For reasons already better explained elsewhere, China isn’t going to invade Taiwan. Might as well ask a eunuch who he’s going to make a pass at next weekend. Nevertheless, China is threatening war over this:
Taiwanese officials said Tuesday that they planned to proceed with a referendum next March despite White House criticism, and called for the United States to respect and support the island’s democracy.
President Chen Shui-bian announced Friday that he would hold a referendum on March 20 calling for China to withdraw all missiles aimed at Taiwan and to renounce the use of force against the island. A senior administration official in Washington said Monday that the United States did not want the referendum held and suggested that it might reduce Taiwan’s security by antagonizing China, instead of enhancing it.
How’s that last bit? Simple: War doesn’t necessarily mean invasion.
al Qaeda declared war on the US years ago, but we mostly failed to notice. There weren’t any amphibious vessels loaded up with Islamic Marines, ready to storm our beaches under cover of the Islamic Air Force, with the support of the big guns of the Islamic Navy. But when they flew airliners into our office towers, they sure got our attention.
And that’s what China could do to Taiwan. No, not kamikaze pilots. Not exactly, anyway.
In strictly military terms, a guided missile is little different from a kamikaze or a hijacked passenger jet. A flying object, piloted by an intelligent entity, moves an explosive payload into a target at high speed. Whether the object is a missile or a plane makes little difference, nor does it matter if the intelligence is human or silicone, nor does it matter if the explosive is unspent jet fuel or a military warhead. The practicality remains the same: fast thing goes boom on your stuff.
Two such missiles brought down the World Trade Center. China has over 600 aimed at Taiwan.
It’s true that Taiwan has Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile missiles (a big improvement over the original version of the Patriot which failed so spectacularly in Gulf War I) It’s also true that, in a crisis, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet (and possibly the 5th, too) would move into and around the Taiwan Straights, in position to shoot down Chinese missiles with their Aegis-equipped destroyers.
But that’s still an awful lot of missiles to shoot down. Some of them would get through.
Beijing’s hope isn’t to destroy Taiwan (they wouldn’t want to kill a golden goose), but rather to scare it into submission. If they can’t actually compel the Taiwanese into rejoining the mainland, they would at least hope to put off, forever, any vote on outright independence for the island.
Could it the situation really deteriorate to the point where China would threaten Taiwan with physical destruction? Possibly. Now that Communism is all but buried in China, the “Communist” party clings to power by fostering an almost-Fascistic level of nationalism. If they were to lose face in Taiwan — and even the chance of a “yes” vote next March would certainly qualify as losing face — then they might feel threatened enough to do something truly stupid.
You know, like threatening to saturate Taipei with ballistic missiles.
It could be a very hot spring.