Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Strait Dope

Taiwan Strait Tension

Tensions have been rising in the Taiwan Strait this summer. The annual Han Kuang military exercises by the combined Taiwanese Armed forces culminated with F15’s landing on the national Sun Yat Sen freeway. Han Guang
Not to be outdone, the Chinese Army matched this bravado with a simulated invasion of Taiwan using Dongshan Island. This island only 150 nautical miles west of Taiwan has also been used by Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) in the past. Dongshan In addition to these annual events, the American Navy launched Summer Pulse 2004. According to the Pentagon, Summer Pulse '04 is the simultaneous deployment of seven aircraft carrier strike groups (CSGs). The goal was to demonstrate the ability of the Navy to provide combat power across the globe, with other U.S., allied, and coalition military forces. Summer Pulse

All of these activities are aggressive in nature but not out of the ordinary. China and Taiwan have been holding confrontational military exercises for years. In addition this is not the first time the Americans have become involved to help a client state(Taiwan)with military training. This news story would not have been newsworthy if it hadn't been posted in an article or on a discussion thread from the Chinese webapge This article or discussion thread (since removed) from claimed that Summer Pulse ’04 was in fact a deployment of seven CSGs in the Taiwan Straits. While most people take anything coming out of the China will an enormous grain of salt, this wasn't the case in Singapore. Ching Cheong from the Singapore Straits Times ran with the story and it was picked up worldwide.
US plans huge show of force in Pacific
Seven aircraft carriers to move within striking distance of China; Taiwan forces slated to join in drill

By Ching Cheong
HONG KONG - The United States is planning a massive show of force in the Pacific Ocean near China to register a point with Beijing.
According to a Department of Defence statement, Summer Pulse is to test out a new Fleet Response Plan (FRP) aimed at enhancing the American Navy's combat power and readiness in a time of crisis.

The FRP calls for the despatching of six 'forward deployed' or 'ready to surge' CSGs to a trouble spot within 30 days, and an additional two within 90 days.
Although the statement does not say where the seven CSGs will exercise, the Status of the Navy website said the USS Carl Vinson, Abraham Lincoln, John C Stennis and Kitty Hawk were in the Pacific Ocean as of yesterday.
The USS Enterprise and Harry Truman are in the Atlantic Ocean while USS George Washington is in the Persian Gulf.

According to a posting on, an influential website in China, the signs point to a gathering of all seven CSGs in the Pacific.

Sources in Beijing say China's reading is that Summer Pulse is being mounted with it as the target audience, a suspicion reinforced by reports that Taiwanese forces are slated to join in the drill.

Clearly, given Beijing's repeated warning that it will use force, as a last resort and whatever the cost, to stop Taiwanese independence, the US feels it needs to send Beijing a message.

From past deployment patterns, the US usually despatches one CSG to a trouble spot as a reminder of its presence.

It did so several times in the past when tension was high in the Taiwan Strait.
It sends two to indicate serious concern, as was the case when China test-fired missiles over the strait in 1996.

In a combat situation, it deploys three to four, which was what it did in the Gulf War in the early 1990s and the recent Iraqi war.

But never before has it sent in peace time seven CSGs to the same theatre.
The implications for China are grave.

According to Kanwa Defence News, which specialises in Chinese military matters, Beijing can cope with just one CSG currently.

'But in five to 10 years, it can certainly take on seven,' said Mr Chang Hong-yi, head of Kanwa, in an interview with The Straits Times.
'China's military potential is enormous and in terms of military technology, the gap with the US is closing fast,' he added.
However, a Chinese military source who declined to be identified is more sanguine.

'Even now, China can easily take on two CSGs,' he said but conceded that there was no way it could face seven all at the same time.

This means that if China has to wage war over Taiwan, it has to be able to land and seize control of the island within the first 30 days.

Otherwise, under the FRP, six CSGs may well arrive to join in the battle.
'All this leaves China with no choice but to start and end the war with lightning speed,' said the source.

Politically, Summer Pulse is likely to be seen by many Chinese as naked intimidation.

'This is gunboat diplomacy in the 21st century,' the source remarked, adding that it would remind the Chinese people of their century-long deep humiliation by Western powers - and put Sino-US relations at peril.

ONE aircraft carrier is sent to a trouble spot as a reminder of US presence. This was done several times in the past, when tension was high in the Taiwan Strait.
TWO carriers show serious concern, as was the case when China test-fired missiles over the strait in 1996.
THREE OR FOUR are sent in combat situations - as in the Gulf War in the early 1990s and the recent Iraqi war.
Sending SEVEN carriers in peace time to the same region is unprecedented. The US plan to do this after mid-July, in the Pacific Ocean near China, is a message to Beijing for its threat to use force to stop Taiwanese independence.

