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Prognosis for China

(c) September 1999 by Sidney Trevethan

Revision 4

November 1999


Prognosis for China


Revision 4

I am not pleased with the findings of the survey which led to this report. If real world events do not confirm the concerns raised, no one will be happier than I. Indeed, one reason I wrote this essay is that I hope steps can be taken by various parties to prevent actual events from being as bad as they otherwise might be. In plain English, I hope I am wrong. Even if I am not wrong, I hope it can be arranged that events do not confirm I was right.

In my view there is ample reason to regard the policies of all the parties involved as short sighted and potentially dangerous. I do not write from an anti-Chinese, anti-American or even an anti-Taiwanese point of view. I understand, at least in part, the political imperatives driving policymakers (and business people) in all of these polities to adopt the tactics they have done. The grave risk of conflict, disruption and war is not in the least mitigated because these decisions were reasonable in the context of the political logic applied in their formulation.

Two of my speculations have been confirmed by official PRC statements even before the second draft of this essay could be completed. Based on past technology purchases and production policy, I postulated that a very long range form of artillery might be used for bombardment of Taiwanese airfields and other critical targets all the way from the mainland. I also believed that a military campaign against Taiwan was more likely to begin with a blockade or at least with harassment of the lines of communication (similar to 1996) rather than with an invasion per se. In the last few days China has claimed to (a) have long range artillery with a range of 360 km and (b) that it will start a military campaign with a blockade of Taiwan.

Forecasting political, economic and military events is very difficult. Anyone who does not think so is invited to write down their forecasts and go back and review them in later years. Even when you get it right events tend to differ in major respects. My 1981 forecast the Soviet Union would fall was far too conservative: I placed the event near 2010. The year before I wrote the British Defense Minister that Argentina would Aprobably@ invade the Falklands if the ice patrol ship Endurance were withdrawn from service. But the war actually occurred before that ship was withdrawn from the South Atlantic. It also is no fun when you get it right.

This essay does not recommend specific policies for the United States nor does it criticize any particular policy or policy objective. Instead, this essay seeks to integrate information from several disciplines in the hope of contributing to a better understanding of the current situation in China and how that is likely to play out in terms of what is nominally the crisis over the status of Taiwan. This analysis is not based on what I would like to have found. On several points, the information available did not conform to what I expected to find. It is offered, with exhaustive documentation, in the hope of contributing to a better understanding of the situation.


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