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Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security

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and beyond: emergent East Asian complex
decentralisation of power, challenge to authority, corruption, crime,
environmental problems, and dangers of structural instability and over-
heated economic growth) and political uncertainty (succession strug-
gles, loss of ideological authority, rise of nationalism) meant that the
outcome of China’s rapid development during the 1980s and 1990s was
very hard to read. Impressive rates of economic growth, a willingness
to increase military expenditure, and occasional forays into aggressive
foreign policy all pointed towards China as a potential world-class
power in the foreseeable future. But the profound internal contradic-
tions of market communism, the tensions of uneven development be-
tween the coast and the interior, the uncertain state of the ruling CCP
and its problems of leadership transition, and the widening gap be-
tween central and provincial political authority all pointed towards a
potentiallymuchmore erratic future. The government’s somewhat hys-
terical securitisation of the Falun Gong was suggestive of a deep in-
security about the political future. The chance of China fragmenting,
or undergoing prolonged political and economic turbulence, seemed
just as great as the chance of its emerging as an Asian or global
great power (Roy 1994; Segal 1994; Shambaugh 1994; Van Ness 2002:
As with Japan, no decisive answer has emerged. By 2002 it was still
possible to speculate on a whole range of possible futures for China.
China seemed to escape the economic turbulence in East Asia, but it
was far from clear whether this could be sustained, and if so whether
China’s economic success would come at the expense of its neighbours’
export markets. There was concern that Chinese politics were devel-
oping in a more nationalist direction. Fear of China’s disintegration
and collapse was counterpointed by fear that its success would gener-
ate an overbearing power. These twin fears posed sharp dilemmas for
those outside as to whether their priority should be to engage or con-
tain China. The worst outcomewould be a China strengthened by trade
and investment, but still authoritarian, nationalistic, and alienated from
Western-led international society. However China’s great experiment
turned out, it would have a big impact on the Chinese people, China’s
neighbours, and the global power structure.
These open questions about the future of the political economies of
East Asia’s two main powers had huge significance for all other levels
of security dynamics. In principle, one could imagine sharply different
scenarios for these two great powers within the next couple of decades.
At worst, both could be militarily powerful and nationalistic. At best,
The domestic level
both could be rich, democratic, and (up to a point) liberal. Or both
could remain in something like their present positions.How theywould
behave, not only towards each other, but also towards their region and
the world, hung on how their domestic political economies would de-
velop. There was no way of predicting this, and not much consensus on
the most likely outcome.
China’s securitisation of words from Taiwan
A secret report from the State Council’s Policy Research Center in
China, leaked in 1997, deemed war between China and the United
States possible in the future: ‘With the return of Hong Kong and
Macao to Chinese rule, the Taiwan issue will inevitably become
China’s major event around 2010. If the United States uses force to
meddle in China’s sovereignty and internal affairs, China will cer-
tainly fight a war against aggression, thus leading to a limited Sino-
US war’ (Li 1997).
The Taiwan question has a special status among all security con-
cerns in China (Harrison 2001). This could be seen from the way it
played in the background throughout the process leading to the re-
turn of Hong Kong and how it influences relations with the United
States and, for example, the Chinese stand on the US plans about
missile defence (Van Ness 2002: 144–5). Often to the surprise of for-
eigners, who think China could achieve economic and political aims
more rationally by focusing on other questions, Taiwan remains the
fulcrum of politics (see Li 2001: 6, 25). This could be given a purely
cultural explanation in terms of the importance of national identity
as a frame of reference (see L. Katzenstein 1997), but also – partly
as a specification of the former more general option – it can be ex-
plained in terms of securitisation along somewhat peculiar patterns
involving an unusual centrality of dangerous words.
In the 1990s therewere twomajor crises betweenBeijing andTaipei,
in 1995–6 and 1999. The firstwas in the run-up to the first presidential
elections in Taiwan and culminated in large-scale military exercises
and missile tests by the PRC near Taiwan, and the United States
deploying two aircraft carriers to the area. The triggering event
was President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan’s ‘private’ visit to the United
States (Li 1996). Thiswas seen in Beijing as an intensification of a gen-
eral attemptbyTaipei topromote itspolitical profile and international
status through ‘pragmatic diplomacy’, which meant giving up the
1990s and beyond: emergent East Asian complex
all-or-nothing line regarding diplomatic recognition and improving
relations also with countries that had diplomatic relations with the
PRC. Also, membership in international organisations was accepted
under all kinds of awkward names including ‘China (Taipei)’, ‘China
(Taiwan)’, ‘China-Taipei’, ‘China-Taiwan’, ‘Taipei China’, ‘Taiwan-
Republic ofChina’, ‘ChineseTaipei’, ‘Taiwan-Penghu-Jinmen-Mazu’,
and ‘Taipei’ (P. Yu 1996: 477; deLisle 2000: 37). ‘Beijing’s leaders re-
peatedly claimed that China would resort to force if Taiwan declared
independence ’ (Jian 1996: 459).
The 1999 crisis erupted when Lee Teng-hui in a German radio
interview said that PRC–ROC relations were ‘state-to-state or at
least nation-to-nation’ (deLisle 2000: 35). ‘China’s reaction was swift,
warning that the rhetorical shift could jeopardize any future talks
between it and Taiwan . . . Beijing also reiterated that it reserves the
right to use force if Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province,
declares formal independence’ (CNN.com 13 July 1999). Naturally,
this has to be understood on the basis of the legal and political strug-
gle between Beijing and Taipei, where originally both competed for
the mandate of the heaven, i.e., legitimacy to represent all of China.
Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek were in total agreement on this
much: there was only one China. It was the same historical ‘China’
that both claimed. This meant that, for Beijing, Taiwan was a threat
only if it managed to achieve this representation, which it basically
lost in the 1970s, or at the opposite extreme if Taipei changed its pol-
icy towards declaring independence as favoured by the opposition
party DPP.
While never taking the DPP line, the official Taiwanese position
started to change under Lee. In 1991, Taipei abandoned its claim to
represent all of China internationally. InMay 1992 the ROC started to
recognise the PRC as a political entity, and since June 1994 it has not
competed with the PRC for representation as the only China. Taiwan
is part of China but not part of the PRC (P. Yu 1996: 477). Interestingly,
this positiondoesnot in itself or by any logical necessity imply a claim
for independence or sovereignty for the ROC, but paradoxically the
decrease of challenge to the PRC implied a threat by undermining
the ‘one China’ dogma. The PRC policy of ‘one country, two sys-
tems’ is challenged by the ROC increasingly pursuing the view of
‘two essentially equal political entities’, which separately rule parts
of a temporarily divided China (deLisle 2000: 51). It was within this
The domestic level
meaning that the formulation about