Federation University: Cultural Enquiry and Research Group. Presentation, 7 November, 2019.

A Year of Living Next to the Dragon: Taiwan – China and an Asia-Pacific War

Presenter: Dr Strobe Driver


The following is the written version of a presentation I gave at Federation University, for the Cultural Enquiry and Research Group that is part of the university’s academic enquiry platform.  The presentation is based on the previous year in which I lived for much of the year in Taiwan and it is accompanied by a Youtube live stream.  The analysis is written as per the slides of the MS Powerpoint and is meant to correspond to what was said in the presentation, albeit with some more relevant conversational aspects presented on the stage.  Nonetheless, the core of the issue is premised on an Asia-Pacific war and the possibilities therein, including Australia’s involvement and other components of what a war will comprise ‘of,’ and what ‘type’ of war that will come to the fore; and a forecast date and the reasons why, are also included in the (academic) analysis.  

Slide 1.

Dr Strobe Driver

Adjunct Researcher: Federation University

CERG Presentation:  7 November, 2019

Freelance & Independent War & Conflict Researcher 

MOFA, Taiwan, ROC., Fellowship Recipient, 2018

Thesis:  Asia – Pacific and Cross-Strait Machinations: Challenges for Taiwan in the Nascent Phase of Pax-Sino

Opening statement:

With thanks to CERG for asking me and Dr Mathew Abbot (and soon to be Dr) Ben Nunquam, and I extend my respect to the Wathaurong people on whose land this University is placed.

This analysis is an extension of my Fellowship from the MOFA, Taiwan, ROC in which I wrote an independent 35,000 word analysis—entitled, Asia-Pacific and Cross-Strait Machinations: Challenges for Taiwan in the Nascent Phase of Pax-Sino—about the current situation, and crucially what approach China would take towards Taiwan in the future.  Both will be summed up and clarified as the talk progresses.  I will also only use broad-based concepts and understandings in order to gain an overall perspective of the complexities of International Relations before I deal with the way in which China will execute its policies—time constraints don’t permit any deeper analysis.  I also haven’t included a citations slide although the written component will be cited; and a link will be offered on the CERG website.

SLIDE 2.  Where is Taiwan – to the East of China and has about the same population as Australia.

Slide 3. Self-explanatory, so I’ll just go over it quickly.  The crucial point is the last one, as this did not happen and hence, the people that had retreated there were essentially, posited there to stay.

Slide 4.  Let me explain ‘sovereignty’ and give it a legal framework for the purposes of the nations-state.

‘[T]he world consists of, and is divided into, sovereign territorial states that recognize no superior authority; the processes of law-making, settlement of disputes and law enforcement are largely in the hands of individual states; [and] international law is oriented to the establishment of minimal rules of coexistence.’[1]

Slide 5.  For the purposes of this presentation the focus will be shifted to the post-Mao era to the Deng era, which I argue created positive (yet catastrophic) change in China’s domestic realm in the first instance, and began the incremental shift that is expressed and which would come to fruition (I argue) from circa-1995 onwards, in the second.  The ‘Four Modernizations: industry, agriculture, defense, and science and technology”[2] would become the mainstays of China establishing its propensity for development and preponderance—which would be continued upon the death of Deng.  So this for me, offers proof that these protocols were firmly established upon his death; and continue to this day.

Slide 6.  These four terms deserve a mention although it is the first one that we will revisit in the next slide, as it is the most pertinent to the argument that is being made; and the premise upon which the remainder of the presentation will be made. 

An ‘Industrial Revolution’ is a time of high-mechanization and industrialisation which is normally associated with a rise in science and technologies and a corresponding mercantilism.  And it has as an offshoot the abilities to access other aspects of science and technologies, think of Britain’s Industrial Revolution circa-1750 to the end of World War One, or perhaps, World War Two (WWII)—there is some historical contention when it ended), and its increase in mercantilism, and the power of the pound sterling as a form of trade currency and of, Britain’s expansion into the Middle East.  Think of Spain’s plundering the South Americas as this too, was due to science and technology and therefore an industrial revolution-of-sorts took place, ships are only able to be built with industry and science in place.

