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Why Taiwan? Geostrategic Rationales for China's Territorial Integrity.

Why Taiwan? Geostrategic Rationales for China's Territorial Integrity. By Alan M. Wachman. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007. 254 pages. $65.00 ($24.95 paper).

This is a good book in that the author addresses with careful research one of the issues of war and peace in our time: Why the island of Taiwan is worth fighting for. Alan M. Wachman, professor of international politics at Tufts University, touches on most of the reasons the People's Republic of China (PRC) wants to conquer Taiwan but emphasizes its strategic location. A particular strength of the book is the author's reliance on authoritative Chinese sources, letting them tell their own story.

Having said that, the reader must slog through many passages of turgid academic writing to discern the author's points. The text is repetitive and needed the firm hand of a demanding editor. Too much sourcing is relegated to 41 pages of endnotes. In substance, Wachman fails to produce a thorough examination of the reasons the people of Taiwan should fight for their homeland or why the United States might need to fight for Taiwan.

Wachman is not an apologist for the PRC. Rather, he has tried, and in large measure succeeded, in laying out the reasons that mainland Chinese seem increasingly willing to use military force to bring Taiwan under Communist rule. Those reasons range from raging nationalism, revenge for a century of humiliation by the West and Japan, fear of what Chinese Communists see as subversive democracy in Taiwan, and a drive to hold sway over Taiwan's economic progress.

Wachman, however, focuses on China's strategic rationale for annexing Taiwan. That island off China's southeastern coast, along with Tibet in the south, Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the west, Inner Mongolia in the north, and ethnic Korean communities along the Yalu River in the northeast, are seen from Beijing as border lands that must be secured for the sake of Han China. (Mainstream Hart Chinese take their name from the Hart Empire of 202 B.C. to 220 A.D.)

Leaders of the PRC, inheritors of a continental power, are seeking to add maritime power to the capacities of the People's Liberation Army, which comprises all of China's armed forces. They believe control of Taiwan is essential to that construct. Defensively, Wachman tells the reader, ruling Taiwan would add strategic depth. Offensively, governing Taiwan would abet China's maritime power projection east into the mid-Pacific and south into the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca that has become vital to China's trade and economic progress.

Wachman names Admiral Liu Huaqing, China's naval commander 1982-87 and later vice chairman of the Central Military Commission that sets China's military objectives, strategy, and policy, as the leading advocate of Chinese seapower. "It was Liu who articulated the significance of putting to sea a 'blue water' navy that would be capable of 'offshore defense' and dominate the seas" out to 1,800 miles from China's coast.

Moreover, taking Taiwan would breach the "line in the water" the United States had begun to draw in the western Pacific. A line that begins in the Sea of Japan, runs south through the East China Sea and the Strait of Taiwan, and pushes further south into the South China Sea and west through the Strait of Malacca. East of that line are Japan, which has a security treaty with America; Taiwan, which has informal security relations with the United States; and the Philippines, which also has a security treaty with the United States. Behind that line the island of Guam in the central Pacific is being built up as a major US air and naval base.

Not so incidentally, Guam is 1,800 miles from China's coast and on a mid-Pacific line to which the Chinese intend to expand their naval and air power. Chinese admirals are already looking beyond that line, one having recently suggested to Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of US forces in the Pacific and Asia, that China and the United States split the Pacific Ocean down the middle. China would patrol the western half with the aircraft carriers the Chinese navy intends to build while the United States would be responsible for security in the eastern half. Admiral Keating, politely but firmly, allowed as how America was not about to be pushed out of the western Pacific.

For the United States there are several reasons why Taiwan is worth fighting for. As Wachman writes: "Taiwan sits at the interface of two strategic domains--the continental domain of the PRC and the maritime domain of the United States." Though few US political leaders seem willing to say so, keeping Taiwan out of hostile Chinese hands reduces a threat to the sea lanes of communication vital to American and allied navies and to the seaborne commerce of US economic partners such as Japan and South Korea.

Additionally, if the United States were to abandon Taiwan, it would cast doubt on the willingness of America to keep its treaty commitments to South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia. It would also call into question informal security ties with Singapore, Indonesia, and India. Besides, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, enacted by Congress after President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China on Taiwan to the PRC, requires the United States to maintain the capacity "to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan."

Lastly, for America to forsake the fledgling democracy on Taiwan would be hypocritical after so many American politicians of every stripe have asserted that promoting democracy around the world is an American mission. Wachman is spot on when he asserts: "The Taiwan issue remains a powder keg with a long-simmering but ever-shortening fuse."

Reviewed by Richard Halloran, a freelance writer who was once a lieutenant of airborne infantry and later a foreign correspondent in Asia for The New York Times.
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Author:Halloran, Richard
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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