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«A WAR LIKE NO OTHER THE TRUTH ABOUT CHINA’S CHALLENGE TO AMERICA by RICHARD BUSH Senior Fellow and Director Center for Northeast Asian Policy ...»

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Senior Fellow and Director

Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies

The Brookings Institution


Senior Fellow Foreign Policy Studies The Brookings Institution



Japan Chair and Senior Advisor Center for Strategic and International Studies Associate Professor Georgetown University The Brookings Institution Washington, D.C.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


MICHAEL O’HANLON: Welcome, everyone. Thank you for being here.

I’m Michael O’Hanlon. I was very happy to co-author this book with Richard Bush on the U.S.-China relationship and, specifically, on many aspects of the potential strategic competition, with the possibility of conflict over Taiwan, and how we think through ways to minimize that danger.

Mike Green has very kindly agreed to join us in this morning’s discussion. As you know, Mike is one of the great Asia scholars of this generation, and also the former Senior Director at the National Security Council for President Bush until just over a year ago, I guess.

So what we’d like to do this morning is to begin with about 10 minutes from each of us. I’m going to turn the floor over to Richard who, as you know, is one of the country’s great Taiwan experts, and has worked on this issue for some two decades in government on Capitol Hill, in the executive branch — and now at Brookings, where he runs the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies of Brookings.

Richard and I divvied up responsibility in this book with, of course, Richard being the expert, particularly, on the history of the China-Taiwan problem; the nature of the political relations between them; much of the diplomatic backdrop to this. I focused more on the military issues, so I’ll speak on those following Richard, and then Mike will comment. After all that, we’ll look forward very much to your participation.

So, with that, I will turn the floor over to my co-author with whom, again, I was very privileged to write this book. Thank you all for being here. We’ll go from here.


DR. BUSH: Thank you very much, Mike.

If Mike was happy to write a book with me, I was honored to write a book with him. We were both pleased to work with our friends at Wiley Publishing on this effort.

I spent two years as the National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, and I soon learned what my role was in helping policy-makers understand the region of the world that they were trying to shape through policy. Sometimes they got very agitated about what was going on in East Asia, and it was my job to sort of calm them down.

–  –  –

If you want to use a beverage metaphor: sometimes it was my job to give them a cup of chamomile tea; other times it was my job to give them a cup of Starbucks coffee.

In our book, we do both of those things. On the one hand, we talk at some length about the rise of China, about which some people in the United States are getting a little bit excited. There are reasons they point to as to why we should be excited about the rise of China. Its economy is growing quite quickly — 10 percent a year for a number of years; the military budget is growing 15 to 20 percent a year for a number of years. In the first four years of this decade, it bought over $10 billion of military equipment — probably advanced military equipment — from foreign countries. Its political influence has been growing, both around the compass on its periphery, but also in Latin America and Africa — for a variety of reasons. The most stunning example, I think, is the Republic of Korea, an ally of the United States for five decades, but now a very close partner of the People’s Republic of China.

Now, of course, it’s easy to overstate where China has come. It’s not standing 10 feet tall; rather, its growth has created a host of internal and external problems.

It’s created winners and losers. On the one hand, in Southeast Asia, it has increased its influence because of its demand for natural resources. But if you look at a country like Cambodia, which was trying to build a capability in light manufacturing, you will see it is being wiped out in a number of sectors.

Furthermore, it is creating a macroeconomic imbalance with the rest of the world, which is something that will have to be addressed. One hopes that there will be a soft landing, and prays that it’s not going to be a hard landing.

But we have to ask the question, so what? What does this increase in Chinese power mean?

Political scientists argue that the rapid accumulation of power by a state will necessarily, or likely, lead to conflict. We can point to examples in the past: Germany at the end of the 19th Century; Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. And the established power in the international system often resists the rise of a new power.

So it’s not surprising that elements in the United States express worry about the rise of China. It’s not surprising that elements in China predict that the United States is going to try and contain China’s rise. It’s not surprising that the two countries are hedging against each other. There is the danger that each will assume that the other is going to treat it in a hostile way and create a kind of vicious circle.

A War Like No Other 3 CNAPS Book Launch April 26, 2007 But we should remember that this is the era of globalization, and not the era of geopolitics. A hundred years ago, 150 years ago, countries accumulated power by seizing territory. Today, countries accumulate economic power by enhancing interdependence. China’s a prime example of that. We do create economic vulnerabilities in our relationship with China, but the main one is the macroeconomic imbalance that I mentioned before.

There are other ways that conflict could occur with China. One that occurs to us is that China could get into a conflict with an ally of the United States, such as Japan. Treaty obligations would come into play. It’s not impossible. But China and Japan are in situations of co-dependence themselves, and we see the leaders of those two countries working hard to manage their tensions.

So we come to the conclusion that in this dynamic of a rising China and a status quo United States, that a lot—or most—of these issues can be managed; that the leaders of both sides understand the situation they’re dealing with. They understand this dynamic, they understand history. They understand the mutual dependence.

Also, they actually understand the opportunity of great power cooperation.

China and the United States working together along with the other great powers—the European Union, perhaps Russia, perhaps India, perhaps Brazil, certainly Japan—can be a significant force for the preservation of peace and security in the world. And, indeed, these great powers have an obligation to do so.

