(From the National Interest)
By Lyle J. Goldstein
There are lots of rocks in the Western Pacific. If various and sundry hawks have their way on U.S. national security policy in the South China Sea, then Americans will be learning the names of such obscure features of marine geology as Scarborough Shoal, Fiery Cross Reef and Reed Bank. They may even soon become household names like Raqqa, Mosul and Kunduz. Let’s hope not, because the consequences would be far more deleterious for U.S. national interests.
However, there is a rock out there of seminal importance to world order for the twenty-first century. That rock is Taiwan and it has 23.5 million people on it—distinguishing it quite clearly from most other rocks (or reefs) out there that have quite oddly occupied the bandwidth among journalists and strategists since 2010. Taiwan has been an extraordinary issue in US-China relations since 1949 when Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalists fled to the island after defeat in China’s civil war. The only reason that Taiwan has been, by and large, out of the headlines since 2008 is that the island’s leader Ma Yingjeou quite radically shifted course from his two predecessors and bravely pursued a rapprochement with the mainland. That far-sighted policy has made for eight quiet years. Only readers unfamiliar with the very dicey situation across the Taiwan Strait from 1997-2007 could fail to appreciate the welcome and prosperous calm that has characterized the Taiwan issue over the last several years.
Of course, Beijing has always operated from the premise that it might ultimately have to use force against the “wayward province.” A sample of the new weaponry in its bristling arsenal that could be used to coerce “the beautiful island” might include:
1) a vast, mobile and highly accurate system of ballistic missiles now supplemented by land-attack cruise missiles for destroying Taiwan radars, airfields and command posts;
2) a large fleet of submarines currently being equipped with supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles (a capability the US Navy still lacks) for holding the “barbarians” at a distance from the fight;