In an exercise codenamed Operation Summer Pulse 04, it is expected to arrange for an unprecedented seven aircraft carrier strike groups (CSGs) to rendezvous in waters a safe distance away from the Chinese coastline - but still within striking distance - after mid-July.
This will be the first time in US naval history that it sends seven of its 12 CSGs to just one region.

This poorly researched article lit up many discussion boards across Asia and later the world. Singapore Times Straits journalist Ching Cheong managed to make a mountain out of a mole hill. He claims that “ (is) an influential website in China.” This may be true, but as I mentioned earlier, any article from China must be scrutinized fully before being used as a lead source. As a frequent reader of I can honestly say that it rarely has any noteworthy news or events that don't already appear on various Asian wire services. He also says that Taiwan will be joining in Operation Summer Pulse. He doesn't even try to differentiate between Summer Pulse and the annual Han Kuang military exercises. This isn't the first time that Taiwan and the USA have performed joint military exercises nor will it be the last. The language Ching Cheong also question his impartiality, he claims “the implications are grave for china." He also claims “Politically, Summer Pulse is likely to be seen by many Chinese as naked intimidation.” In the last sentence he also claims that this would remind Chinese people of their century long "humiliation," by western powers. All of these statements may be valid if he countered with a balanced approach detailing the 'naked intimidation,' used by China in dealing with Taiwan.

In my opinion most newspapers in countries with central government control over the media, tend to be weak and one sided. The Singapore Straits Times is no exception. It is difficult to trust any news that comes from one of the most tightly controlled media markets in the world. The ruling party in Singapore controls all media and there is very little opposition. Is the Straits Times any different then People's Daily? The Singapore Straits Times did appear to post an apology of sorts, but they never publically took their journalist Ching Cheong to task for writing such an inflamatory report. To be fair I can't afford to pay for access to the Straits Times archives, where a real apolgy may be found. Here is an artcle from th Straits Times by Tom Plate discussing the issue. Although Mr. Plate should be advised that Lee Deng-Hui was the presidential candidate in 1996 not Chen Shui-Bian.

When the press reports a Net 'blockbuster'
By Tom Plate

LOS ANGELES - Anyone who knows anything about China knows that it is not just its current government but its people, too, who are ultra-protective and ultra-sensitive on the Taiwan issue. They would fight - bet on it - to keep alive the hope of eventual union with that feisty offshore island that maintains its wary distance from the mainland. And so, when a sensational story broke recently that the United States had plans for a massive show of naval power in the Chinese seas, it was a true blockbuster, perhaps a portent of world war.

After all, wars can start over serious mutual misperceptions. In 1996, the mainland executed an ill-advised measure of gunboat and missile diplomacy in an effort to intimidate the island's voters from electing as its president, Mr Chen Shui-bian, whose party's most prominent platform plank was formal independence from the mainland. In response, a pair of US aircraft carrier groups was sent close to China to help calm the roiling political waters. But they did not actually stick their noses into the strait - the 161-km wide sea that separates the mainland from Taiwan. This did not happen after then US ambassador to China James Sasser in Beijing, greatly alarmed, urgently telephoned then president Bill Clinton to warn that the Pentagon's running a carrier group through the Taiwan Strait might well trigger a Chinese military response. In the end, the carrier groups wisely steered away from strait waters, China quieted down, Mr Chen was elected. And over the next several years, China-US relations improved enormously.

Last week, though, it was starting to look like 1996 all over again. Rumours began to circulate about a mammoth US military exercise off Taiwan, Operation Summer Pulse '04, that would involve seven carrier groups, more than half of the US carrier fleet. In effect, US naval forces would be shaking an enormous stick in Beijing's face, signalling the folly of military action over Taiwan. The sensational story was apparently first listed as fact on a Chinese-language website, then published in at least two newspapers in Asia and two in the US, including in the ordinarily cautious Los Angeles Times. These accounts spawned a predictable firestorm in Asia about new US 'gunboat diplomacy' in various Internet blogs and webpages.

As well such an allegation should: China insists on ultimate sovereignty over Taiwan and argues that any Western encouragement of Taiwan separatism would undermine regional stability and delay a peaceful solution of the issue. Indeed, this one-China policy has been accepted by the United Nations (as well as the US and most of the world). Beijing thus has a point. And so given this reality, the proper task of modern global diplomacy is to discourage China from ever attempting to establish sovereignty by force and to deter Taiwan from acting publicly in such a way that Beijing becomes convinced that the military option is the mainland's only hope of ever realising unification. China's military overlord Jiang Zemin recently said this needs to be accomplished by 2020, which means (on my reading) that Beijing is not exactly saying, well, by tomorrow.

