casualties that would be necessitated by a breach on mainland Japan itself.

Last Train talks about some of the poor souls who managed to survive the bombing in Hiroshima and thought that fleeing would be a good idea, to get out of the area.  I agree, but a few who fled Hiroshima went to join family in Nagasaki and were there a few days hence when the second, more powerful nuclear bomb was detonated.  This could called “really, really bad luck.”  The book also asserts that the Hiroshima bomb was a “dud.”  The yield was only about 10 kilotons (KT), even though it was supposed to be between 20 – 30KT. (The Nagasaki bomb‘s yield was in this latter range.) One Japanese survivor, a medical doctor who wore glasses to correct his eyesight, had his vision corrected by the blast.  In what might be the ultimate deadpan, he said that he does not recommend weathering a nuclear attack as an alternative corrective vision surgery. (!!!)

I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier this year.  I wanted to see both of the bombing sites and see what the cities that still exist there are like now.  It’s remarkable, really – what I took away most from the visits was the resilience of mankind.  To see the photos of the destruction the bombs caused and to stand at the hypocenter today and take a look around, to see all the bustle and urban metropolis still surrounding you there, is quite a testament to being able to bounce back from a really, really big setback.

A related book I also recently completed was John Lewis Gaddis’s newest book of history related to the aftermath of World War II, called The Cold War: A New History.  I found the book to be quite interesting in how it ties so many different themes together, from the evolution of containment, detente, the creation of the Iron Curtain, the Cold War in Asia, the opening of China, and on and on.  It was a nice way to bring me pretty much right back to the modern day, tracing out the results of World War II to (near) the present.  Excellent book.

OEF-P Case Study

December 27, 2010

I just read through the “Operation Enduring Freedom Philippines Case Study” (PDF) posted at Small Wars Journal a few days ago.  It’s been many a moon since I’ve touched on OEF-P-related business here, but this new case study (dated October 2010) is worth a read if you are at all interested in the topic.  It’s got a lot of good background information on how the mission in the Southern Philippines was conceived and why it operates the way it does, based on the specific operating environment unique to the Philippines.  I wish I had a reference like that one before I deployed there. (If you are headed that way – MUST READ!) It’s also chock-full of references for additional readings if you want to dig deeper on a subject.  Check it out:

CASE STUDY: Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines By Richard Swain, Ph.D, Booz Allen Hamilton, under contract to U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Center

The new Korean War and Taiwan

December 20, 2010

Chinese Military Involvement in a Future Korean War

Capt Jacquelyn Schneider, USAF

Strategic Studies Quarterly, 2010 (4), 50 – 67.

I came across a timely article in a not-too-well-known journal last week that discusses the likelihood of China intervening in the next edition of the Korean War (which, based on contemporary news accounts, seems like it could start any day now).

It’s fairly well-known that the beginning of the original Korean War (1950 – 1953) in June 1950 had the side-effect of placing the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Taiwan Strait to keep another conflict from erupting in East Asia at the same time.  The author of this piece, Jacquelyn Schneider, argues that ever since that time, Korea and Taiwan have been linked, which raises some vexing issues for the present:

However loathe the United States is to link actions on the Korean peninsula with Taiwan, it is historically impossible to completely separate the two issues. As mentioned previously, China’s attempts to initially reunify Taiwan with the PRC were stymied by the Korean War. Would it be possible for China to capitalize on the US focus on Korea to launch a simultaneous amphibious operation to conquer Taiwan?

Her question is an interesting one.  She answers it by looking at military capability to take Taiwan and willingness to do so.  Her take – the capability exists, but it is too difficult for non-Chinese to understand the Taiwan issue fully, for there is no equivalent in the American experience, and thus impossible to make a willingness judgment.

In my mind, if China would decide to enter a new Korean War, assuming that it was initiated by the North, then I think that there would be little additional loss in terms of international standing, economic losses, etc. from also initiating a move against Taiwan.  China would already be branded an outlaw and condemned in places like the UN for backing North Korea’s aggression, so why not settle up when it comes to Taiwan at the same time?  After all, why else would the PRC have in excess of 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles stationed opposite Taiwan, a burgeoning fleet of attack submarines, and a rapidly modernizing air arm?  It’s not to offset any equivalent military buildup taking place in Taiwan, that’s for sure.

Back to Korea, though, Schneider surmises that modern China as a largely integrated stakeholder in the international order has too much to lose, and thus chiefly for this reason (though also including the absence of a Mao-like leader, fear of domestic repercussions in term of refugee flows out of North Korea, and the vulnerability of critical infrastructure in Northeast China to U.S. attack) would not enter a new Korean War.  That’s all well and good, but I think there is more to it than that – what about treaty obligations?  My understanding of the PRC – DPRK treaty of friendship, etc. is that it makes security guarantees that specifically exclude those of the nuclear umbrella-type, but that it also states that the PRC is under no obligation to assist if the DPRK initiates the aggression.  How about this – the DPRK attacks South Korea (as we’ve seen them do twice this year so far), who then counterattacks into North Korea, and then the attacks escalate, from initial artillery and air strikes on mainly military facilities of both sides to more and more areas populated mainly by civilians, at which point U.S. forces become involved in a range of military operations, including troop movements (with the South Koreans) across the DMZ.  What now, China?  I think that in such a case, the PRC joins in – I don’t think they are going to sit idly by if U.S. forces are being actively involved, just as I think U.S. forces would be automatically committed if PRC forces were involved.  It’s like each side on the Korean peninsula has their “big brother” there waiting to jump in if the other side’s back-up decides to get feisty.

And, if that all happens, then who knows if China would decide to try to capitalize on the opportunity to move on Taiwan?  It’s certainly a possibility I hope the planners at U.S. Pacific Command have taken into account…

Schneider goes on to introduce some very sensible “rules of engagement” that would help prevent a rapidly escalating conflict in Korea between the primarily interested non-territorial powers, including the establishment of buffer zones and assignment of responsibility over refugees in particular locations.  I agree that measures such as these would be essential to keep from quickly moving down the road to a greatly expanded war in Korea. (Ah, but could the U.S. trust China to live up to their parts in the rules?  She talks about this as well…read the article.)

She returns to the Taiwan issue at the end:

The change [North Korea’s defeat and the reunification of the Korean peninsula] could prove advantageous for decoupling the Taiwan situation from the Korean peninsula. By demonstrating the will to use force, openness in military planning, and gracious collaboration in victory, the United States would demonstrate its inherent trust in China to participate in the region as a stabilizer.

…and then the closer:

In a game of multiple iterations, a Korean conflict could help the United States and China more advantageously perceive utility and value of each nation’s interests and actions in Asia. By building trust between the two players in the Asian region, the probability of provoking conflict becomes less likely. Perversely, if executed properly, a conflict on the Korean peninsula could serve as a stabilizing event in the Pacific region.

I’m not buying it.  It’s just too optimistic.  I can only see negative and ill effects on the Asia-Pacific region from a new Korean War – heaps of dead bodies in Seoul, a shattered former North Korea hollowed out from refugee outflows, and an even greater tension between China and the United States, if not outright war.  I think she’s right about decoupling Korea and Taiwan, but only because there would no longer be troops facing off over the 38th Parallel.  If China refrained from invading Taiwan at the same time, then cross-Strait tensions would be vaulted to new highs.  Let’s hope Korea doesn’t kick off anytime soon – the U.S. is militarily still too preoccupied with exiting Iraq and searching for the door in Afghanistan.


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