Thursday, August 02, 2007

THE NEXT CONFLICT

THE NEXT CONFLICT

I’m sure when reading the headline most people are thinking about the Middle East, Africa or perhaps even Latin America but I believe that the next conflict that will grip the world will begin in 2012 and will be initially between China and Taiwan which will soon escalate into a China vs. the US conflict and that is when the world will sit on the edge of its collective seats and hold its collective breath. So how did I arrive at this…well lets first look at how we got to where we are before we look at where we’re going to end up.

On 25 October 1945 the Republic of China (ROC) under the command of General Chiang Kai-shek officially accepted the surrender of the Japanese occupation troops and announced Taiwan Restoration Day. Although initially greeted as liberators by the Taiwanese there soon began a series of incidents during which the Taiwanese increasingly became leery of the Mainland Chinese. In 1949 the Chinese civil war was turning, the communists were slowly winning and driving the forces of Chiang Kai-shek to the coast where they were doing their best to pull off the Chinese version of Dunkirk to the island of Taiwan. Ultimately the Kuomintang (KMT) lost to the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and today’s version of Taiwan was created. It should be noted that this move to Taiwan consisted of roughly 1.3 million people, including KMT party members, soldiers and the majority of the business and intellectual elites from the mainland. Oh and by the way they also decided to bring along the entire gold and foreign currency reserves of China as seed money to start this new country. At the time the Chinese military was a crude force without a naval component capable of moving its large Army to follow the retreating forces so they were left on the shores yelling insults.

From 1948 until 1987 Taiwan was ruled by the KTM under martial law known as “Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion”.

During the 50’s and the 60’s most Western Nations and the UN continued to recognize the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China although in the late 60’s there was a dramatic switch to acceptance of the PRC. Some of this was cold war politics and some was an effort by the US to bribe the PRC into helping it out of Vietnam and help with the return of prisoners of war. In essence the US decided to stop backing the ROC at the UN in exchange for the PRC to stop supporting Vietnam and other despots in South East Asia. The PRC’s ability to deliver Intercontinental nuclear missiles may also have played a part but at the end of the day it was probably a combination of factors that led to the decision to accept the PRC as the legitimate government of China in 1971 while also accepting the ROC as the de-facto government of Taiwan. It was during this time that the PRC became the sole representative of China at the UN and on the Security Council replacing the representatives for the ROC.

After the death of Chiang Kai-shek his son became the President and began to liberalize the country in 1984. After several baby steps towards democracy it finally arrived in the early 1990’s with multi-party elections and the first Presidential election, which occurred in 1996. The first non-KTM President was finally elected in 2000 and re-elected again in 2004 completing the evolution from military law under a one ruler one party state to a full-fledged democracy without violence.

Over the years the American policy has been simple, there is one China but Taiwan can’t be forced to participate. On several occasions the US Navy has had to maneuver one or two carrier battle groups in between the little Island and the big Island but really nothing major has ever happened between the US and China as it relates to military action. While the Taiwan Relations Act signed into law in 1979 by President Jimmy Carters says that the US will consider any threats to the ROC either by force, embargo or blockade a threat to peace and security to the Western Pacific it doesn’t in any way shape or form commit the US to defend the island or it’s people. In 2005 Japan and the US signed a new regional defense pact that would potentially include Japanese troops in any military response but again it must be noted this is not a NATO style pact whereby an attack against one is an attack against all so at the end of the day it will be very much up to the President of the day to decide if defending Taiwan seems like a good strategic move or not.

It should be noted that Taiwan has roughly 300,000 active servicemen (conscription is still the law) and about 3.5 million reserves (you’re in the reserves until age 55). It has purchased modern jets, missiles, weapons and ships from the US over the years but has not upgraded its anti-missile defenses or submarine fleet for several years due to internal politics.

So now that we’re up to date on the Taiwanese side so lets get to the important part…what has China been doing lately to convince me that they will re-take the island by force around 2012. First and most importantly their economy is on fire, foreign currency is pouring in and China is just a few billion away from overtaking Germany as the second largest economy on the planet. How are they doing this you ask…well they are ignoring copyright laws and reproducing everything from stuffed animals to food products to well everything at prices that are very hard to say no too. I’ll admit it here and now…I shop at Wal-Mart and the majority of products I buy are probably made in China. Anyway back to the point…for the first time ever China has the economic muscle to push back when the world rattles its economic saber and in fact China now can not only push back but can drastically effect just about every other major economy should it choose too. Next up was the very quite case of Chi Mak, arrested in 2005 and charged with spying he was recently convicted for stealing and passing along very secret and well-protected documents regarding the Aegis Destroyer technology and next generation submarine technology to China. Now for those not familiar with this type of ship, it can allow the user to track and shoot down numerous incoming aircraft and missiles simultaneously and has only been provided to the US and Japanese Navies. It was extremely advanced when it came on line in the mid 80’s and remains the best anti-aircraft/anti-missile platform on the high seas today. Now that the Chinese have this technology it has two main impacts, one the Chinese are now building 12 Aegis class destroyers for their Navy (they are due to hit the water between 2009-2010) but they can also reverse engineer ways to defeat the technology so it’s not as efficient against their own missiles and planes. Third they have purchased and begun to modify two Aircraft carries (due to hit the waters in 2010) of similar size to the Nimitz class currently ruling the seas for the US Navy. This will for the first time ever allow the Chinese to project power and force any defender to respond with at least 4 carrier battle groups vice the normal 1 or 2. Next the Chinese have 12-hunter killer submarines under construction using again stolen technology this time from Russia though. These boats are expected to begin sea trails around 2011. Last but certainly least the missing ingredient for all these years…yes landing craft capable of crossing the Taiwanese straight but also capable of hitting the shores. The Chinese are currently building 1,000 mother craft capable of carrying up to 10 smaller (100 man sized) landing craft which if my math doesn’t fail me means 1 million men hitting the beeches on an island that is roughly 14,000 square miles or the size of Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined.

I’m sure you keen readers noticed that most of this new fleet is hitting the water around 2010 so after providing 2 years for sea and tactical trails I’m thinking 2012 is looking like the year of bringing Taiwan back into the fold. I’m also looking at a US government who’s finally managed in 2010 to get the majority of it’s combat forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan and doesn’t really have the stomach to get into a fight with it’s now powerful economic rival. Also we might consider the potential that the President of the day will be a democrat that is very leery of getting the country into another fight with an enemy that has an armed forces rivaling the US and a strong nuclear missile capacity.

So based on the above I believe that when China decides to make its move the US will quietly be busy and happy that China promises to treat it’s new province with respect. They will point to Hong Kong and the West will say we trust you…please continue to supply us with cheap goods and electronics. To the people of Taiwan I say enjoy the Olympics and then start looking for a new place to hang your hate…the US, Japan and the West will not be sending any carrier battle groups to help you out anytime soon.

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