As it turns out, the seven-carriers-to-China story was not only inflammatory, it was also false. In fact, after the USS Ronald Reagan returns to port in San Diego early next month, only two carriers, not seven, will float in Pacific waters: the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS John C. Stennis, according to Captain John Singley, top spokesman for the US Pacific Command in Hawaii, in an exclusive on-the-record interview.

The false story, whipped into a frenzy, upset many in the US military perhaps as much as the Chinese. For one thing, the Pacific Command has been working industriously since the scary 1996 cross-strait stare-down to get to know its Chinese counterparts and develop a measure of mutual trust.
Then-Pacific Commander Joseph Prueher, now retired, personally visited China for useful sessions with Chinese counterparts. His successors continued that policy, though the frequency of contact has been foolishly cut back by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Second, rumours of a massive US military build-up (for which America does have the capability) only play into the hands of China's hawks in the People's Liberation Army, who beg Beijing for more money for more arms, which plays into the hands of Taiwan's hawks (same reason), which plays into the hands of anti-China circles in the US who want more funding for more weapons - all of which delights US arms merchants. It is through this kind of whirlwind of rumour, fear and innuendo that the vile atmosphere of a vicious, costly and unneeded arms race in Asia is spawned.

In international relations and public diplomacy, the news media play a critical role. They can prudently raise intelligent questions, or rashly raise international temperatures. They can carefully report the news or puff up a tidbit of sensationalism. The press owes it to world peace to behave more responsibly and not take its cues from sensational cyberspace sources. War - or potential war - is serious business, as Iraq today reminds us daily.
The writer is a University of California at Los Angeles professor. E-mail:

This story would have died a natural death if it hadn’t been picked up by Chalmers Johnson who wrote an article in the LA Times proclaiming and upcoming crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Here are two versions of the story Johnson 1 Johnson 2

Who is Chalmers Johnson? He is the President of the Japan Policy Research Institute (JPRI). Professor Johnson is also a renowned social scientist and public scholar. He’s the author of fifteen books and is a former professor of political science at UC Berkeley, where he also served as chairman of the department and chair of the Center for Chinese Studies. He's an emeritus professor of political science at UC San Diego.

According to Johnson he was a former hard line “cold warrior,” who ‘believed in the menace of the Soviet Union. His time in the CIA gave him a wealth of knowledge on the inner workings of American intelligence community worldwide. The fall of the Soviet Union and a visit to Okinawa in the early nineteen nineties caused him to challenge his own belief systems.
I have to say I was shocked to see the impact of thirty-eight American bases, located on an island smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, with 1.3 million living cheek-by-jowl, with warplanes ... the Third Marine Division is based there; the only marine division we have outside the country. And I began to investigate the issues.

He began to research the issues surrounding American military bases abroad. First, he looked at the 1995 rapes in Okinawa that General Richard Meyers, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – claimed to be a few ‘bad apples.’ He found out that these weren’t a mere few bad apples but systemic problems surrounding American military bases worldwide. Sound familiar?

Chalmers Johnson became a prolific albeit invisible writer after 1992. Septemebr 11th changed everything for him as his predictions in books like ‘Blowback,” came to fruition. He made best seller lists and became a celebrity for the American left. You can read more about Chalmers Johnson and follow up these quotes on the web page Conversations with History. A conversation with history is a PBS program hosted by Harry Kreisler. Conversations

As you can see Chalmers Johnson has credibilty and influence. Enough credibility to get put into the LA Times with questionable sources. The fact that Ching Cheong used a questionable source is in my opinion an example of sloppy reporting. The fact that Chalmers Johnson did the same is also an example of poor reporting and even more puzzling. He is the head of an Asian think tank (JPRI), a China scholar and considered by some to be a leading social scientist in the USA. While many of Chalmers Johnson’s critiques of American and Chinese relations are valid he is also guilty of sloppy reporting. He could have easily made proper background checks to validate his sources. He is the head of a research institute and presumably could have had an intern check the facts behind the Ching Cheong article. Johnson is also considered an expert on China; one would think that he would know the reputation of the Singapore Straits Times. After being in the intelligence community he should be able to differentiate between web rumors and a real story. The whole issue is quite disappointing for me, as I was just learning more about Chalmers Johnson and will now have to pick through his sources to see if they are credible. I won't even touch this quote from his article “These ideologues (neo-cons) appear to be trying to precipitate a confrontation with China while they still have the chance. Today, they happen to have rabidly anti-Chinese governments in Taipei and Tokyo as allies, but these governments don't have the popular support of their own citizens.”

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