The world has watched in dismay as Russia's ruler, Vladimir Putin, has gobbled up Crimea. Now, he seems bent on dismembering Ukraine. Much of our attention has been focused on Putin and his next targets. Perhaps Taiwan is next.
In the East, China's Communist leaders are watching, too. They pay close attention to the actions of this former KGB agent. Putin is increasingly popular in Russia as he seeks to restore some of the power and prestige of the old USSR.
For its part, China has been rattling a saber over Japan's Senkaku Islands. Concerned, President Obama recently rushed to Tokyo. There, he reminded the world of the U.S.-Japanese Defense Treaty. The President hastened to say:
"Obviously this isn't a red line that I'm drawing. It is the standard interpretation over multiple administrations of the terms of the alliance, which is that territories under the administration of Japan are covered under the treaty. There's no shift in position. There's no red line that's been drawn. We're simply applying the treaty," said Mr. Obama in a speech to Japan's leaders reported by our Voice of America.
It was one of those assurances that was anything but reassuring. Clearly, the President wanted to make the point that this time he really means to take action if a dictator should make a threatening move.
His effort to assure us this was "not a red line I am drawing" only serves to jangle nerves already on edge. The last time he publicly invoked a red line was when he warned Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad there would be consequences if he used chemical weapons. Assad used them and nothing happened. Assad is even "running" for re-election.
But what if China is simply making a feint toward those tiny, uninhabited Senkaku Islands? It would not be unprecedented for China to so deceive the West. The great military writer, Sun Tzu spoke clearly on this point.
"All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."
― Sun Tzu, The Art of Warfare
An American businessman friend describes his visit to Taipei on Taiwan. On the back of his hotel room door, along with the usual poster about room rates and how to evacuate in case of fire, there was this bold face note. "If you hear the siren, proceed to the Air Raid shelter. China has invaded Taiwan." Residents of Taiwan have long known they are like a mouse living next to a sleeping lion. When that lion awakes, it may be hard for the mouse to stay out of its clutches.
China's leaders might be using the Senkakuu Islands as a distraction from their real objective, the absorption of Taiwan.
Unlike our Defense Treaty with sovereign Japan, U.S. diplomats long ago abandoned Taiwan. Our State Department declared that the U.S. recognizes Taiwan is part of Mainland China. The diplomats simply argue that China should not use force to annex Taiwan. Vladimir Putin is teaching the Chinese a lesson in how such an absorption might be achieved on the sly.
China's Communist rulers in 1989 watched very closely the tumult in Eastern Europe and in the USSR. They said to each other, "If we want to avoid such things happening here, we need to take strong action." So, they decided to put down the massive, peaceful student democracy movement. The world watched, fascinated, as tens of thousands of young Chinese camped out in Tiananmen Square in the heart of China's capital, Beijing. These idealistic young students even erected a Statue of Freedom, a Chinese version of our American Statue of Liberty.
Beijing's rulers ordered tanks and soldiers of the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA) to go into the Square and clear it by force. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Chinese students were shot down in cold blood. Many were crushed to death under the tracks of the tanks. Special squads rushed in to carry off the bodies of the dead for cremation and scattering. Other workers hosed down the Square, determined to get rid of all the blood.
President George H.W. Bush publicly rebuked China's rulers in June, 1989, but soon sent his National Security Adviser, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, to Beijing to offer assurances that we would not let this disturbing incident lead to a breakdown in U.S.-Chinese diplomatic or commercial ties.
If China were to invade Taiwan, Beijing's rulers could expect Western displeasure to be loudly expressed-and just as quickly forgotten. How much trouble has Beijing experienced from us over their ever tightening grip on Hong Kong? How firm has Europe been in applying sanctions to Russia over Crimea?
And what has President Obama done to deter Putin from further aggression? Or China? Recall he promised "Vladimir" he would be "more flexible" once he was re-elected. China's rulers may want in on the action.
These are the dangerous lessons the world is learning from an America in retreat under the Obama administration. Taiwan: Beware!