Nationalism, ‘is essentially being part of a ‘national grouping that is defined in civic terms, share a participation in a circumscribed political community, common political values, a sense of belonging to the state in which they reside, and, usually, a common language.’[3]

Soft power is usually associated with aid, education (scholarships for instance), infrastructure projects, debt-relief and other formal though passive forms of help although it is underpinned by the ‘attractiveness of a country’s values, political ideals, and policies.’[4]

Hard power centres on ‘military- and economic-power.’[5] 

Sharp power (Walker and Ludwig argue), is a form of information warfare which ‘pierces, penetrates, or perforates the political and information environments in the targeted countries.’[6]  Which contrasts ‘values’ and the status of countries.  I think this definition is too narrow and needs to be revised, which I will attempt to do in the near-future, but I don’t have time to go into now suffice to state that I think it deals with direct assistance and therefore, a strategic packaging comes into play.

Slide 7.  Irredentism is the focus of this presentation tonight and it comprises, ‘any country advocating the acquisition of some region included in another country by reason of cultural, historical, ethnic, racial, or other ties.’[7]  This is the factor that dictates the direction and of what China is attempting toward Taiwan.  Think Britain’s ownership of India, Australia, Scotland and Wales and Gibraltar.  The United States of America (US) stealing Hawaii, claiming Diego Garcia and of American Samoa, think the French in Oceania and Southeast Asia.  All are examples of irredentist policies which are essentially viewed through and then enacted upon through the prism of power, which is followed by policies that enforce and then reinforce the ‘reality.’  Russia and the Ukraine, Israel and the West Bank, Japan and Okinawa, is to observe that it is not only the West that indulges in irredentism as a construct; and happening.  The point being, all of the factors mentioned in the slide are used as tools in order to continue making the claim.  Historical ‘facts’ are manipulated and ultimately usurped by irredentism and the attitudes it correspondingly produces. 

Slide 8.   Now an understanding of preponderance can be also observed through more tangible components of when a country (or bloc) rises to power. 

Geo-strategic aggrandisement is the display of power through bases, ports and the associated tenets of power, a strong and an overt presence of a navy and an air-force and often a boots-on-the-ground presence—think the US and China currently having bases in Somalia, the US with its massive air base in Saudi Arabia and naval base in United Arab Emirates.  All assets are able to be utilized beyond the borders of the actor’s domestic environment.  Think Britain and its presence as far away as the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, and of numerous countries in Antarctica. All represent irredentist policies and the practice of usurping the territory or territories of others.

A security dilemma is when an actor engages ‘via multiple means in regions of the world not strategically important to their


security.’[8] Which essentially means, meddling in the affairs of others as deemed necessary by an actor as it might affect said actor in the future; or to offset the intrusions of other actors.  Think Australia in the Vietnam War as the ‘communist hordes’ may eventually end up in the north of Australia, and so the ‘security dilemma’ Australia faced was to stop this perceived threat by intervening in Vietnam on behalf of the US and other allies—this  is often referred to as forward-defence. 

‘Brinkmanship’ is defined as when ‘decision makers perceive a dramatic impending shift in the balance of power in favour of an adversary and/or a substantial internal challenge to their own political position at home.’[9]   Think Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War, Ronald Reagan and the war in Lebanon, and the rescue of medical students in Grenada, Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the US in Iraq, Russia in Syria … the list goes on.  Nonetheless, all of these aspects can be overtly and escalated into what is referred to in war studies as a ‘kinetic exchange,’ or what is colloquially known as a ‘shooting war,’ and it is here, we can broaden an understanding of what this will entail should issues escalate and it can slowly but surely be applied to the (and will be) applied to the ‘Taiwan situation.’

Slide 9.   This slide emphasises the power of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the Permanent Five and the power-of-veto.  So, if China launches a war against Taiwan it will not be a ‘war’ as China will definitely exercise its right-of-veto as a permanent member of the UNSC for two reasons: so that the exchange does not gain status; and in order for no UNSC resolutions to be passed.  This is a significant problem for Taiwan.

Slide 10.  So returning to the main focus point we can examine China’s ‘strategic attitude.’  This slide is self-explanatory and a précis of what is happening and continues to happen.  So, broadly, what will happen? 

