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June 8 , 2007
PLA Modernization and the Taiwan Issue
Former Rear Admiral Eric McVadon

Eric McVadon gave the Policymaker group a slightly different slant on U.S.-China security issues than is represented in media and other outlets. His insightful presentation focused on the ‘bigger picture’ of East Asia, the shifting dynamics of power and relationships and the question of Taiwan.

Mr. McVadon believes that Northeast Asia is moving towards a new security architecture, and the United States government must re-evaluate how they approach this new system. The framework is now made up of China and their relations with Japan and Korea. This new security arrangement is increasingly important and the U.S. has not been proactively pursuing their place in a new system.

While admittedly an optimist on China, McVadon pointed out many positive changes with China’ stance on security, especially in regards to North Korea. The six party talks demonstrate China’s willingness to cooperate on international security issues as well as demonstrating our need to work in conjunction with the Chinese. Though many Americans blame China for the talks not progressing further, McVadon provided the insight that the Chinese feel they have leverage with the North Koreans, but do not want to push too hard in fear of “breaking the lever.” Some Chinese also blame American leadership, believing that the U.S. is more interested in seeing regime change in North Korea than progressing in negotiations. The Chinese, however, remain concerned about stability in North Korea which is necessary for stability in the region.

Mr. McVadon reminded the group that when talking with the Chinese, it is always about Taiwan. If Americans are obsessed with North Korean and nuclear arms, the Chinese are obsessed with Taiwan. Beijing is now attempting to make China more attractive to Taiwan through economic means rather than intimidating Taiwan through force. China also recognizes the negative impact a conflict would have on its relations with the U.S. While McVadon believes that the odds of a conflict across the Taiwan Strait are far less likely than years before, this in no way implies that China will not use force to reunite Taiwan if the leadership feels forced into a decision.

The modernization of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has direct consequences for the U.S. and Taiwan. China’s increasingly sophisticated military capabilities include long-term strategic thinking and layering options. China’s weakness lies in their mediocre training and lack of surveillance skills.

An attack on Taiwan would have drastic consequences for regional and internal stability. Conflict with Taiwan could affect China's ability to deal with Korea. It may also have the potential of exacerbating instability on mainland China in regions such as Xinjiang, which has a separatist movement. McVadon also posed the question of what to do after an attack? Some people are optimistic that world affairs would return to normal, others believe it has the potential to become an Iraq-type situation for the Chinese.

McVadon is optimistic about U.S.-Chinese relations, asserting that there is room for cooperation. Some areas include sea-lane security and protection of ocean commerce. McVadon proposes that the U.S. and China work together to create a Global Maritime Partnership which has three levels of benefit: more expansive maritime activities and opportunities, provides the U.S. with a chance to shape Chinese views and policy, and would foster feelings of trust and help in clearing up misunderstandings.

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