Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Importance of Being Taiwan

There continues to be a lot of talk about how important Taiwan is to China and why. Similarly, there has been much discussion about whether the United States should continue to expend money or effort to protect this tiny quasi-nation.

China continues to make noises about Taiwan's "Independence" and Japan's "unwillingness" to recognize atrocities during World War II, other issues continue to play under the radar.

At the same time these "spontaneous" rallies occured in China regarding Japanese school text books, Japan and China were at logger heads over Japan authorizing gas test drilling rights in the East China Sea around the Senkaku Islands. The ownership of these islands and their surrounding natural resources have been in dispute by China since 1971 even though Japan captured the islands from China and has administered them since 1895. China and Japan are the second and third largest consumers of oil behind the United States. China's booming economy continues to demand more and more resources.

China is a net importer of oil and will continue to be so because its own oil fields cannot keep up with its internal demands. As such, China needs to explore other areas and resources for development. In October 2004, China signed an oil and natural gas deal with Iran that included an ambitious plan to lay a pipline through the China Sea, around Singapore, through the Indian Ocean and on to Iran. In addition, the South China Sea has large deposits of oil (up to 7.5 billion barrels). China claims there are larger deposits while US and other oil experts say the estimates are too large.

Looking at the map below, the China Sea has many strategic interests for China, Japan and the United States:

china sea2 Posted by Hello

The red areas indicate US military presence either as occupied bases or naval ports of call in US friendly countries. The yellow circle indicates Taiwan, blue is Malaysia and green is Singapore. With very little military training, it is not difficult to see the importance of Taiwan. It is more than just a democratic nation that we share political and economic ties with. It holds together the center of the area of control. If China had Taiwan, it could effectivel cut off southern shipping routes to Japan which is also a net importer of oil. It could put pressure or influence Malaysia, the largest oil and gas reserves in the region.

In a counter strategy by the US and Japan, we control all entrances and exits of the China Sea. In conventional warfare, China's external resources could be effectively choked off from the sea.

Of course, China isn't exactly ignorant of this issue as the "Rand Organization" points out in this discussion concerning Chinese Energy Security Activities:

China’s recent shift from a net oil exporter to a net oil importer means that energy security is another issue the United States could exploit to pressure China. The Chinese government is uncomfortable with the fact that the United States Navy dominates the sealanes stretching from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea
through which the bulk of China’s oil imports must pass. There is a concern that if Sino-U.S. relations sour, the United States could use its superior military power to disrupt China’s oil supply. Indeed, an article in the Chinese international affairs journal World Economics and Politics contends that the United States could use its control of Middle East oil to “check” China.5 Another Chinese commentary goes even further and argues that the United States has already implemented an “energy containment” policy against China. This policy’s objective, according to the article, is to weaken China by gaining control of the energy resources in western China and blocking China’s access to oil imports.6 The United States currently is not
pursuing such a policy, but Chinese analysts clearly consider the interruption
of its oil supply as a possible future containment measure.


For all those who argue whether Taiwanese Independence is worth the US going toe to toe with China, please take a look at the map.


Gadfly said...

I go back and forth on this.

China eventually will move on Taiwan. We have significant intrests on that island.

On the other hand, China is a better place than it used to be. Hong Kong is not as screwed up as I thought it would be by now. Maybe a Chinese reannexation of Taiwan wouldn't be as disasterous as it would have been 20 years ago.

On the third hand, most of the Taiwanese, our friends, were born into independance. Should we, as a nation, not help preserve that independance?

China cannot even think about matching us on the water. They absolutely do not have the capability. But they can do other things that we will not like in order to make us face them on land.

Like I say, I'm kind of all over the place on this issue.

Kat said...

Basically, this is a question of whether we continue to maintain dominance over an area or allow China's expansionism to go unchecked and give them a strategic point.

Taiwan is very close to the disputed islands and thus Japan. China continually makes noises at Japan that sound very much like nationalistic painting of Japan as a continued natural enemy of CHina. Just in case.

Taiwan holds together the center of control for the China Sea and essentially splits our area of control in half and directly threatens control of the shipping lanes which are important, not just to China, but Japan, S. Korea, Australia and the US.

I'd say if China makes a physical move to retake Taiwan it must be considered a direct threat or first move to confronting the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, etc.

Look at this from a military strategic point, not a political/emotional point.

Donal said...

Its basically the same situation that the US faced with the Japanese during WW2 and we all saw were that lead. I think China will not force the issue as long as we stand firm. Theres a reason that so many diferent adminstrations have dealt the same with the Tawian issue and its exactly the reasons you covered Kat.

Anonymous said...

Something lots of people forget is that we promised Japan that the US would look out for Japan's economic interests at the end of WW2(i.e. we'd make sure that they had enough raw materials so they'd never feel compelled to go to war ever again). I wish those that yammer about how we need to honor our agreements with allies would remember that.
Taiwan, as Kat so elegantly pointed out with the geography lesson, is critical to maintaining that indepence for Japan. If we don't do it Japan will have to. That's ugly for east Asia, and because of the amount of trade we have going with Asia for us too.

Another thing to keep in mind: Taiwan actually has an indigenous population that didn't come over with the Koumintang(KMT). They never really wanted to be part of China anyway. If self determination of an ethnicity is something to be defended(ala the Palestinians) it ought to be respected here as well.