Slide 11.   There has never be an industrial revolution without significant conflict from the perspective of preponderance, and there is often commentary in the popular press about a ‘mistake’ happening.  Although it is important to remember that the US staged the Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to put military assets on the ground in South Vietnam and to essentially escalate the Vietnam conflict and therefore it is possible that China could stage a happening in order to give it leverage over Taiwan.

Nonetheless, the point of this presentation is and remains it’s not ‘if’ there is going to be a war, it’s ‘when.’ Another point can be brought in here and it is domestic harmony and China has its share of problems, Hong Kong and the Ughur population in the northwest remain from China’s perspective major problems.  Hence, we should keep in mind these components do impose limitations on what is called extramural preponderance.    

Also, there is also for China the issue that Taiwan’s capabilities may be far greater than China recognizes if a battle were to take place and it is pertinent to note that when a country is at war, whether in an offensive or defensive position, to enter into a war means ‘defeat is unintended.’[10]

Slide 12.  This slide is self-explanatory.

Slide 13.  Self-explanatory.  Comment on.

Slide 14.  Self-explanatory.  Comment on.

Slide 15. CONCLUSION:  Once again and premised on the evidence-base per se that a war will take place, so with this in mind we can narrow it down to a ‘type.’  Total war is unlikely although certainly possible, if other actors such as the European Union, NATO, and ASEAN countries become involved and the situation suddenly escalates. Therefore, ‘Total war involve[s] a high mobilization of society … Because total wars take on the characteristics of a fight for survival, they tend to mobilize resources and means to wage battle with few restraints …The goals in total wars are much more open-ended and often expand as the war progresses.  Total wars often demand the complete overthrow of the leadership of the other side whether through demand of unconditional surrender as in World War II, or complete annihilation, as in the Third Punic War.[11] 

Limited war as stipulated, is a subjective term in that and (as I specified in my PhD), there is a conceptual tension associated with how much of a commitment is ‘limited,’ and by what ‘means’ should [it] they be measured?’[12]  And further to this: ‘war may be limited from the perspective of one belligerent, yet virtually unlimited in the eyes of another.’[13]  In somewhat easily measurable and tangible terms, think of the Vietnam War (1963 – 1975) which was a limited war, fought by the US and its allies as just that, a ‘limited war.’  However, it was fought on the part of the North Vietnamese as a total war—therein lies an inherent tension of defining ‘limited war.’  The advent of a war taking place is that there is little doubt that China will want it to remain contained, a true limited war.

Nonetheless, the danger is and remains that if a war breaks out it could develop into a total war on the part of the offensive China launches or the defensive actions of Taiwan. 

Slide 16.  The most likely ‘type of war and the limited war exhaustion strategy alluded to and it can be summed up as,

‘The British practice of warfare from the sixteenth century to World War 1 was to employ…[a] way of war [which] de-emphasized direct confrontation, concentration, mass, and battle and emphasized surprise, mobility, manoeuvre, peripheral attacks on the enemy weaknesses, dispersion, conversion of resources, and negotiated settlements … The British used sea power primarily to achieve their limited strategic objectives.  They traditionally fought low-expenditure, high-gain wars that took advantage of Britain’s geographic circumstances that exploited those of its enemy.  The British way of war was to destroy when possible the enemy’s fleet; attack enemy trade; block the enemy’s coast and conduct raids on the enemy’s ports, coastal towns and colonies; seize, when possible, the enemy’s colonies; subsidize allies on the Continent; wait for the attacks on the enemy’s economy and peripheral areas to erode its capacity to resist; exploit opportunities through the use of surprise made possible by the superior mobility of the fleet; deploy limited expeditionary forces on the Continent to fight alongside the larger forces of the allies; and finally, to manoeuvre the enemy into an untenable position in which it had no other option but to conclude a peace agreement on terms set by the British and their allies.’[14]   

This is the most likely scenario in my opinion, as China continues its preponderance objectives and the isolating of Taiwan become kinetic—this is how Japan (another island nation-state was defeated in WWII), and China will seek to cut-off Taiwan through threat-of-(military)force. 

