After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is China going to invade Taiwan?

There is this notion that Russia and China are following similar paths as they are both autocratic regimes. Autocracies are efficient and give the people of a country a sense of stability. In reality, it is a breakdown of independent institutions and laws designed to limit the powers of rulers.

An autocracy is a system of government where one person has absolute power. Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China, rule their countries through fear and paranoia of the Western powers. It is often more extreme in Iran and North Korea, but they do not have the military capabilities of Russia and China. The unchecked authority of Putin is a key element leading to the decision to invasion of Ukraine.

It seemed a bit crazy when commentators were suddenly talking about the possible invasion of Taiwan by China, following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, concluded this week was really about Xi Jinping emphasizing nationalism, security and formally adopting a more threatening policy towards Taiwan.

China watchers agree that Xi Jinping is more powerful than ever, with his handpicked new six member Politburo Standing Committee and his election to an unprecedented third term in office.

See link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_National_Congress_of_the_Chinese_Communist_Party

So, unfortunately the commentators arguing that Xi is likely to follow Putin’s foot steps seem to be right. Putin’s justifications of the Ukrainian invasion are basically (1) They are just taking back what has always belonged to Russia and (2) Ukraine was never really a country. Also, Russia ignores the UN condemnation of the invasion and the sanctions imposed by US and the EU.

Russia also claims that they were pushed into reclaiming Ukraine because of NATO’s expansion. Putin is good at concocting a rationale for the brutal invasion, and I have blogged previously that NATO acceptance of application of Eastern European break away countries, was consistent with NATO’s principles and an act of defense rather than aggression. Russia was never threatened by NATO expansion, but rather saw it as an ideal pretext to defend their actions.

Xi Jinping is obviously taking notice. He has tightened his grip on his party, and now is using paranoia of the US and Western nations, to convince the country that their security is at risk. It would be absurd to think that Ukraine posed a risk to Russia, or similarly Taiwan posed a risk to China. To justify an invasion, it is necessary to reduce Taiwan to a geological entity, known for centuries as the island of Formosa, and taken from the Chinese after World War II, as a refuge to the defeated army of Chiang Kai-Shek, and propped up by the US military,

Anyone who has studied Asian history would immediately know that Taiwan was under Japanese rule for 50 years from 1895 to 1945. Ironically, it is General Chiang Kai-Shek and his Chinese army who insisted that Taiwan was not only part of China, but that it was the provisional capital of China. From 1949 to the 1970s, the primary mission of the Taiwanese military was to “retake mainland China” through Project National Glory (Wikipedia). I’m not sure anyone believed this mission 50 years ago, and certainly the military today is strictly defensive.

Mainland China is the People’s Republic of China or PRC. The nation of Taiwan refers to itself as the Republic of China or ROC. Per Wikipedia:

The political and legal statuses of Taiwan are contentious issues. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that Taiwan is Chinese territory and that itself has replaced the ROC government in 1949, becoming the sole legal government of China. The ROC, however, has its own currency, widely accepted passport, postage stamps, internet TLD, armed forces and constitution with an independently elected president. It has not formally renounced its claim to the mainland, but ROC government publications have increasingly downplayed this historical claim. Though it was a founding member of United Nations, the ROC now has neither official membership nor observer status in the organization.

Link: Wikipedia, Taiwan

Now, the US has tried to form a better relationship with China, for the obvious reason that China is a nuclear power with 18.5% of the world’s population. For this reason, we adopted the “One China” policy.

Link: What is the US “One China Policy”?

But we also want to continue strong ties to Taiwan and ensue their security. Administrations have tried to sidestep the question of ROC status. The question is whether ROC should pursue a path of unifying with China (one nation, two systems) in a manner similar to Hong Kong, through peaceful means or put more effort in achieving worldwide recognition as a separate nation, and formally abandoning its historical claim, that it is the legitimate government of China. I believe the latter is the more practical approach, even though China would see this as a threat.

The more belligerent Xi Jinping becomes, peaceful re-unification with two systems looks like a naïve, distant dream. The US has a very small military presence on Taiwan itself, but a large naval fleet close at hand. We don’t want a large military presence on Taiwan, because this could exacerbate an already tense situation. As Biden has remarked a number of times, if two nuclear powers are on the same battlefield, this can quickly become World War III.

