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Pentagon wins gold for Games stupidity
HONG KONG - The US Defense Department's annual report to Congress on the Chinese military contains a curious statement: "If Beijing chooses to use force against Taiwan prior to the 2008 Olympics, China would almost certainly face a boycott or loss of the games." |
If the Chinese Communist Party's politburo members in their enclave in Zhongnanhai are screaming for doctors to treat their laughter-induced bellyaches, it is entirely understandable. This pious declaration from Pentagon hawks is too priceless for words.
To compare the Olympics to Taiwan shows a mind-boggling lack of understanding of China, its people and the whole mainland-Taiwan issue altogether. How can one compare Taiwan, a self-governing island of 22 million people, to two weeks of running, jumping and shooting?
One is priceless, the other a mere US$1.6 billion worth of infrastructure: sports venues, hostels and roads. That doesn't include the time and money spent persuading Beijingers to abandon their pajamas for street-wear for their evening strolls when the foreigners flood into town.
Restoring Taiwan to the motherland, even over the very long run, is neither an empty slogan nor a political ploy by the Communist Party politburo to keep the masses in line. Feelings about Taiwan across the country are as strong as the sentiments against the Japanese, if not stronger.
In short, China can afford to lose the Olympics, but not Taiwan. As Chinese officials have repeatedly said, China would spare no cost to prevent Taiwan from splitting from the motherland. It is true that the Chinese nation sees the success of the Beijing Summer Olympic Games as a source of national pride, but this does not mean it will give up on matters of principle.
If China could give up Taiwan just to keep Olympics, then Washington might as well simply tell Beijing now, "You'd better let the yuan float, or we'll boycott the Games." Fortunately for the Americans and for China, there are at least some people in Washington who really understand what the problem across the Taiwan Strait is all about.
US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick set out the issue very succinctly in these words: "The balance is that we want to be supportive of Taiwan, while not encouraging those [who] try to move toward independence. Because let me be very clear: independence means war. And that means casualties of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines."
Beijing has long appreciated Washington's understanding and acceptance of the one-China policy, especially the earnest intent behind the formulation of the Anti-Secession Law just over a year ago. For historical reasons, however, the US had to continue standing behind Taipei. The United States would inevitably be drawn into any war between mainland China and Taiwan.
Implicit in Zoellick's words is the US view that it does not want to go to war with China for the sake of Taiwanese independence, particularly if such a war is provoked by Taipei. This is also implicit in the way Washington recently treated Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's request to stop over in the United States during his journey to Costa Rica and Paraguay, dubbed "the journey to nowhere" by the Taiwanese media.
The Olympics may be an occasion for Beijing to showcase its emergence as an economic power, but it is still a mere sideshow. Beijing has no reason to be ashamed of its quest to be the world's No 1 economic power. It is still a long way from this goal even though it is now universally regarded as the world's economic engine.
Before it gets to be No 1 it will have to resolve the countless social problems that threaten to tear the country apart. President Hu Jintao and the politburo give themselves about 20-30 years to resolve them. That was the message from the National People's Congress in March.
The secondary message: No war, please - not for the next 20-30 years at least. For that time the US can remain the world's superpower, global cop or whatever it wants to be, so long as it does not go out of its way to step on China's toes.
Within these parameters there can obviously be a lot of give and take. China's domestic savings totaled 15.863 trillion yuan ($1.98 trillion) at the end of April, according to the People's Bank of China. That's unimaginable wealth. Buying Boeing airplanes by the hundreds is no problem. With many other high-tech purchases China can keep many, many Americans in high-end jobs.
It is mainly the low-end jobs that are migrating from the US to China and elsewhere. There, too, China can eventually work together with US industries to keep some jobs in the United States. But to threaten China with loss of the Olympics over Taiwan?
It would appear the Pentagon hawks have heard neither of former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers nor of his views on the precarious position of the US economy or even its military power when the dollar is at the mercy of China and other Asian countries. China alone will be holding more than $1 trillion in US dollar assets a full year before the Olympics.
When China and the other holders of US debts decide to abandon them, the dollar will go down the drain. That was the essence of Summers' "balance of financial terror" pronouncement. The Pentagon hawks obviously are not economists. Nor were they paying attention to Summers; perhaps not even to Zoellick.
Chen Shui-bian is counting on such ignorance or lack of attention on the part of the Pentagon hawks. He wants American blood spilled.
When it comes to that, the Olympics be damned.
On this, at least, Beijing and Ah-bian, as the Taiwanese leader is nicknamed on the island, share the same view.
May 26, 2006
Augustine Tan is a freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.