Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 00:09 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 00:09 | SYDNEY

What does China want with Taiwan?


Sam Roggeveen


2 October 2008 13:56

Via Drudge, I see the Washington Times (not to be confused with the better known Post) has a scoop: their veteran China military watcher, Bill Gertz, has gotten hold of a draft report on China's military modernisation by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's International Security Advisory Board, a group of experts who provide independent policy advice to the Secretary.

There's an awful lot to say about this draft paper. For one thing, the fact that the advisory board is headed by Paul Wolfowitz is worth considering. The rather belligerent tone of the report suggests he has not retreated from his worldview, despite what you might expect to have been the chastening experience of the Iraq War. It's also significant that the draft was leaked to Bill Gertz, who is himself known as a China hawk. Perhaps Board members were afraid the final draft will be bowdlerised, so decided to get their favoured version out now, via a sympathetic source.

On the substance of the report, as I say, I think it makes some alarmingly provocative policy recommendations, and I'll explain why in a later post. But for now, one fascinating point to consider is the judgment made about the strategic significance that China places on Taiwan:

...if China is to become a global power, the first step must include control of this island. Achieving this objective would dramatically increase Beijing's ability to command the seas off its coast and to project power eastward. It would also deny the United States a key ally in a highly strategic location. This motivation is reinforced by Beijing's intense nationalistic objective of recovering Chinese territory that was taken by force, and removing any challenge to Beijing's regime legitimacy.

This is an extremely interesting formulation, because it elevates Taiwan's strategic utility to first among China's priorities, and gives China's nationalism a mere 'reinforcing' role in that policy (I have heard this view put before by the Australian China analyst Paul Monk, in a speech he gave in Taiwan. I can only find this brief media reference to the speech; when I have a link to the speech, I will post it). If this judgment is correct, it does rather up-end the conventional wisdom, in which Chinese nationalism is viewed as the primary motivation behind its Taiwan policy.