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30/10/2005

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Date Posted: 10:34 06/12/2003



Run for your lives

Is China on the brink of war?


UNTIL LAST week, Running Dog was under the impression that the latest round of confrontations between Mainland China and Taiwan was more or less the same as the last one, and would lead to the same stand-offs and stalemates, the same cross-Strait raspberries and trumpet-blowing. More articles would inevitably appear in the official mainland press, denouncing the irresponsibility of the so-called Taiwan 'government' and its so-called 'diplomatic relationships' with a number of small islands in the Pacific Ocean, everything pinced in scare-quotes.

Many Shanghai locals are starting to get restless, however, and wonder when they might have to scarper to Inner Mongolia before the air strikes begin. Terrifying graphics in the official local press, juxtaposed with maudlin accounts of the 300,000 Taiwanese compatriots who have made a fast buck… sorry.. their home in Shanghai, certainly do not help. And when the leadership starts to talk about blood sacrifices in the name of national unity, we start to get worried.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has, of course, pushed through a watered-down version of his referendum bill, much to the chagrin of Beijing, and expects to hold a vote on an issue relating to independence in March next year. Beijing says it will not just 'stand and watch' while it does so. Chen Shui-bian believes that mainland aggression justifies a 'defensive' referendum on the removal of hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan. Beijing believes that all this talk about referenda makes the aggression, and the missiles, necessary.

Meanwhile, Kiribati has joined 26 other small nations from the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa – not to mention the singular case of the Vatican - in their decision to grant diplomatic recognition to Taipei. After three weeks of wrangling, Beijing finally withdrew its ambassador on November 29. This battle for recognition has been going on for years, but the tide has already swept beyond Taiwan. In fact, few, even in the unreformed wing of the Guomindang, actually still believe that the government in Taiwan has any claim to power on the mainland.

A special edition of Oriental Outlook Weekly, a glossy Chinese politics magazine run by the Xinhua News Agency, goes into detail about the coming conflict. It notes that the island performed a trial launch of its medium-range guided missiles on September 25, and they will be capable of hitting Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Xiamen on the eastern coast. 'Operation Scorpion', devised by Taiwan's so-called 'Ministry of National Defence', will also target Beijing, Dalian, Tianjin, Nanjing, and Qingdao, as well as the Three Gorges Dam, with the aim of causing maximum disruption and damage. The title, 'Operation Scorpion', is ironic. A report in Asia Times in October likened the two sides of the Straits to two scorpions in a bottle. If one ever attacks, both will die.

The big uncertainty in all of this seems to be the reaction of the United States. The right-wing Weekly Standard is suggesting that the US is about to abandon Taiwan as 'a gift' to Premier Wen Jiabao, who visits next week. According to the report, the senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, James Moriarty, and Doug Paal, the de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan, are urging President Bush to oppose Taiwanese independence in categorical terms, and to renounce any possibility of coming to Taiwan's defence were the island to 'provoke' a military attack. The US needs China in the 'fight against terror', and it is in the interests of both countries to come out with a joint solution to the North Korean problem. This might be easier if Taiwan is settled sooner rather than later. China, preparing for the the great international jamborees surrounding the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo, would certainly feel the same way.

International relations always involve this kind of horse-trading, but with the Bush administration's almost Trotskyite belief in the idea of permanent revolution, the compromises have to be that much bigger. Taiwan, according to some, is about to be sacrificed.

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