Our US policy from Carter through Trump has been called “strategic ambiguity” towards the status of Taiwan. Biden’s recent comments on the US commitment defending Taiwan, appear to break with this policy.

Link: Biden leaves no doubt: ‘Strategic ambiguity’ toward Taiwan is dead

There will be some quiet back stepping, as we don’t want to cause Beijing to have a pretext to invade.

“Strategic ambiguity” never really could be a real policy, yet it endured for decades. It seems at odds with the fundamental aspects of good policy-making of clarifying areas of agreement, and narrowing issues of disagreement. It was the US trying to find a middle ground between ROC and RPC, when there was less and less they could agree on.

Xi is watching Putin’s war. He sees the successes and failures. And the most obvious failure is Russia’s inability to occupy and administer the eastern flank of Ukraine. The new Ukrainian counter-offensive, including the retaking of Kherson, means wars are most easily won in theory on maps rather than on the battlefield.

So, a Ukraine win will be a Taiwan win as well. Are we entering a new cold war, with both Russia and China? I really hope not, because so much progress has been made to resolve conflicts without going to war.

Stay tuned,

Dave

NATO/Russia/Ukraine – Chronological Recap

Putin goes back decades in justifying the invasion. The last question I answered was whether there were verbal promises made to the Soviets around the time of re-unification or the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 to limit NATO expansion. My response was no. And the Soviet leader at the time, Gorbachev, agrees with this. The best Putin can come up with, is that in 1990, the head of NATO said they had no plans to expand NATO eastward. Of course, this was said when the Warsaw Pact was still in place, so these countries could not join NATO.

World politics in 1990 is very different from today. Still, Putin’s justification for the invasion go back decades. So, before going ahead, I thought to summarize as quickly as possible key historical events 1985 forward. Leonid Brezhnev, the hard line leader of the Soviet Union, died in 1982 while in office as the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.

Vladimir Putin at the time of Brezhnev’s death, was 30 years old and an agent in the KGB. From 1985 to 1990, he was a KGB agent working in Dresden, Germany. There is an excellent videos produced by Frontline, of Putin’s rise to power, and how the dissolution of the USSR likely influence his perspective.

Frontline: Putin’s Way (produced in 2015, after the takeover of Crimea)

TIMELINE (1985-1991)

Date Event
March 11, 1985Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary of the Communist Party and is eager to make changes to make the bureaucracy more efficient and responsive, through Glastnost (openness, freedom of press and information) and Perestroika (democratic restructuring, including multi-candidate elections). See link Mikhail Gorbachev.
June 12, 1987President Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” speech in Germany. It is broadcast over the radio, and was heard in East Germany and the Soviet Union.
June 1, 1988Disarmament agreement between US and Soviets on intermediate nuclear missiles went into effect.
Mar 29, 1990Gorbachev had introduced competitive elections for the Boris Yeltsin is elected president of the Soviet parl
May 1989In May 1989 Gorbachev is elected chairman of this Supreme Soviet and thereby retained the national presidency.
Nov 9, 1989The Berlin wall is torn down. Re-unification required the acceptance of the four major powers that created a divided Germany, USSR, France, UK and the US which is not complete until 1994 with the withdrawal of Russian troops.
July 1, 1990 East Germany adopts the West German currency, all de jure border controls ceased, although the inter-German border had become meaningless for some time before that. The demolition of the Wall was completed in 1994.
July 1, 1991Warsaw Pact dissolved. NATO Declassified: Warsaw Pact Also,
Aug 18, 1991The military launches a coup against Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin stands on top of a tank and delivers a speech to the crowd to defy the military leaders. Coup attempt ends quickly, but Gorbachev’s authority greatly diminishes in September. Yeltsin begins to gain control.
Dec 8-12, 1991Belavezhskaya Accords: On 8 December, Yeltsin met Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk and the leader of Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich, in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. In the Belavezha Accords, the three presidents declared that the Soviet Union no longer existed “as a subject of international law and geopolitical reality,” and announced the formation of a voluntary Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place.

