On the subject of deadly weapons: I've been scouring the Internet for news about Taiwan--five years without checking the Taipei Times have left me a little out of the loop--and holy shit, there has been an awful lot no one has been telling me about. Most of it has been election mudslinging, X Politican Said What?, technology conventions, new skyscrapers, quaint new public waste disposal policies--the usual local-level domestic news crap. But something that caught my eye was the parade on October 10, 2007--"Double Ten Day," the anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. It's the Taiwanese equivalent of the American Fourth of July, and Taiwanese people all over the world typically celebrate the founding of their nation the same way we Americans celebrate ours: fireworks, barbecues, and lots and lots of booze.
What was so unusual about last year's Double Ten is that in Taipei, it was celebrated like this.
Now those of you who have not celebrated Double Ten in Taiwan may not realize how incongruous this picture is. Double Ten is a day Taiwanese people associate with family outings, department store sales, and wanton feasting. Sure, it's a very patriotic holiday and people wave around little Taiwanese flags and such, but it's all in good fun. It's a peacetime tradition for a peacetime country, and proof that the Republic of China was able to put its dark past behind it. Few Taiwanese people are old enough now to remember firsthand the horror of World War II or the senseless violence of the Chinese Civil War. The current generation, the one parallel to mine, doesn't even remember the brutality of Taiwan under martial law, as the arduous but bloodless transition from nationalistic military rule to true democracy was nearly complete by the time their parents came of age. To see CM-32 IFVs rolling through Taipei in 2007 is like what it would be to see M1 Abrams tanks rolling through the streets of Washington D.C. on July Fourth. It's an anachronism. Utterly incongruous. These images belong in the history books--they conjure images of Mao's Cultural Revolution across the strait, or Stalin's military parades farther north. Tanks rolling through flag-lined streets, followed by a procession of truck-mounted ballistic missiles--it feels like a high-budget historical reenactment. They haven't done anything like this since 1991--and it was a very different world in 1991.
I don't know what makes me sadder--the fact that they chose to do this, or the fact that they had to. It's no secret that China has been scaling up their military and escalating their military exercises to a frightening degree. That they're threatening Taiwan with complete obliteration is nothing new--they've been saber-rattling for decades. But the holding of large-scale invasion exercises, the rapid rolling out of new weapons technologies, the deployment of 1,400 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in Fujian and Zhejiang (my grandmother's province! so much for safe refuge, huh)--it's really starting to worry people. China's not content with saving face anymore. They're getting pushy, diplomatically (if you've been following that whole brouhaha). They're taking things to the next level. They're even telling the U.S. to fuck off. Naturally, lots of countries--America included--are getting very worried. China's busy with the Olympics now, but they're definitely up to something. Who knows what will happen when the Olympics end? And that Taiwan would be desperate enough to risk destablilizing everything, fuck over the economy, possibly derail peace talks, with this wanton display of We're Not Going To Take It Anymore--that sounds, diplomatically, like a cornered animal.
And what do cornered animals do? They get ready to fight to the death.
The Kuomintang Party, the main opponents to President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party, accused Chen of staging these exercises to rally popular confidence in the military before the upcoming election, as no one seriously believes Taiwan could fend off a Chinese invasion, possibly not even with U.S. help. (It doesn't matter how good Taiwan's tech is--with China's sheer numbers, they could literally throw soldiers onto the island until Taiwan was smothered in a layer of bodies from Taipei to Kaohsiung.) But to see this maneuver as a mere election trick (and an unsuccessful one, considering that this year's presidential election was won by perennial KMT favorite Ma Ying-Jeou) is to be hopelessly short-sighted. This is a message to China--a long-withheld response to the massive mobilization of troops and equipment on China's southeastern coast. A last fuck-you to the PRC before Chen steps down--a very dangerous fuck-you. And China is obviously not pleased.
I do not like these new developments one bit.
What's even more troubling is that Taiwan has announced that it has developed a new type of missile, the Hsuing Feng IIE (*********E). Normally the development of new missiles is nothing new--a bullet point in the newspapers at best, unless it involves some kind of scandal like what happened with the Lafayette frigates a couple years back, or a particularly angry response from China as was the case with the Mirage 2000 fighters we bought from France. But this one is an eye-opener. Most of the Hsiung Feng series are surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles--ideal and necessary for staving off an invasion. But the IIE is notable in that it is specifically designed to be a land attack cruise missile. It has a range of 600 km--the Taiwan Strait is only 180 km wide--and the Ministry of National Defense plans to have fifty of them built by 2010. Five hundred, eventually. They deny that the missiles are designed to attack anything but ships, but they're really not fooling anybody. Consequently, international news media has gone absolutely apeshit. And so has China.
Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the PRC's State Council, responded tersely: "We sternly warn the Taiwan authorities not to play with fire. Whoever plays with fire will get burned."
More troubling than the missiles themselves is what they signify: that Taiwan has switched its defense policy from stalling to deterrence. Taiwan knows it can't fend off an invasion--everyone knows that--so they're fighting fire with fire. They're building missiles capable of hitting cities. It's nothing close to what China already has deployed against Taiwan, but it's enough to make China think twice. And it's a much more effective strategy, diplomatically and militarily, than "ooh, look, we can hold out until the Americans arrive!" But it's a strategy that can backfire. It's biting the tail of the dragon. No longer is Taiwan just an island off the coast that wants to be left alone. China can now justify force against Taiwan as a movement against a hostile foreign power threatening its borders. It might not move to do so immediately, or even soon. But it's so much harder to keep the moral high ground, to talk down the threat of violence, if you have a gun pointed against the temple of the guy who has a gun pointed against yours. In real life, Mexican standoffs rarely end well.