Finally, will Australia be involved?  The answer is ‘YES’!!!!  Why?

Australia is in the grip of having been ‘caught out’ by the rapidity of change and this will continue as China’s rises and bear in mind it is in a nascent phase and as international relations is a dynamic Australian governments seem to underestimate the rapidity alluded to; and the consequences therein.  This happened in the post-WWII era of the Bretton-Woods agreement and the immense impact that had on other nation-states, and how it committed the world to the US and its preponderance. China wants the same.  Australia in the Asia-Pacific has severely underestimated the consequences of the change.  Australia’s ever-shrinking aid budget and its difficulties with neighbours per se—Indonesia from the #CoinforAbbott[15] scandal through to the suggestion that Australia might move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the Climate Change disagreements with our other island neighbours.  All have caused a displacement of Australia and its middle-power status from the perspective of allies although Australia remains a middle-power in terms of military might and development in general.  Nonetheless, the incompetence of consecutive Australian governments has allowed for China to establish itself in Micronesia and Oceania in a much more decisive way due to a perceived lack of interest by Australia in regional interactions, at least according to regional actors.  China has been allowed to evolve its soft-, hard-, and now sharp-power in the region and whether it will be at the same rate as before is moot and need not be ventured into here, as the evidence already spells out China’s is a vibrant and robust regional actor and this remains in place.

Now turning to war as an act.  What is important to note, is however, that the complexity of war does not reside in the overt presence of military assets as there is much that goes on external to the public sphere.  There are always behind-the-scenes engagements which are inevitably, and due to ‘public security’ issues they are not released to the public until decades later.  Two examples of such interactivity are in the early-1970s: Australia’s Prime Minister Whitlam and US’ President Ford being notified by Indonesia about its pending invasion of Timor Lesté and assuring Indonesia there would be no reaction to it; and Secretary of State Kissinger’s secret meeting with the North Vietnamese in Paris in order to hasten the end of the Vietnam War.  What then one could assume is if I was a strategist in China advise the government of the US if China was to engage in a tactical strike, for instance on the Port of Darwin?  It is not too presumptuous to assume China would assure the US there will be no strike on Pine Gap.  Such an assurance would prove to be an incredible advantage point for China as the risk of American involvement and therefore a war escalating, would be considerably reduced; and it would give China control (or as much control as possible), over its limited war of exhaustion strategy.. 

Notwithstanding all of the abovementioned, Australia has always faced demands from the US, the ‘War on Terror’ being the most recent example of US’ demands on Australia and as China becomes more preponderance-driven in the region the US will demand Australia ‘does more’—this will remain the case regardless of whether the US chooses to remain heavily involved or not.  Australia will be expected by the US to ‘do something’ especially if China moves on Taiwan with a blockade or a military strike.  The Australian government, if history is a guide, will claim it has a ‘duty’ to extend Australia’s reach and influence under the guise of liberal-democracy being threatened and in the first instance this will involve the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).  China, if Australia’s momentum in the region exponentially expands will strike an Australian military asset—most likely a surface ship.  The sinking of an RAN vessel (or the shooting down of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft) would allow for the following to happen: it will send a signal to observers that China is steadfast in its ambition to establish regional status; to send a signal that China is intent on dislodging Australia’s middle-level power status; it will be an overt signal to others that might choose to interfere that China has forward defense capabilities; it will draw out who is allied to Australia, who is prepared to act and who is neutral; will allow for China to observe Australia’s response to its actions in terms of ongoing military engagements; and will offer China an opportunity to observe how robust the ANZUS treaty actually is.   The assumption that an RAN ship will be struck as opposed to another nationalities from a strategic perspective is that Australia is geographically far and any response by Australia would not take China by surprise.  There is also a level of ‘safety’ in the tactical event as the US would be unlikely to respond militarily whereas striking a Japan Defense Force ship would be more likely encourage an immediate response from Japan, and would enhance the possibility of drawing the US into a conflict via a retaliatory strike, especially if US forces remained in Okinawa as the US could use a strike against China through the prism of the aforementioned security dilemma.