According to Gorbachev, Yeltsin kept the plans of the Belovezhskaya meeting in strict secrecy and the main goal of the dissolution of the Soviet Union was to get rid of Gorbachev, who by that time had started to recover his position after the events of August. Gorbachev has also accused Yeltsin of violating the people’s will expressed in the referendum in which the majority voted to keep the Soviet Union united. On 12 December, the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR ratified the Belavezha Accords and denounced the 1922 Union Treaty. It also recalled the Russian deputies from the Council of the Union, leaving that body without a quorum. While this is regarded as the moment that the largest republic of the Soviet Union had seceded, this is not technically the case. Russia appeared to take the line that it was not possible to secede from a country that no longer existed.
Dec 26, 1991The dissolution of the USSR, occurred in 3 years and 1 month and by the end of 1991, there were 15 newly independent republics.

SELECTED LINKS

Other YouTube links are provided at the end of this blog.

Boris Yeltsin

He was the first freely elected president of Russia. He was a very popular president at the beginning, but as the economic crisis worsened, his popularity soon dropped. He had attempted to make drastic changes in the economy, by lifting price controls and other governmental controls, and at the same time, liberalize the government at a more rapid pace than under Gorbachev.

There are so many good documentaries and summaries on Yeltsin and Putin, that I will not attempt provide more information.

Inside story: Boris Yeltsin Part 1 on YouTude

Inside story: Boris Yeltsin- Part 2 on YouTube

Wikipedia: Boris Yeltsin

Vladimir Putin

Frontline: Putin’s Way (produced in 2015, after the takeover of Crimea)

Frontline: Putin’s Road to War

Wikipedia: Valdimir Putin

Military spending as a percentage of GDP is similar, with a low of 2.7% in 1998 and a high of 5.5% in 2016.

NATO:

Acceptance into NATO

Acceptance of applications to NATO required the approval of the Allied powers, including the US and Canada. For the US, the Senate must vote to approval acceptance. By the accords to re-unify Germany, the former state of East Germany dissolved, so the united Germany was a member of NATO.

Since Bush, every president has supported entry of Eastern European countries into NATO.

Bush, HWEast Germany, due to accords of German re-unification, 9-Oct-90
Clinton, W.Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, 12-March-1999
Bush, WBulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, 29-Mar-2004
ObamaAlbania, Croatia 1-April-2009
TrumpMontenegro, 5-June-2017
BidenNorth Macedonia, 27-March-2020

Required steps for Entry

There are a series of necessary steps prior to admission. It begins with a country expressing a desire to join. A country’s participation in the Membership Action Plan (MAP) entails the annual presentation of reports concerning its progress on five different measures:

(1) Willingness to settle international, ethnic or external territorial disputes by peaceful means, commitment to the rule of law and human rights, and democratic control of armed forces
(2) Ability to contribute to the organization’s defense and missions
(3) Devotion of sufficient resources to armed forces to be able to meet the commitments of membership
(4) Security of sensitive information, and safeguards ensuring it
(5) Compatibility of domestic legislation with NATO cooperation

The foreign ministers from the Allied countries meet, and review the application for admission. If approved, then the US Senate must vote for admission. The last country to be admitted was North Macedonia.

NATO Military Operations

See: Wikipedia, List of NATO operations

What is striking about the list of NATO operations, is since NATO was founded in 1949, for the first 43 years, there were no NATO operations. Many of the operations were done in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions. Russia can always use its veto power to strike down a Security Council resolution.

NATO Expansion Promises

Putin claims NATO promised not to expand in 1990. The best repudiation of this claim is given in the link below:

Brookings Institute: Did NATO Promise Not to Enlarge? Gorbachev says “No.”


You Tube Links:

Gravitas: Did NATO push Russia into attacking Ukraine?

This video is certainly controversial. I do not accept that Russia has reason to be fearful of NATO. Moreover, this is in the mindset of Putin, having been in isolation during Covid-19 pandemic. The statement that George H.W. Bush promised Gorbachev it would not expand NATO eastward was never part of any agreement. Gorbachev said it just didn’t come up in the 4+2 Treaty negotiations, except in regard to NATO deployments in the former Eastern Germany. NATO had no plans to expand eastward, in 1990, because the countries belong to the Warsaw Pact. No new members for 9 years following the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved because its member nations no longer considered it necessary.