Nope. Can't say I like this at all.
And if anti-ship missiles are all that Taiwan plans to threaten China with, well, I wouldn't have nearly so much reason to be worried. If I had heard the news just a couple months ago, I would be worried, but I wouldn't be writing an LJ entry about it at one in the morning on a worknight. What really worries me is the most recent development in this whole snafu.
Yes, you read that right. The Bush Administration, with its incredible competence and amazing wisdom, decided the best defense against Chinese aspirations of superpowerdom would be to "accidentally" ship a few nuclear warheads to Taiwan.
Of course, China found out immediately. How could they not?
And, dear God, it gets worse.
600 km. That's a pretty big reach. Far enough to hit Shanghai, Hangzhou, Fuzhou. Maybe even Guangzhou City. They wouldn't hit Hong Kong--de facto diplomatic allies--but anything else in that radius is fair game. Eighteen million people in Shanghai alone--gone. No more Shanghai Theater Company. No more skyscraper-top romances. No more little dragon buns. It'd make the Rape of Nanjing look like a Catholic school day picnic. With certain guidance technology from the U.S. they could reach 1000 km. Not far enough to reach Beijing. Erica up in Dalian would probably be safe--Alena's pretty far inland too. But not so much for Nanchiang, maybe. Or Changsha. Hell, they might as well hit Nanjing and take out everyone who managed to escape being sodomized to death by the Japanese during World War II. Sucks to be them, huh.
(I would be drinking at this point if the bottle by my desk wasn't already empty.)
And how would China retaliate? Even if they didn't use nukes, they've got enough hardware aimed at Taiwan to bring it under the ocean. I'm no miltary strategist, but it's not hard to guess what they'd go for first. Boom, there goes Taipei--no more ************ or songs about ************, no more shopping at SOGO, no more kids in uniforms playing Counter-Strike at Internet cafes after cram school, no more Mom and Dad (hi Mom and Dad--sorry I couldn't save you from the world I inherited from you), no more geeks in Jedi costumes on parade. No more Chinese period soap operas or bitchin' rock music. Hsinchu's close to sea and has a military airbase--probably next. There goes NEHS, and aboriginal heavy metal music at the East Gate, dorky Chinghwa University students sipping pearl milk tea together, pork meatballs on a stick. Then Kaoshiung--sleazy karaoke places, aspiring mangaka, excellent seafood. Taichung--goodbye Michael, and all your dreams of making it big. Nantou, with its military bases (and possibly missile silos) and nearby Taroko National Gorge, in its all its gorgeous natural splendor, lost forever. Chiayi. Keelung. Tainan. Goodbye, Cat. Goodbye, Leo.
All this would happen and all our buddies from college, all of our new friends, they wouldn't even hear about it until the mushroom clouds went up. It'd be the cover of Newsweek one day and people over here would forget it about it, go about their business. Just another fucked over country in the ass-end part of the world. Always got more of those.
No amount of alcohol would ever be enough.
Alarmist? Overreacting? Of course. Taiwan's not that stupid. China's not that stupid. But the fact that both countries have thrown this possibility on the table is too big to ignore. And, if we've learned anything from the Cold War, the diplomatic benefits for each side to play thermonuclear Chicken (and I don't mean anything as simple as the classical example of two cars racing towards a cliff, with only egos at stake if either bails) may be too great to resist. So far the diplomatic situation is stable because of a large number of informal understandings and gentlemen's agreements, but if you've studied World War I you know that a peace forged around those is a mere half step above no peace at all. Unless Taiwan and China get something down soon--on paper--and both sides show that they can stay true to their word--some serious shit is going to go down. Shit you can't just block your ears and sing la la la the New York Times is bad for a man away from. You can't ignore the news if the news is the second most powerful country in the world pointing a gun to your mom and dad's heads. And not just one gun--but literally millions of them.
And if you know China, you know that as paranoid and oppressive as they may be, they aren't stupid. Invasion is one thing, but they are sure as hell not going to risk nuclear war with anyone. China's people have been talking with Taiwan's people. I sincerely hope they work something out.
Don't get me wrong, I'm worried about what would happen on the Chinese side, too--with that kind of population density you'd get atrocity on a scale unknown since the Second World War--but the Taiwanese side I can put a face to. And I'm beginning to see why even during the Cold War, even at the height of the nuclear scare and Duck and Cover and all of that over here, no one, even in art or cinema or fiction, was willing to explore the experience of an American city, town or suburb at the precise moment and immediate aftermath of a Hiroshima-style catastrophe. Post-apocalyptic wastelands were fair game because they were too abstract, too hypothetical--a theoretical exercise to be enjoyed in safety and comfort, that would go away the moment you put down the book or turned off the television. To show details, to put a face to everything you love and cherish being obliterated or maimed beyond recognition, would be too inflammatory, even here. People would riot.
All we can do now, for now, is get the word out, and drink.
(edit) Just in--the nuclear threat isn't as big as I had feared. It was nuclear warhead fuses, not the warheads themselves. The DoD tells us the shipment was an honest mistake. I'm inclined to believe them, if only because sending nuclear warhead fuses to Taiwan--fuses designed for Minuteman II ICBMs, which just happen to be the basis for the medium-range ballistic missile technology Taiwan is developing--is such an incredibly fucking stupid move that I doubt even the Bush administration would try it. I doubt China will be so easily convinced, though. Let's hope they don't use this predicament to justify a preemptive strike.