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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 3-Jan-06
China and Taiwan step closer to military confrontation

Web Log - January, 2006

China and Taiwan step closer to military confrontation

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian took the offensive on Sunday, New Year's Day, in a live television address to the nation.

Chen called for parliamentary passage of a multibillion dollar arms package, pointing to increased Chinese militarism:

"At present, the Chinese People's Liberation Army has deployed 784 ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan along the coast across the Taiwan Strait.

"Recent reports on the military power of the People's Republic of China, published by the United States and Japan respectively, have made it very clear that China's military development evidently exceeds the reasonable scope of its defense needs.

"In the face of such imminent and obvious threat, Taiwan must not rest its faith on chance or harbor any illusions. We shall seriously contemplate how our self-defense capabilities can be strengthened and how to effectively respond to the gradual tipping of military power across the strait in favor of China."

More significant, though, was Chen's pledge to go ahead with his plan for Constitutional reform immediately -- an indirect promise to move toward full independence from China. He made repeated references to "Taiwan consciousness," and said he will stick with his four principles of sovereignty, democracy, peace and parity. He said this is the wish of Taiwan's people.

Taiwan poll results to question: "Do you feel Taiwanese, Chinese or both?" <font size=-2>(Source: WSJ)</font>
Taiwan poll results to question: "Do you feel Taiwanese, Chinese or both?" (Source: WSJ)

Indeed it is the wish of Taiwan's people, because of generational changes in Taiwan. The adjoining graph, which shows the number of Taiwanese who call themselves "Chinese" versus "Taiwanese" shows how the generational change is playing out. As the older generation dies out, the number of people calling them "Chinese" has been decreasing; as younger generations grow older, the number of people calling themselves "Taiwanese" is increasing.

This change was noticed 1½ years ago by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a televised speech, after a visit to Taiwan:

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this is the type of generational change that always occurs during a "generational crisis" period. The violent, genocidal civil war that led to the government on Taiwan ended in 1949. The people who lived through that war are willing to do anything to keep another such war from occurring, so they tend to identify with the Chinese mainland; those born after the war, with no personal memory of it, have no fear of another war, and are more willing to identify themselves as being "Taiwanese."

A similar generational change is taking place in China. The most noticeable sign of this is the dramatic increase in regional mass riots. These riots are increasingly common in China, with 74,000 riots occurring in 2004, according to Chinese officials. In a widely reported recent incident in Dongzhou, about 80 miles from Hong Kong, a protest by 10,000 villagers was put down by Chinese security police, who killed several dozen villagers. As I wrote last January, China's society is unraveling and headed for civil war, and this trend will only accelerate as the generation of mainland people who lived through the same civil war disappear.

China's position on Taiwan is also becoming increasingly hardline. The most dramatic example was China's Anti-Secession law, which guaranteed Chinese military action in case of any Taiwanese moves towards independence -- such as moving forward on Constitutional reform. This law, passed in March, caused massive public demonstrations in Taiwan, the largest in history.

On January 3, China made an initial response to Chen's speech through an analysis in the state-controlled media:

A confrontation between Taiwan and Beijing in 2006 has been building for several years because of Chen's stated constitutional reform plans for this year. For all that time, there's been a debate among academics whether an actual confrontation would take place.

For example, one 2004 study by a Taiwanese professor said that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would not take place in 2006. He gives several reasons, the most important of which is that China believes that it's becoming militarily stronger and America is becoming militarily weaker.

The most intriguing argument is that China can't invade in 2006 because it doesn't want to do anything to derail the prestige it will receive from hosting the Olympics in 2008.

However, these arguments are na´ve because they overlook the generational situation. The argument about the Chinese Olympics is particularly na´ve; if it were true, then anyone could blackmail Beijing in 2006 and 2007 with no fear of retribution from a China more concerned about the Olympics. That's silly.

People think that "cooler heads will prevail" on both sides, rather than risk a war that could be devastating for Taiwan, and trigger war with America. The implication is that people will think things over, and compromise rather than risk war.

But that isn't what happens during a generational crisis period. All sides become more and more hardline during a crisis period, since the generational changes cannot be reversed. Instead of cooler heads prevailing, it happens more and more that confrontational heads prevail.

A war could happen anytime, by miscalculation. If China believes that it has the ability to launch a lightning fast military takeover of Taiwan before the U.S. could respond, it would do so, miscalculating the U.S. response. An American response would be swift but overconfident, and a miscalculation might underestimate the strength of China's capabilities. (3-Jan-06) Permanent Link
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