The comment by William Burns in 2008, that accepting of Ukraine into NATO would be viewed as a hostile act, is also accurate, and it is noted that Ukraine is not a part of NATO. The strong protest of NATO expansion from Russia at the 2007 Munich Conference is correct. I may comment on this video in my next blog.

Tech ARP Did Russia Promise NATO not to expand one inch to the West?

Well done video.

Frontline: Putin’s Revenge

FRONTLINE tells the story of how Russian President Vladimir Putin came to see the United States as an enemy — and how U.S. intelligence came to believe he targeted the 2016 presidential election.

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Unlike other posts, this posting is meant to be informative rather than address a particular issue. The buildup of hate against NATO and the US by Putin, can not be attributed to a single event. Visitors are free to add their own comments and/or links.

It does not in anyway provide justification for the Ukrainian invasion.

Stay tuned,

Dave

What Democracy brings to the Table

Before Putin, Russia seemed to be on a path to a more democratic government. Certainly under Mikhail Gorbachev (leadership positions, 1988 to 1991), a new openness and transparency (glasnost) had begun. Political reform within the communist party within Russia is called Perestroika. I note Gorbachev is still alive (age 91 years) and lives outside of Moscow. He has been critical of both the US and Putin.

I had a few conversations with friends of how democracies are terribly inefficient. The president has one agenda and Congress has another. And we may be entering one of these periods, if Republicans gain control of the Senate and/or the House. So, democracies bring with it, a lot of in-fighting between parties. Right now, very few Republicans approve of Joe Biden. They blame him for just about everything.

Companies seem so much more efficient. The CEO and Board of Directors sets out objectives, and the employees do their best to follow the plan.

We can see what a democracy brings to the table, by examining the autocracies. I will define them as follows:

“Autocracy is a system of government in which absolute power over a state is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject neither to external legal restraints nor to regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of coup d’état or other forms of rebellion).” Wikipedia

Churchill’s quote on democracy still holds:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

There are several pillars that hold up a democracy, to keep it from turning into an autocracy. First is the right of free speech and the right to assembly. The right to a fair trial is also fundamental to a democracy. It is the amendments of the constitution which put limits on what government can do. As Putin increased his power, critics were silenced. Television stations critical of the government were closed. Other critics have been assassinated.

The second pillar is free and open elections and term limits. They are not perfect. But they do result in no one being the leader of a country for decades. Elections should be the result of people making informed decisions. So, some awareness of the responsibility of the electorate, not to vote strictly on the basis of party line, is needed.

The third pillar is our constitution is the supreme law of our country, is not easily amended and can not be scrapped altogether. Otherwise, a strong president could be ordering changes in the constitution to favor his re-election and concentration of authority. What goes along with this, is a respect for the legal system, and the concept that no one is above the law.

The fourth pillar is our system of checks and balances, designed to keep no one branch of government as the exclusive source of power and authority. A good example is that every cabinet level nomination must be approved by the Senate. Supreme Court nominations are all subject to Senate review and approval. Yes, our checks and balances don’t work perfectly, but they are there.

The benefits to a democracy are best understood by looking what an autocracy lacks and how it can bring ruin to a country. We now see this nightly, as we follow Putin’s war. Putin is looking for support and he really hasn’t found it. No functioning democracy supports Putin’s invasion.

Putin is not faced with massive opposition to his war, because he controls the news stations. Anyone who protests the war will be jailed. No court is going to dare not convict protestors. No Congress is going to impeach him for abuse of power. No checks and balances. No fair elections. And way to transfer power when one day Putin steps down.

So, remember the 4 pillars, (1) The civil liberties from our bill of rights (2) Free and open elections, (3) Our constitution is the supreme law of the country and can not be easily changed and (4) Our system of checks and balances.

Giving up democracy to make the system more efficient or effective, is a terrible idea.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia Autocracy

Wikipedia, Mikhail Gorbachev