This was the concept behind Bob Zoellick’s term “responsible stakeholder.” This is a vision that is worth pursuing.

I mentioned at the beginning that sometimes analysts have the job of calming people when they’re agitated, and other times they have the job of agitating people when they’re calm. I just provided a bit of calm, I hope.

What in this book is a message of agitation? Within this optimistic message that the United States and China together can manage China’s rise, the one issue where we worry that the United States and China might have problems is the Taiwan issue. If that is not handled well, then it could lead to conflict.

Now, why do we say this? Here we engage in what we feel is some informed speculation.

Let me be clear that we don’t feel that the probability of this is necessarily high. But we do feel that costs are extremely high, so it is worth alerting people to even the low probability.

How might a conflict between China and the United States come about? We believe it would be the result of a conflict between China and Taiwan, and a U.S.

A War Like No Other 4 CNAPS Book Launch April 26, 2007 decision to come to Taiwan’s defense for a variety of reasons: belief that China’s military action was unjustified; desire to preserve democracy; a belief that we needed to demonstrate a will to protect our friends; and to ensure commitment to peace and security.

This then provokes the question: how might a cross-Strait conflict occur? It’s probably not because of an explicit action by either side to change the fundamental status quo. Those actions would be a deliberate decision by China to use force, or a deliberate decision by Taiwan to change its legal identity.

Rather, we think a cross-Strait conflict would be more likely to occur as a result of misperception and miscalculation.

How might this unfold? Well, our speculation is that Taiwan leaders would take action to strengthen their sovereignty. They would engage in initiatives that had a domestic political purpose, but which had sovereignty implications. The PRC would interpret these actions as changes in Taiwan’s legal identity. Each side would misperceive U.S. intentions in the situation. China might assume that the United States would not come to Taiwan’s aid, and Taiwan might assume that the United States would come to its aid.

The United States might, in this situation, be sending mixed messages. It’s happened before. We would have an unfortunate situation where all three sides would fall off the brink because none would know precisely where the edge of the brink was.

In this sort of situation, domestic politics — which exist in all three countries — can exacerbate miscalculations.

One implication of this kind of situation is that the approach, which I call “dual deterrence,” that the United States has pursued over the last dozen years, breaks down. In this situation — regrettably — because the PRC sees that its fundamental interests have been challenged, and because the United States has not done what it has expected it to do to restrain Taiwan actions to change the status quo, it needs to act on its own to reverse the situation, and the only way to do that is some level of military force.

I would note that all three sides have gone part way down this road before. In the presidential campaign in Taiwan of 2003-2004, President Chen was taking a number of initiatives that China interpreted — and some in the United States interpreted — as preparations to change the status quo. You will recall that President Bush made statements criticizing President Chen for that.

Now, in the current situation, Beijing is beginning to get worried about what Chen Shui-bian is up to with his declarations that he wants to change the constitution, and he wants to create more international space for Taiwan. And we’re beginning to hear complaints that the United States and China are not on the same page.

A War Like No Other 5 CNAPS Book Launch April 26, 2007 This is why, on the whole, China and the United States can manage China’s rise on the one hand and; on the other, why the Taiwan issue could be the one area where we could get off the rails.

To tell you more about how that could happen, I turn to my colleague, Mike O’Hanlon.

DR. O’HANLON: Thank you, Richard.

What I want to talk about just for a few minutes are some of the military dynamics that could result, if we saw things go to the point where Richard has just left the discussion. Let me say that one of the challenges in writing this sort of a book is that we have such outstanding diplomats — a number of whom are in this room — who have worked on this problem, including my co-author and co-panelist, that, unfortunately, the problem is a little too settled right now to sell a lot of books. So it would have been nice if you could have left a little bit more tension in the relationship just for a few more months.

–  –  –

But, obviously, on the one hand, what we’re seeing is a relatively quiet situation right now over Taiwan. But others, especially Richard, who has written about it very elegantly in our book, understand the history better than I do.

Just to simplify the situation: Taiwan is a democracy of 23 million people, with elements of very strong ethnic association to China, but also at least as much separation from China as the United States had from Great Britain in 1775 — probably a lot more, frankly — one of the most impressive economies in the world; a history of being militarily threatened by the PRC; and being asked to be absorbed by this Communist behemoth that, as much as it’s reformed, as impressive as its growth and its evolution have been, is still this giant that has bullyish tendencies.

So it’s hard to be too critical of Taiwan at one level. I think a lot of people in this room, again, who have worked on the problem admire Taiwan greatly, as do most Americans, and want to make sure that it has the right not only to stay safe, but also to increasingly play a role in the international community — even though it is not recognized as a nation-state by most countries in the world. And this is a real dilemma.

As Richard explained very well in this book, and helped me to understand the distinction better than I had before: Taiwan wants more sovereignty, even if most of its leaders recognize they should not pursue outright independence.

–  –  –

All I’m trying to do here is simplify, in layman’s terms — since I’m the layman on the panel in regard to this issue of Taiwan’s politics and its standing in the international community — simplify how there can be the potential here for real disagreement, even if at this moment, through good diplomacy from the United States and others, we have a relatively calm situation.

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