Whether under the threat of the US for Australia to ‘do more’ or whether Australia will make a decision independently about degrading China’s status in the region is moot and need not be discussed further.  What does have a degree of certainty is that Australia will be surprised at the level of tenacity China will have in its aims for geo-strategic aggrandisement, and indeed, China may adopt the US principle in the ‘War on Terror’ in which the polarities of ‘with us, or against us’ come to the fore.  If this happens it should be noted the US’ is not legally obliged to come to Australia’s aid as ANZUS is an agreement and that is all it is.  When China moves towards its limited war of exhaustion strategy in a more robust way—first towards Taiwan and then further out into the Asia-Pacific region—Australia’s military assets will be the first to be targeted, and this will be followed by its mainland physical assets; and moreover, Australia does not have any significant foothold capabilities beyond its shoreline therefore, its response to the sinking of an RAN ship or submarine would be devastating as it could not be easily replaced and nor could the consistent downing of RAAF aircraft.  This is the stark reality for Australia in an Asia-Pacific conflict and it would be made much worse if Australia got heavily involved in the conflict and the US refused to come to its aid or entered the conflict and then pulled out.  Australians should be aware of this scenario and act accordingly as the day when China no longer tolerates incursions into the Asia-Pacific—as the US did in Indochina and the French before them—is coming; and it will be here in a decade or so.  It is also noteworthy that China is currently in its nascent phase of preponderance and it has plans to become a force to be reckoned with beyond the 300+ years’ timeframe that Britain ruled the world.   I have stated before that when China finally moves in a much more focussed way, it will threaten Australia in a much more cathartic way that the Japanese Imperial Army did when it took Papua New Guinea and on that note I end this presentation.    

[1] Roger King and Gavin Kendall.  The State, Democracy and Globalization. Houndsmills: Palgrave, 2004, 34.

[2] Katherine Keyser.  ‘Three Chinese Leaders.  Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping.’  Asia for Educators. 2009. 

[3] Charles Kuphcan ‘Nationalism Resurgent.’  Nationalism and Nationalities in the New Europe.  Edited by  Charles Kupchan.  London: Cornell University Press, 1995, 4. 

[4] Joseph Nye. ‘Soft Power and European-American Economic Affairs.’  Hard Power, Soft Power and the Future of Transatlantic Relations.  Edited by Thomas Ilgen.  Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006, 26.

[5] Hard Power, Soft Power and the Future of Transatlantic Relations, 26.

[6] Joseph Nye. ‘How Sharp Power Threatens Soft Power.  The Right and Wrong Ways to Respond to Authoritarian Influence. Foreign Affairs.   https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-01-24/how-sharp-power-threatens-soft-power

[7] See:  ‘Irredentism.’  Dictionary.com.  https://www.dictionary.com/browse/irredentism?s=t

[8] Adrian Lewis The American Culture of War.  The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  New York: Routledge, 2007, 207.

[9] Charles Gochman. ‘The Evolution of Disputes.’ The Process Of War.  Advancing the Scientific Study of War. Edited by Stuart Bremer and Thomas Cusack. Australia: Gordon and Breach, 1995, 97.

[10] Geoffrey Blainey.  The Causes Of War.  Melbourne: The MacMillan Company, 1998, 249. 

[11] John Varquez. The War Puzzle.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009,67.

[12] Strobe Driver.  Why winning a war is no longer necessary: Modern Warfare and the United States of America through the prism of the wars of Vietnam and Iraq.  Doctoral Thesis: University of Ballarat/Federation University, 2010, 103.

[13] Robert Osgood.  Limited War: The Challenge to American Strategy.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957, 2.

[14] Adrian Lewis.  The American Culture of War.  Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001, 34-35.

[15] Tom Allard. Coin for Abbott: Indonesians’ angry backlash at PM’s Bali nine diplomacy.’ Sydney Morning Herald.  22 Feb, 2015.   https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/coin-for-abbott-indonesians-angry-backlash-at-pms-bali-nine-diplomacy-20150221-13l5n2.html

The Youtube link of the presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOQR4ixqd_c&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1XdM9yLUSA1cZyEtg8PMKmHI6sb2j2wBfjK1IsKdc5ndnnfNQMSGybsYU

The Powerpoint of the presentation can be viewed here:

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