Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why Taiwan Matters

Taiwan is so small that the average Taiwanese can’t find it on a world map. Its surface area covers barely half the size of West Virginia and it’s barely the size of Maryland. It’s smaller than Guinea-Bissau, Bhutan, or Togo.
Taiwan has no seat in the United Nations. It’s recognized by only 23, mostly obscure, countries. In fact, it’s a joke among Taiwanese that the list of countries recognizing Taiwan is a geography lesson in obscure countries.
How many do you recognize? They are as follows: Burkina Faso, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Swaziland, Vatican City, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
In Taiwan’s favor is its population size and economic ranking. Its population is roughly that of Texas and it’s larger than that of Australia and Switzerland. Taiwan’s GDP is nineteenth in the world, down from fourteenth a few years ago. By personal income, it’s thirty-fourth (or forty-second, depending on whose figures you use) in the world (the United States is in ninth, tenth, or thirteenth place.)
The Taiwan Strait is considered one of the likeliest flash points for the world’s next major war. If and when such a war erupts, the United States and Japan (in a supporting role) will probably be drawn into it.
Given the risks involved in supporting or defending Taiwan, why should the world place that high a value on a country with even fewer people than Morocco, Uzbekistan, or Ghana?
In the paragraphs above, you were given a lesson in geography as it really is. Geopolitical strategy, however, is based also upon geography as it is imagined to be. To use the popular phrase imagined geography, though, doesn’t mean assigning value that isn’t really there. Imagined geography involves recognition of how each side in a conflict views the geographical area being contested.
Imagined geography tends to shift with shifting perceptions. During the seventeenth century, the Ming loyalist Koxingo envisioned Taiwan (then Formosa) as a base from which to attack China, overthrow the Ch’ings and restore the Ming Dynasty. From the 1940’s through the 1975, the dictator Chiang Kai-shek took the same strategic view of Taiwan. Since both men failed, it may be argued that their geo-strategic concept of Taiwan was flawed.
From 1683 until World War II, China viewed Taiwan as a buffer to protect it from foreign invasion. That view of Taiwan was also proven faulty during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. Japan simply went around Taiwan to attack China.
From 1895-1945, when Taiwan was in Japanese hands, Japan attacked China twice: once in 1900 (the eight-nation China Relief Expedition) and again during World War II. In neither case was Taiwan seen as having any geo-strategic significance.
The new realities and perceptions of the Cold War gave the world a new prism for viewing Taiwan. This period marked the beginning of the imagined geography of today’s geo-strategy.
At first, the Western powers adopted a policy of containment by which Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines were viewed as the first chain of islands creating a barrier to Chinese expansion into the Pacific. The second chain of islands, viewed as more porous, consisted of Benin Island, the Marianas, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau.
At the same time, China reversed its previous view of Taiwan. They began seeing Taiwan not as a buffer against invasion but as a stepping stone for expansion into the Pacific.
A few years ago, I invented a board game that combined chess (as we know it internationally) with Chinese chess. In a nutshell, the Chinese chess pieces more or less follow the rules of Chinese chess (I had to make some changes to make it possible) and the international chess pieces are played according to international chess rules.
At the time, I didn’t realize that my new game was a metaphor for the way geo-strategy is played on the Eurasian continent today. The Western strategy, backed by such shady characters as the international bankers, the military-industrial complex, and the disaster capitalists, is called The Grand Chessboard.
The Grand Chessboard is an encirclement strategy refined and described by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his 1997 book by that name. In 2004, he expanded on this concept with a book called The Choice. Although The Grand Chessboard was written thirteen years ago, it closely outlines the news in our daily papers today. You can see from the map that the Grand Chessboard strategy is to gain control of the physical resources surrounding China and Russia in order to eventually gain control of all Eurasia.
The Chinese and the Russians play on a similar board, but their game is called The String of Pearls.
In the String of Pearls strategy, China projects its power by establishing naval bases all along the Pacific Rim and the Indian Ocean. This is in keeping with Thayer’s theory concerning the importance of sea power to building and maintaining national power.
On the map, I’ve made three green marks to indicate important choke points in the Indo-Pacific region. From left to right, they are the Suez Canal, the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, and the Taiwan Strait in the South China Sea. The Panama Canal, not on the map, is another major choke point; and it’s presently under Chinese control. Two other key choke points are the Cape of Good Hope and the Strait of Magellan.
About one third of the world’s sea transport passes through the South China Sea. Much of Japan’s and South Korea’s oil passes through the South China Sea.
You can see then that China has its own encirclement strategy. Since the election of Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan’s president, many China watchers fear that Taiwan has been slipping into Beijing’s orbit.
I see no “good guys” in this drama. Under the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese leaders have been the most prolific mass murderers in the history of the world. According to the most reliable estimates, they’ve killed between 56 and 65 million of their own people. Russia under Stalin killed over 22 million.
On the other side, the cabal of international bankers, military-industrial complex, disaster capitalists, and prostituted “news” media have given us two world wars, the Great Depression, two cold wars (including the present war on Muslims), and—well, the list is almost endless.
Somewhere in between, we the citizens of various countries would benefit by preventing either side from getting what they desire: Iran and Pakistan by the Western criminal cabal, and Taiwan by the butchers of Beijing.
We face a stark choice. We can continue to be pawns in a board game of murder and pillage, or we can make an end run around the criminal psychopaths and build a better world. We can speak to each other and with each other; and, yes, we can listen to one another. We can cooperate with each other instead of allowing the criminal cabal to divide us against one another. We can build understanding among ourselves and with all nations. We can give peace a chance.

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